R.A.W.: An Instrument of Indian Imperialism

Pakistani policemen escort militants involved in bomb blasts in the southern Sindh province with the alleged backing of India's intelligence agency R.A.W. in 2005. (Photo: Asif Hassan / AFP-Getty Images)

India's intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R.A.W.), created in 1968, has assumed a significant status in the formulation of the country's domestic and foreign policies, particularly the latter. Working directly under the prime minister, it has over the years become an effective instrument of India's national power. In consonance with Kautilya's precepts, R.A.W.'s espionage doctrine is based on the principle of waging a continuous series of battles of intrigues and secret wars. (Kautilya, or more popularly, Chânakya, was an ancient Indian political theorist.)

Since its creation, R.A.W. has been a vital, though unobtrusive, actor in the Indian policy-making apparatus. But it is the massive international dimensions of R.A.W. operations that merit a closer examination. To the credit of this organization, it has in a very short span of time mastered the art of spy warfare. Credit must go to Indira Gandhi who in the late 1970's gave it a changed and much more dynamic role. To suit her much publicized Indira Doctrine (India Doctrine), Gandhi specifically asked R.A.W. to create a powerful organ within the organization that could undertake covert operations in neighboring countries. It is this capability that makes R.A.W. a more fearsome agency than the superior K.G.B., C.I.A., M.I.6, B.N.D., or Mossad.

Its internal role is confined only to monitoring events that have a bearing on the external threat. R.A.W.'s boss works directly under the prime minister. An Additional secretary to the government of India, under the director of R.A.W., is responsible for the Office of Special Operations, intelligence collected from different countries, internal security (under the director general of security), the electronic/technical section, and general administration. The additional secretary as well as the director general of security is also under the director of R.A.W. The director of security has two important sections: the Aviation Research Center and the Special Services Bureau. The joint director has specified desks with different regional divisions/areas (countries): area one, Pakistan; area two, China and Southeast Asia; area three, the Middle East and Africa; and area four, other countries.

The Aviation Research Center (A.R.C.) is responsible for interception, monitoring and jamming of a target country's communication systems. It has the most sophisticated electronic equipment and also a substantial number of aircraft equipped with state-of-the-art eavesdropping devices. A.R.C. was strengthened in mid-1987 by the addition of three new aircraft, all Gulf Stream-3s. These aircraft can reportedly fly at an altitude of 52,000 feet and have an operating range of 5,000 kilometers. A.R.C. also controls a number of radar stations located close to India's borders. Its aircraft also carry out oblique reconnaissance, along the border with Bangladesh, China, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Having been given virtual carte blanche to conduct destabilization operations in neighboring countries inimical to India, R.A.W. seriously undertook restructuring of its organization accordingly. R.A.W. was given a list of seven countries—Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Pakistan, and Maldives—that India considered its principal regional protagonists. It very soon systematically and brilliantly crafted covert operations in all these countries to coerce, destabilize, and subvert them in consonance with the foreign policy objectives of the Indian government.

R.A.W.'s operations against the regional countries were conducted with great professional skill and expertise. Central to the operations was the establishment of a huge network inside the target countries. It used and targeted political dissent, ethnic divisions, economic backwardness, and criminal elements within these states to foment subversion, terrorism, and sabotage. Having thus created conducive environments, R.A.W. stage-managed future events in these countries in such a way that military intervention appears a natural concomitant of the events. In most cases, R.A.W.'s hand remained hidden, but more often than not target countries soon began unearthing this "hidden hand." A brief expose of R.A.W.'s operations in neighboring countries, "Open Secrets: India's Intelligence Unveiled " by M. K. Dhar (Manas Publications, New Delhi, 2005), revealed the full expanse of its regional ambitions to suit the India Doctrine.


Indian intelligence agencies were involved in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, beginning in the early 1960's. Its operatives were in touch with Sheikh Mujib for quite some time. Sheikh Mujib went to Agartala in 1965. The famous Agartala case was unearthed in 1967. In fact, the main purpose of raising R.A.W. in 1968 was to organize covert operations in Bangladesh. As early as 1968, R.A.W. was given a green light to begin mobilizing all its resources for the impending surgical intervention in erstwhile East Pakistan. When in July 1971 General Manekshaw told Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that the army would not be ready until December to intervene in Bangladesh, she quickly turned to R.A.W. for help. R.A.W. was ready. Its officers used Bengali refugees to set up the guerilla force Mukti Bahini. Using this outfit as a cover, the Indian military sneaked deep into Bangladesh. The story of Mukti Bahini and R.A.W.'s role in its creation and training is now well known. R.A.W. never concealed its Bangladesh operations. (See Asoka Raina's "Inside R.A.W.: the story of India's Secret Service, Vikas Publishing House of New Delhi.)

The creation of Bangladesh was masterminded by R.A.W. in complicity with the K.G.B. under the covert clauses of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation (adopted as the 25-Year Indo-Bangladesh Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1972).

