The spy game between India and Pakistan


Back in 2018, Bollywood blockbuster Raazi and a book named ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’ written by former RAW boss Amarjit Singh Dulat and ISI chief Lt Gen (Retd) Asad Durrani did bring the focus back on the deadly espionage game between India and Pakistan, the sacrifices of agents who prized patriotism over their own lives and the political interests that crippled Indian intelligence capabilities. Immediately after publication of this book, Pakistan Army charged Lt Gen Durrani with violating its Military Codes of Conduct and imposed an embargo on him from leaving the country. Immigration points were instructed to stop the former boss of ISI from leaving Pakistan. At the same time, Pakistani ISI and military establishment invented a conspiracy theory claiming Lt Gen Durrani was working for Indian RAW and had smuggled-out sensitive information. This allegation was particularly brought as the books revealed that the attest of Kulbhushan Yadav was an attempt by the Pakistani spy agency to deflect world attention from Pakistan’s problems in Balochistan province and the connection between the Pathankot terror attack and the Islamic State (ISIS).

In mid-May 2018, an Indian diplomat named Madhuri Gupta was imprisoned for spying for Pakistani ISI.

On 28 March 2017, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Hansraj Ahir, told Rajya Sabha that India had arrested 33 Pakistani spies in 2016. India, however, does not execute Pakistani spies. But former boss of RAW, Kulbhushan Jadhav has been sentenced to death in a Field General Court Martial. Sarabjit Singh was murdered in a Lahore jail in 2013.

An Indian national named Kaushik was trained as a spy, who then infiltrated Pakistan, enrolled in Karachi University under the alias Nabi Ahmad Shakir and joined the Pakistan Army where he was promoted to Major. He was a precious agent of RAW. For nearly 30 years, he kept feeding sensitive information to his handlers, including the plans for a Pakistan invasion across the Rajasthan border until he was caught and executed. A former RAW official said his inputs helped India win many confrontations against Pakistan, including the Kargil war.

Recruit of Pakistani spy agency ISI, Mohammed Kalam aka Ejaz’s story is similar to Kaushik’s. Chosen for his interest in photography, ISI trained him in codes and military formation signs and smuggled him into India via Dhaka, helped by the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh.

Mohammed Kalam opened a photo studio in India with ISI funds and began spying on Indian Army and Air Force movements that had bases there. The ISI network in India is so well entrenched that Kalam was able to get an Aadhaar card, Voter’s ID, and driving license. He also sent video recordings of the landing of a Mirage 2000 on the Yamuna Expressway in May 2015.

According to the Indian spy agency Intelligence Bureau (IB), many Indians who travel to Pakistan to visit their relatives through legal channels are mostly trapped with either a substantial amount of financial compensation or through sexual blackmailing. In October 2016, Pakistani ISI agent Bodh Raj was arrested in Jammu with SIM cards and Indian troop deployment maps in Kashmir. Raj’s arrest had revealed the ISI using carrier pigeons for receiving messages to and from between Pakistan and India. They also reportedly use trained falcons.

India’s the then National Security Advisor Ajit Doval spent around seven years as an Indian spy in Pakistan. During a function at Vidarbha, he related how he would attend a dargah regularly to keep his cover as a Muslim.

According to security experts, Pakistan gets away with espionage transgressions more than India, simply because India is an accountable democracy, and its intelligence agencies have a certain degree of limitations while the Pakistani ISI does not require any such accountability for continuing intelligence and even terrorist activities worldwide – particularly in the South Asian region.

One of the biggest advantages for Pakistani ISI is its huge source of funding – which comes both from the government as well as from its covert business establishments in many countries. In fact, ISI gets over 80 percent of its annual expenditures from the covert business establishments, which, according to security experts – exceeds a couple of billions of dollars. Additionally, the Pakistani spy agency also generates a huge amount of funds from running counterfeit Indian currency business and drug trafficking. It had strong base within the opium-growing areas in Afghanistan, wherefrom ISI collect drug and transports it into a number of nations with a help from several transnational drug trafficking rackets that includes notorious Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company.

Pakistani or Indian diplomats working as covert agents have one particular advantage, where India and Pakistan maintain an unwritten 20-year code of conduct that any ‘exposed’ or ‘busted’ diplomat is allowed to leave for their home country with bag and baggage unhindered.

But in November 2016, Indian intelligence agencies broke this rule and ambushed, detained, interrogated, and expelled Pakistan High Commission staffer Mehmood Akhtar. Pakistan immediately expelled an Indian employee in the Islamabad mission. India retaliated by ordering Pakistan to unilaterally withdraw six of its diplomats, saying Akhtar had ‘confessed’ they were spies. Infuriated, Pakistan named eight Indian diplomats and mission staffers in Islamabad as spies, burning their alleged cover, thereby rendering them useless to operate in any country. According to Indian intelligence officials, the arrest and interrogation of Mehmood Akhtar has almost trashed the unwritten agreement between India and Pakistan.

