Covert action capability is an indispensable tool for any State having external adversaries. Its purpose is not just collection of intelligence, but the protection of national interests and the safeguarding of national security through deniable actions of a political, economic, para-diplomatic or para-military nature. A State resorts to covert action if it finds that its national interests cannot be protected or its national security cannot be safeguarded through conventional political, economic, diplomatic or military means or if it concludes that such conventional means are not feasible.
Any intelligence agency worth its salt will have a covert action capability ready for use, when necessary. The Governments of some countries openly admit the availability of such a capability in their intelligence agencies, but not the details of their operations, which have to be secret and deniable. Others don’t admit even its existence.
In India too, the IB, under the foresighted leadership of the late B.N.Mullik, its second Director, had a limited covert action capability for possible use. The covert action division of the IB played a notable role in the then East Pakistan to counter the activities of the ISI in India’s North-East.
The R&AW had inherited from the IB its intelligence collection and covert action capabilities relating to Pakistan and China. These were not up to the standards of the intelligence agencies of the Western countries and Israel.
In India, one tends to think that Pakistan’s use of terrorism against India started in 1989 in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It is not so. It started in 1956 in Nagaland. The ISI trained the followers of Phizo, the Naga hostile leader, in training camps set up in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of East Pakistan. It also provided them with safe sanctuaries in the CHT from which they could operate in the Indian territory through northern Myanmar.
In the 1960s, it started providing similar assistance and sanctuaries to the Mizo National Front (MNF) headed by Laldenga in the CHT. The ISI’s set-up in East Pakistan also enabled the Naga and Mizo hostiles to establish contact with the Chinese intelligence. This paved the way for the training of the Naga and Mizo hostiles in training camps set up by the Chinese intelligence in the Yunnan province of China.
It was partly to put an end to the activities of the ISI in India’s North-East from East Pakistan that Indira Gandhi decided to assist the Bengali-speaking people of East Pakistan in their efforts to separate from Pakistan and achieve an independent State to be called Bangladesh. This was in the wake of the widespread disturbances in East Pakistan in the beginning of 1971 following the refusal of the military regime of Pakistan headed by Gen. Mohammad Yahya Khan to honour the results of the December,1970,general elections in which the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a majority in the Pakistani National Assembly.
When the people of East Pakistan rose in revolt in March,1971, the R&AW was two and a half years old. It was still in the process of finding its feet as a full-fledged external intelligence agency, with a hardcore of professional intelligence officers capable of operating under cover in foreign territory as well as across the border in the neighbouring countries.
The poor sense of communications security in the Pakistani Armed Forces was evident from the careless use of telephones by senior officers, including Gen.Yahya Khan, for conveying instructions to their officers in East Pakistan.
The R&AW had inherited from the IB its intelligence collection and covert action capabilities relating to Pakistan and China. These were not up to the standards of the intelligence agencies of the Western countries and Israel. They had many inadequacies, which had become evident during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962, during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 and during the counter-insurgency operations in the North-East.
The late Rameshwar Nath Kao, who headed the external intelligence division of the IB, was appointed by Indira Gandhi as the head of the R&AW when it was formed on September 21,1968. In the first few months after its formation, he gave it two priority tasks— to strengthen its capability for the collection of intelligence about Pakistan and China and for covert action in East Pakistan.
A little over two years is too short a time to build up an effective covert action capability, but the R&AW managed to do so. It went into action the moment Indira Gandhi took the decision to help the people of East Pakistan achieve their independence from Pakistan.
The 1971 war against Pakistan was not a war won by India alone. It was a war jointly won by India and the people of East Pakistan. It would be wrong to project that India was the architect of an independent Bangladesh. India’s role was more as a facilitator than as a creator.
Without the desire and the will of the people of East Pakistan to be independent, there would have been no Bangladesh. Their sacrifices for their cause were immense. How many of them were brutally killed by the Pakistan Army! How many of the Bengali intellectuals were massacred by the Pakistan Army and by terrorist organizations such as Al Badr and Al Shams created by the ISI! It is their sacrifice, which laid the foundation for an independent Bangladesh. What India did under the leadership of Indira Gandhi was to make sure that their sacrifices were not in vain.
