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June 3, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Girish Chandra Saxena

'Pakistan doesn't worry whether it has the benefit of deniability'

The ex-spymaster was hungry for intelligence.

"Tell me your impressions of Kargil," he asked Chindu Sreedharan, who had returned recently from the shell-struck town. "How was the shelling there? What could you read from the body language of our troops?"

The next 15 minutes, thus, saw the former Research and Analysis Wing chief and current Jammu and Kashmir Governor Girish Chandra Saxena -- 'Garry' as he's known -- interrogating his would-be interviewer. Finally, satisfied, he said:

"Okay, I have finished interviewing you. Now you can interview me!"

And thus started the session. For 30-plus minutes, the governor, drawing on his experience as a former RAW chief, shed light on the current border crisis in relation to India's intelligence operations:

How do you view the situation in the Drass-Batalik area?

It is a military situation, in the sense that it is an intrusion, not an infiltration. The objective was to hold territory. They have partly succeeded in disturbing the LC (Line of Control) alignment. Another objective may be to interfere with the important highway from Zoji La Pass to Kargil and beyond.

But primarily, what they have done is what they have not done before -- a very brazen, deliberate and well-planned breach of the Line of Control in violation of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. The Simla Agreement is a treaty that had sanctity from 1972 to 1999. For 27 years they had not attempted this kind of brazenness. There is no way that the world will believe that the whole operation was not planned and executed by Pakistan.

It is a very adventurous and risky move on their part. It contravenes a treaty obligation. They are seeking to internationalise the situation by creating an impression of a flashpoint in Kashmir.

We know they will not go beyond a certain point. But how far they will go we don't know. Because they have gone far enough. We have no intention, nor we have any objective to achieve, by escalating things more than necessary. From our side there will be every care and restraint exercised to see that it does not escalate beyond what is inherent in the situation. But we have to resolve the situation, taking whatever action needed to clear the area in which they have intruded.

What is your gut feeling about the situation? Will it escalate into full-fledged war?

Well, I don't know about the pressures on the other side -- domestic pressures and particularly that of the Pakistan army. So I cannot speak for them, but we will take every care not to let that happen. And I have reasons to believe that their political leadership will not like to take matters to a point when things will move out of hand.

What are the reasons for this belief?

The political leadership there (Pakistan) has nothing to gain. I think the political class there shares our concern that things should not get out of hand. If not in the same measure, they share the concern at least in part. The further course of events is not in our hands. We have to be on our guard. We have to be vigilant to see that we are not taken by surprise as the surprise they sprang on us this time.

About that surprise, how do you see it? As the failure of Indian intelligence?

Well, they could have done this all these years. It was an unmanned stretch during winter months. What prevented them from doing it, or prevents us from doing the same, is the respect for LoC that was being observed by both sides. For more than 25 years.

This is the first time that it has been completely discarded. Brazenly discarded. By their side. This was a soft area. Moreover, this was not an easy access over the Line of Control. So the element of surprise was on their side. As far as intelligence is concerned, there is always a first time for something.

Of course, there have been reports that people are being trained and are waiting across the border, but exactly where they would infiltrate or at what time of the year was not known. The area being inhospitable, intelligence operations cannot be run on the ground. You are talking of 17,000, 18,000, 19,000 feet. We wish there had been prior intelligence, but prior intelligence is not always possible.

The intrusion was a well-planned move. It took 'more than six months' of intense preparation and training. You don't need to be on the very terrain that it is executed to know about it. Yet, the agencies, including the RAW, failed to get wind of it.

Planning is done on the drawing boards inside closed rooms. What generally intelligence agencies pick up are its manifestations on the ground. Like, for instance, training, being brought to the launching pad near the LoC etc. This intelligence starts coming in pieces. There will be dozens of such pieces. Where they fit into the jigsaw will give you the larger picture, but that may require many more pieces.

Yes, there are also other ways of collecting intelligence than agents. There is aerial reconnaissance, there's border intelligence. All these will be reviewed and strengthened in the new scenario.

So you do agree that it is an intelligence failure.

There will always be hundreds of gaps in intelligence. If you call every gap an intelligence failure, well, that's a different thing. In anybody's intelligence set-up, whether it is the CIA or the MI-6, there will be gaps. No intelligence agency can ever claim that there are no gaps in its network. And wherever a gap is noticed, it affects adversely on the network.

Yes, it is a relevant question to answer, a relevant area in which the intelligence agencies should do some introspection and strengthen their act. But having said that, no matter how many millions you throw for operations, there will be some areas where you will not pick up information.

As a former intelligence chief, how would you rate this failure? Massive? Medium?

You see, preparedness of a country does not always depend on hard intelligence. It depends on assessment, anticipation and overview. In this case, there is a failure. We must have missed out on something. They have been very brazen and adventurous. We should have anticipated it because they have done it. (We should have anticipated) the kind of adversary we are dealing with and the power structure in our neighbouring country. Where can one pillar of power structure act on its own? These are the questions that now arise.

The Indian army, which recovered an identity card of a regular Pakistani soldier from the battle-zone, holds that the neighbour's intention was to use infiltration as a fig leaf to cover intrusion. If that was the case, why do you think they are sending in people with identity cards?

