The Spy still out in the cold

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The life of a mukhbir or informer in Kashmir can be nasty, brutish and short. But that hasn’t discouraged Pinky,  says Amrita Nandy-Joshi

WHILE WARS are fought by armies, they are actually won by the shadowy figures working in the background. Popular culture has romanticised the figure of the spy, and visions of James Bond and images of the alluring Mata Hari, the stripperdancer who was executed during Word War I, flit through mind as you wait to meet the absurdly named Pinky.

When you eventually see the woman who works as an informer in Kashmir, you are disappointed. Far from being a seductive figure, Pinky-the-Spy is a 38-year-old Kashmiri woman of large girth. Dressed in a multicoloured outfit with a load of accompanying bling, she does not look at all like a mukhbir, Kashmiri for informer.

“So, are you an agent?” you ask rather doubtfully after the customary exchange of polite salaams. Her response blows you away: “I am a double agent. I pretend to work as a spy for one group while actually working as one for its rivals”. Only one group is aware of the double contact. In Pinky’s case, she works for the Indian intelligence agencies while being part of the Valley’s militant networks.

Work is erratic. As many weeks go by with no ‘news’, she spends her time working as a sales-woman. At other times, she travels to distant villages and towns, posing as a journalist. Most of her information is garnered from a network of sources spread across the state or from her own meetings with militants and their patrons. The news could be about the movement of militants, about stashes of arms and ammunition or even about an impending planned attack.

‘I am a double agent. I pretend to work as a spy for one group while actually working for its rivals,’ says Pinky

Her modus operandi isn’t as straightforward as it appears. “I have to verify any piece of news I receive, otherwise I will lose my reputation as a reliable informer. So, if the news involves a certain spot, I personally reconnoitre the place. After I have seen and identified the people involved and the place, I tip-off the security forces. Then, an army man accompanies me to the spot to authenticate the information. Only after that do the security agencies respond through a raid,” she explains.

A little prodding and Pinky gives you anecdotes of her various ‘operations’. “In 2006, I was asked by a Lashkar-e-Toiba militant to collect ammunition in Kupwara and deliver it to a contact in Srinagar. I set off for the destination with an army man posing as a taxi driver in a civil vehicle. At the designated spot in Kupwara, the militant got into the car with the delivery, which was a big, heavy sack containing a rocket launcher, a 15-litre pressure cooker with a land mine, pistols and bullets. Once he was arrested and jailed, the militant revealed information about a hideout from where bigger dumps of arms like bullets and Kalashnikovs were recovered,” she recollects.

Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri

Pinky’s outward stoicism hides a well of sorrow. “In 2008, militants killed my brother when they found out that he was working as an informer,” she says. You are intrigued. Considering their reputation in Kashmir, especially with regard to women, wasn’t working with the army as risky as helping militants? “I have been out at nights, waiting at odd places with them but I have never faced any problems. I trust the army wallahs,” Pinky says.

If there’s one thing Pinky dreads, it’s being exposed among the militants. Memories of the gruesome attacks on informers in the mid 1990s are still fresh. That fear, however, has not pushed her to lead a regular life. “It’s not possible to undo the past,” she says, as she launches into the story of her life that could easily put a Bollywood masala flick to shame.

The daughter of a homemaker mother and a soldier father, Pinky was married off while still at college. That the groom was a religious man was enough to impress her devout father. Little did Pinky or her parents know that her husband was actually a Pakistan- trained mujahid working for a militant organisation. Soon enough, Pinky was meeting local and foreign militants, and before she knew it, she was one of them. The militants used her home as a rendezvous. She had to pass messages or make deliveries of small firearms, and she continued to be a carrier even during her pregnancies. While the mercenary husband was often absent, Pinky struggled to put her daughters through school. Life was lonely. The marriage came to an abrupt end when her husband left her to marry a younger woman. Shattered by the betrayal, impoverished and fearing for the safety of her daughters amid the continuing raids of her home by the security forces, Pinky had her moment of epiphany. She switched sides. From helping her militant husband, she turned to helping the security forces and became one of the many informers in the Valley. And what of her former husband? He continues to work as an ‘upper ground handler’ for a militant group.

PINKY’S SAGA is common. “Hundreds of girls in Srinagar, some as young as 16, are brainwashed into marrying militants. My neighbourhood shelters many ‘son-in-law militants’,” she says, adding that as women in burqas are not checked as thoroughly, they are easy carriers of arms or even RDX.

‘Changing roles is like changing clothes for me. My daughters only know me as a saleswoman,’ she says

“I was once caught at Lal Chowk by the Special Task Force for carrying a pistol. I was there with a young militant who had shoved the pistol in my bag and fled when he saw cops at a checkpost. I was taken to the police station, interrogated for a few hours and even hit on the leg with a baton. Thanks to my contacts among the security forces, I was released,” she says.

So how does Pinky-the-Spy manage the seemingly effortless switch to Pinky-the-Mother? “Changing roles is like changing clothes for me. My daughters only know me as a sales woman-cum-journalist. I chat with them and we watch television together,” she says.

Espionage sits uneasily with such domesticity. But Pinky manages her many roles with élan. As she walks away, still talking softly into one of her three phones, it strikes you afresh that she’s no Mata Hari figure. Then, you settle into your chair and ponder her strange Kafkaesque life.

amritanandy.joshi@gmail.com

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