R.A.W. retained a keen interest in Bangladesh even after its independence. Subramaniam Swamy, Janata Dal member of Parliament, a close associate of Morarji Desai, said that Rameswar Nath Kao, former chief of R.A.W., and Shankaran Nair were upset about Sheikh Mujib's assassination and chalked a plot to kill Gen. Ziaur Rahman. However, when Desai came to power in 1977 he was indignant at R.A.W.'s role in Bangladesh and ordered operations in Bangladesh to be called off; but by then R.A.W. had already gone too far. General Zia continued in power for quite some time but was assassinated after Indira Gandhi returned to power, though she denied involvement in his assassination (Weekly Sunday, Calcutta, Sept. 18, 1988).

R.A.W. was involved in training of Chakma tribes and Shanti Bahini, who carried out subversive activities in Bangladesh. It also unleashed a well-organized plan of psychological warfare, created polarization among the armed forces, propagated false allegations of the use of Bangladesh territory by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, created dissension among the political parties and religious sects, controlled the media, denied the use of river waters, and propped up a host of disputes in order to keep Bangladesh under constant political and socio-economic pressure (See "R.A.W. and Bangladesh" by Mohammad Zainal Abedin, November 1995, and "R.A.W. in Bangladesh: Portrait of an Aggressive Intelligence," written and published by Abu Rushd, Dhaka).

Sikkim and Bhutan

Sikkim was the easiest and most docile prey for R.A.W. Indira Gandhi annexed the Kingdom of Sikkim in the mid-1970's. The deposed King Chogyal Tenzig Wangehuck was closely followed by R.A.W.'s agents until his death in 1992.

Bhutan, like Nepal and Sikkim, is a land-locked country totally dependent on India. R.A.W. developed links with members of the royal family as well as top bureaucrats to implements its policies. It cultivated agents from among Nepalese settlers and put itself in a position to create difficulties for the government of Bhutan. In fact, the king of Bhutan has been reduced to the position of merely acquiescing to New Delhi's decisions and goes by its dictates in the international arena.

Sri Lanka

Post-independence Sri Lanka, despite having a multi-sectoral population, was a peaceful country until 1971 and was following an independent foreign policy. During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, despite heavy pressure from India, Sri Lanka allowed Pakistan's civil and military aircraft and ships to stage through its air and seaports with unhindered refueling facilities. It had also permitted Israel to establish a nominal intelligence presence and permitted the installation of a high-powered transmitter by Voice of America, which was resented by India.

It was because of these "irritants" that Indira Gandhi planned to bring Sri Lanka into the fold of the so-called Indira Doctrine (India Doctrine). Kao was told by Gandhi to repeat their Bangladesh success. R.A.W. went looking for militants it could train to destabilize the regime. Camps were set up in Tamil Nadu and old R.A.W. guerrilla trainers were dug out of retirement. R.A.W. began arming the Tamil Tigers and training them at centers such as Gunda and Gorakhpur. As a sequel to this ploy, Sri Lanka was forced into the Indian power web when the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 was singed and the Indian Peacekeeping Force landed in Sri Lanka.

The Ministry of External Affairs was upset at R.A.W.'s role in Sri Lanka as they felt that R.A.W. was continuing negotiations with Tamil Tiger leader Parabhakaran in contravention to the Indian government's foreign policy. According to R. Swaminathan, (former special secretary of R.A.W.) it was this outfit that was used as the intermediary between Rajib Gandhi and Tamil leader Parabhakaran. Former Indian high commissioner in Sri Lanka J. N. Dixit even accused R.A.W. of having given 10 million rupees to the L.T.T.E. (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). At a later stage, R.A.W. built up the E.P.R.L.F. (Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front) and E.N.D.L.F. (Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front) to fight against the L.T.T.E., which made the situation in Sri Lanka highly volatile and uncertain later on.


Under a well-orchestrated R.A.W. plan, on Nov. 30, 1988, a 300- to 400-strong well-trained force of mercenaries armed with automatic weapons, initially said to be of unknown origin, infiltrated in boats and stormed the capital of Maldives. They resorted to indiscriminate shooting and took high-level government officials hostage. At the Presidential Palace, the small contingent of loyal national guards offered stiff resistance, which enabled President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to move to a safe place where he issued urgent appeals for help from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Britain, and the United States.

Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reacted promptly and about 1,600 combat troops belonging to the 50th Independent Para-Brigade in conjunction with Indian naval units landed at Male, the capital of Maldives, under the code name Operation Cactus. A number of Indian air force transport aircraft, escorted by fighters, were used for landing personnel, heavy equipment, and supplies. Within hours of landing, Indian troops flushed out the attackers from the streets and hideouts. Some of them surrendered to Indian troops, and many were captured by Indian naval units while trying to escape with their hostages in a Maldivian ship, Progress Light. Most of the 30 hostages, including Ahmed Majtaba, Maldives' minister of transport, were released. The Indian government announced the success of Operation Cactus and complimented the armed forces for a good job done.

