Throughout my 26 years in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, I was known as a man with a poker face.
As someone, who showed no emotions or passion on his face or in his words.
As someone, who led a robot-like existence, working from 8 in the morning till 9-30 in the night — seven days a week, 365 days in a year.
As someone, who took life in its stride.
I was angry and bitter at the US State Department.
But, I was a different man that day — on August 31, 1994, as I was driven home in the official car, after having attended a party hosted by the officers of the R&AW to bid farewell to another officer and me, who had retired that evening from service at the age of 58.
Anyone, who had seen me as I entered my flat that night, might not have recognized me.
All the pent-up emotions, all the anger and bitterness, which I had kept suppressed inside me for 26 years, burst out.
“BASTARDS”, I shouted.
I was angry and bitter.
Not at my organization, which had always treated me with honour and generosity.
Not at my colleagues, who had always respected and admired me.
Not at Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister, and his predecessors, who were directly in charge of the R&AW, right from the day it was created on September 21,1968, by bifurcating the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on the orders of Indira Gandhi.
I was angry and bitter at the US State Department.
The message said that the Ambassador had been called by a middle-level officer of the State Department and told that it was aware that the covert action division of the R&AW was meddling in the internal affairs of Pakistan and trying to destabilize it.
I have always loved the US.
I have always liked the American people.
But, there is one American species, which I could never bring myself to like during the 27 years I spent in the intelligence community — the officers of the US State Department.
During the one year I spent in the IB as in charge of Burma and South-East Asia before the R&AW was formed.
During the 26 years I spent in the R&AW.
My dislike for the US State Department went up even further during my last days in the R&AW.
A few days before my retirement, the chief of the R&AW told me that he had been called by Narasimha Rao for a discussion on a sensitive subject and that I should accompany him. I did so.
Narasimha Rao took out a personal message, which he had received from the Indian Embassy in Washington DC and gave it to my chief.
He went through it in silence and then passed it on to me.
As I read it , I felt like vomiting and spitting at the State Department officials. I might have done so had they been there.
The message said that the Ambassador had been called by a middle-level officer of the State Department and told that it was aware that the covert action division of the R&AW was meddling in the internal affairs of Pakistan and trying to destabilize it. The State Department officer, who had previously served in the US Embassy in New Delhi, asked the Ambassador to tell New Delhi that if the R&AW did not stop what the State Department described as its covert actions in Pakistan, the US might be constrained to act against Pakistan and India for indulging in acts of terrorism against each other.
Can any of your actions be misinterpreted as acts of terrorism?
According to the message, the State Department officer said: “You have been asking us for many years to declare Pakistan as a State-sponsor of terrorism. Yes, we will do so. But we will simultaneously act against India too if it did not stop meddling in Pakistan.”
“What kind of covert actions you have in Pakistan?” Narasimha Rao asked.
“We have been actively interacting with different sections of Pakistani society, which are well disposed towards India and extending to them discreet political and moral support,” I replied.
“Since when?” he asked.
“Since 1988, when Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Punjab increased in its brutality and evidence came in from one of the Western intelligence agencies that they had received confirmation that Talwinder Singh Parmar, one of the terrorists of the Babbar Khalsa, Canada,who had participated in the blowing up of the Kanishka, the Air India aircraft, in June,1985, off the Irish coast, had been given sanctuary in Pakistan by its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. Rajiv Gandhi asked us not to confine any longer our contacts to only the ruling circles of Pakistan, but to diversify them and start interacting with others too — particularly those who think and wish well of India,” I said, and added: “We had also kept you informed of this when you took over as the Prime Minister in 1991 and subsequently.”
We have every right to maintain contacts with all sections of Pakistani society. We need not be worried if the Americans dislike this.
“Yes. I know. But, why is the State Department talking of acts of terrorism? Can any of your actions be misinterpreted as acts of terrorism?”
“Definitely not, Sir.”
Narasimha Rao thought for a while and said: “Let me have a draft reply to the Ambassador, directing him to strongly deny the allegations of the State Department. Don’t discontinue your interactions. We have every right to maintain contacts with all sections of Pakistani society. We need not be worried if the Americans dislike this.”
The draft of the reply to the Ambassador was the last paper I prepared before I retired. I gave it to my chief, who forwarded it to Narasimha Rao.
I do not know if Narasimha Rao sent it to the Ambassador and, if so, in what form and language.
The day after I retired, the late Rajesh Pilot, the then Minister of State for Internal Security, sent for me.
“What are your plans?” he asked.
“Sir, I am booked to return to Madras on September 20 to settle down there.”
“There is no question of your returning to Madras. I have spoken to Rao about you. He has agreed that we should utilize your knowledge and experience in the North-East by appointing you as the Intelligence Co-Ordinator in that region. You have dealt with the North-East for many years in the 1970s and the 1980s. Your insights will be invaluable.”
I told him I would prefer to go back to Madras. I added that any Intelligence Co-ordinator for the North-East has to be from one of the North-Eastern States and that an outsider would not be effective.
When we did not agree to this, they threatened to declare India as not co-operating in the fight against narcotics.
A few days later, Narasimha Rao sent for me.
“Pilot tells me you are returning to Madras for good on the 20th.”
“But, why are you in a hurry? We want to utilize your services. If you don’t like dealing with the North-East, we can find something else for you.”
I expressed my regrets and requested him to permit me to return to Madras.
“If you insist. But do keep in touch with me.”
As I was about to get up and leave, he mentioned the name of an official of the US State Department and asked me what I thought of her.
I told him that my impression was that she had a visceral dislike of India. I added: “Sir, she is behind much of our troubles in Jammu and Kashmir. She is the mentor of the anti-New Delhi Kashmiri leaders. She is a close personal friend of Benazir Bhutto. I had a suspicion that she had shared with Benazir the contents of some of our intelligence reports regarding the activities of the Khalistani terrorists in Pakistani territory, which we had shared with the US. We lost a couple of valuable sources.”
Benazir Bhutto was then the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Narasimha Rao said: “I know the State Department has never been well disposed towards India. Why this sudden increased dislike of India?”
“Sir, it is not sudden. If you recall, in 1992 they had threatened to impose economic sanctions against India by declaring it as non-cooperating with the US in the fight against narcotics.”
“Yes. I remember vaguely. Why did they do so?”
“They alleged that there was large-scale illicit opium cultivation along the Sino-Indian border in certain areas and wanted the Directorate-General of Security (DGS) to take aerial photographs of the region with the help of an aircraft given by the US some years ago. We agreed to do so. They said that they wanted one of their intelligence officers to travel in the aircraft when it went on aerial photography missions along the Sino-Indian border. When we did not agree to this, they threatened to declare India as not co-operating in the fight against narcotics. With your approval, we stood firm in our refusal. They did not raise the issue again.”
“ We have to get along with them; at the same time, we have to be careful of them,’’ he remarked and wished me farewell.
That was my last meeting with Narasimha Rao, but I kept writing to him from Madras from time to time expressing my thoughts on matters of national security. He never replied to them, but I had an impression that he did read them, because on a couple of occasions, serving officers of the intelligence community met me as desired by Rao to discuss some of the points made by me in my letters to him — particularly on the dangers of allowing foreign participation in our telecom services.
Book Excerpt: The Kaoboys of R&AW