That is a necessity. Every soldier carries an identity card even if he is not in uniform. If something happens to him, it is needed for him to be recognised. Otherwise, he will be dead and buried without his family knowing. No one is ready to die like that.

As a former RAW chief, can you tell us the different ways of gathering intelligence?

I cannot go into details. But there are various means. The important ones are human intelligence or humint and elint or electronic intelligence. Then there are reconnaissance, interrogations etc.

In this particular scenario, the terrain gives very limited scope for humint. But for elint, there is no limitation. You can pick up their signals. In elint you have so many components. You can pick up photographs, for instance. You don't always need a satellite for that. There are other platforms to do it. But everything depends on what you make out of the information you pick up. Whether you are able to break the code etc.

Aerial reconnaissance is easy. You can keep on doing that in your own territory.

But, as I said, these efforts are put in at areas where they are needed more according to you. In this scenario, the capabilities of humint are limited. Near the border and on it, it is not easy to run agents. It is very difficult to send agents across these heights and retrieve them. When troops can't negotiate with all their winter clothing and equipment, it is very difficult for a man on his own to traverse the terrain. So the numbers involved are very few.

In such terrain what do you rely on most?

Electronic intelligence. What is called intercepts. And also aerial reconnaissance and aerial photography.

What do you think needs to be done to prevent a repeat of such incidents?

You have to find ways of running operations through human agents. But otherwise also, there is no end to improving your facilities to gather intelligence through electronic means and photography. It depends on resources. It depends on R&D.

Are the resources that India has for intelligence satisfactory?

Quite reasonable to meet our requirements, I would say. But you must understand that in all these things there is a cost effect. How much man power you can utilise, how much money you can spend. These are limiting factors. We are not a very rich country. But technological advances are helping us now and we are mostly using indigenous facilities.

About finance, do you think India is spending enough?

Nobody ever feels he has enough money. (Laughs) But I think, considering all circumstances, successive governments have done their bit.

How do you rate the intelligence networks in Kashmir, especially as it is a militancy-hit state bordering a hostile country?

The network here has been good in spells. At the start of the militancy, we were taken by surprise. Till then the intelligence work was mostly being done in an undiscovered environment. It became not so easy to remain in touch with your agents. It took time to put it all together. Some people had better intelligence than others -- I am talking about the army, paramilitary, state police... As a matter of fact the most important factor is the network of the local police. But that had its ups and downs.

In the recent years things have been much better. Co-ordination is good, sharing is good and the network is more professional.

The greatest advantage that the agencies have had in the last year or two is ordinary civilians -- sometimes out of revenge, sometimes because they are fed up with militancy -- are coming forward to give information. But they do it in such an obvious manner that many of them are marked. And they pay with their lives.

Is there anything like a typical human agent? If you were to paint a profile...

It's a very vast field. There can be so many types of agents. It depends on their motivation. It depends on their access to information. There is no hard and fast rule in picking up humint. People work for you for different motives. You have to deal with so many types -- mercenaries, patriotic people, adventurers, people who do it for revenge...

So it can be anyone.

Yes. And every motive has its own pluses. But the most important factor is access -- what exists and what can be created.

How would you rate Pakistan's ongoing attempt in terms of planning and execution? And also in terms of counter-intelligence, as they seem to have evaded the Indian agencies completely?

Well, they go ahead in a ham-handed way. They don't worry whether they have the benefit of deniability, especially with India. All these infiltrators, in a way, are intelligence agents. If you don't worry about being caught, then you don't need to have that kind of sophistication or security-consciousness.

They are working on a very large-scale, using a large number of people and spending a lot of money, using weapons and equipment that they have siphoned off from the foreign help that was meant for the Afghan situation. They have siphoned off 50 per cent and more of it, including Stinger missiles, wireless sets and things like that.

How would you compare RAW with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence?

For one thing, RAW is not an empire unto itself. It works under political direction. And it doesn't have an agenda of its own. This system has many pluses. You won't land your country in trouble. You are accountable. So you have to make yourself very cost effective and deliver what your charter requires.

From our side we feel we have to be sophisticated, play the game by certain rules. Our charter is different from the one that they have assumed. They have widened their charter, so their dimension is definitely much more.

An accusation against RAW is that it is as bad as the ISI. In the sense that if the ISI creates disturbances in Kashmir, RAW reciprocates on the other side of the border.

I don't agree. Unless there's political clearance, RAW will not undertake certain type of operations. Secondly, the charter of RAW as I knew it was quite different. We don't want to get involved too much in... I mean, cloak-and-dagger works, are inherent in intelligence operations, but we had a very clear-cut brief of dos and don'ts.

There is another allegation that the BJP government at the Centre wanted trouble with Pakistan. The reasoning is that an anti-Pak feeling could translate into a Hindutva feeling and help the party in the forthcoming polls.

I don't expect any major political party of being capable of such action. We have a very responsible democratic political system. Neither the BJP nor the Congress nor anybody will resort to this. I don't have any evidence, but my gut feeling is that such a thing will not happen in our country.

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