GEO-POLITICAL AFFAIRS

RAW facts on South Asia

India’s unconventional war strategy

shireen

Contributing Editor Dr SHIREEN M MAZARI takes

the cover off the raw facts about RAW in SOUTH ASIA

The publication of the Jain Commission Report for the Indian Government has confirmed what many in South Asia had suspected all along: That Indian intelligence services Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has been fomenting violent destabilisation within the domestic polities of the South Asian states. This helps to explain why dissenting political movements in countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan - as well as in the other South Asian states - suddenly became more militant and violent in their political behaviour. Why did India feel the need to get into this form of activity within its neighbouring states? The answer to that question lies in understanding India’s power ambitions.

Seeking regional hegemony and recognition as a major global actor since independence, India initially relied on military force to expand its borders as well as intimidate its neighbours into accepting Indian diktat. India’s military moves into Kashmir and Goa emboldened it enough to get embroiled in a military encounter with China in 1962. The ensuing defeat at the hands of the Chinese as well as the stalemated war with Pakistan in 1965 made India rethink its overt military tactics in order to assert its hegemony regionally.

Thus it shifted its focus vis-a-vis South Asian states and China (as reflected in the refuge given to the Tibetan dissidents and the Dalai Lama) to covert interventions aimed at destabilising the domestic polities of its neighbours. It was for this purpose that RAW was created in 1968. The extent of RAW terrorist activities in neighbouring South Asian states is only now formally coming to light with the publication of the Jain Commission Report which establishes a clear link between the Indian government and the LTTE terrorists in Sri Lanka which eventually led to the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.

However, RAW began its activities much earlier in what was then East Pakistan. The short-sightedness and neglect of Bengali sensitivities by successive Pakistani governments since independence provided the perfect milieu for RAW to lay the seeds for wrecking Pakistan from within .

Bangladesh: RAW facts

The Indians played upon Bengali sentiments in the aftermath of the 1965 Pakistan-India war through RAW so that when opportunity struck the Indians were well-prepared. It was RAW that gradually converted Sheikh Mujibur Rehman from being a staunch supporter of Pakistan as a student leader to envisaging himself as the possible ‘Father’ of a new nation - Bangladesh. Indian sources, including journalists, have put on record how much before 1971 RAW had established the network of a separatist movement through ‘cells’ within East Pakistan and military training camps in Indian territory adjoining East Pakistan. The Mukti Bahini were all in place organisationally to take advantage of the political trouble in 1971 and carry out acts of sabotage against communication lines so that Indian forces simply marched in at the ‘right’ time. RAW agents provided valuable information as well as acting as an advance guard for conducting unconventional guerrilla acts against the Pakistani defence forces. A Bengali, who was a Mukti Bahini activist, Zainal Abedin, has written a revealing book which includes his personal experience in Indian training camps, entitled RAW and Bangladesh. It was the post-fall of Dhaka period which exposed the Indians’ true intentions and made Abedin realise that It was evident from the conduct of the Indian Army that they treated Bangladesh as a colony ... It is now evident that India had helped the creation of Bangladesh with the aim that it would be a step forward towards the reunification of India.

Because Mujib returned, Indian forces could not remain in Bangladesh permanently and so it fell on RAW to initiate other fronts to undermine the sovereignty of Bangladesh. RAW has since been seeking to create Indian dominance culturally, ideologically and economically in Bangladesh.

In addition, RAW has also created another insurgency force: The Shanti Bahini (Fighters for Peace). This force comprises the Chittagong Hill Tracts Hindu and Buddhists tribesmen (the Chakmas) and the intention is to bleed the Bengali military and keep the border area tense. The Chakmas used to embarrass the Bangladesh government especially when the latter protested over Indian policy on the sharing of waters’ issue.

Sri Lanka: RAW facts

Up to the mid-seventies the Sri Lankan government had kept India happy by following policies which followed the Indian line - domestically and externally. The trouble began in 1977 when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) lost power to the Jayewardene-led United National Party in elections. He moved towards a more cooperative policy with the United States and Sri Lanka chose to oppose the Indian demand for the withdrawal of all foreign naval forces from the Indian Ocean. Mrs. Gandhi had already been irked by Sri Lanka’s support to Pakistan during the 1971 war when it allowed landing and fuelling facilities to Pakistan’s East-West commercial flights. So RAW saw a perfect opportunity to exploit within the prevailing dispute between the Sinhalese majority (74 percent) and Tamil minority (14 percent) over distribution of economic and social spoils of independence. Before the two sides could work out a compromise, India, through its RAW, managed to polarise the two sides as well as militarise this essentially political conflict. On the Mukti Bahini model, RAW built up terrorist training camps in India for a number of Tamil terrorist organisations, while India suddenly began orchestrating a public campaign feigning concern because of the links the Tamils had with the 50 million Indian Tamils of Tamil Nadu state - which was separated from Sri Lanka by the Palk Straits. It was only a matter of time before the militants trained in India began sidelining the moderate Tamils and instead demanding complete independence - Ealam. Ironically, the presence of Tamil training camps in Tamil Nadu often created a law and order situation when large arms were captured by the state police. The surprise for the state government came when New Delhi ordered that such captured material be returned.

