In the foyer of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) headquarters in Delhi stands a life-size statue of a cowboy with a likeness to founder Rameshwar Nath Kao.
The statue was based on a smaller image presented to Kao in the mid-1970s by the father of another cowboy, George W. Bush, while he served as CIA chief. Yet, Kao, who built R&AW into a professional intelligence organisation in just three years, was anything but a cowboy. A behind-the-scenes operator who gave credit to his colleagues when things went well and took the rap when things failed, Kao’s unseen hand was seen in the events like the creation of Bangladesh, India’s role in the Great Game in Afghanistan, and in Sikkim, Nagaland and Mizoram, when he worked as Indira Gandhi’s chief spy and later as adviser to Rajiv Gandhi. This was the stuff thrillers are made of. Yet you wouldn’t hear of it from the Kaoboys—the men handpicked to staff the intelligence agency in 1968—who, like their reclusive mentor, prefer to carry their secrets to the grave. Bahukutumbi Raman, a 1961 batch IPS officer, breaks this omerta.
Raman, who retired as additional secretary in charge of counter-terrorism in R&AW in 1994, records his secret service years with brief insights into the personality of Kao. The agency had its share of successes and failures—it pulled off the liberation of Bangladesh, but failed to prevent the assassination of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. It functioned as a quasi-foreign service through the Cold War and learned how the business of intelligence was a dirty one—the agencies of France and the US repeatedly penetrated R&AW even when they enjoyed excellent relations with India. The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane (Lancer, 300pp, Rs.795) reveals bizarre aspects of cooperation—the CIA trained officers of the ISI in the use of terrorism, while also training R&AW in techniques of countering terrorism. Kao’s observations hold true even today: “One should never trust the US in matters concerning Pakistan. The US will never act against Pakistan for anything it does to India.” Despite the revelations, Raman gives you the feeling he is hiding more than he is telling, and still remains a Kaoboy.
THE MOLE IN YAHYA KHAN’S OFFICE
Sankaran Nair (the second chief of R&AW) was the leading expert of the intelligence community on Pakistan and the rest of the Islamic world.
He was dealing with Pakistan even in the IB before the R&AW was formed. He had built up a network of sources in Pakistan at various levels—particularly in the armed forces. A mole of his in the office of General Yahya Khan reported in the last week of November 1971, that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) intended making a pre-emptive strike on the forward air bases of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the western sector on December 1. The IAF was immediately alerted by Nair and Indira Gandhi was informed by Kao. The IAF ordered a high alert and took necessary precautionary measures to thwart the planned pre-emptive strike. Nothing happened on December 1 and 2. On the morning of December 3, the IAF headquarters told Nair that they could not continue to keep their pilots in a state of high alert any longer. He requested them to continue it for another 24 hours and downgrade it on the morning of December 4, if nothing happened. He assured the IAF headquarters that his source was very reliable and generally accurate in his intelligence. The IAF headquarters agreed to continue the high alert. On the evening of December 3, the PAF launched a pre-emptive strike, which was a total failure because the IAF had advance warning of it. Nair checked up as to how, his source, who was generally accurate, gave the date of the planned strike as December 1. It was found that in his coded message the source had given the date correctly as December 3, but the decoders in the R&AW headquarters had incorrectly decoded it as December 1.
RAJIV GANDHI’S ASSASSINATION
The only human intelligence report of some relevance came from the German intelligence a few months before the assassination (on May 21, 1991) stating that a Sri Lankan Tamil living in Germany had been visiting Chennai and that he was reputed to be an expert in explosives. Unfortunately, this was not properly investigated by the IB. The entire focus of the intelligence coverage of the LTTE was on its activities in Sri Lanka, its gun running, etc. There was no specific focus on the likely threats to Rajiv Gandhi’s security from it.
After the assassination, the monitoring division of the R&AW energised by (the head of the Sri Lanka division) S.A. Subbaiah, did outstanding work in tracking down the movements of those involved in the conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi on an hour-to-hour basis, but the monitoring division too had failed to detect the conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi before the tragedy took place. The interceptions made after the assassination and the repeated breaking of the LTTE’s code by the code-breakers of the R&AW indicated that the LTTE’s communications security was poor.
If it was poor after the assassination, it was most likely that it was poor before it too. The monitoring before the assassination was not as systematic as it was after it.
ARMS TRAINING FOR THE RSS
In a potentially controversial move, Vinod Pandey (V.P. Singh’s cabinet secretary in 1989) wanted the R&AW to organise clandestine arms training for the cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the Jammu area so that they could be used for countering Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. One had the impression that this idea had originated from L.K. Advani, the BJP leader, who was exercising pressure on the government to start this training quickly. The R&AW felt very uncomfortable about this idea. Under sustained pressure from Pandey, it held two secret meetings with a representative of the Jammu branch of the RSS to discuss the modalities of the training. The first meeting was held in a Jammu hotel and the second in hotel Ambassador in Delhi. By then, serious differences had cropped up between V.P. Singh and the BJP over Advani’s plan to take a rath yatra to Ayodhya to seek public support to its demand for the construction of a Ram temple in the place then occupied by the Babri Masjid. Pandey directed the R&AW not to take further action on the project which remained a non-starter.
