India and Pakistan blame each other's spies for just about everything that goes wrong. If there's an outbreak of plague or a riot, it's the work of the sinister "foreign hand." Indians are certain, for instance, that Pakistan's secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, masterminded the December attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. Do they have any concrete evidence? "Zilch," concedes an Indian official. "Quite honestly, we only know they are involved by implication." Equally, the Pakistanis are convinced that agents of India's secret service, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, are behind random bombings that plague Pakistani cities.
The battle of the subcontinental spooks is played out across the region, with the ISI and RAW busily trying to foil each other's machinations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. They seldom do the dirty work themselves, relying instead on henchmen who are gangsters, separatist chiefs and extremists inside each other's borders.
It's a messy, regional cold war, with a distinctive dash of South Asian paranoia and grudging respect. Nobody speaks more highly of the ISI than counterparts in RAW, and vice versa. In New Delhi, one RAW officer praises the ISI's soldierly "aggression" and reckons his own organization is mired down by bickering bureaucrats. Pakistani officials say the Indians are way ahead of them in propaganda and psychological warfare. "We don't have the resources to carry out all these operations," says a former ISI chief, Javed Ashraf Qazi. "RAW has a budget 10 times that of the ISI's and it is more effective than the ISI." This mutual admiration may, of course, be nothing more than a sly way to lobby for a bigger budget. The scarier these agencies make the enemy appear, the more cash they can claim to need for their own skulduggery. Their finances are kept secret, but estimates put the ISI's annual budget at $45 million and RAW's at $150 million.
Each country accuses the other of using diplomats as a cover for spying. So India and Pakistan both routinely tap each other's embassy telephones, tail diplomats around the cocktail circuit and sometimes have dispatched gigolos to seduce each other's wives for future blackmail. One barometer of the chill between India and Pakistan is the frequency with which they toss out each other's diplomats. The temperature is decidedly frosty: last week, Indian police allegedly slapped around and expelled a Pakistani diplomat for spying, and the Pakistanis responded in kind. In South Asia, the "foreign hand" is always restless.