Two former chiefs of India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had “put their foot down against recruiting” Kulbushan Jadhav for “operations in Pakistan,” a media report said Friday.
Pakistan claims Jadhav is a RAW agent and was arrested from its Balochistan province. He was sentenced to death by a military court on charges of espionage and terrorism. India maintains Jadhav, a “former naval officer-turned-businessman,” was “abducted” by Pakistan from Iran.
According to a report in the Indian news website ‘The Quint’, two former RAW senior officers, including one secretary who headed India’s external intelligence agency after 2008, said that the “proposal to recruit Jadhav for operations, whatever it’s worth, was ridiculous.”
In any case, a number of RAW sources, some serving and a few who retired over the past seven to eight years, revealed that Jadhav was “not a high-grade” operative with skills that other operatives recruited by the agency in other theatres had and used effectively to obtain intelligence.
Even as two RAW secretaries refused to hire his services, the proposal to recruit Jadhav for specific assignments was finally acceded to by a chief who headed the intelligence agency a few years ago and was subsequently re-employed (after retirement) in an organisation also involved in collecting intelligence.
This was among a few different attempts to launch renewed efforts to use human sources as “deep penetration” agents in Pakistan, where most intelligence assets, both HUMINT and SIGINT, were wound up during the prime ministership of IK Gujral in the late 1990s.
Evidence That Links Jadhav With RAW
Sources were – understandably – wary about disclosing full details about Jadhav’s recruitment. The proposal to hire him on a temporary basis was prepared by his case officer (of the rank of deputy secretary, who is way below in the hierarchy) on the Pakistan desk. One former RAW officer, however, said that “it could be that the desk handling Iran and Afghanistan” was instrumental in recruiting Jadhav.
In any case, the recruitment was approved by a joint secretary as the supervisory officer. The RAW has a special unit which also undertakes parallel operations in certain crucial target countries for which it seeks out its own recruits.
The clearest evidence that Jadhav operated for the RAW came to the fore only after his cover – as a businessman who would frequent Iran, especially Chabahar – was blown and he was captured by Pakistan, following which a former RAW chief, besides at least two other senior officers, called his Mumbai-based parents to “advise” them to not speak about their son’s case to anyone.
The other evidence was the second passport, with the name Hussein Mubarak Patel, that he carried, which shows that it was originally issued in 2003 and was renewed in 2014. The second passport (no L9630722) was issued in Thane on 12 May 2014 and was due to expire on 11 May 2024.
While one passport (no E6934766) is in his name, the second one raises more questions, especially the date of its issue and why he signed as Hussein Mubarak Patel to enter into a property deal (with his mother) in Mumbai where he lived with his parents, wife, and children before he was nabbed by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Born in August 1968, Jadhav did work for the navy but prematurely retired and took to business, which would often take him to Iran. He was spotted as a potential recruit by an undercover RAW officer posted in Iran, who then subsequently shared this with a colleague at the agency’s headquarters. This second officer subsequently moved to send overtures to Jadhav, who accepted the terms and conditions.
How Was Jadhav Caught?
The nabbing of Jadhav, on 3 March 2016, itself throws up several questions, especially because Pakistan has maintained a degree of secrecy, if not ambiguity, about it. While the Pakistani intelligence had initially claimed that he was trapped in Saravan on the Iran-Pakistan border, a Baloch leader by the name Sarfaraz Bugti had disclosed at the time that Jadhav was held near Chaman in Balochistan.
The RAW sources, both former and serving, said that Jadhav would “go on assignments off and on” and he would undergo the mandatory “debriefing” each time he returned to India from his “visits to Balochistan” or when he volunteered to share information. He also went through a three-month training programme when he learned methods and means to transmit and/or send information.
However, sources said, Jadhav’s undoing was based partly on his unprofessionalism and partly because he was not a “career spy.” He did the unthinkable – instead of waiting to communicate with his case officer face-to-face, Jadhav would sometimes use “means over the airwaves.” The ISI intercepted some of the communications and were also able to pinpoint his location, making it relatively easy for them to track and then nab him, sources said.
Standard Operating Procedure Skipped
“The botch-up was the result of unprofessionalism not only on the part of Jadhav but also his case officer,” one former special secretary, who conducted operations in some parts of West Asia, said. In this context, a former special secretary who handled the Pakistan desk till a few years ago, besides special operations in India’s neighbourhood, said that “Jadhav was no good” as he was “never in the thick of things, although he would claim he knew a lot of things and had sources in Pakistan.”
However, the former special secretary said that while RAW has many flaws, as a “matter of rule and unstated policy” no case officer should attempt to hire the services of an agent whose background in “tradecraft is not sound enough” and who is given to “bragging.”
In Jadhav’s case, while standard operating procedures may have been relaxed while recruiting him, sources said that his incarceration and the ambiguity surrounding his “work” does “have a lot of benefits.”
Several seasoned RAW hands said that while Jadhav’s case officer (deputy secretary) and the latter’s supervisory officer (joint secretary) recruited him for “reasons best known to them,” the standard practice in spycraft would have been to “have a Baloch or a Pakistani national” do the “intelligence gathering job for us.” He added that it was “foolish for to set an Indian the task to obtain intelligence from a country as hostile as Pakistan.”
Sources said that soon after Jadhav was trapped and caught in March 2016, a few records relating to payments made to him were destroyed, leaving “no trace” of his existence as far the RAW is concerned. But a former agency chief, who retired in the closing years of the previous decade, said, “No professional agency should have recruited him. I cannot even imagine that Jadhav was because it has been a disaster.”
He asked pointedly: “Every operation should have an objective. What huge intelligence or foreign policy objective was to be achieved by tasking Jadhav to operate in Balochistan?”