Spy versus spy

Published April 9, 2016

IN 1981, Kim Philby, one of the three British operatives of MI6, the UK’s overseas intelligence agency, who formed a ring of double agents spying for the Soviet Union and later defected, gave a talk to members of Stasi, the East German intelligence service.

In the talk, Philby advised his German colleagues to “deny everything” if suspected or caught. If confronted with proof, he said, insist that it was a forgery. But admit nothing, and confess to nothing.

This is standard operating procedure taught to spooks around the world. In fact, many manuals have been written about how to resist interrogation. So why did Kul Bashan Jadhav, the alleged Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent arrested in Balochistan recently, declare that he decided to cooperate with his captors? India has denied any link to the arrested man, but that was to be expected.

In his recently televised confession, the Indian spook comes across as an affable man who is rather enjoying the publicity. He does not seem to be under any sort of stress or pressure, and his occasional smile suggests a man quite pleased with himself.

My second doubt springs from the fact that such a senior RAW agent should put himself in danger of capture in an area of Balochistan where the army is carrying out anti-insurgency operations. Why would he take the risk of crossing the Iranian border when he could have directed his field agents from his base in the port city of Chabahar?

Don’t get me wrong: I have little doubt that the Indians are actively involved in the Baloch insurgency. How else to explain the money and weapons so easily available to outfits like the Baloch Liberation Army? While this is not to detract from the sense of grievance that is fuelling the uprising, the fact is that India is using it as payback for Pakistan’s past meddling in Kashmir via groups of jihadis armed and supported by us.

The timing of Jadhav’s capture is intriguing.

And India’s backing of the MQM in Karachi is now public knowledge, thanks to a series of leaked documents from the London Metropolitan Police’s investigation of Altaf Hussain’s financial records. More recent disclosures made by Mustafa Kamal, chief of the new breakaway splinter of the ethnic party, appear to confirm the longstanding relationship between RAW and the MQM.

So India’s taking advantage of the discontent of these two ethnic groups, and providing weapons and cash to their armed wings, is nothing new. Nevertheless, Jadhav’s ‘confession’ has provided the government with additional ammunition against them.

Another intriguing element is the timing of Jadhav’s capture as the announcement came just a day or so prior to the Iranian president’s arrival in Pakistan. In the event, the ‘RAW spy’ story overshadowed Mr Rouhani’s visit, and at a news conference, he was grilled about Jadhav’s long presence on Iranian soil.

Irritated, he said: “Whenever Iran comes closer to Pakistan, such rumours are spread.” So why couldn’t have Jadhav’s arrest been kept under wraps for a few days until the end of the Iranian president’s visit? Why did we have to deliberately embarrass him?

Read: Iran slams Pak media for 'undignified rumours' on Indian spy arrest

Clearly, the Saudis stood to gain as they have long demanded that Pakistan join their anti-Shia alliance. But our long common border with Iran, as well as the presence of a significant number of Shias in Pakistan, has thus far forced our rulers — and specially Nawaz Sharif — to tread a careful line between Tehran and Riyadh.

I belong to the cynical school of journalism that questions any information provided by any government, especially if the source is an intelligence agency. My default position is that politicians, spooks and bureaucrats lie all the time, so when looking at a sensational story emanating from spies, I ask: cui bono? Who gains?

As I said earlier, Indian support for the Baloch nationalist movement and the MQM is nothing new, but Jadhav’s confession still serves to discredit both organisations. And casting a chill on Pakistan’s relations with Iran is a clear bonus for any faction wishing to push us further into the Saudi orbit.

At the height of the Cold War, the then popular MAD Magazine carried a regular cartoon strip called ‘Spy vs Spy’ in which two shambolic spooks tried to outsmart each other, with hilarious results. Ours are pretty much the same: witness the Indian arrest of a Pakistani pigeon suspected of espionage.

I accept that my speculation is taking me into conspiracy territory. But after our experiences with Bush’s nonexistent WMDs, and Tony Blair’s and Colin Powell’s doctored dossiers that took the US and Britain to a disastrous war against Iraq on the basis of concocted information, we should all be wary of accepting anything spooks are peddling.

If there is a lesson to be learned from that episode, it is that we should not trust a solid consensus of politicians, spies and the media. We must question and probe because ultimately, the truth is out there.


Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2016



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