According to Rohan Gunaratna, in his book Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka, RAW waged a secret war in India beginning 1983 so that when the Sri Lankan armed forces launched a major offensive against the Tamil militancy in 1987, the Indian government had already ensured that the Tamils were well supplied and were able to conduct terrorist acts that brought the war closer to Colombo. Tamil Nadu had become the sanctuary for the Tamil terrorists in their hit-and-run tactics. Already, a year prior to this offensive, that is by 1986, there were over 20,000 Indian trained and financed Tamils and India forced Sri Lanka through this militant pressure to alter its foreign policy. But even more crucial, India by now was systematically destabilising Sri Lanka. Being unable to resist the temptation to now intervene directly, India used the Sri Lankan offensive against the Tamil terrorists to force Sri Lanka to accept India’s armed intervention ostensibly to save ‘ innocent Tamil civilians’. Unfortunately for India, the controversial Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 proved to be as much of a failure as India’s policy of direct intervention. The result was India’s massively assisted LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) turned on its benefactor and declared war against the Indian forces in Sri Lanka. All in all, this Indian adventure killed 60,000 men, women and children and forced the Indians to withdraw their forces without successfully completing their mission. The price has been steep for both India and Sri Lanka and even today Sri Lanka is paying the price for this Indian-initiated and RAW inspired polarised conflict. The extent of RAW’s role in this affair has been painstakingly documented by Gunaratna in his book on the Indian intervention.

Bhutan, Nepal & Sikkim: RAW facts

The ethnic crisis in Bhutan led by people of Nepalese origin is also said to have been aggravated by RAW - to try and turn the political crisis to India’s advantage.

In Nepal India has consistently intervened in the politics of this Hindu kingdom by promoting pro-India politicians. The economic dependence of this land-locked state on India makes it very difficult for any Nepalese government to assert its sovereignty. Whenever an attempt has been made, the Indians have reacted violently. Presently, the RAW is pushing its pro-India politicians to push for official recognition of Hindi.

As for Sikkim, despite the 1950 agreement between this tiny state and India which allowed for Sikkim’s nominal independence, India, through RAW, began encouraging various groups to oppose the Chogyal (the dynastic head of state). When the Chogyal married an American, India was able to use the anti-CIA card to eventually push the Sikkim National Assembly into ‘requesting’ India for merger of Sikkim into the Indian Union - after an Indian-engineered referendum on this subject. And India ‘eventually’ decided to accept this request in April 1975.

The Maldives

Even as the Indian forces were bogged down in the Sri Lankan quagmire, RAW created a bizarre drama in The Maldives. Terrorists belonging to the RAW-funded Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) staged an attack on Male ostensibly in an effort to use The Maldives as a base for anti-Sri Lankan action. The whole drama ended when, within 24 hours, Indian troops arrived on the ‘request’ of Maldives’ president and captured - effortlessly - the EPRLF personnel. However, no one at home or abroad was deceived by this RAW engineered drama.

While the Jain Commission Report and several publications have reaffirmed Indian intelligence services Research and Analysis Wing’s (RAW) violent interventions within the domestic politics of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, there has been, surprisingly, no comprehensive publication dealing with what is the most extensive canvas of RAW operations - Pakistan. Yet it has been in Pakistan that RAW has, over the years, exploited societal conflicts and nurtured them into full-fledged violent polarisations.

Pakistan: RAW facts

RAW used the growing disaffection of the Bengalis in East Pakistan to build up the foundations of Bengali separatism. It lay the ground for the Indian military entry into what was then East Pakistan by building up, training and arming the Mukti Bahini. RAW’s failure lay in being unable to lead the Mukti Bahini and the Bengalis to the ‘natural’ conclusion of their struggle against Pakistan - as planned by India - that was a union with India. Instead, perhaps RAW overkill helped the Bangladeshis into seeking a gradual distancing from India so that in the end the creation of Bangladesh only helped to reassert the relevance of the Two-Nation Theory. This has not prevented RAW from focussing its activities in Pakistan - keeping a careful eye on all developments within Pakistan’s domestic polity. In Pakistan RAW has had a multi-pronged strategy using the Indian media, abetting political subversion and actively developing a terrorist network which becomes operationalised within Pakistan as and when RAW feels the time appropriate. That is why there has been a gradual transformation of simple political dissent into a violent form of political polarisation and subversion.

That the opportunities have been provided by the local political machinations cannot be denied - but RAW has been quick to take advantage and introduce an ever-spiralling element of violence within the political discourse and conflict that prevails in all the South Asian countries.

So the fringe minority elements within the Pakistani polity have found themselves receiving RAW largesse which has allowed them to build up their militant resources. RAW has insidiously played the tune of a ‘common subcontinental heritage’ despite the fact that, barring the period of British colonialism there never was a ‘united India’ except in the minds and dreams of Hindu chauvinists. RAW has of course varied its tactics keeping in mind the groups it was seeking to bolster or influence.

