Friday, February 5, 2010

The Kaoboys of RAW

THE KAOBOYS OF RAW: Down Memory Lane
Lancer's (Publisher) Book page

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Bahukutumbi Raman is a former head of the counter-terrorism division of India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). He retired from service on August 31, 1994, and his first article appeared in a newspaper on Sep 1, 1994! He has been a prolific writer since, with his columns appearing regularly in newspapers and on online sites like

He has written several books, but this one captured the most attention in the public.

This book is a reminisce of B Raman's time in the R&AW. The book traces the origins of RAW from its inception, and is divided into chapters, each of which covers a broad topic, such as the Indo-Pak war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh, the terrorism in Punjab, terrorism in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, and political events like the Bofors scandal, assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Interspersed are accounts of both the development and decline of India's intelligence gathering capabilities, corruption and nepotism within the intelligence community, counter-espionage, the role of the ISI, and brief bios of some of the luminaries of RAW, like RN Kao, Sunook, Girish Saxena.

B Raman measures his words carefully. He does not drop names, except on a couple of occasions - to either settle score or to make a point or two, nor makes any strong political statements. His opinions about some luminaries nonetheless come across on occasion. Like his dim view of the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He believes that Vajpayee was not very interested in building up India's counter-intelligence capabilities, often delegating communications with the RAW to his National Security Adviser. B Raman is also critical of Vajpayee and the BJP for the after-effects of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, which he states led to the alienation of the Muslims in India from the mainstream, thereby providing an opportunity to to the ISI to infiltrate into India. B Raman is full of admiration for the handson approach of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. And his grief and pain at their assassinations is there to read:
Since 1947, no other Prime Minister had taken more interest and done more to improve their conditions of service than Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. What a shocking tragedy that these agencies, which owed them so much, so miserably failed to protect them. Every officer, who had served in our agencies at that time - in whatever capacity - should hang his or her head in shame. We failed them. [page 243]
It is somewhat sad and disappointing that the RAW, formed in 1968 by the Prime Minister of Indira Gandhi, reached its zenith in a very short time, during the 1971 War, but rapidly fell into decline soon thereafter, to the point where its efficacy even in Bangladesh was close to zero. It has been infiltrated by foreign intelligence agencies over the years, repeatedly, its cadre often nepotist, corrupt, and incompetent, its failures many, and its successes far and few inbetween, and where they do occur, hidden from the public eye.
Failure to diversify contacts in Bangladesh, pockets of hostility in its security forces and intelligence community towards India and the R&AW, suspicion in the non-Awami League political circles over what was perceived as Indian favoritism towards certain sections of the political spectrum and a lack of objectivity in the Bangladesh analysis branch contributed to the decline in the R&AW's performance in Bangladesh during the Emergency. This has continued since then. [page 53]
Jihadi Terrorism, Pakistan, and the War on Terror
Most Indians have known that the epicenter of jihadi terrorism has been Pakistan, something which is now public knowledge the world over, and roots of this jihadi terrorism can be traced to the times of its military dictator Gen. Zia Ul-Haq, who is credited with accelerating Pakistan's drive to acquire nuclear weapons capability and of hurtling the Pakistani Army into Islamic radicalization. Pakistan's support, military, economic, logistical, and diplomatic, of terrorism in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, is well known to Indians, but was for long denied and un-acknowledged or its impact minimized by the Western World. This has been sore point with Indians, and B Raman minces no words when he takes the West to task for this perceived duplicity.
Jihadi terrorism, which has been causing so much havoc across the world, including India, is this the product of two minds in the world of intelligence - William Casey and Le Comte Alexandre de Marenches. During his secret visits to the terrorist training camps and madrassas in Pakistan in the 1980s, Casey used to address the trainees as "My sons". He died of cancer during the second term of Reagan, and therefore, did not live long enough to see the thousands killed by "his sons" and their associates, including 3,000 of his own countrymen on 9/11. Some of the retired CIA officers of those days, who are now parading themselves around the world and making money as the leading Al Qaeda watchers, were the original creators of Al Qaeda. [pages 81, 82]

This is something some in the West may well disagree with. Lawrence Wright, for example, in his excellent book, The Looming Tower, argues, with a lot of documentation, that the creation of Al Qaeda was very much an organic creation of the likes of Al Zawahiri and later Osama Bin Laden. Lawrence Wright's book however skirts the entire episode and ramifications of of US participation and involvement in the training, arming, and creation of the terrorists that first fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, then the Indians in Kashmir, and now pretty much the entire Western World.

