Chindu Sreedharan and Josy Joseph
Last summer, we heard that refrain above the sounds of booming guns. A winter, an inquiry, and we now know that the spies and spymasters aren't to be blamed all that much for the Kargil intrusion.
There were inputs about the move as early as June 1998. For proof, intelligence officials point you to the Kargil Review Committee report.
But that doesn't exonerate the agencies completely. As a senior official admits: "Our focus in the area was not on Pakistan. It was more of a China-watch situation there."
A year after the conflict, that has changed. Pakistani activities, especially opposite this now-sensitive sector, are being closely monitored with upgraded electronic equipment, reconnaissance flights and the creation of additional field intelligence posts.
The Research and Analysis Wing, Central Intelligence Bureau (known as the IB) and Military Intelligence form the backbone of India's intelligence apparatus. Then, there are specialised wings in the paramilitary forces and the state police.
RAW came into existence in 1968. (Click for its organisational structure.) It is entrusted with collecting intelligence outside the country. The IB too undertakes cross-border operations on occasions. But its focus is on internal security and counterintelligence.
The MI, for its part, is responsible for 'tactical intelligence'. That is, information on troop disposition, enemy morale, personality profiles of enemy commanders and the like.
Intelligence can be of two types: human intelligence or 'humint' and technical intelligence or 'techint'. The former is received from FIPs or field intelligence posts in India, and own agents or 'assets' abroad.
The latter comprises 'Imint' or imagery intelligence, 'Elint' or electronic intelligence and 'Comint' or communication/signal intelligence.
On inhospitable and sparsely populated terrain, it is the techint that can contribute more. Unfortunately in Kargil, neither RAW nor MI nor IB were equipped for this.
Intelligence apparatus: command and control
...and how they do it
"Post Kargil, the signal efforts have been beefed up," an official of RAW reveals. "If earlier we were getting, say, 100 intercepts we are now getting 300."
The Aviation Research Centre is the wing of RAW that undertakes aerial reconnaissance. It is equipped to take photographs across the border for a limited distance.
"The ARC has been undertaking more missions after the conflict," he says. "Earlier, the consumer and the resource, that is the ARC, were not in close touch. The flights were all chalked out six months in advance and the ARC used to stick to that."
"Now there is better co-ordination. The consumer gets back to us with alternations and additional requests without time loss."
That's not all. Both RAW and IB have augmented their human intelligence capabilities by creating additional FIPs. For instance, in Kargil, where there was just one RAW post before Operation Vijay, there are more now. Where there was a junior officer, there is a senior personnel co-ordinating efforts now.
"We have created more observation sources across the border," a source says. "We are trying to open more channels [of information]."
There's no standard profile for an intelligence official. Mostly, the decision-makers are from the Indian Police Service, the state police and other law-enforcement agencies. But an 'agent' can be anyone.
Sources who are usually tapped are the people in border villages. They know the terrain. Also, they have every excuse to be there. Some of them have relatives on the other side. Some others cross over for bootlegging or such activities.
"They come to us at times," says the source. "They may want to go across for personal reasons -- to attend some marriage, smuggling or whatever -- and we help them."
The payment, again, is not standard. It can vary from a pittance to huge amounts, depending on the quality of information.
'Indians... but their hearts are with Pakistan'
The very limited cross-border traffic beyond the Zojila Pass is one major constraint on humint. Unlike in Rajasthan, where it happens all the time, people rarely cross over here. For one, the terrain is not conducive.
"Then again, there is the shelling. That makes it very risky," an official points out.
The anti-India feeling in some border villages is another reason. "Take Turtuk for instance. It is very close to the LoC. If the people there were willing, they could do a very good job," he says. "They are in India, but their heart is with Pakistan."
Militancy too has taken its toll on intelligence operations. Villagers who go across for Indian agencies at times double as guides for militants on their way back. Result: many of them have been killed in encounters with security forces.
'It doesn't happen in our country'
The Kargil Review Committee had criticised the "gross inadequacies" of India's electronic intelligence. Now measures are being adopted to remedy it.
Indian satellites are capable of discerning only objects more than 5.8 metres across. To make up, New Delhi plans to tap the open American market for high-resolution images. In four years, the defence forces are expected to have their own dedicated satellite, which would be a major boost to their surveillance and communication facilities.
Moves are also afoot to address the lack of co-ordination among the agencies. The Review Committee had underlined this: "There is no institutionalised process whereby the RAW, IB and army intelligence officials interact periodically..."
Lieutenant General K S Khajuria, former director general of military intelligence, has this to add: "Intelligence is like a huge jigsaw puzzle. You don't know which small bit will complete the picture and surprise you.
"Somebody has to put all of it together. Unless you do that you might miss all of it, even the biggest picture," he warns.
Which, precisely, is what happened in the Kargil sector. Ask the general about the co-operation -- or lack of it -- between intelligence agencies. "If MI finds something there is no harm in approaching RAW for confirmation," he says. "But it doesn't happen in this country."
It will, promise officials in the service -- a war is too high a price to pay for egos.
ON TO PART 4: But life goes on...
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