Like the US, India should have a wall of honour for agents who sacrifice their lives to ensure there is no war with Pakistan, writes Jay Desai

Secrecy is fundamental to the working of any intelligence agency because covertly, they defend their country. Covert operations are an important part of international relations (IR). Does it need rethinking in a system which wouldn’t provide any literature for scholars of IR?

Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is India’s foreign intelligence agency. Inception of RAW occurred in 1968 as per the direction of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1968, RAW started creating its information gathering network with Pakistan and China because of the intelligence failures of wars in 1965 and 1962, respectively. RAW is an agency filled mostly with Indian Police Service officers. This is not a good situation because these people lack subject expertise. As a result, one might never get that kind of an optimum input as the Ministry of External Affairs desires from this agency.

So now it is high time that the RAW starts recruiting people from different educational backgrounds. This will increase efficiency in a great manner which is badly needed. Another problem is that RAW has no website of its own. For example, the CIA has its own website. The CIA website includes the literature relevant to a scholar. On the CIA’s website, one book is notable, called ‘The Book of Honour: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives’. It is a book by the journalist Ted Gup.

The book basically talks about these CIA operatives who died in action while defending the interests of the USA. In CIA headquarters at Virginia, there exists a wall of honour, a marble wall with black stars engraved, where each represents a fallen CIA agent and in a bullet proof glass case is kept ‘the book of honour’.

The book does consist of a list for each year. It is the year on which a CIA officer fell, where more than 50% cases of anonymous stars are present to conceal identity. There was an Indian national, Ravindra Kaushik, RAW agent in Pakistan, who penetrated the Pakistani Army and became a Major, during years of service to the nation; he saved the lives of 20,000 Indian soldiers. In 1983, he was caught and subsequently incarcerated. He died at a Pakistani jail in November 2001.

Why should not there be something in India similar to a wall of honour for such people who became martyrs? After all, these individuals make the supreme sacrifice acting as India’s first line of defence to ensure no war takes place between India and Pakistan. True, Kaushik was only a source and not an employee of the RAW. But that should not be the criteria by indicating that we will never acknowledge fallen sources like him (including many sources similar to Kaushik). Arthashastra does recommend that a spy should be rewarded for his or her service to the nation.

RAW has increased India’s influence across the world. The birth of Bangladesh from East Pakistan, growing influence inside Afghanistan, adding Sikkim in 1975 to the Indian State, security of the Indian programme on nuclear weapons, success of African liberation movement have all been the big success stories of RAW. On 22 October 2020, the RAW chief made a visit to Nepal. He arrived on a special aircraft of the Indian Air Force and met then-PM K.P. Sharma Oli as well as the avowed opposition Communist leader, former PM Baburam Bhattarai.

In India’s strategic imagination, Nepal is very important. Nepal, with the high Himalayas between India and China, is critical for India to get right as part of the neighbourhood. India-Nepal relations are through open borders and from a security perspective it should never be forgotten that the Pakistanis used Kathmandu to hijack the Indian commercial flight IC814. So this plane ultimately landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan; Government’s hard time.

So a stable, peaceful Nepal is vital which is not vulnerable to external forces that are inimical to Indian interest, for example China. If Nepal is unstable, its institutions are weak, then it has every possibility of becoming a fertile ground for external forces.

The recent behaviour of Nepal is the most inexplicable, as it has officially included three Indian territories in its own map, Prime Minister Oli went to the extent that he would get these places at any cost! But NSA Doval has firm grip on the neighbourhood of India (SAARC) and it is being reaffirmed when he sent his man Samant Goel to Nepal (meeting all sides).

Also the flip side exists. During the early 1990s, it was PM Narasimha Rao who closed eastern operations of RAW. It was basically done to try and have bridges with China! From today’s perspective, this decision of PM Rao might be wrong but even in the case of making friendship, one keeps their friends more close to them than their enemies. Unfortunately, nothing is known about covert capabilities of India with respect to China. Experts should write on China like VK Singh did in his book, narrating exactly how Indian intelligence failed in regard to the Sino-Indian 1962 war.

It might be wise on part of the Government of India to publicly announce how it wishes to approach a policy to declassify the secrets of RAW, which is something that can be shared. RAW should come under the Indian Parliament only to look after those families whose loved ones were caught as spies such as in Pakistan. Because a large number of these spies do not return, while those who come back are always shunned. Secrecy could be one of the reasons for it; another reason could be due to the RAW being understaffed, as the government is busy recruiting and sending them across the borders.

So it would make sense for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India to at least provide names of all those family members whose loved ones on spying charges are in jail to the Member of Parliament for ensuring that proper care is taken of the family. Further the PM should direct the MPs to look after their welfare.

India, like other democracies, should do in-depth analysis of RAW to inform public what the merits, demerits have been till now, and this transparency till whatever extent possible coming out from the minds of intelligence professionals inside the Government, will make India better prepared for challenges of tomorrow due to scholarly debates, articles etc.