The pervasive world of Indian intelligence

At apex in Indian intelligence is the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) under the PM

Inam Ul Haque May 14, 2020
The writer has an interest in International Relations and Political Sociology. He can be reached at and tweets @20_Inam

Recently there have been some incidents where Indian intelligence sources were arrested or put on trial by foreign governments, accused of perception management and influencing operation within these countries. Canada’s Global News revealed, based on a highly sensitive Canadian government document, that Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) were using money and covert disinformation operations to sway Canadian politicians towards supporting Indian interests, especially against Pakistan as early as 2009.

The key objective was convincing Canadian politicians (especially Caucasian) that money from Canada was used to support terrorism by Pakistan. Indian intelligence agencies follow four specific interests in the UK, the US, Canada and other Western countries. First, to undermine Pakistani and Chinese interests by prevailing upon the host government policy formulation. Second, to keep Indian diaspora especially the pro-Khalistan, pro-Kashmir and foreign-born Indian youth under surveillance. Third, through perception management operations, manage host country media to promote Indian narrative and silence criticism of Indian treatment of minorities. Fourth, to control and limit military supplies to Pakistan from European countries, US and China.

With the passage of time, RAW’s objectives have broadened. It monitors political and military developments in regional countries, considered inimical to Indian security interests. Traditionally, the web of Indian intelligence has been aggressively enveloping nations near and far in support of these objectives. Until 1968, IB — India’s oldest internal intelligence agency — was also handling external intelligence. However, after Indian defeat at the hands of China in the 1962 border war — consequent to its intelligence failure regarding China’s military buildup — a need was felt for a dedicated external intelligence agency. Thus, RAW was founded in 1968 with US assistance.

RAW’s initial focus was on China and Pakistan, however, it now works vigorously to enhance India’s influence globally, yielding power, prestige and a role in India’s foreign policy formulation. RAW considers ISI as its main rival and is aggressively working against Pakistan in Kashmir (infiltrating pro-freedom Kashmiri groups — Operation Chanakya); Balochistan (training and arming Baloch separatists) and in Afghanistan. It was instrumental in making East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971, training, funding and arming the Mukti Bahini.

Retaliating to Pakistan’s alleged support for the Khalistan Movement in the mid-1980s, RAW established Counter Intelligence Team-X (CIT-X) and Counter Intelligence Team-J (CIT-J). CIT-X targeted Pakistan in general and CIT-J targeted Khalistan groups, with both teams carrying out terrorist operations inside Pakistan. RAW has also remained hand-in-glove with Sindhi and Seraiki nationalists, erstwhile-MQM leadership and Pakistani Taliban; more recently extending support to leadership of PTM — Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement.

RAW maintains secret liaison relationship with Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. It benefits from Israel’s knowledge of West Asia and North Africa, learning from Israeli CT (counterterrorism) experience. After the 1962 Indo-China war, CIA trained “Establishment 22” for RAW — a covert group of Tibetan refugees in India for “deep-penetration terror operations” in China. RAW was greatly uncomforted by the CIA-ISI relationship against the USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s, though it continued to seek CIA’s assistance in CT training. RAW complains of getting little information on Pakistan from the US/CIA. CIA expects it to provide intelligence on Afghanistan. RAW also protects Indian nuclear programmes.

RAW has provided covert assistance as far as South Africa, where it supported the African National Congress in its anti-apartheid struggle. RAW manipulated the state of Sikkim’s accession to India in 1975. In Myanmar, it is supporting anti-China Kachin Independence Army (Operation LEECH). In Sri Lanka, it supported the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), getting a flack in the process. RAW trained and armed LTTE in 1970s, although the group had bizarre alliances with separatist groups in Tamil Nadu in the 1980s. And LTTE fought Indian troops when they landed as peacekeepers in Sri Lanka as per a 1987 India-Sri Lanka pact, leading subsequently to the assassination of PM Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE bomber in 1991. In 2009, RAW and IB jointly launched 400 snatch operations in Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to apprehend and repatriate escaped militants to India. More recently in 2017, the kidnapping of Pakistan’s Col Habib Zahir (retd) in Nepal is considered RAW retaliation for Commander Jadhav’s incarceration in Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, RAW has maintained a robust relationship with KHAD (now National Directorate of Security, NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency since 1968, providing it intelligence on Pakistan. KHAD reciprocated by monitoring the activities of Sikh militants in Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal belt. This relationship was further augmented in early 1980s through trilateral cooperation involving RAW, KHAD, and the Soviet KGB. KHAD and RAW’s erstwhile support for the Pashtunistan Movement of the 1970s, wherein RAW focused on Pashtun nationalists was later enlarged to include pro-West, pro-Iran and anti-Pakistan Afghan cadre led by Ahmed Shah Masood and later the Northern alliance. RAW regrets being unable to cultivate the Afghan Taliban leadership.

Pursuant to the Kargil review committee report in 2000, citing lack of intelligence synthesis and failure, India created a new organisation, the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), emulating the US National Security Agency. It is mandated to collect and collate the nation’s technical intelligence from spy satellites, spy planes and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Another organisation, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was also formed to advise the then Chiefs of Staff Committee (now Chief of Defence Staff) and defense minister. The DIA is also assigned to undertake trans-border operations.

RAW reports directly to the PM, RAW chief being designated secretary (research) in the Cabinet Secretariat, unlike CIA or MI6 in UK, who report to the Ministry of Defence. RAW’s officer cadre is mostly on deputation from Indian Police. With its huge funding and own spy satellites, it is taken seriously; however, its lack of coordination with domestic intelligence and security agencies, weak analytical capabilities and complete lack of transparency are its exploitable weaknesses. Indian intelligence is also marred with agency overlap. In addition to RAW, espionage abroad is also conducted by IB and DIA. CIA penetration of RAW is also chronicled, since RAW maintains no separation between covert operatives and personnel (analysts and area specialists) who liaise with other agencies like CIA or public bodies. This exposes personnel with sensitive operational information to potentially compromising contacts.

At apex in Indian intelligence is the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) under the PM. This committee is assisted by secretaries, the CDS, directors RAW and IB and the chairman Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). In this multi-tiered intelligence system, JIC includes senior representatives of ministries of Defence, Home and External Affairs, RAW, IB and directors of intelligence from the three defence services (army, navy, air force), all integrated under a Secretary. JIC is the highest intelligence assessment body tasked to prepare short- and long-term intelligence estimates and perspectives. Collection, collation, analysis and dissemination of intelligence lies with numerous (under 100) other intelligence agencies.

As long as this cumbersome structure with competing bodies continues to burden Indian policymakers, every case of coronavirus in India would be blamed on Pakistan’s ISI. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2020.

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