The Indian Armed Forces under the leadership of Field-Marshal (then General) S.H.F.J. Manekshaw and the Border Security Force (BSF) headed by the late K.F.Rustomji overtly and the R&AW and the IB covertly ensured this. But, they would not have been able to succeed as well as they did without the political leadership provided by Indira Gandhi and the phenomenal work done by the civilian officials of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura in organizing humanitarian relief for the millions of refugees who crossed over into India from East Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi’s dramatic decision to ban all Pakistani flights over India to East Pakistan in retaliation for the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight by two members of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to Lahore in January,1971, paved the way for the ultimate victory in East Pakistan. When the Pakistani aircraft tried to fly round India over the sea by availing of re-fuelling facilities in Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi pressurized the Government of Sri Lanka to stop providing the re-fuelling facilities. This greatly weakened the ability of the headquarters of the Pakistani Armed Forces in West Pakistan to send reinforcements to East Pakistan and to keep their garrisons in East Pakistan supplied.
The R&AW’s role was five-fold: Provision of intelligence to the policy-makers and the armed forces; to train the Bengali freedom fighters in clandestine training camps; to network with Bengali public servants from East Pakistan posted in West Pakistan and in Pakistan’s diplomatic missions abroad and persuade them to co-operate with the freedom-fighters and to help in the freedom struggle by providing intelligence; to mount a special operation in the CHT against the sanctuaries and training camps of the Naga and Mizo hostiles;and to organize a psychological warfare (PSYWAR) campaign against the Pakistani rulers by disseminating reports about the massacres of the Bengalis in East Pakistan and the exodus of refugees.
Indira Gandhi’s dramatic decision to ban all Pakistani flights over India to East Pakistan in retaliation for the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight, paved the way for the ultimate victory in East Pakistan.
The flow of intelligence to the policy-makers from the R&AW and the IB was continuous and voluminous. This was facilitated by the co-operation of many Bengali public servants of East Pakistan and by the poor communications security of the Pakistani Armed Forces. One of the first acts of Kao after the coming into being of the R&AW was to set up a Monitoring Division headed by a distinguished retired officer of the Army Signal Corps to collect technical intelligence (TECHINT) from Pakistan and China and a Cryptography Division, headed by a cryptography expert from the IB. While the performance of the Monitoring and Cryptography Divisions in respect of China was unsatisfactory, they did excellent work in intercepting electronic communications within West Pakistan as well as between West and East Pakistan and in repeatedly breaking the codes used by the Pakistani authorities for their communications.
The poor sense of communications security in the Pakistani Armed Forces was evident from the careless use of telephones by senior officers, including Gen.Yahya Khan, for conveying instructions to their officers in East Pakistan—-without even taking basic precautions such as the use of scrambling devices to make their conversations unintelligible to anyone intercepting them. Almost every day, Indira Gandhi and others entrusted with the conduct of the war had at their disposal extracts from the telephonic conversations of Yahya Khan and others with their officers in East Pakistan.
1971 in East Pakistan was a dream situation for professional intelligence officers. Often, they did not have to go after intelligence. It came after them. There was such a total alienation of the people of East Pakistan that many were eager and willing to convey intelligence to their own leaders as well as to the Indian intelligence agencies. Co-operation with the Indian intelligence agencies was looked upon by them as their patriotic duty in order to facilitate the liberation of their country.
The IB before 1968 and the R&AW thereafter had built up a network of relationships with many political leaders and Government officials of East Pakistan. They were helped in this networking by the sense of humiliation of the Bengali leaders and officials at the hands of their West Pakistani rulers. This networking enabled the R&AW and the leaders and officials of East Pakistan to quickly put in position the required infrastructure for a liberation struggle consisting of a parallel government with its own fighters trained by the Indian security forces and its own bureaucracy.
The only sections of the local population, who were hostile to India and its agencies, were the Muslim migrants from Bihar. These Bihari migrants were loyal to their West Pakistani rulers and co-operated with them in carrying out the brutal massacre of the Bengalis. However, since their number was small, the Bihari migrants could not come in the way of the liberation movement.
