Secrets of RAW By Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd.)
PVSM AVSM VM
11, Silver State, Pilibhit Byepass Road,
Bareilly-243005 (U.P.) INDIA
Mob: 9411900090, 09999722636
This is a commentary on a recently released book by a former officer in India’s external spying agency. There have been views and counter-views and occasionally, some of RAW operatives have spoken out of hand. Strangely, one RAW officer, posted in a Gulf mission, tried to denigrate his successor by alleging that he was using the diplomatic bag to smuggle gold.
Nonetheless, there has been some serious debate on whether the government should have released the tapes of conversation between Gen Musharaf and his Chief of Army Staff on the occupation of Kargil heights. Of course, Pakistan lied and was nailed by the conversation. But still, one the Indian government let it be known that its agencies could monitor the highest level of conversation between the Pakistani military brass, the source dried up.
Needless to say that it was an invaluable source.
Maj Gen VK Singh’s recent book has sent quite a flutter in the intelligence fraternity in particular and has given the media another masala subject to ponder and deliberate upon.
I also happened to serve an outfit of RAW, the Aviation Research Center (ARC), as the Operations Manager for three years from Feb 97 to 31 Dec. 99.
My predecessor had called me up and advised me not to accept this deputation, as he had felt most unhappy 9during his two years tenure) mostly due to administrative arrangements and some what lopsided hierarchy. Since I had been on the advisory panel of the ARC during the late 1980s to establish the new inductions. I was quite familiar with the working environment. I accepted the deputation as directed by the Air Hq and joined the outfit during the first week of Feb 1997. Of course, the was against the advice of my predecessor.
A fleet of more than 30 aircraft (fixed & rotary using), half a dozen air bases and about 1500 personnel spread out at the various places, I set the targets for myself: high serviceability, fully operational aircrews, high standards of maintenance and fulfillment of operational tasks.
Overall objective” 100 per cent mission accomplishment. And I can say that this was achieved within the first 3 to 6 months.
All I can the say is that the organization provided an open platform, to use one’s managerial skills, administrative acumen, and professional approach to achieve the organizational objectives. No such directives were given by my superiors. I had set by goals, I was responsible for my actions and I also set my objectives to ensure my accountability.
The organization, up to the highest level, provided support to achieve all these institutional objectives. That is all an operative can ask for in an intelligence outfit.
I served with three RAW chiefs- Mitra, Arvind Dave and AS Dullat, My immediate bosses were Mahajan and Billy Bedi , each of them an officer of impeccable character, excellent as human being and through professional.
Having gone through Maj Gen VK Sing’s book’s 12 chapter, I did not feel any chilling feeling. The first three chapters are dedicated to his years with the Indian Army, the next two on very mundane issues of how the offices are located and to whom you report, and how many flower pots at the entrance of an office etc.
One has to understand that in an organization like RAW – or for the matter in any intelligence organization-people have to work on the need-to-know basis.
Having an office on the first, second, or third floor does not matter and certainly did not affect the functioning of the organization. People were available to the senior executives for interaction of issuance of any directions.
Whether there are name plated or not outside the offices of various executives or personnel, id decided by the organization itself as part of its cultural on how to transact its business. People can be at different places;
What matters is that the required connectivity should be there. Even the Army and Navy officers are widely dispersed in South Block, Send Bhawan, and hutments and even farther.
Maj Gen VK Singh has talked about signal intelligence in three chapters. May be for an Army formation for its operational task, the signal Regiments plays a role which a commander cannot relegate elsewhere. That is a role peculiar to the Army.
But for the conduct of external intelligence, there are may sources, humint, personal contacts, publications, satellites, and other sources of technical intelligence. As regards the interception of two generals being monitored and its tapes being handed over to Nawaz Sharif, RAW couldn’t have this on its own.
This was deliberate decision at the highest political level. May be the dividends in terms of political and diplomatic gains were considered higher, and hence the assessment. Judgments are relevant to the time they are taken at.
It should be well understood that intelligence organizations work at the behest of their political masters. It would be appropriate to quote an incident here.
During Oct 1998, the Prime Minister’s Officer (PMO) advised RAW and ARC to go slow on surveillance of Pakistani activities to help ease the tension between the two countries, and build a friendly atmosphere. The focus was on Indian Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s Bus Yatra (journey) to Lahore.
The Pakistani military establishment, particularly the Inter services Intelligence (ISI) has not shown any such gesture. But despite that, New Delhi wanted to show a sense of goodwill. It was conveyed from the highest quarters that peace is important for both the countries, and sooner or later, Islamabad should evolve a sense in its own interest that peace with India would mean economic prosperity with its own people.
Only when there were reports of Pakistani incursions in the Kargil heights that the ARC was tasked to check if the Pakistanis had indeed crossed the Line of Control to the Indian side and violated the border agreement.
We saw six Pakistani Mi 17 helicopters 10-12 km inside of the Indian side of LoC, mules and camps, in Mushkoh Valley, and Kargil and Dras sectors. Their pictures were immediately given to the then Defence Minister. George Fernandes, and the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army. In fact Fernandes expressed shock that Pakistani government talked of peace on the one hand and sent its troops to across the LoC on the other. What lies and double-speak, he had commented, and asked the Army to immediately address the intrusion.
And we know the consequences. The Pakistanis initially denied-lies being a part of their state culture always-and later tried to rationalize it when caught.
