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Given A Raw Deal?

Agencies say the Subrahmanyam panel hasn't been fair - and worse, it has revealed too much

Given A Raw Deal?

"Transparency is all very well, but do we have to be totally stripped to nakedness?’’
Intelligence expert and former member of the Police Commission
K.F. Rustamji

Three months after the K. Subrahmanyam committee submitted its report on Kargil concluding intelligence agencies had failed to detect the incursions, the intelligence community is outraged. They say that while they had given enough indications of an impending and large-scale intrusion into Indian territory, it is they who have been blamed - letting the rest of the establishment get away relatively easily.

Several serving and former officials told Outlook of the ‘one-sided’ conclusions the committee had arrived at. The findings, they say, haven’t been as severe on the political leadership, diplomatic service, defence ministry bureaucrats, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and the armed forces. Agencies say their assessment on the movement of the Pakistani army and their collaborators was pretty close to the mark, but was ignored.

The report, they say, has other ramifications. The publication of crucial intelligence intercepts from RAW, IB, MI and other agencies has ‘exposed’ sensitive sources on the other side of the border, revealing, in the process, the chain of command involved with intelligence gathering.

One of the first critics has been former RAW No. 2 B. Raman, a retired additional secretary in the cabinet secretariat, who was also one of the architects of Rajiv Gandhi’s Sri Lanka operations in the mid-’80s. "No intelligence agency can provide 100 per cent coverage, whatever be its resources and competence," he says. "If it could, there would be no wars, no security breaches."

Emphasises Raman: "It is difficult to avoid the impression that, whereas in the case of armed forces and the JIC, the focus of the report has been more on the reasons for their pre-Kargil complacency than the gravity or criticality of their inadequacies, in the case of RAW, the focus has been more on the criticality of its deficient reporting rather than on the reasons which should have been gone into in order to put their deficiencies in the right perspective."

According to Raman, while the panel’s correct in highlighting the lacunae in the national defence security mechanism - like the low representation of MI directorates at JIC meetings and the failure to mark all relevant reports to the JIC - there’s little to show what the JIC did to bring this state of affairs to the notice of the PM as head of the national security apparatus. In other words, there’s no political-intelligence interface like in the days of Indira Gandhi and Ramnath Kao. Other objections:

  • There were six dedicated winter air surveillance operations between November 10, 1998, and May 4, 1999, in which four had the commander, 121 Brigade, on board and two others had goc, 3 Infantry Division. Besides, there were 13 training sorties. Of them, only one - on March 31, 1999 - detected certain footprints in the snow in the Mushkoh sector. Why was that not followed up?
  • Reports of Gen Musharraf’s visits to the northern districts were dismissed as ‘routine’.
  • The RAW assessment that there were 13 battalions at the federally-controlled Northern Areas in Pakistan - even if it turned out to be 15 finally - should have been enough to raise alarms in the Indian security establishment.
  • The JIC’s monthly intelligence review of December 1998, quoting Indian envoy to Pakistan Satish Chandra (also a member of the committee) describing Musharraf as an ‘ambitious and scheming individual’ and that "even though the chief of army staff is the PM’s nominee, he isn’t a non-entity... who could turn out to be another Zia", were not analysed in depth.
  • The army never shared its intelligence with other agencies or the JIC. There was no system of army authorities at various levels providing feedback to agencies.
  • In the crucial months preceding the intrusions (July 1, 1997, to December 31, 1998) there was no JIC chief and RAW director Arvind Dave had to double up as chairman, putting him in the unique position of assessing and passing comments on his own assessments.

    Says Raman: "The Subrahmanyam committee would have been equally fair to RAW as it has been to the JIC if it had highlighted the facts that until 1999, RAW’s main focus in the Ladakh sector was more on Tibet than on the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Also, with no army winter posts near the LoC in the Kargil sector to provide security and logistic cover, RAW could not set up observation posts near the border. The only way of overcoming the handicap was to have given RAW better technical intelligence (techint) collection capability in this area. But unfortunately, its proposal for improving its overall techint capability remained unacted upon till the intrusions took place."

    RAW’s not the only agency to be rubbed the wrong way. Senior IB officials who deposed before the panel do not agree with its assessment that their agency, meant primarily for internal and counter-intelligence, had not shared information. Says M.K. Dhar, former additional director, IB: "Every intelligence agency has its laid-down list of consumers, as does the IB. If a certain agency is not entitled to receive IB inputs, the system has to be changed. Where is the question of laying blame then?"

    There has been considerable outrage over the publishing of the intelligence inputs, some of which, officials say, has exposed and more importantly led to a drying up of sources. They say that such public information would be unthought of in another country as it reveals certain crucial mechanisms in India’s defence establishment. Questions Rustamji: "What was the need for a commission which left everyone with the impression that there had been a critical failure on the part of Indian intelligence? After all, the Indian army and air force (which is seldom mentioned in the panel findings) did a memorable job in throwing out intruders. The entire exposure of our intelligence agencies’ capability in the Kargil report and repeated references to critical failure is something that worries me."

    According to him, the government has seriously damaged all intelligence agencies by an unusual desire for transparency and the only gain is that it shows Pakistan that we know everything going on there. "Was it worth the exposure, agency by agency and line by line for scores of printed pages in the report?" he asks.

    Intelligence agencies say there is another catch. While the committee itself was comprised of representatives from the bureaucracy and the army, intelligence agencies were not represented, leading to speculation that their point of view has not been taken into account comprehensively. Did the chairman of the committee look at it like that? Says Subrahmanyam, himself a former head of the JIC: "I would be happy if there are specific areas of complaint. In the report, we have suggested systematic changes, more resources for intelligence agencies and better coordination. Are the agencies saying they do not want to improve? And as for charges that they were not represented, the question is, who all shall be included and who do we leave out?" Says another official: "The report deals with changes and not with witch-hunting. After all, the Henderson-Brooks report also dealt with changes and pointed out certain failures that occurred in 1962." The main point of difference, of course, being that while Henderson-Brooks still remains under wraps, he Subrahmanyam committee report is now a public document.



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