Isha khan’s Weblog


The Spy who knew Bangladesh better than its President
July 19, 2008, 9:59 am
Filed under: SubContinent
The Spy who knew Bangladesh better than its President

‘‘A foreign intelligence agency is the eyes and ears of the government. Its activities are the direct resultant of the policies of the government, without which any government would be left in a state of limbo’’ — R.N. Kao, the first RAW chief, who died on January 20.

The search for the man who would head RAW was a crucial one. Rameshwar Nath Kao, during his tenure with the IB, had been exposed to the world of intelligence and espionage, having worked in the field in the mid-sixties. Kao set up the structure, followed by K. Sankaran Nair who made it fully operational… It was possibly from a long list of names coined by DS Joshi, then Cabinet Secretary, that the title ‘‘Research and Analysis Wing’’ was selected.

The Bangla Desh Operation possibly began a year before the actual operation was underway. Even when the world did get a whiff of it in the shape of the Mukti Bahani, many remained unaware of RAW’s involvement. By then Phase I of the operation was already completed. Phase II saw the Indian Armed Forces poised for the liberation of Bangla Desh. RAW, along with the Mukti Bahani, when they developed into a formidable force, provided information to the Indian forces.

Information collected by an IB foreign desk operative in London from a Pakistani diplomat indicated that the West Pakistanis were contemplating action against Bengali Muslims in Pakistan. By 1968 Indian operatives had already been in contact with the ‘‘pro-Mujib’’ faction. A meeting convened in Agartala during 1962-63, between the IB foreign desk operatives and the Mujib faction indicated to ‘‘Colonel’’ Menon (which in fact was Sankaran Nair’s non de guerre that the ‘group’ was eager to escalate their movement. ‘‘Colonel Menon’’ had warned them that in his opinion it was far too early for them to take any positive action. As Colonel Menon right put it….‘‘they jumped the gun.’’ But this was a total disaster.

A few months later, on January 6, 1968, the Pakistan government announced that 28 persons would be prosecuted for conspiring to bring about the secession of East Pakistan, with India’s help. Mujib was implicated 12 years later as an accused. By now the IB foreign desk (PAK) had moved to the new set-up at RAW. RAW cells were set up all along the border.

RAW sources in Karachi had indicated a movement of troops from Karachi harbour for Dacca. On March 3, a message sent out from Dacca to Calcutta by a RAW operative indicated that a major crackdown was imminent. As the report found its way to New Delhi, an urgent message was flashed — ‘‘…advise Menon…’ to bring in … our friends.’ Towards the end of April the genocide continued and drove 9.8 million into exile to India. The March 1969 RAW report had already spelt out the possibility of Pakistan resorting to a war with India… By the end of May, another RAW assessment sent to the Prime Minister spelt out the need of a ‘‘surgical intervention’’. RAW received the green signal and began mobilising its resources. The Mukti Fauj was known as the Mukti Bahani two months after its formation on the night of March 25, 1971.

General SHFJ Manekshaw, Chief of Army Staff, realised that the major question of India’s defence policy could not be dealt with in purely military terms. As Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, he pressed for political involvement of the Government. For the first time a political representative in the person of DP Dhar, designated as Chairman of the Planning Committee of the Ministry of External Affairs, was inducted into the war council. On the civil side, a secretariat committee was set up to take executive decisions, dealing with preparations for war and their execution. The committee consisted of the Secretaries of Defence, Home, Finance and Foreign Affairs, with Kao as Member Secretary.

With the go-ahead signal, RAW’s underground network in East Pakistan came alive. Every six weeks 2,000 guerrillas were being trained by RAW, capable of taking on the enemy in hit and run encounters.

After the war for liberation was over, Bangla Desh was estimated as a sovereign state with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as its head. RAW agents continued to keep an eye on developments in the newly born country. By the end of 1973, RAW reports began to indicate unrest in the country. Nair met Mujib and apprised him of the situation. Mujib, preoccupied with other events, that engulfed his country, shrugged off the warning.

Four months later, RAW agents received information of a meeting between Major Rashid, Major Farooq and Lt Col Usmani at Zia-ur-Rahman’s residence. The decision, among other things, had centred on the coup. During the three-hour meeting one of the participants had doodled on a scrap of paper, which had been carelessly thrown into the waste basket. The scrap had been collected from the rubbish pile by a clerk and passed on to the RAW operative. The information finally reached New Delhi.

Kao, convinced that a coup was in the offing, flew into Dacca, under cover of a pan exporter. After his arrival at Dacca, he was driven to a rendezvous arranged beforehand. Mujib is reported to have found the exercise highly dramatic and just could not understand why Kao could not have come to see him officially.

The Kao-Mujib meeting lasted one hour. Kao was unable to convince Mujib that a coup was brewing and that his life was threatened, in spite of being given the names of those suspected to have been involved.

Les than three months later, on the night of August 14, an army manoeuvre took place. The Bengal Lancers and the Bangla Desh Armoured Corps moved out of the cantonment to the capital’s half built airport. A few hours later, the same evening, 40 members of the Mujib household along wit Sheikh Mujib, lay dead. The killings lasted three minutes.

On November 3, a counter coup led by Brigadier Khaled Musharraf was followed by yet another counter coup that established General Zia-ur-Rahman in power. It was on General Zia’s subsequent goodwill visit to India that a formal meeting between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Bangla Desh President took place. Kao was also present. General Zia is reported to have remarked that ‘‘this man (referring to Kao) knows more about my country than I do.’’

(Edited excerpts from Inside RAW: The story of India’s Secret Service by Asoka Raina,New Delhi, 1981)

Posted by Isha Khan   bdmailer@gmail.com

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