The Indian defense minister, while addressing air force personnel at Bangalore, claimed that the country's prestige had been raised because of the peace-keeping role played by Indian forces in Maldives. The international community in general and South Asian states in particular, however, viewed with suspicion the over-all concept and motives of the operation. The Western media described it as a display by India of its newly acquired military muscle and its growing role as a regional police force. Although the apparent identification of two Maldivian nationals among the mercenaries, at face value, link it with previous such attempts, other converging factors indicative of external involvement could hardly be ignored. That the mercenaries sailed from Manar and Kankasanturai in Sri Lanka, which were in complete control of the Indian Peacekeeping Force, and the timing and speed of India's intervention proved its involvement beyond any doubt.


Since the partition of the subcontinent, India has openly meddled in Nepal's internal affairs by contriving internal strife and conflicts through R.A.W. to destabilize the successive legitimate governments and prop up puppet regimes that would be more amenable to Indian machinations. Armed insurrections were sponsored and abetted by R.A.W. and later requests for military assistance to control these conflicts were managed through pro-India leaders. India has been aiding and inciting the Nepalese dissidents to collaborate with the Nepali Congress. For this they were supplied arms whenever the king or the Nepalese government appeared to be drifting away from India's dictates and impinging on India's hegemonic designs in the region. In fact, under the garb of the so-called democratization measures, the Maoists were actively encouraged to collect arms and resort to open rebellion against the legitimate Nepalese governments. The contrived rebellions provided India an opportunity to intervene militarily in Nepal, ostensibly to control the insurrections, which were masterminded by R.A.W. itself. It was an active replay of the Indian performance in Sri Lanka and Maldives a few years earlier. R.A.W. is particularly aiding the people of Indian origin and has been providing them with arms and ammunition. R.A.W. has also infiltrated the ethnic Nepali refugees who have been extradited by Bhutan and taken refuge in eastern Nepal. R.A.W. can exploit its links with these refugees whenever either country goes against Indian interests. Besides, the Nepalese economy is totally controlled by Indian moneylenders, financiers, and business mafia. (See "R.A.W.'s Machinations in South Asia" by Shastra Dutta Pant, Kathmandu, 2003.)


Since December 1979, throughout the Afghan War, the K.G.B., K.H.A.D. (W.A.D.) (a former Afghan intelligence outfit), and R.A.W. stepped up their efforts to concentrate on influencing and covertly exploiting the tribes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. There was intimate coordination between the three intelligence agencies not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, where destabilization was sought through a subversion and sabotage plan related to Afghan refugees and mujahideen in the tribal belt and inside Pakistan. They jointly organized spotting and recruitment of hostile tribesmen and trained them in guerrilla warfare, infiltration, subversion, sabotage, and the establishment of saboteur forces/terrorist organizations in the pro-Afghan tribes of Pakistan in order to carry out bombings in Afghan refugee camps in the Northwest Frontier province (NWFP) and Baluchistan to threaten and pressure them to return to Afghanistan. They also carried out bomb blasts in populated areas deep inside Pakistan to create panic and hatred in the minds of locals against Afghan refugee mujahideen to pressure Pakistan to change its policies on Afghanistan.


Pakistan's size, strength, and potential have always overawed India. It  has always considered Pakistan to be the main opponent to its expansionist doctrine. India's animosity toward Pakistan is psychologically and ideologically deep-rooted and unassailable. India's 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan over Kashmir, which resulted in the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, are just two examples.

R.A.W. considers Sindh province to be Pakistan's soft underbelly. It has made it the prime target for sabotage and subversion. R.A.W. has enrolled an extensive network of agents and antigovernment elements and is convinced that with a little push restless Sindh will revolt. Taking full advantage of the agitation in Sindh in 1983, and the periodic ethnic riots, which have continued to today, R.A.W. has deeply penetrated Sindh and cultivated dissidents and secessionists, thereby creating hard-liners unlikely to allow peace to return to Sindh. R.A.W. is also similarly involved in Baluchistan.

R.A.W. is also being blamed for confusing the ground situation is Kashmir so as to keep the world's attention away from the gross human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (I.S.I.), being almost 20 years older than R.A.W. and having acquired a much higher standard of efficiency in its functioning, has become the prime target of R.A.W.'s designs. The I.S.I. is considered to be a stumbling block in R.A.W.'s operations and has been made a target of massive misinformation and propaganda campaigns. The tirade against I.S.I. continues unabated. The idea is to keep I.S.I. on the defensive by  alleging that it has had a hand in supporting the Kashmiri mujahideen and the Sikhs in Punjab. R.A.W.'s fixation on I.S.I. has taken the shape of I.S.I.-phobia, as in India everyone traces the origin of all happenings and shortcomings to the I.S.I. Whenever and wherever there is a kidnapping, a bank robbery, a financial scandal, a bomb blast, or what have you, the I.S.I. is deemed to have had a hand in it. (See "R.A.W.: Global and Regional Ambitions" edited by Rashid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Saleem, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Asia Printers, Islamabad, 2005).

In summary, R.A.W. over the years has admirably fulfilled its tasks of destabilizing target states through the unbridled export of terrorism. The Indira Doctrine spelt out a difficult and onerous role for R.A.W. It goes to its credit that it has accomplished its assigned objectives due to the endemic weakness in the state apparatus of these nations and the failures of their leaders.