International cooperation of RAW

According to security experts, Indian intelligence agency RAW is working with several nations in the world, including the US, the UK, France, Israel, and other terrorism affected countries, mostly to monitor Pakistani ISI’s role in promoting terrorist activities. But in the field of gathering information on terrorism, India is extremely benefited from its Israeli counterpart – Mossad. During the late 1980 and 1990s, when RAW was facing extreme challenges, despite the fact of not having any formal diplomatic relations, cooperation between RAW and Mossad was continuing, as their common goal was combating radical Islamic terrorism.

There is a distinctive difference between diplomacy and espionage activities. While diplomacy is the promotion of national interests through various established norms, espionage works for the same purpose though, but in a different manner. It can resort to undercover actions that may even include kidnapping, assassination, and sabotage.

Prominent security expert Mr. B Raman, who worked in the Indian intelligence agency for over 26 years told the media as to how RAW was able to develop its covert capabilities in Pakistan – just within two years – because of tremendous cooperation and support from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

According to Mr. Raman, “Covert action capability is an indispensable tool for any State having external adversaries. Any intelligence agency worth its salt will have a covert action capability ready to use, when necessary.”

Ms. Gandhi was always giving the highest priority in enhancing the capabilities of RAW as she knew, a powerful intelligence agency only can best serve the interest of the country by combating internal and external threats.

But again, the same mighty RAW could not alert Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or her son, Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi prior to their assassination nor could take necessary measures to foil these assassinations. Though some people argue stating, these incidents were intelligence failures of RAW, others say, it may not be impossible that RAW itself was behind these incidents.

RAW in financial crisis

For the past few years, capabilities of RAW has been greatly eroded because of two reasons – shortage of fund and political polarization. In 1977, the financial crisis of the Indian intelligence started when Prime Minister Morarji Desai cut its budget by 30 percent and reportedly shared details of its network in Pakistan with Zia-ul-Haw.

In Pakistan, a RAW operative collected hair sample of a Pakistani scientist from a barbershop near the Kahuta nuclear facility. Laboratory test report of the sample had revealed the hair had signs of high radiation and bomb-grade uranium. The agent even gathered a copy of the blueprint of Pakistan’s secret nuclear plant. When Prime Minister Morarji Desai was informed of the matter, he refused permission to RAW for a sabotage operation at Pakistan’s nuclear establishment.

The next fatal blow to RAW came from 10-month Prime Minister IK Gujral, who banned all covert operations in 1997. He also reportedly gave out details of all RAW agents in Pakistan, who were promptly arrested, tortured, and executed on the directions of Gen Ziauddin, then DG, ISI.

The world of espionage

Egyptian spies were amongst the world’s pioneers in using poison for killing targets. Spies of Egypt, Greece, and Rome used codes, disguised writing, invisible ink, and hidden pockets. Ancient Greeks used complex signals to secretly communicate among outposts and towers. In the Middle East and Byzantium, civilian intelligence agents gathered information about foreign armies and economies from traders, merchants, sailors, and businessmen. Fifth-century records mention the use of spies in the Indus Valley civilization.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Kautilya’s Arthasatra have extensive details on their use in times of both war and peace. Records show Rome’s intelligence agency warned Julius Caesar of the plot against his life, which he fatally ignored. Roman military intelligence was used to conquer hostile and alien lands. Political espionage was common.

The feared Roman secret police, the Frumentarii, spied on politicians and commoners alike. The Middle Ages necessitated the use of couriers, translators, and royal messengers acting as spies who used cryptography and steganography. The Catholic Church created a massive spy network as it expanded control over Europe. Elizabethan Intelligence chiefs hired linguists, scholars, authors, engineers, and scientists to procure and analyze information.

Telescopes, magnifying glasses, camera obscura, and clocks were used for remote surveillance. In the 19th century, colonial powers employed secret agents to gather information about unrest in their holdings. As the industrial age dawned, government spies infiltrated labor organizations, which had spies of their own.

Technology progressed rapidly, and the invention of the daguerreotype in 1837 and the Morse Code were game-changers until the electronic era dawned with telegraph, radio, computers, hacking and satellites as intelligence-gathering aids. Today espionage comparatively involves more technical sophistication and research and analysis than in-field operations.

Female squads of spy agencies

Most of the leading intelligence agencies in the world make the best use of their female squads for intelligence gathering and accomplishing various plans. Amongst the female spies, Israeli Mossad is famous for its intelligent, sharp, effective, and energetic team of female spies. Similarly, the CIA, Mossad, MI6, and Russia FSS have their own female squads. Every intelligence agency considers their female squad as extremely precious as the members of these squads can effectively collect targeted information and even accomplish various missions almost foolproof. But South Asia’s mighty intelligence agencies such as RAW and ISI are yet to succeed in building any such squad. Although RAW and ISI mostly use females from the East European nations, Egypt, Lebanon, and some other Asian and African nations, their capabilities are comparatively much lower than those from CIA, Mossad, MI6, and FSS because of lack of adequate expertise of their trainers and mentors.


  1. Insightful article. But, one point is a bit exaggerated, when you described MOSSAD female squad. It’s not the Israeli agency alone, all other agencies have female squad.

  2. Learned a lot about spy agencies from this article. Thanks Mr. Choudhury for this informative content, which will be helpful to many of the working members of the spy agencies.


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