The main hostility to India was from the US and China. Neither of them wanted India to succeed in what they perceived as its designs to break up Pakistan.
1971 also saw the coming into being of the R&AW’s Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) Division, euphemistically called the Information Division. Media professionals from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as well as from the Army were given by Kao the task of ensuring that international spotlight was kept focused on the brutalities being committed by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan and the resulting exodus of millions of refugees into India.
They did excellent work, but if the international community became aware of the seriousness of the ground situation and of the compulsions on India to act, the real credit for it should go to Indira Gandhi. She was a born Psywarrior. Through her travels across the world to draw attention to the situation in East Pakistan and the bordering States of India, she managed to create an atmosphere, which would not have been hostile to the ultimate Indian intervention—-even if it was not supportive of it.
The main hostility to India was from the US and China. Neither of them wanted India to succeed in what they perceived as its designs to break up Pakistan. They had convinced themselves that what they saw as the Indian designs was not the immediate outcome of the disturbances in East Pakistan and the resulting exodus of refugees. Instead, they tended to agree with the military rulers of Pakistan that the disturbances and the refugee exodus were the outcome of the Indian designs. India’s perceived closeness to Moscow under Indira Gandhi added to their hostility.
Those were the days of the first covert contacts between the administration of President Richard Nixon in Washington DC and the regime of Mao Zedong in Beijing. These contacts were facilitated by the military rulers of Pakistan. Yahya Khan earned the gratitude of both the US and China by making possible the first secret visit of Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Adviser, to Beijing in July,1971, for talks with Mao and his associates.
To counter the perceived Indian designs, the Chinese stepped up the supply of arms and ammunition to Pakistan.
The developing Washington-Beijing understanding was mainly directed against Moscow, but India too, which was perceived by both the US and China as the USSR’s surrogate, came under their scan. There was an undeclared convergence of views between Washington DC and Beijing that Pakistan should be protected from India and that India should not be allowed to emerge as the dominating power of the South Asian region.
In view of the widespread revulsion across the world over the brutalities of the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan, both Nixon and Mao realized that there was not much they could do to help Pakistan retain its control over East Pakistan. Even while mentally reconciling themselves to the inevitability of Pakistan losing its eastern wing, they were determined to thwart any designs of Indira Gandhi to break up West Pakistan after helping the Bengali people of East Pakistan in the liberation of their homeland. They had convinced themselves that Indira Gandhi had such designs and that after Bangladesh, she would turn her attention to Balochistan on the Iranian border, where there were already signs of growing alienation of the people against what they perceived as the Punjabi domination of their homeland.
To counter the perceived Indian designs, the Chinese stepped up the supply of arms and ammunition to Pakistan. They also expedited the construction of the Karakoram Highway, which would link the road network of the Xinjiang region of China with that of Pakistan, and thereby enable the Chinese Armed Forces to intervene in support of Pakistan, if necessary, in future. However, this could be completed only in 1978. The Nixon Administration colluded with the Yahya regime by initiating a covert action plan for the destabilization of India. This plan envisaged the encouragement of a separatist movement among the Sikhs of India’s Punjab for an independent State to be called Khalistan.
There was a Sikh Home Rule Movement headed by one Charan Singh Panchi in the UK even before 1971, but it had practically no support from the Sikh diaspora and was ignored by the international community and media. In 1971, one saw the beginning of a joint covert action operation by the US intelligence community and Pakistan’s ISI to create difficulties for India in Punjab. US interest in this operation continued for a little more than a decade and tapered off after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh security guards on October 31,1984.
In 1971, as Indira Gandhi and the R&AW’s Psywar Division stepped up their campaign against Pakistan on the question of the violation of the human rights of the people of East Pakistan, one saw the beginning of an insidious Psywar campaign jointly mounted by the US intelligence and the ISI against the Indira Gandhi Government, with dissemination of stories about the alleged violations of the human rights of the Sikhs in Punjab.
After Indira Gandhi came back to power in the elections of 1980, the US suspected that India supported the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and that the Indian intelligence was collaborating with its Afghan counterpart.
