It is in the nature of their job that spies are talked about more in the country they are deployed than the one they work for. It’s common practice for intelligence agencies to disown their men when they are captured in a foreign country. Do-and-deny is indeed the No. 1 mantra of espionage. So Indians would hear more often about Pakistani spies working for ISI and getting arrested in India, than about India’s spies in Pakistan. Few have heard of Jammu-based Vinod Sawhney, for example, who was an Indian spy in Pakistan. Now he heads Jammu Ex-sleuths, a registered NGO that the 65-year-old founded for rehabilitating former spies.
“Both my grown-up sons complain that I have done nothing great in my life. Neither do they like what I do now. I don’t mind as I know we did good things for our country. It is another matter that the country has forgotten us,” says Sawhney, who lives in a one-storey house on a narrow lane near Shaheed Baghat Singh Chowk in Jammu’s Bakshi Nagar area. He often quotes Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in chaste Urdu while narrating his struggle as an Indian spy caught in Pakistan, followed by his efforts to rehabilitate former spies back in India. He learnt reading and writing in the language during his incarceration in Pakistani jails. That was the time of General Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule, and he remembers the names of many Pakistan Army officers and politicians whom he met as fellow inmates in various jails.