Raman reveals more, later in the same chapter, referring to the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft in 1984:
The revolver given by the ISI to the hijackers at Lahore before the aircraft was taken to Dubai was of West German make. ... the West German intelligence intimated that the revolver was part of a consignment sold by the company to the Pakistan Army. The Government of India immediately shared the information with US officials and pointed that it was a fit case for declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of international terrorism. ... But, the US authorities were not prepared to accept this oral evidence as conclusive proof against Pakistan. [page 92]
And further on:
It was this protection extended to Pakistan by the State Department ever since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and it was their practice of closing their eyes to the spawning of jihadi terrorists in Pakistani territory, that led to the emergence of the Pakistan-Afghanistan region as a breeding ground of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and numerous other jihadi terrorist organizations. [page 281]
Even before his (Jagjit Singh Chauhan, one of the major proponents and self-styled leader of the terrorist movement for the separate Sikh state of Khalistan) arrival in the UK, the Pakistani High Commission and the US Embassy in London were in touch with the activists of the Sikh Home Rule Movement. They established contact with Chauhan after his arrival and started encouraging his propaganda against the Government of India in order to embarrass Indira Gandhi. [page 85]
The law of Karma cannot be escaped from. B Raman essentially states that the spectre of terrorism that haunts the West is more or less a creation of the West. Terrorism, grown and nurtured by Pakistan in the hopes that it would destroy its arch enemy, India, now threatens the very existence of Pakistan itself and threatens to render the fabric of its society. Jihadi terrorism, trained and financed by the CIA, in the hopes that it would bleed and defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and nurtured by Pakistan, in the hopes that it would bleed India, did just that, but then turned on its creators.

Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhtto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan during the war of 1971, when Bangladesh won independence from (West) Pakistan. This terrible loss at the hands of India left a deep and permanent psychological scar on Benazir Bhutto, and was responsible for her antagonistic policy towards of India, especially when it came to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of which have been under Pakistan occupation since 1948. She desperately wanted to be the daughter that won back from the enemy what her father had lost.
According to the source, Lt. Gen. Gul replied: "Madam, keeping Indian Punjab destabilized is equivalent to the Pakistan Army having two extra Divisions at no cost. If you want me to drop the Sikh card, you have to sanction the creation of two new Divisions." She found this argument compelling and kept quiet. [page 160]
While Benazir tried to cut down, if not totally stop, the assistance to the Khalistanis, she wanted to go down in Pakistan's history as the Prime Minister who succeeded in annexing J&K. [page 162]
The situation became worse in J&K after she returned to power. Even though she had tried to stop the ISI's assistance to the Khalistani terrorists during her first tenure as the Prime Minister between 1988 and 1990, it was under her that the ISI started helping the Kashmiri terrorist organizations in a big way in 1989. She was the most virulent towards India so far as J&K was concerned and gave the ISI total freedom and the required funds to do whatever it wanted in J&K. [page 260]
B Raman also reserves some stinging criticism for the late Gen Sunderji, who retired as Chief of Army Staff, and considered by many as a "scholar warrior".
Lt. Gen. Sunderji, who co-ordinated the Operation (Bluestar), blamed the intelligence agencies for the untidy operation. ... Over-confidence in his ability to score easy success before launching difficult and sensitive operations and a tendency to blame the intelligence agencies when over-confidence was found to have been misplaced were the defining characteristics of Gen. Sunderji. [page 97]
One was told that an over-confident and over-enthusiastic Gen. Sunderji, the then Chief of Army Staff, told Rajiv Gandhi that the IPKF would be able to accomplish its mission within a month. When this did not happen and the IPKF got involved in a quagmire, he put the blame on the intelligence agencies - particularly on the R&AW - for not warning him in advance of the capabilities, strength and motivation of the LTTE. [page 209]
Some points that could be made after reading the book:
Provides a fairly good and broad overview of RAW and some historical perspective on the challenges faced by India.
This book feels very "skimmy". No one topic is covered in much depth. This may be by design, but it does feel like a deficiency of the book. Some of the chapters, like the one on the 1971 India-Pakistan war, or on the terrorism in Kashmir and Punjab, are deserving of entire books for just the intelligence and counter-intelligence aspects.
The style of writing is very much declarative - statements are made, but without much by way of reasoning or backing up with references. Part of this may be because of the nature of the disclosures, but a more academic and rigorous approach would have benefited the book and given it more credibility.

The book, for some reason, and surprising even given the fact it is a hardcover edition, is printed on glossy, art-like paper. An overkill surely.

Some other well known defence and strategic analysts in this space are Brahma Chellaney (Wikipedia link, Blog), Maj. Gen. (retd.) Ashok Mehta, Colonel Anil A Athale (retd.).

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.