Dr.Jagjit Singh Chauhan, a Sikh leader of Punjab with not much following, went to the UK, took over the leadership of the Sikh Home Rule movement and re-named it the Khalistan movement. The Yahya regime invited him to Pakistan, lionized him as the leader of the Sikh people and handed over him some Sikh holy relics kept in Pakistan. He took them with him to the UK and tried to use them in a bid to win a following in the Sikh diaspora in the UK. At a press conference at London in September,1971, he gave a call for the creation of an independent Khalistan.
He also went to New York, met officials of the United Nations and some American journalists and voiced allegations of the violation of the human rights of the Sikhs by the Indira Gandhi Government. These meetings were discreetly organized by officials of the US National Security Council Secretariat then headed by Kissinger.
With American and Pakistani encouragement, the activities of Chauhan continued till 1977. After the defeat of Indira Gandhi in the elections of 1977 and the coming into power of a Government headed by Morarji Desai, Chauhan abruptly called off his so-called Khalistan movement and returned to India.
After Indira Gandhi came back to power in the elections of 1980, the US suspected that India supported the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and that the Indian intelligence was collaborating with its Afghan counterpart. Chauhan went back to the UK and resumed the Khalistan movement.
In addition to stepping up the supply of arms and ammunition to the Pakistani Armed Forces and expediting the construction of the Karakoram Highway, the Chinese also wanted to destabilize India’s North-East by helping the Naga and Mizo hostiles in their insurgencies against the Government of India. However, their interest in the North-East was not the outcome of the events of 1971 in East Pakistan. It began in 1968.
While the intelligence agencies of the US and Pakistan co-operated with each other in creating difficulties for India and Indira Gandhi in Punjab, the ISI and the Chinese intelligence co-operated with each other in creating difficulties for them in India’s North-East. The Pakistani aim in destabilizing the North_East was to keep the Indian security forces preoccupied with counter-insurgency duties in the North-East, in the hope of thereby reducing any Indian threat to their position in East Pakistan. The Chinese aim was, in addition to helping Pakistan retain control over its Eastern wing, to weaken the Indian hold in this area in order to safeguard their own position in Tibet and to facilitate the eventual achievement of their objective of integrating India’s Arunachal Pradesh with Tibet.
Even as the Indian Army—ably assisted by the Air Force and the Navy—was moving towards Dhaka , covert action units of the R&AW and the Directorate-General of Security (DGS), which also came under Kao, raided the CHT in order to put an end to the insurgency infrastructure of the Naga and the Mizo hostiles. They found that the Nagas, anticipating the raid, had already shifted their infrastructure to the Burma Naga Hills area. The Mizos had not shifted, but they managed to escape capture by the units of the R&AW and the DGS and crossed over into the Chin Hills and the Arakan Division areas of Burma. Laldenga, the head of the MNF, proceeded to Rangoon from where he was taken to Karachi by the ISI. Apart from destroying the physical infrastructure of the hostiles, the only other useful outcome of the raid was the capture of all the documents kept in the MNF headquarters, which gave a lot of valuable intelligence about the contacts of the MNF with the ISI and the Chinese intelligence.
The Naga and the Mizo hostiles lost their safe sanctuaries, but their manpower remained intact. However, the loss of the sanctuaries and an important source of funds and arms and ammunition created doubts in the minds of their leadership about the continued viability of their insurgent movement. As will be discussed in a subsequent chapter, this ultimately led to peace in Mizoram and partial peace in Nagaland.
The 1971 war and our counter-insurgency operations against the Naga and the Mizo hostiles once again highlighted the importance of Northern Burma from the point of view of the security of India’s North-East. To explain this, I have to go back to my entry into the intelligence community.
In the year before the 1962 war, the IBs trans-border sources in the North-East were repeatedly reporting about a tremendous increase in the number of mules and Chinese muleteers in the Kachin State and the Burma Naga Hills.
I joined the IB in July 1967. After my training, Kao, who then headed the external intelligence division of the IB, told me that I had been selected to head the Burma Branch. The branch was created after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and he felt that it was as important as the branches dealing with Pakistan and China. He wanted me to acquire expertise not only on Burma, but also on the Yunnan province of China.
