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Much ado about nothing

By The Assam Tribune
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MY SPACE – Brigadier R. Borthakur (Retd.)

[email protected]

One fine morning of November 1986, I received a call from my Commanding Officer (CO), based at Udhampur, Jammu & Kashmir, to immediately move to the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) and carry out the interrogation of an Army personnel. My CO had received urgent information that a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) had been arrested by the police for alleged espionage activities. He directed me not to lose any time, and added that he was also sending another officer to assist me during the interrogation.

At that time, I was posted at a place called Ranbir Singh Pura (RS Pura) near the Indo-Pakistan border. There was no border fencing in those days, and trans-border smuggling activities, in which people of both countries were involved, was prevalent. Some of our citizens were known (or suspected) to be working for the Pakistani intelligence agencies. However, since defence personnel are the best sources for obtaining information about the armed forces, the intelligence agencies of Pakistan Army were obviously interested in ‘cultivating’ them as spies.

"An irrigation canal flowed parallel to the road, and local womenfolk came there to wash their clothes and utensils, as also to take a bath. Since there was no reason for a fauji to be idling in that area, the women probably thought he was ogling at them and raised an alarm..."

As I was moving towards the JIC located in Jammu, which was about 39 kms from my post, I tried to get as much information about the case as possible. The CO had only conveyed that a subedar had been arrested and I could manage to get only some bits and pieces of information. The sum and substance of the case was that a serving army subedar had been caught by the villagers of Damana (approximately ten kms North West of Jammu). Since the villagers had found some Pakistani currency in his possession, they suspected that he was a spy working for Pakistan and had immediately handed him over to the police.

As I reached the JIC, I got some more information. The arrested JCO’s unit was located near Akhnoor, on the Pakistan border. On his way to the Jammu Supply Depot, in his unit vehicle, to collect provisions for his unit, the JCO realised that he had forgotten to bring the indent without which he would not be allowed to draw rations. So, after directing his driver to take the vehicle back to the unit and collect the indent form, he sat down on a culvert to savour the bliss of a sunny winter morning.

An irrigation canal flowed parallel to the road, and local womenfolk came there to wash their clothes and utensils, as also to take a bath. Since there was no reason for a fauji to be idling in that area, the women probably thought he was ogling at them and raised an alarm. Hearing their cries, some farmers working in the fields nearby came rushing and confronted the JCO, and even though he was in uniform, the villagers demanded that he prove his identity.

The JCO promptly obliged, but as he was taking out his identity card from his wallet, two Pakistani currency notes fell out. On seeing the Pakistani currency the locals were convinced that the JCO was a spy, and so they handed him over to the police, who in turn informed all the intelligence agencies. That is how my CO came to know about this incident.

The JCO was taken to JIC, Jammu, for detailed investigation by all the agencies. Instances of army personnel being involved in the espionage activities aren’t very common, and so, this case had rattled everyone. The genuine concern was that this JCO could be part of a bigger spy network of serving army personnel. In fact, even before the interrogation commenced, some officials were fully convinced that the JCO was a ‘big fish’ that had been caught, and were certain that this was just the tip of the iceberg. However, as we started the interrogation, something completely different emerged.

During the course of the interrogation, the JCO told us that the Pakistani currency had been gifted to him by a Pakistani family. He went on to reveal that he had befriended a Pakistani family during a train journey to Lucknow a few months ago. This family had been on a tourist visa to India, visiting the Taj Mahal and other historical sites, and had been going to Lucknow to meet their relatives. While bidding goodbye, the family had given this JCO two Pakistani currency notes as a souvenir, which he then kept in his wallet.

After a long interrogation, we were convinced that the JCO was not working as a spy, and even though another intelligence agency had wanted to interrogate him for a few more days, we were able to convince them to hand him back to his unit. Suchincidents do happen when we initially think that we have caught a ‘big fish’, but often they turn out to be nothing!

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