LTTE’S PAKISTAN CONNECTION
Through the interception of the LTTE’s communications—(R&AW detected) an attempt by the LTTE to smuggle a consignment of arms and ammunition from Karachi… given to the LTTE by Pakistan’s Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with the complicity of the ISI. The movement of the LTTE ship (MV Ahat)…was ultimately intercepted… (but) its crew set fire to it as a result of which it sank… Kittu, a close confidant of Prabhakaran, who was travelling on the ship, chose to commit suicide….
GUJRAL SHUTS THE COVERT DIVISION
At the same time, Rajiv Gandhi was convinced—as strongly as his mother was—that India’s preoccupation had to be not with individual Pakistani leaders, who are a passing phenomena, but with the Pakistani mindset, which was an enduring phenomenon right from the day Pakistan was born in 1947. In India, there is no such thing as an enduring mindset towards Pakistan. The mindsets keep changing with leaders and circumstances. It is not so in Pakistan. The compulsive urge to keep India weak, bleeding and destabilised influences policy-making in Pakistan—whoever be the leader, civilian or military. It has nothing to do with its humiliation in Bangladesh in 1971. It was there before 1971 and has been there since 1971. Some leaders such as those of the fundamentalist parties openly exhibit it, but others manage to conceal it behind seeming warmth in their behaviour. Till that mindset changes, India has to adopt a mix of incentives and disincentives in its operational policies towards Pakistan—incentives towards a cooperative relationship and disincentives to discourage hostile actions.
…Saxena, Joshi and Verma under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership followed a triangular policy towards Pakistan—cooperative relations where possible, hard-hitting covert actions when necessary and close networking with Afghanistan. This policy started paying dividends in Punjab even when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM in the form of reduced ISI support for the Khalistanis but this did not prevent the ISI from interfering in J&K from 1989. The successors of Rajiv Gandhi as the PM had the good sense to realise that this was not an argument for discontinuing Rajiv Gandhi’s policy but for further strengthening it. This triangular strategy was continued with varying intensity under the successors to Rajiv Gandhi, but, unfortunately, under Inder Gujral, who was PM in 1997, discontinued it under his Gujral doctrine. He ordered the R&AW to wind up its covert action division as an act of unilateral gesture towards Pakistan. His hopes that this gesture would be reciprocated by Pakistan were belied. His policy towards Pakistan became one of unilateral incentives with no disincentives.
MORARJI DESAI AND ZIA-UL-HAQ
General Zia-ul-Haq, who overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a military coup in 1977 and arrested him, was anxious to avoid any fresh tensions in Pakistan’s relations with India till he was able to get rid of Bhutto and consolidate his power. He kept in touch with Morarji Desai on the phone in order to befriend him. Like many senior military officers of the Pakistan Army, Zia was a pastmaster in the art of flattery. Often, he would ring up Morarji Desai under the pretext of consulting him on native medicine and urine therapy. Nothing flattered Morarji more. Zia would ask him with seeming earnestness in his voice: “Excellency, how many times should one drink urine in a day? Should it be the first urine of the morning or can it be at any time of the day?” In a disarmed and unguarded moment one day, Morarji told him that he was aware that Pakistan was clandestinely trying to develop a military nuclear capability. Indiscreet political leaders are the unavoidable occupational hazard of the intelligence profession.
BRAJESH MISHRA UNDERMINES SPY CHIEFS
Brajesh Mishra as the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and as, concurrently, his National Security Adviser (NSA) established the practice of all advise to the PM—either from the intelligence chiefs or from other officials—going through him. This is why he strongly opposed the repeated demands that the same person should not wear two hats as the Principal Secretary to the PM and the nsa. He diluted the role of the intelligence chiefs as advisers to the PM on national security matters and kept the roles restricted to the collection, analysis and assessment of intelligence and its dissemination. In national security policy-making, the intelligence chiefs—particularly the chief of the R&AW—were reduced to the role of being his direct subordinates and advisers… However the dib managed to acquire a little more space and significant role for himself by using his political contacts such as L.K. Advani, the Home Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, who jealously guarded his turf from any encroachment by Brajesh Mishra, and Ranjan Bhattacharya, the son-in-law of Vajpayee.
BRIBING THE SHAH’S FAMILY
When the Morarji Desai-led government came into power, it had all the records of R&AW scrutinised in the hope of finding instances of the misuse of the organisation by Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. It could not find any. However, it came across a curious case in the files of the Ministry of Finance and the RBI which it thought it could use to fix R&AW, Kao and Nair. This related to Nair being sent to Geneva during the Emergency to deposit a cheque for $6 million in a numbered account of a bank in Geneva. Morarji Desai suspected that this account belonged to Sanjay Gandhi.
However, enquiries revealed that this account actually belonged to one Rashidyan, an Iranian middleman who was a close friend of Ashraf Pehlawi, the sister of the Shah of Iran. On the recommendation of the Hindujas, the Ministry of Finance of the GoI had used the services of this man to request Ashraf Pehlawi to persuade the Shah to grant two soft loans to India—one for the implementation of the Kudremukh iron ore project and the other to pay the import bill of India. The Govt was facing serious financial difficulties after the US action against India after the Pokhran I nuclear test in 1974 and had requested the Shah of Iran for a soft loan of $250 million. At the urging of Ashraf Pehlawi, the Shah agreed to help India out. The Finance Ministry agreed to the recommendation of the Hindujas that a commission of $6 million should be paid out to Rashidyan for getting this loan through the sister of the Shah of Iran.
Courtesy : Stratfor