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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 11, New Delhi, February 27, 2021

A RAW officer’s ordeal in Pakistan & Beyond | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Saturday 27 February 2021

by M.R. Narayan Swamy

Terror in Islamabad
by Amar Bhushan
HarperCollins Publishers India; Pages: 171; Price: Rs 250

This is a work of fiction only in name. This is an outstanding even if bone-chilling tribute to an Indian intelligence officer who for three long years fooled Pakistan’s ISI as he ran a network spread all over that country. Unable to digest their failure, ISI bullies abducted and brutally tortured him just before he was to return to India for good. Miraculously, the man survived the literally blood-soaked ordeal.

Coming to the gripping book, the names are probably the only things which are indeed fictional. So we have Veer Singh, of the RAW, assume the name of Amar Munshi and take up residence in the Indian embassy in Islamabad as the Cultural Attache. It was a stressful life but he manages it flawlessly despite the thuggish conduct Pakistani intelligence operatives show daily to make life hell for Indian diplomats and real/suspected intelligence officers.

Veer Singh/Munshi did not opt for Pakistan. The Indian spy chief picked him up after learning about his multi-faceted skills. Veer Singh is shocked to hear his top boss fume: “All your predecessors have spent their time reading newspapers and picking up gossip and motivated information at diplomatic dinners and cocktail parties… Maybe they were too scared of the counter-intelligence boys of the ISI and Pakistan Intelligence Bureau.” The chief has one wish: “I will be disappointed if you do the same.”

Veer Singh-turned-Munshi did not let down his boss or India. Although he had never worked on the Pakistan Desk, within three months of his posting, Munshi had set up a network of contacts across Pakistan. His knack for reading hands and analyzing horoscopes besides face-reading came in very handy to develop sources. After all, in which society people don’t want to be told what destiny holds for them. As an operative he made zero indiscretions. And to cap it all, he even became the Indian Ambassador’s most trusted confidant – it is a rarity in Indian missions for RAW officers to be on the same side as the Ambassador — and the most sought after diplomat not only in the Indian embassy but also in several other missions in Pakistan.

In New Delhi, Munshi’s controlling officers were amazed at his efforts to raise sources, particularly in the army, Balochistan Police, the Capital Territory Police in Islamabad and in major Pakistani political parties and terrorist organizations. He was commended for the breakthrough he achieved in reviving a network of spies that had been rendered defunct. He recruited dissidents in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and Balochistan. On top of all this, he managed to diplomatically neutralize diehard India baiters amongst the ruling and opposition political parties, the armed forces as well as the media.

As he prepared to depart, Munshi admired his own ability to play hide-and-seek with watchers from Pakistani security agencies including the ISI. What helped him beat the ISI so resoundingly were not only the extreme precautions he took but his spiritual leaning which provided him tremendous mental strength. He meditated intensely and also prayed daily. He was a practicing tantric too, his guru being a Buddhist lama in Arunachal Pradesh.

But Munshi’s luck ran out when the ISI, partly to avenge the arrest of a Pakistani spy in Delhi and partly to learn how he fooled them for so long, snatched him forcibly from his car one night in Islamabad as he was attending his pre-departure events. Electricity lights in the area had been deliberately switched off. Separately, ISI operatives broke into his residence (where he lived alone), switched on all the lights and parked his seized car to give an impression that Munshi was home.

The torture that followed at an ISI centre on Murree Hills bordered on savagery. The gagged and handcuffed Indian was thrashed mercilessly, kicked with heavy boots and given electric currents which produced convulsions. A man with an iron rod sat near a fireplace. Munshi’s head was banged on the stone floor. He began to spit out blood and felt he would not survive the night. All the while, the ISI bullies kept abusing him and asking him about the network he ran. They even told him to be ready to die. Although he was getting weaker, Munshi kept telling them that he was a Cultural Attache and not a spy. The reality is that the ISI had no evidence that he was from RAW. “Short of murdering him, we tortured him in every possible way to break him,” the Indian faintly hears a Pakistani tell another.

This is when Munshi pulled off the impossible. Despite the agonizing pain, he lapsed into a meditative mode and invoked the goddess Shakti silently – the Goddess being his secret and eternal strength.

Fortunately, the Indian Ambassador shook up Islamabad after being tipped off by a Pakistani source that the ISI had snatched Munshi. The Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister pleaded helplessness in a state run by the all powerful military. The Prime Minister was Benazir Bhutto. Even as Munshi was let off after hours of merciless torture, the ISI was not sure if he was from RAW.

Back in Delhi, his top boss – a man different from the one who sent him to Islamabad – and others were rude to Munshi, blaming him – of all the people — for his own ordeal. He had been earlier rewarded 54 times for producing actionable inputs, commended 19 times for raising critical sources and hailed as the best foreign operative for two successive years. He had produced over 300 quality inputs. All that was forgotten as jealous colleagues ganged up against him and were about to have him suspended when unexpected good luck dawned.

This is a fascinating story, written almost like a thriller. But mind you, this is a real story, a saga of bravery of someone who is still alive. The highest in the government should read this book, if nothing else to learn more about the Pakistani state (as opposed to its people), and so should everyone in the security and intelligence establishments. The Prime Minister should in fact suitably reward this intelligence operative – for bravery and ruthless efficiency. If that happens, never again will an Indian agent tortured in Pakistan will be mentally tortured by petty minds in India.

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