There are only two chapters, 11 and 12, where Maj Gen V.K. Singh has expressed serous apprehension of the organizational functioning.
May be he was in an era where a particular set of people could not enforce and continue with the organizational cultural. A certain decline seemed to have set in and that is why Tharakkan, an outsider, was brought in to head the organization.
There was a time when the Intelligence Bureau Chief and later, the RAW Chief, could meet the Prime Minister at any time. The hearsay is that Mallick and Kao used to brief the prime Minister every morning. They did not need an appointment.
When Morarji Desai succeeded India Gandhi in 1977 after the Emergency, he did try to distance the RAW chief from himself, who was the legendary RN Kao, and asked him to go to the Cabinet Secretary first.
03 RAW Chiefs IO served with also enjoyed a fairly decent equation with the higher political leadership.
To quote an incident, the Army and Naval Chiefs had complained to the Defence Minister about inadequate and ineffective functioning Raw and its other outfits. A briefing cum presentation was planned in the Minister’s office in April 1998.
This was attended by the Minister, George Fernandez, as well as the then Defence Secretary. RAW was represented by the RAW Chief, three addl/spl secretaries, Billy and myself. The Minister and the Defence Seretaries were more than satisfied.
The inadequacies in fact were identified on the part of the Army and Naval Headquarters; there was no proper dissemination of the information given to them.
Even during the Kargil operations, despite the clear picture of Pakistani helicopters well inside the Indian side of LoC, some Indian generals in the northern sector kept on insisting that there were no Pakistani troops inside India but only 60 to 80 infiltrators. The Pakistan President would have been the happiest with them.
The Indian Army is yet to say what impact this perception, ignorance, or mindset of a couple of generals at the command level had on the Kargil operations.
The K Subrahmanyam Committee, which looked into the Kargil War, did not go into the Army’s operational details, and I understand that he has mentioned that he was not aware of this mindset of the top army brass on the operational area.
Perhaps the Army should have a re-look, if only to ensure that mistakes at the command level do not happen ever again Was it the system at the Army HQ which failed to convey the ARC reports to the Army Brass in the northern sector, or they deliberately ignored it so as not to own responsibility for the Pakistani intrusion.
Reference to Subrahmanyam Committee
A lot has been talked about the Subrahmanyam committee.
Sixteen meetings were held between the Committee and ARC and RAW from August 1999 to Dec 2000.
I quote relevant portions: “No intelligence failures had been attributed on account of functioning of RAW and ARC. However, certain equipment inadequacies were highlighted such as:
(a) Satellite imagery resolution.
(b) All weather capability with sub-meter resolution
(c) Availability of UAVs
(d) Better coordination
Some of the observations of the Subrahmanyam Committee are relevant. It says in its report:
“However, it acknowledge that the Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB) did convey certain inputs on activities in areas under Gilgit-based FCNA (Force Commander Northern Areas) of Pakistan to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Director General Military operations (DGMO).
There is a general lack of awareness of the critical importance of and the need for assessed intelligence at all levels. JIC reports do not receive the attention they deserve at the political and higher bureaucratic levels. Of the 45 intelligence inputs generated between May 1998 and April 1999, only 25% went through the JIC.
A Kargil-type situation could perhaps have been avoided had the Indian Army followed a policy of Siachenisation to plug upheld gaps along the 168 km stretch from Kaobal Gali to Chorbat La… such a dispersal of Forces to hold uninhabited territory of no strategic value would have dissipated considerable military strength and effort and would not have at all been cost effective. The alternative should be a a credible declaratory policy of swiftly punishing wanton and willful violation of the sanctity of the LoC.
Specific to Kargil Operation
The Army HQ asked for photographic intelligence of the LOC in Oct 1998. After that no requisition was given by them. Only on 10 May 1999, a requisition was given to photograph our own territory. A number of missions were flown and I would like to mention the comments of the Chief of Air Staff of the operation, sent to director ARC:
“I would like to place on record my sincere appreciation for the sterling work done by the ARC during Operation Vijay. The electronic and optical information provided by the ARC before and during the actual operations was of immense value to the conduct of air strikes.
The co-operation extended by your men in carrying out missions under difficult and demanding circumstances in an eloquent testimony to the excellent leadership and guidance provided by you to the organization.
I am confident that the co-ordination between our organizations achieved during the operation will continue in times to come.”
Not only that there used to be nearly daily meetings between the DGMI or even with the Chief of Army Staff, Gen VP Malik. I quote the Gen VP Malik as saying:
“ I highly appreciate the efforts of ARC in making our tasks easier. But you will appreciate I cannot publicly acknowledge these contributions.
But I have no hesitation in admitting that it was with your organization’s sterling effort that the Army could link up and correlate their operational plans and execute them timely and successful; otherwise the causality figures could have been much higher.”
Even after my retirement whenever Gen Malik me, he always complimented the efforts of the ARC.
Every organization develops its own culture. Some allow more freedom, which actually help an officer, and an operative, to set the direction of his goals and objectives. As long as there is responsibility, this should be okay.
There are enough checks and balances in the form of National Security Council and National Security Advisor, and checks can only restrict the flexibility of the organizational functioning of intelligence bodies. That may not be wise idea.
(The views expressed by Subrahmanyam Committee u the author are based on his personal experience and do not necessarily reflect any policy of this publication).