RAW, India’s External Intelligence Agency


India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has long been meddling in its neighbours’ affairs. Founded in 1968, primarily to counter China’s influence, over time it has shifted its focus to Pakistan. On the other side of the border, in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) performs the task of countering RAW activities and both agencies have been engaged in covert operations against one another for over nearly four decades. Although Kashmir Dispute continues to fuel this India-Pakistan rivalry, Afghanistan is another battleground as Indian consulates in Afghanistan are being used by RAW agents as a cover for orchestrating activities aimed at destabilizing Pakistan.


Until 1968, India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) was responsible for country’s internal as well as external intelligence. But after India’s defeat in Sino-Indian War of 1962, Indian authorities decided to create a separate external intelligence agency. Hence, a dedicated intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was founded; mainly to focus on China and Pakistan.

The Structure and Functions

The organization started with 250 people and about $400,000. It has since expanded to several thousand personnel, but its staffing and budget remain secret. However, an estimate by the US-based Federation of American Scientists suggests that in 2000, RAW had about 8000-10000 agents and a budget of about $145 million. Unlike the United States’ CIA and Britain’s MI6, RAW reports directly to the prime minister instead of the Ministry of Defence. The chief of RAW is a designated secretary (research) in the Cabinet Secretariat, which is part of the prime minister’s office. Some officers of RAW are members of a specialized service, the Research and Analysis Service, but several officers also serve on deputation from other services such as the Indian Police Service.


In the beginning, RAW worked to strengthen its capability for intelligence gathering on Pakistan and China and for covert action in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). RAW’s efforts in East Pakistan were aimed at fomenting the independence sentiment in Bengalis. However, over time, RAW’s objectives have broadened to include:

1. Monitoring political and military developments in adjoining countries which have direct bearing on India’s national security and in the formulation of its foreign policy.

2. Seeking the control and limitation of the supply of military hardware to Pakistan, mostly from European countries, the United States and China.

Although experts disagree on the extent of RAW’s influence on India’s foreign policy, yet it is true that the head of RAW has direct access to the head of state to whom he provides input and analysis.

Early Years

RAW’s first leader was Rameshwar Nath Kao who led the agency until he retired in 1977. Many experts, including officers who worked with him, credit Kao with RAW’s initial successes especially India’s role in dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. However, the organization has been criticized for its lack of coordination with domestic intelligence and security agencies, weak analytical capabilities, and complete lack of transparency.

RAW & Mossad

From the early days, RAW had a secret liaison relationship with the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. The main purpose was to benefit from Israel’s knowledge of West Asia and North Africa, and to learn from its ‘counterterrorism techniques’.

Relations with the CIA

The CIA assisted in the creation of RAW, says South Asia expert Stephen P. Cohen. However, India’s intelligence relations with the CIA started even before the existence of RAW. After India’s war with China in 1962, CIA instructors trained Establishment 22, a “covert organisation raised from among Tibetan refugees in India, to execute deep-penetration terror operations in China.”

But the CIA’s operations with the ISI to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s made RAW very wary. However, it did not stop RAW from seeking the CIA’s assistance in counterterrorism training.

RAW’s Role in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka

RAW 1RAW played a key role in the formation of Bangladesh along with the Indian army and other Indian security and intelligence agencies. Besides providing intelligence to policymakers and the army, RAW trained and armed Mukti Bahini, a group of East Pakistanis fighting for the separate state of Bangladesh. This was recently admitted by Indian Premier, Narendra Modi, during his visit to Dhaka. RAW also facilitated the north-eastern state of Sikkim’s accession to India in 1975, and provided military assistance to groups hostile to the pro-China regime in Myanmar, such as the Kachin Independence Army.

But it was the support for the Tamil separatist group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, that brought RAW much criticism from human rights organizations. RAW helped train and arm the LTTE in the 1970s, but after the group’s terrorist activities grew in the 1980s—including its alliances with separatist groups in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu—RAW withdrew this support. In 1987, New Delhi made a pact with the Sri Lankan government to send peacekeeping troops to the island, and Indian forces ended up fighting the group RAW had armed. In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India at the time of the peacekeeping force deployment, was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber.

RAW-KHAD-KGB Nexus against Pakistan

Since its inception in 1968, RAW has had a close liaison relationship with KHAD, the Afghan intelligence agency, due to the intelligence it has provided to RAW on Pakistan. This nexus was further strengthened in the early 1980s when the foundation was laid for a trilateral cooperation involving RAW, KHAD and the Soviet KGB.

In the mid-1980s, RAW set up two covert groups: Counter Intelligence Team-X (CIT-X) and Counter Intelligence Team-J (CIT-J), the first targeting Pakistan in general and the second directed at Khalistani groups. The two groups were responsible for carrying out terrorist operations inside Pakistan. Indian journalist, Praveen Swami, writes that a “low-grade but steady campaign of bombings in major Pakistani cities, notably Karachi and Lahore” was carried out.

Pakistan also accused RAW of supporting Sindhi nationalists demanding a separate state as well as Seraikis calling for a partition of Pakistan’s Punjab to create a separate Seraiki state. India denies these charges. However, experts point out that India has supported insurgents in Pakistan’s Balochistan, as well as anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan.

The writer is a lecturer at Cadet College Okara. He can be reached at: mustansar.tasir@gmail.com

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