A fowl affair

A senior Pakistani diplomat called the entire thing a fowl affair and was also quick to affirm that Pakistan would not be negotiating for the bird’s release.

The use of animals to conduct cross-border espionage isn’t new. Some years ago, an Indian monkey was apprehended by Pakistani authorities after illegally crossing the border.

The monkey, nicknamed Bobby—and likely a distraction for other infiltrators —casually walked into the Cholistan desert in 2011 and resisted arrest until police managed to lure him out of a tree with bananas. He is now detained in a Bahawalpur zoo, together with visitor attraction and distant cousin, Raju, part of the family that had migrated back in 1947. Things are acrimonious in the shared cage; Raju won’t pick Bobby’s fleas because of their differing faiths.

But training animals for international espionage isn’t a sure fire thing, said the diplomat.

“Pigeons don’t make good spies, they can be distracted by little things like a parked car or a clean windshield. They don’t always come back either. Imagine putting in all those years of hard work only to find out it was mating season when you let it go. It’s probably half way to Australia with its new family by the time you find out,”

Enough to start a war?

“This is just another attempt by Pakistan to flip India the bird,” says an angry commentator on Twitter, referring to an incident in 2010, when another pigeon was caught trespassing Indian air space over Amritsar. It was guided to a forced landing by Indian Sukhoi Su-30MKIs and taken captive. Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh did not decide to make an international issue out of it, but it remains to be seen whether the incumbent, Narendra Modi, will take a similar stance.

Spies everywhere?
Image: AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan

“I don’t think it’s enough to start a war, you’d need at least a couple of camels sent to eat classified documents for that. But who knows, we’ve gone to war over less,” says a concerned citizen. “I’m more concerned about the pigeon’s safety.”

The Geneva Convention is unspecific over the treatment of spy birds. Last year, the Chinese put 10,000 local pigeons through anal inspections to make sure they weren’t carrying explosives.

Although the only thing explosive this pigeon seems to be carrying is diarrhoea. “We’ve had to wash the cage twice I don’t know what they fed it before it flew off,” said SSP Chauhan.

Indian officials say they know the ISI has been training migratory birds to use as proxies in Kashmir and hope that Pakistan will revise this policy soon. It will leave the avian population of the both countries impoverished and they’ll be forced to enter into expensive military contracts with American zoos.

ISI hand

The ISI, meanwhile, entirely dismissed these accusations. “Trust me. The only proxies we’re using these days are to access YouTube,” one official claims.

Another dismissal comes from Pakistani security expert, culture critic and political scientist, Shaheen Hamid, who says the Indians are just being salty because Pakistan is hosting cricket again.

Hamid also says that Sunday’s final one-day international cricket match between Pakistan and Mugabwe was washed away not by natural rain but by artificial precipitation that the Indians engineered in a lab. “They have the technology, this is what’s been causing unprecedented flooding in Pakistan.”

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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