I continued to be in charge of the Burma branch for nearly five years — handling analysis as well as clandestine operations — and acquired such expertise that people used to refer to me as ‘Burma Raman.’
After taking over, I thought I would familiarise myself with the background to the creation of the Branch, and sent for the relevant file. It was there that I saw a one para hand-written note by B.N. Mullik, who was the Director of the IB at the time of the Chinese invasion of India. The note had been recorded by him shortly after the war with China had come to an end.
The note said: “I have discussed with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. They have agreed that we must urgently create a Burma Branch. It should start functioning from today without waiting for a formal approval from Finance. Action for obtaining approval from Finance may be taken separately.”
In order to understand why the Branch was created in such an urgency — almost in panic — I then requisitioned all Burma-related files of 1962 and the years before from the Record Room (Archives).
From the various notings in those files, I noticed that Mullik and others felt that the Indian Army was so badly taken by surprise in what today is called Arunachal Pradesh because some Chinese troops had entered Arunachal Pradesh not directly from the North, but from Yunnan in the East.
They had clandestinely moved across the Putao region of the Kachin state of Burma without being detected by the IB. The Kachin State and the Burma Naga Hills were a no-man’s land in those days, with practically no Burmese administrative or military presence outside the towns of Myitkyina and Putao. The Chinese had taken advantage of this.
I then went through all the pre-1962 source files in order to understand how the IB’s sources in North Burma had missed this. In those days, whatever roads were there in the Kachin State and the Burma Naga Hills had been blown up by the anti-Rangoon insurgents. The only way of moving about and carrying goods from one place to another was on the back of mules. North Burma had a large Chinese population of Yunanese origin. Many of them earned their living as muleteers.
In the year before the 1962 war, the IB’s trans-border sources in the North-East were repeatedly reporting about a tremendous increase in the number of mules and Chinese muleteers in the Kachin State and the Burma Naga Hills.
Towards the end of 1968 and throughout 1969, R&AW sources in the Kachin State of Burma started reporting…
The then officers of the IB had sent out a wake-up call by drawing the attention of the policy-makers to the national security implications of this development in the areas adjoining the Indian border in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. But they were ridiculed and accused of nursing imaginary fears.
It was realised only belatedly that these muleteers were actually Chinese Army and intelligence officers based in Yunnan, who had taken up position across our border in Burmese territory in the months before the invasion. After the war was over, there was a steep drop in the number of mules and Chinese muleteers in North Burma.
In 1968, the Governments of India and Burma agreed to set up a Joint Commission for the Demarcation of the Indo-Burmese boundary except in the northern and southern trijunctions.
Kao spoke to the then Foreign Secretary and persuaded him to include me in the Commission under the cover of a Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs dealing with the North-East.
By that time, Indira Gandhi had decided to bifurcate the IB and create the R&AW under the charge of Kao. It was, therefore, decided that I, along with the Burma Branch, would stand transferred to the R&AW, but I would keep the late MML Hooja, the then Director, IB, in the picture regarding my work.
Our concern was that the continued intrusions might be linked to the developments in East Pakistan and might have been intended to deter any Indian action in East Pakistan.
Kao, therefore, took Hooja’s concurrence for my being the joint representative of the R&AW and the IB in the Commission. My membership of the Commission gave me an opportunity to travel frequently and widely in remote areas of North Burma.
The Commission used to meet alternately in India and Burma. Normally, joint aerial photography of the border areas is the starting point for the demarcation work. At a meeting of the Commission in Rangoon, the Indian delegation proposed that such aerial photography be undertaken. We added that since the Burmese Air Force might not have a plane capable of good aerial photography, we would be happy to request the Indian Air Force to do this job for the Commission and that we would not charge the Burmese Government for it. A Burmese officer could be attached to the IAF for guiding in the aerial photography mission, we said.
The Burmese replied that they already had aerial photographs of the Indo-Burma bordering areas, and that we could use them as the starting point.
