Ravindra Kaushik, RAW’s Black Tiger, ended up selling tea outside Gurdaspur after his eighteen-year prison sentence. The spy fought a long and unsuccessful battle for compensation before his death in 2016.
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From his inglorious throne on the open toilet a few dozen metres from a Border Security Force outpost—protected by three armed guards in case an enemy patrol strayed across the wheat fields—the Tamil-speaking intelligence officer considered his mission. Later that night, as the moon rose, he’d shake hands with the agent he’d trained to live undercover in Pakistan and wish him well. Then, once the man disappeared into the shadows, head back to Amritsar, hoping the R&AW station’s famously-asthmatic jeep didn’t break down.
The most epic stories of espionage in South Asia are cloaked in dust, diesel fumes and flies. They’re also stories of brave individuals who were left to die in the heat of Pakistani prisons, unrecognised by successive governments.
Today, Ravindra Kaushik—the fabled Black Tiger of R&AW, who died in Pakistan’s Mianwali prison, and the man sent across the border that night in November 1975—would have turned 71. Kaushik’s story has inspired books and even a movie.
There has been little dispassionate accounting, though, of what the spies of Project X—the super-secret R&AW effort to plant long-term resident agents at the heart of Pakistan’s establishment—actually achieved, and at what cost.
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Project X was shut down by R&AW 20 years ago after its assets and their military-intelligence missions were rendered redundant by sensors on aircraft and satellites. There’s no memorial to the agents who gave their lives.
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