The learning curve of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), is faulty. This is the central idea of Myra MacDonald’s book, “Defeat is an orphan: How Pakistan lost the Great South Asian War,” published by Penguin Random House India in 2017. MacDonald is a journalist who specialises in South Asian politics and has worked for Reuters for nearly thirty years. She lives in Scotland. This opinion piece intends to discuss MacDonald’s certain ideas expressed in the book.
In a concerted effort to define the term ‘Great South Asian War’ – the meaning of which is still obscure despite reiterating the term nine times in the book — MacDonald ends up with disclosingat least five instances when the RAW, besides the Intelligence Bureau, failed to forestall the next ominous event for India since its formation in 1968.
Regarding the first instance, MacDonald writes on page 158: “When Pakistan tried to trigger a revolt in the (Kashmir) Valley in 1965 by infiltrating its own men, it was unable to drum up enough local support and failed...To assert its authority on its side, India made a succession of deal with Sheikh Abdullah, and later with his son Farooq Abdullah, giving power to their National Conference party in exchange for cooperation with Delhi. Kashmir became ‘a constituent unit of the Union of India’ and the autonomy promised by Article 370 (of the Indian Constitution in 1952) was gradually watered down. The National Conference came to be seen as Delhi’s representative in Kashmir rather than Kashmir’s representative in Delhi. Then when an alliance of secular and Islamist parties banded together in the Muslim United Front (MUF) to challenge the party in 1987 state elections, the polls were widely seen as rigged in favour of the National Conference. After that, rumbling discontent slowly gathered steam until it became a full-blown separatist revolt (by 1989). With no hope of having their grievances addressed through the democratic process, young men crossed the LoC to seek military training from Pakistan.” This self-explanatory para accentuates the failure of the RAW in advising the Indian government against the rigging of Kashmir elections that prompted an uprising against India owing to reasons local to Indian-held Kashmir but with the potential for influencing Pakistan. The Kashmir insurgency is still extant and has drawn in India’s half army and Pakistan’s attention.
Regarding the second instance, MacDonald writes on page 36: “In 1983, Pakistan carried out a ‘cold test’ – exploding a nuclear-capable weapon without the fissionable core. It followed up with about two dozen cold tests over a number of years. By 1986 or 1987, Pakistan is believed to have weaponised its nuclear programme.” Here, MacDonald says that, despite all clear indicators, the RAW not only failed to assess Pakistan’s having a credible nuclear weapon but it also failed to predict Pakistan’s next move in case India tested its nuclear device. The incapacity of the RAW cost India profoundly, as by testing nuclear weapons on May 11, 1998, India offered a valid opportunity to Pakistan to test its nuclear weapons and claim strategic parity, which Pakistan had lacked against India since 1947. Pakistan did avail itself the opportunity successfully. On page 29, MacDonald writes: “(T)he Pakistani (nuclear tests on May 28, 1998) effectively countered Indian doubts about Pakistan’s nuclear capability and by restoring the strategic balance between the two countries...” These mistakes on the part of the RAW not only made India lose its nuclear edge (obtained through a nuclear test on May 18, 1974) over Pakistan, but these mistakes also allowed Pakistan to equipoise strategically the oversized military of India. Consequently, India had to forsake the Sunderjee doctrine (1981-2004).
Regarding the third instance, MacDonald writes on page 60: “Pakistan had started this (Kargil war (in 1999) and in crossing the LoC (Line of Control) breached its international agreements. Whatever mitigation Pakistan might claim — India had, after all, started the Siachen war in 1984 — was lost in the noise.” Further, on page 55, MacDonald writes: “India was simply too complacent. Poor intelligence and its expectation of peace after the nuclear tests had lulled it into a false sense of security.” Taken both these statements together, MacDonald is saying that after the Indian army had captured Siachen, the RAW failed to help the armyforesee Kargil coming. Similarly, MacDonald writes on page 60: “(I)n Kargil, Pakistan had longer supply lines across more challenging terrain than India, which had access to the Srinagar-Leh road. Without fresh ammunition and supplies of food, the Pakistani troops would not be able to hold indefinitely.” Here, MacDonald is saying that the difference between Siachen and Kargil was that, in Siachen, India captured the height first and then defended it with the help of its full army and equipment; in Kargil, Pakistan captured the height first but did not defend it with the help of its full army and equipment. If Pakistan had also done that, a new Siachen would have embodied in Kargil. In fact, the lop-sided nature of the conflictin Kargil made the Pakistan army withdraw — live to fight another day.
Regarding the fourth instance, MacDonald writes on page 18: “After two attempts to free (Masood) Azhar (who was arrested in Kashmir in February 1994) — the kidnapping of westerners in Delhi and Kashmir (in October 1994 and July 1995 respectively) — failed ... In June 1999, another (third) attempt was made to free him by digging a tunnel into the high-security jail where he was held.” By this time, it became known that the companions of Azhar were making attempts to get him released. However, after these three futile attempts, Azhar’s companions made a successful fourth attempt by hijacking Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 en route from Kathmandu (Nepal) to Delhi (India) in December 1999 and got him released. By inference, if the fourth attempt had also met failure, there might have been the fifth one and so on. MacDonald shows that the RAW not only failed to study the rescueattempt pattern but it also failed to predict the next move of Azhar’s companions.
Regarding the fifth instance, MacDonald writes on page 121: “(Atal Bihari) Vajpayee had already warned the United States that India’s patience was running out after the October 1 (2001) attack on the state parliament in Srinagar. On December 13 (2001), it snapped. ‘This was not just an attack on the building (of Indian parliament), it was a warning to the entire nation’...” Here, MacDonald says that the RAW failed to help India foresee a militant attack on Indian parliament coming from disgruntled Kashmiri elements after they attacked Kashmir’s parliament.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org