The photographs were of excellent quality. Totally surprised, we asked them how they took them since their Air Force did not have a plane capable of taking such aerial photography. To our shock, they replied: “Our Chinese friends helped us. We sought their help. They sent a plane of their Air Force to fly over the Indo-Burmese border to take the photographs.”
When we strongly protested against their allowing a Chinese Air Force plane to fly over our sensitive border areas and take photographs without our permission, the Burmese replied: “We will never let down our Indian friends. We did take your prior permission.”
They then showed us a note from the then Indian Ambassador in Rangoon to their Foreign Office, stating that the Government of India would have no objection to their requesting the Chinese for assistance in the aerial photography.
On my return to Delhi, I briefed Kao about this, and suggested that he should advise the Prime Minister to order an enquiry into how a matter having serious national security implications was handled so casually, and fix responsibility.
Kao replied: “Raman, the R&AW has only recently got going. We will need the goodwill of the Ministry of External Affairs for functioning in the Indian embassies abroad. By raising this with the Prime Minister, we will unnecessarily be creating hostility to the R&AW in the MEA. I will mention this breach of security to the Foreign Secretary and let him decide what further needs to be done.” Nothing further was done.
Towards the end of 1968 and throughout 1969, R&AW sources in the Kachin State of Burma started reporting that taking advantage of the absence of Burmese military presence in the areas of the Kachin State to the East and the South-East of Myitkyina and also in the Bhamo area—-all adjoining the Yunnan border— a large number of Chinese troops from Yunnan had infiltrated into the Burmese territory in these areas and set up camps. The sources also reported that the Burmese Government had not taken any action against these intrusions.
One of my tasks as the head of the Burma branch was to closely monitor these intrusions should there be indications of these troops moving further Westwards towards the Indian border. Some of these troops went back into Yunnan in 1970, but others stayed put in Burmese territory till the 1971 war in East Pakistan was over.
Our concern was that the continued intrusions might be linked to the developments in East Pakistan and might have been intended to deter any Indian action in East Pakistan. But, further enquiries indicated that this was not so.
After the Chinese Communists extended their control over Yunnan post-1949, the surviving remnants of the anti-Communist Kuomintang (KMT) troops had crossed over into the Kachin and Shan States of Burma and set up bases there. Beijing was exercising pressure on Rangoon to expel them from Burmese territory. We assessed that the troop intrusions into the Burmese territory were meant to reinforce that pressure and had nothing to do with the developments in East Pakistan.
There was concern in the intelligence communities of India as well as the US that the Chinese might establish their control over North Burma by exploiting the weaknesses of the Burmese Government. This did not happen. The Chinese troops withdrew from the Burmese territory in the 1970s after the KMT remnants were airlifted to Taiwan.
Two questions often posed are: Indira Gandhi could have at least ordered the liberation of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan), which India considers as an integral part of its territory under illegal Pakistani occupation. Why she did not do so?
This shared concern brought about a close working relationship between the R&AW and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in North Burma. Thus, one saw the curious spectacle of the US intelligence colluding with the ISI in assisting the Khalistan movement in Indian Punjab, with the Chinese intelligence for preventing a break-up of West Pakistan by India and with the Indian intelligence for preventing a possible Chinese take-over of North Burma. This may appear strange and incomprehensible, but such things are normal in the intelligence profession.
As the war in East Pakistan was reaching its climax, Nixon, reportedly as advised by Kissinger, ordered the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of the US Navy, to move into the Bay of Bengal. It reached there on December 11,1971. What was the purpose of the movement? The generally accepted assessment held that it was meant to convey a warning to India to stop the war after the liberation of Bangladesh and not to break up West Pakistan. Pressure from the policy-makers for more intelligence about the US intentions increased on the R&AW.
The R&AW felt handicapped in meeting the demands for intelligence about the movement of US ships and about the US intentions since it had very little capability for the collection of hard intelligence about countries other than India’s neighbours and its capability for the collection of maritime intelligence was very weak. The follow-up action taken to remove these inadequacies will be discussed in a subsequent chapter.
