The new leadership will be to have such an introspective exercise. The RAW has done great work in the past. It is capable of similar great work in the difficult years to come with the right critical approach and self-correcting action, says strategic expert B Raman.
The Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, has a new leadership since December 31. It is headed by Sanjeev Tripathi, an Indian Police Service officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, who joined the organisation on deputation in the 1970s and was subsequently absorbed permanently into the Research & Analysis Service.
When K C Verma, an IPS officer who was inducted into the RAW on deputation as its chief from the Intelligence Bureau on January 31, 2009, took premature retirement by a month on December 31, 2010, the toss as his successor was between Tripathi and Anand Arni, a direct recruit to the RAS when the late R N Kao was the chief.
With the selection of Tripathi, an RAS officer from the deputationist quota of the RAS, as the chief, officers from the direct recruits quota have to wait for at least two years more before one of them could hope to become the proud head of the organisation.
By 2009 when Verma was inducted as the chief, the initial batches of direct recruits to the RAS cadre had reached the required level of seniority and experience to be considered for the post of the chief. They have already waited for two years before one of them could hope to become the chief and they may have to wait for at least two years more.
It would be difficult for me to express a preference between Tripathi and Arni because both of them had worked for some years as my colleagues in the divisions headed by me. I hold both of them equally in great esteem and have equal affection for them. Both of them had a very good record of man management and got along well with their colleagues in the organisation as well as with other brother intelligence officers in the other agencies.
Both of them distinguished themselves as good operatives in the field as well as in the headquarters.
Arni had worked with me for a longer time in the late 1980s and the early 1990s when Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence started using terrorism as a weapon against India --initially in Punjab and subsequently in J&K and the rest of India.
Arni's role in dealing with the aggravation of the threats to our national security as a result of this would make any intelligence agency proud of him. I consider him without any fear of contradiction as one of the boldest operatives with tremendous initiative produced by the R&AW since its inception in 1968.
He understood Pakistan better than many other officers of the organisation and his analysis of the situation in Pakistan and of the Pakistani personalities used to be remarkably accurate in retrospect.
Good man management and team work used to be Tripathi's forte. These should stand him and the organisation in good stead in improving morale and esprit de corps in the organisation. If Tripathi and Arni work in tandem, the organisation could scale new heights under their stewardship. The organisation has had ups and downs since Major Rabinder Singh, an alleged mole of the Central Intelligence Agency, gave the slip to the counter-intelligence division in 2004 and fled to the US.
The disastrous public image of the organisation as a result of this suffered further set-backs in the subsequent years due to inter-personal frictions at the senior levels and a critical press, which highlighted many negative traits in the organisation -- some true, some exaggerated and some incorrect.
It is important for the organisation to win back public trust. An intelligence agency, which is looked down upon by the people whose security it is supposed to protect, cannot produce useful results. It is easy to lose credibility, but difficult to regain it.
The RAW lost its credibility in 2004 when Rabinder Singh fled -- just as the MI-6, the British external intelligence agency, lost its credibility in the 1960s when Kim Philby and two others, working for the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, fled to the USSR. It took the MI-6 years to regain its credibility.
The RAW should draw the right lessons from its bad public image since 2004 and move forward to regain the trust of the public. This will be the most important task of Tripathi, Arni and other senior officers. A spell of honest introspection will be required to get out of this bad patch. This introspection should cover not only what went wrong in the past, but also how to prevent a recurrence of it.
The RAW has to develop a three-front intelligence capability -- against Pakistan, China and terrorism. It already has this capability, but there is much scope for improvement. Only an honest and critical introspection by the RAW's senior leadership itself will be able to identify the deficiencies and provide answers as to how to remove them.
External audits of the performance are necessary, but no external audit can throw the spotlight on the weaknesses and gaps as effectively as an internal audit done honestly and ruthlessly.
It is hoped that one of the first steps of the new leadership will be to have such an introspective exercise. The RAW has done great work in the past, to which officers such as Tripathi and Arni had considerably contributed. It is capable of similar great work in the difficult years to come with the right critical approach and self-correcting action. The best corrective action is self-induced and not imposed from outside.