Unlike America’s CIA, Britain’s MI6 or Pakistan’s ISI, India is coy about naming its intelligence agencies. RAW stands for Research & Analysis Wing, which sounds more like a private academic think tank than the country’s top security outfit. The dismantled TSD stands for Technical Services Division, as if the main job of counter-intelligence operatives was repairing refrigerators and service computers. The National Technical Research Organisation, which reports to the National Security Advisor, can be mistaken for a polytechnic by name. Is the genetic Indian reluctance to call a spade a pickaxe responsible?
Perhaps, this shyness is the reason the fate of Commander Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav hangs in the balance in a Pakistani jail.
The government is aggressively trying to pursue his release. The affair may be sorted out diplomatically, though like the doomed Sarabjit, it’s unlikely Jadhav will ever see India again.
Some time in the 1980s, the ISI chief requested the RAW boss for a secret powwow. The reason was Indian operations against Pakistan were generating too much heat and ISI wanted a truce. Wine was drunk and steaks served—well done or rare, as applicable to the circumstances. Gone are those days. Today, the weakness of the Indian intelligence apparatus has never been so starker. True, the Chinese threat has grown in the decades as successive governments and agency heads have lived with their heads in the sand of the Gobi Desert.
In spite of NSA Ajit Doval’s formidable reputation, India’s intelligence capabilities are not strong enough. Worse, internal politics, with tacit UPA support, succeeded in dismantling TSD, the country’s most effective counter-intelligence force. With the help of compromised officers, puppet journalists, and leaked reports of Indian ops against Pakistan, national security took a blow. RAW was much feared during Indira Gandhi’s time.
The policy drift that followed Rajiv Gandhi’s fall heralded its slow paralysis. I K Gujral dug its grave by dismantling RAW’s Pak network; a former intelligence operative spoke heartrendingly about how India’s assets list was turned over to ISI, which executed them all. Today, experienced field operatives are desk jockeys, pushing paper across tables instead of running agents across the border. This has affected the security of Kashmir as well.
Jadhav’s case is an opportunity for the NDA to redeem the mistakes of its predecessors. The will of Indian agencies has been weakened. Risk-taking is frowned upon. Nepotism has damaged RAW itself. Tinkering with agents, tailoring objectives to suit political ends, soldiering on the olive branch track as spies take the fall is the current narrative of Indian spycraft.
Today, the political emphasis is on nationalism. With a legacy like that of Chanakya, reputed to have created ancient India’s greatest espionage network, we should reclaim our formidable past. The future of India’s security is at stake.
Jadhav’s arrest, trial and sentencing reveal the contempt with which Pakistan views Indian intelligence. Mossad operates on the principle ‘By Deception, Thou Shalt Wage War,’ earning tiny Israel a redoubtable reputation for retribution. Now it’s time for retribution for our unsung, nameless spies. This is no time to play coy.