Friday, May 6, 2011



Should India continue with the peace process with Pakistan initiated when Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani visited Mohali in India on March 30,2011, to attend the semi-finals of the World Cup cricket match?

Answer: Yes. India should. There is no reason why India should allow its policy towards Pakistan to be affected by the Abbottabad raid on May 2 by the US Navy SEALS that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The consequences of that raid are a matter to be sorted out by the US and Pakistan and should not have any bearing on India's relations with Pakistan. The peace process between India and Pakistan should continue so long as terrorist organisations based in Pakistan and supported by its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) refrain from indulging in any act of mass casualty terrorism in Indian territory.

Should India emulate the USA's Abbottabad raid?

A. The Abbottabad raid was an officially admitted clandestine operation by the US Special Forces belonging to its Navy, which carried out the raid under the leadership of Leon Panetta, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It was a raid carried out against the head of an international terrorist organisation, which has been responsible for a series of major acts of mass casualty terrorism directed not only against the US, but also against many other countries of the world. The US action in undertaking the raid despite its violation of Pakistan's national sovereignty, therefore, enjoyed considerable international support. Any operation by the Indian Special Forces in Pakistani territory against leaders of terrorist organisations operating against India would not enjoy similar support in the international community. Moreover, Pakistan would be forced by its public opinion to treat any officially admitted raid by the Indian Special Forces in its territory as an act of war and react accordingly. It could lead to a war between the two countries, which would not be in the interest of either.

Why should India be worried about what the rest of the world thinks?

A. If we take an action which is not deniable and which is officially admitted, we have to worry.

Does it mean India should never undertake an Abbottabad style raid in Pakistani territory by its Special Forces?

A. Not during times of peace when the two neighbours are engaged in the peace process. Such raids could, however, be justified in times of war. We should have the capability, but should not use it so long as peace, however unsatisfactory, prevails.

Then, how do you recommend the re-establishment of the covert action capability of our Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW)? You sound illogical.

A.One must understand some important differences between a clandestine operation by the Special Forces and a covert action by an intelligence agency. An operation by the Special Forces is carried out by specially trained units of your own armed forces in a clandestine manner. It is an act of unconventional warfare by conventional armed forces. It is kept clandestine till the operation is over, but often officially admitted after the operation. It is carried out with the help of your own nationals. A covert action by an intelligence agency in foreign territory has to be totally deniable and should not involve the participation on the ground in foreign territory of your own forces and/or nationals. You do not go into the foreign territory. You seek the assistance or co-operation of others who have legitimate reasons for being in foreign territory. A covert action can be undertaken anytime---in times of peace or war.

Every State having an adversarial relationship with another State should have three options at its disposal. The first option is talks to reduce the adversarial nature of the relationship. The second option is covert action by the intelligence agencies as a disincentive to make the adversary amenable to reason. The third option, which should be one of last resort, is war. Since India and Pakistan are nuclear powers war should not be lightly contemplated as an option . It should be contemplated only in extreme circumstances when national existence is in peril.

The problem which we face in our relations with Pakistan is that the option of deniable covert action by the intelligence agencies in Pakistani territory which we created for ourselves under Jawaharlal Nehru immediately after India became independent in 1947, was wound up in 1997 when Shri Inder Kumar Gujral was the Prime Minister. Neither Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee nor Dr.Manmohan Singh has been inclined to revive it. To revive it or not has to be a political decision.

There is no unanimity of opinion among senior intelligence officers as to whether it would be wise to revive it. I have heard of at least two recent heads of the R&AW, who were not convinced of the need for its revival. They reportedly felt that the R&AW should remain, as it is post-1997, a purely intelligence collection organisation, and should not get involved in covert action. There is a new generation of young intelligence officers which respects us old-timers, but does not agree with our views on the need to revive the covert action capability.

Then, why do you keep talking from time to time of the need to revive the covert action capability?

A. Because I do feel that in the absence of the intermediate option of a covert action capability, we are reduced to a position where we are either helpless spectators of Pakistan's use of terrorism against India or become advocates of an adventurous policy as we followed in 2002 which could have led to a war. There are two kinds of covert actions. The first is directed against the State of Pakistan. This has to be ruled out so long as we are satisfied with the peace talks with Pakistan. The second will be directed against the terrorists operating against India from Pakistani territory. This will be justified and necessary, My advice has always been: Re-create the capability, but use it only if the peace talks fail and Pakistan continues to evade our request and international pressure for action against the terrorist leaders operating against Indian citizens from its territory.This is a matter which needs to be examined quietly. (6-5-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )