Madhuri Gupta (53), a junior officer at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, has been arrested for spying for Pakistan. This is the first time an Indian woman diplomat has been arrested for espionage.
A frustrated single lady, according to her own admission, she fell into the Pakistan trap, for the lure of money. There is also a talk of honey trap but it doesn’t seem to be true at least on the basis of available information.
She went to Pakistan in 2007 as an Urdu translator in the Press and Information Section. A year later she became the Second Secretary (Press). She speaks perfect Urdu and can pass off as a Pakistani with her accent. She is proficient in Persian as well.
Madhuri makes friends easily and is great with small talk- a trait that helped her in dealing with Pakistani press and hosting events for the Indian Mission. Pakistan’s Urdu press, ‘where the real news is’, as she herself once said to a visiting Indian journalist, is close to the army and the ISI. It is this access that gives the Urdu journalists and their papers an aura. One such journalist, working with Nawa-i-Waqt, one of the oldest Urdu newspapers from Lahore, had put Madhuri in touch with a friend identified as Rana, who became her Pakistan handler and treated her as a ‘high value asset’.
Some reports suggest that Madhuri had got into ISI trap when posted to Baghdad and that the link had made her manage a posting to Islamabad through a god-father in the Foreign Office. There is no independent corroboration of this theory, though.
MONEY TRAP – NOT HONEY TRAP
Madhuri has since been recalled to Delhi, arrested and presented before a magistrate who remanded her to police custody. Investigators said she has confessed to spying for Pakistan. ‘I did it for money’, she reportedly said. She received regular pay offs. The money was first deposited in a Pakistani bank and then transferred to her bank account in India.
Sources are quoted as saying that she had spied not for the sake of money but to settle scores with the senior brass as she did not get her due in the service. This claim appears farfetched. It is normal for officers in any service and grade to stagnate for a long while. That is in the very nature of government service. But Madhuri has no reason to complain as she had plum overseas postings during a 30-yerar career. Just before her Pakistan posting, she was assigned to the prestigious foreign policy think tank – Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA). She also worked with the ‘India Perspective’, a magazine of the External Affairs Ministry
Madhuri came under the scanner some four months back by taking extraordinary interest in matters not related to her job ( of translating news and views from Urdu papers into English. She was alone at the Urdu translation desk), and, by being seen in the diplomatic enclave with ‘mysterious people”.
She reportedly became curious about foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan. These talks took place in February in Delhi. Her official position at the Indian Mission kept her out of the loop in such matters. Yet, she was too inquisitive on the position Delhi would take on the composite dialogue (a 2004 innovation of India for talks’ framework with Pakistan). She also wanted to know about Indian interests in Afghanistan, army deployment on the borders and the Indian approach at the SAARC summit in Thimphu
Suspicions arose as she went about asking about outstation visits undertaken by officials of the high commission and an assessment of sorts about 26/11 fall-out (Pak based terrorists attack on Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008). She preferred to go around Islamabad or travel to India alone by car unlike other Indian diplomats in Pakistan, who always go out in groups.
HIGH VALUE- LOW PENETRATION
Her public profile at the Mission, could have led the ISI to consider Madhuri as a high value asset but she had no access to the rooms of senior officers at the High Commission. It means two things. One there is no basis to believe, at the present stage of investigations, that she had access to any top-secret documents. Two the information she had passed on was what she heard here and there, or gathered simply by observing seniors informally discuss after formal meetings. All boils down to conjectures and clever assessments palmed off as inside track.
Says a former Indian diplomat: “She is in the information wing, which is isolated from the political wing and not in the most vital departments and could not have been privy to the most sensitive of documents. However it is a penetration. We earlier had a penetration by East Europeans, but this is a first from Pakistan”.
Going by this school, the Madhuri tap is a low level penetration – of using staff at the lower echelons. That is not something unusual. It keeps happening in many countries. It is not in the Cold War league of traps by KGB and M16.
A section of the Indian and Pakistan media and Indian TV channels has been speculating that Madhuri had accessed classified information from a friendly officer at the Indian High Commission. Some reports even identified the person as RAW’s station chief in Pakistan, Rajinder Kumar Sharma, posted as a counsellor in economic and commercial wing.
One TV channel said Madhuri had disclosed to the ISI the identities of Indian intelligence officers posted as diplomats in Pakistan and other South Asian countries and West Asia.
These reports are not corroborated. The Indian Government has since cracked down on staff posted in Islamabad in the last three years.
Investigators familiar with Madhuri case don’t rule out the possibility of her working as a double agent. ‘It is a possibility. It cannot be ruled out’. So, it is possible that Madhuri was used to ‘feed’ information to her handlers. But then beyond a point such an exercise is not worth the trouble as the person is already compromised and is subject to blackmailing.
There is a Kashmir angle to the Madhuri espionage. She had been in touch with a Rajouri- based Kashmir family, whose house was frequented by a senior army officer. The Rajouri lady made several visits to Pakistan. She regularly talked to Madhuri on phone and exchanged E-mails. Some of these mails are now part of the documents being held as evidence against Madhuri who was called to Delhi on April 21 on the pretext of discussions over SAARC summit at Thimphu.
Curiously, the Madhuri spy ring had burst a day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was due to travel to Thimphu for the SAARC summit and bilaterals with Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and other leaders.
Only last July, Singh and Gilani, meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh (Egypt) during the NAM summit had agreed on real time intelligence sharing with a view to thwarting terror attacks.