Before the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan altered the dynamics of the whole Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship, RAW sought to nurture the Pakhtunistan issue clandestinely even as the Indian government sought to overtly cosy up to certain members of the political elite in the NWFP.

When RAW saw an opportunity in Balochistan in the form of Baloch discontentment - especially in the face of ZA Bhutto’s dismissal of the elected government of that province - it moved in fast to play up the issue of Punjabi dominance. While the Baloch insurgency may have had indigenous roots, it was nurtured and sustained with external aid and assistance and RAW’s trademark was clearly evident through the Afghan route.

While the Pakhtunistan issue gradually faded away with the altered realities on the ground and the Baloch insurgency was isolated and put down, a more serious crisis was brewing for Pakistan when General Zia imposed Martial Law and then hanged ZA Bhutto, who came from Sindh. The Sindhi distress at this act was seen by RAW as an opportunity to exploit. Already there had been disaffection in rural Sindh when One Unit had been established in 1956. Rural Sindhis had also become increasingly wary of what they saw as a high concentration of Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants from India in Sindh. The language issue further aggravated this division within the population of Sindh while self-serving local politicians constantly played the theme of underdevelopment and deprivation of Sindhi and the Sindhis. With Bhutto’s removal from power by the military and his subsequent hanging, all the Sindhi discontent gelled together. So for RAW Sindh became an increasingly fertile ground for their seeds of violence and terrorism.

RAW also upped the violence ante by brazen acts of terrorism which had the RAW hallmark all over them. So blatant was RAW in its earlier terrorist activities in Karachi that the Pakistan government could not turn a blind eye to these activities - especially since they also involved the Indian Consulate in that city. When the links between the Consulate personnel and ethnic dissidents became too obvious to ignore, the government had to have the Consulate closed. However, this closure has not stopped RAW from infiltrating ethnic groups so that the ethnic conflict in Sindh continues to remain highly militarised and there are constant links emerging between RAW and the acts of terror conducted by these groups.

Nor has RAW ignored Punjab in Pakistan. Again, exploiting opportunities provided by indigenous developments, RAW has ensured that socio-political conflicts get more violent and thereby more polarised. By turning political conflicts into military conflicts, RAW hopes to make them more intractable. In Punjab, RAW has made inroads into the sectarian groups so that there are now heavily armed and trained terrorists who have infiltrated these groups. Random acts of terror are also conducted within range of Punjab’s urban centres so that an element of fear creeps into the polity at large. The number of bomb blast incidents in Pakistan for the year 1998 (given below) show how violent the Pakistani polity has become - and RAW can claim credit for a large part of this development.

Moving beyond physical terrorism, RAW has also inundated Pakistan with inflammatory literature to play on the sentiments of minority groups, as well as sectarianism and ethnicity. While Pakistan has been evolving its democratic ethos after the last bout of military dictatorship which spanned over a decade, RAW has attempted to take advantage of the multiple levels of political dissent that any democratic polity - including India - has to contend with within the framework of democracy.

Bomb blast incidents in Pakistan - 1998

Month Incidents Killed Injured
Jan 9 2 23
Feb 9 16 83
March 12 20 121
April 7 7 43
May 3 3 17
June 14 31 71
July 4 - 3
Aug 5 5 5
Sept 5 - 31
Oct 8 3 43
Nov 2 4 13
(till 20th)
Total 78 91 453

(collated from Press reports)

RAW has also sought to undermine Pakistan’s external image, especially in the West - taking advantage of the Western phobia of ‘Islamic fundamentalism-terrorism’. The Indian media and responsible leaders have orchestrated the campaign to hold the ISI responsible for India’s troubles in her northeastern states and East Punjab. In April 1995, the Indian Army Chief of Staff, General Chaudhri, went public in his accusation against the ISI whom he held responsible for the guerrilla movement in the northeast as well as the troubles in Indian-held Kashmir.

RAW also conducted a well-organised campaign to try and have Pakistan put on the terrorist watch list and, for a while, in the early 90s there was a fear that Pakistan would be declared a ‘terrorist state’ by the US.

At present, RAW has launched a new offensive against Pakistan to try and counter Pakistan’s successful efforts to expose Indian human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir internationally. With the Indians desperately seeking a way out of their Kashmir quagmire, RAW has started a new propaganda offensive focussing on what it refers to as Pakistan’s ‘Proxy War’ in Kashmir. With the rise of the Madrassah culture in Pakistan and its links to the Taliban in Afghanistan, RAW is trying to create a linkage of this with the Kashmiri freedom fighters in Kashmir. One does not need too much intelligence to see where the RAW campaign is leading. But it should at least make the Pakistanis realise that India is seeking a way out of its untenable position in Kashmir.

All in all, when the international community is increasingly condemning overt war as an instrument of state policy, India has already sought an alternative, indirect and covert mode of warfare through RAW which seeks to destabilise and weaken the states of South Asia from within. Given the changing nature of war one should be prepared for more RAW activities since politics is increasingly becoming the ‘continuation of war by other means’ - and RAW has evolved the expertise on ‘other means’ in South Asia.

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