Contrary to the fears of Pakistan, the US and China, Indira Gandhi had no intention of breaking up West Pakistan. She knew it would be counter-productive and antagonize large sections of the international community, which appreciated the compulsions on India to act in East Pakistan. Moreover, the only area of West Pakistan ripe for supportive action was Balochistan, but it did not have a contiguous border with India. Any Indian support could have been only by sea. This was not feasible. Moreover, any support to the Baloch nationalists would have sounded the alarm bells in Iran and antagonized the Shah of Iran. For these reasons, the idea of a possible break-up of West Pakistan was not even contemplated by her. Any intervention in West Pakistan would have added to the feelings of humiliation of the Pakistani Armed Forces and large sections of its people. This would not have been in the long-term interests of India.
As the war ended, the R&AW and Kao were the toasts of the policy-makers.
Two questions often posed are: Indira Gandhi could have at least ordered the liberation of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan), which India considers as an integral part of its territory under illegal Pakistani occupation. Why she did not do so?
India had taken 93,000 Pakistani military personnel prisoners of war in East Pakistan. Why did she hand them over to Pakistan under the Shimla Agreement of 1972, without insisting on a formal recognition in writing by Pakistan that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India?
Nobody knows the definitive answers to these questions. My assessment is that she wanted to be generous to Pakistan at the hour of its greatest humiliation due to the misdeeds of its army and to strengthen the political leadership of Pakistan and enable it to stand up to the Army.
If this was her expectation, it was belied. Within five years of the Shimla Agreement, the Pakistan Army headed by Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew the elected Government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and had him executed after a sham trial. Misplaced generosity should have no place in our relations with Pakistan.
As the war ended, the R&AW and Kao were the toasts of the policy-makers. During 1971, Kao emerged as one of the most trusted advisers of Indira Gandhi. He enjoyed this trust till her assassination on October 31,1984. During 1971, she did not take any important decision regarding the crisis in East Pakistan and her conduct of the war without consulting him.
The Armed Forces had nothing but the highest praise for the performance of the R&AW in East Pakistan, but its performance on the Western front, where the Army did not do as well as in the East, came in for some criticism.
Kao and the officers, who contributed to the success of the R&AW in 1971, came to be known as the Kaoboys of the R&AW. No one knows for certain, who coined this title. Some say Indira Gandhi herself…
Despite this, everyone was agreed that 1971 was the R&AW’s finest hour. There were dozens of officers of different ages and different ranks, who contributed to its brilliant performance under the leadership of Kao and K.Sankaran Nair, his No.2.
Kao was 53 years old in 1971 and Nair 50. Nair was an Indian Police officer from the undivided Madras cadre and succeeded Kao as the head of the organization in 1977, but quit after a few months due to reported differences with Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister. He was considered one of the outstanding operational officers produced by the Indian intelligence community since India became independent in 1947. He and Kao became legends in their time in the R&AW.
Kao and the officers, who contributed to the success of the R&AW in 1971, came to be known as the Kaoboys of the R&AW. No one knows for certain, who coined this title. Some say Indira Gandhi herself; others say Appa B.Pant, the former Indian High Commissioner to the UK and Ambassador to Italy; and some others say T.N. Kaul, former Foreign Secretary.
Whoever coined it, it fitted those magnificent officers, who participated in the operations of 1971. George H.W. Bush, the father of the present US President, held office as the Director of the CIA for a brief period under President Gerald Ford from November,1975 to January,1977. He became a close friend of Kao. He had heard from the CIA station chief in New Delhi about Kao and his officers being fondly called the Kaoboys of the R&AW by Indira Gandhi and others.
It is said that during a visit paid by Kao to the CIA headquarters in Washington DC, Bush gifted to him a small bronze statue of a cowboy. Kao always used to keep it on his table in his office.
He had a large replica of this statue made by Sadiq, a sculptor from Kolkata, and gifted it to the R&AW. If you happen to visit the headquarters of the R&AW, you will find this statue of the cowboy in the foyer as you enter the building. Kao, who was himself a good sculptor, was a student of Sadiq. Sadiq made the face of the cowboy resemble that of Kao.
It stands there as Kao’s tribute to the magnificent, but unknown to the nation and unsung Kaoboys of 1971.