Would do it all again, says Punjabi spy who came in from the cold

77-year-old Kashmir Singh’s family had little help during his 35 years in a Pakistan jail

January 20, 2018 11:07 pm | Updated January 21, 2018 11:36 am IST

No regrets:  Kashmir Singh with his wife Paramjit Kaur, left, and daughters-in law in Hoshiarpur.

No regrets: Kashmir Singh with his wife Paramjit Kaur, left, and daughters-in law in Hoshiarpur.

Kashmir Singh is no ordinary man. For nearly 35 years he was imprisoned in Pakistan, accused of spying for India. Never once, during his incarceration, through all the torture he underwent, did Mr. Singh admit to spying.

Never once has the Government of India acknowledged he had spied for this country.

He received a rousing welcome when he came back in 2008, and shocked everybody when he later declared that he had indeed spied for the country, having been trained and deployed by the military intelligence (MI).

And at 77, Kashmir Singh is ready to do it all again.

Clad in a typical kurta-pyjama and a green turban, Mr. Singh told The Hindu , “I am still ready to serve my motherland. Even if they [the Government of India] do not accept the fact that I worked for them, it doesn't matter. I don’t regret serving my country.”

When his wife Paramjit Kaur points out that the government wanted nothing to do with him and washed its hands of the family after Pakistan arrested him in 1973, Mr. Singh snubs her.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Singh’s family didn’t know much about his work since he did not speak about it; a certificate produced later in the Punjab and Haryana High Court by his wife, procured from the Army headquarters, Jalandhar Cantonment merely stated that, “Mr. Kashmira Singh served the government from June 1968 to May 1970.”

“He used to tell us that he worked for the Army and had to travel often. ‘If I do not return, the Army will take care of the family,’ he would often say to assure me,” recalls Ms. Paramjit.

Mr. Singh says he remembers most of his assignments across the border. “I was approached by a recruiter of the Army intelligence. I was asked if I was willing to go to Pakistan. I readily accepted the offer.”

Then, I was given a three months training, primarily in photography, at Jalandhar. As a part of my training I clicked pictures in and around Jalandhar Cantonment and at strategic locations in Amritsar,” Mr. Singh says.

His knowledge of Urdu was a definite advantage. He was also trained to identify military vehicles and strategic installations. “Based on my performance, I was selected to go to Pakistan,” he says. He was given a Muslim alias — Mohammed Ibrahim. And the last thing the MI did was to have Kashmir Singh circumcised.

Trained to watch

He was paid salary of ₹480 every month by the MI, which he says was documented but neither he nor the family have any papers to show. “I regularly received the salary for over two years before I was caught. I was also given a daily allowance of ₹150, whenever I went to Pakistan,” he says.

“The first time I went, I was handed over an imported foreign brand mini, 22-(reel) frame camera and was told by the recruiter that my job was to collect information regarding the number of local army units close to the border on the Pakistani side and the nature of work performed by these units. Clicking pictures of these units was a vital part of my job,” he says.

He recalls that on his debut, he was escorted by officials of the agency to the Indo-Pak border near Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district, from where he crossed over to Pakistan early one morning inn 1969.

Mr. Singh refused to divulge further details about who controlled the operations and also denied any involvement in subversive activities.

“After my first successful visit to Kahna Kacha in Lahore, my confidence grew and subsequently. On this trip I was assigned to take pictures of strategic installations in Lahore, Multan, Bhawalpur and Sahiwal. Following this, I made over 50 trips to Pakistan. I would visit Pakistan, click pictures and return usually within seven to ten days. I once clicked pictures of the T-59 tanks, which Pakistan had procured from China,” he says.

Sharing a few details of the nature of his job and the manner in which he performed it, Mr. Singh said he would usually take a room on rent in a guesthouse in Lahore and travel to other places by bus. “I had a good grasp of their language, dialect and customs. Hence, I never had any trouble, until that fateful day when I was arrested,” he recalls.

Describing the sequence of events, Mr. Singh says he was arrested near the 22nd Milestone on the Peshawar-Rawalpindi road. He was on his way to Lahore after taking some pictures in Peshawar for his handlers. The following day he was to return to India.

It would be 35 years before he eventually came home.

He had boarded the bus with a man who was supposed to be his guide. But immediately he sensed something odd about his fellow traveller — maybe it was the way he had been fidgety. So, when the bus slowed down for no reason at all before its scheduled stop, a sixth sense told him to get rid of the camera.

At the 22nd milestone, Pakistani intelligence officers had stopped the bus. They came straight for Kashmir Singh and his colleague and took them away. They didn’t ask them any questions — just whisked them away. Mr. Singh’s cover had been blown by his colleague who later testified against him in a Pakistan army court.

Mr. Singh languished in several Pakistani jails before being spotted by Pakistan's Federal Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney, who took up his case with the government of Pakistan and secured his release on humanitarian grounds in March 2008. Mr. Singh claimed that there were about 35 or 36 others Indians at that time languishing in Lahore Central jail, facing similar cases of espionage.

Mr. J.C. Bhardwaj, a close family friend of Mr. Singh's, who took up the case of his release with both the Indian and Pakistani governments, says the then Pakistan President Parvez Musharaf had accepted the mercy petition and ordered his release and repatriation.

Ignored by Delhi

The Indian government has never acknowledged or recognised that Mr. Singh spied for them. Mr. Singh's younger son, Sishpal, who secured a job in Punjab government on sympathetic grounds in 2009, says a series of documents that were found in the house after his father's arrest indicated that he worked for Indian Army. “Some documents revealed that he was associated with the Punjab Police as well, which he had joined in Amritsar in 1971 but soon after he went on leave,” he adds.

When her husband had been arrested for spying, Paramjit Kaur, was left alone with their three children — two sons then aged eight and four and a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter — to look after. The family faced hardship with little or no support from the government or the authorities except the meagre amount that she received for a couple of years as Mr. Singh’s remuneration.

“After his arrest, I kept receiving ₹300 per month from the Army for nearly two years and later was paid ₹5,000 in cash but after that no monetary help was given by the Indian government,” recalls Ms Paramjit.

For years, she worked as a maid to feed her three children. “The Government of India deserted us when we needed them the most,” she says.

Ms Paramjit, however, is all praise for the then Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who in 2008-09 sanctioned a monthly pension of ₹10,000 to the family and gave a job to their son. Besides, financial help was also extended by the Punjab government and by few other organisations, she adds.

According to Chandigarh-based human-rights activist and senior lawyer Ranjan Lakhanpal, the government never admits the existence of its spies.

“They [spies] are our heroes but once their cover is blown the government disowns them. Government should reward them and take care of their families. Most of them have sacrificed their youth for the nation but yet they are unsung,” says Mr. Lakhanpal, who started taking up cases of spies almost ten years ago without charging them. Till now he has handled more than 60 cases involving Indian spies.

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