Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Case That Shook Military Intelligence of India

"Intellectuals, writers, artists and politicians 'make' hatreds. Films and videos, text and textbooks certify stories about the past, the collective memories that shape perceptions and attitudes.......Which identities become relevant for politics is predetermined and crafted in benign and malignant ways in print and electronic media, in textbooks and advertising....." said Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Llyod I. Rudolph in The New Republic dtd 22 March 1993 in their aptly titled article: "Modern Hate". Recently I was reminded of this article and how some senior officers of Indian Army fell prey to the "Modern Hatred" of some of their own top brass officers and politicians. This instance of political hatred caught my attention when I saw a recent Bollywood movie: AIYAARI, trying to reproduce verbatim the incidents revolving around the case that shook Military Intelligence of India.

And what makes this case more interesting for the general masses is the speed and intensity with which this case was unearthed, advertised and then blamed all the highly decorated officers of a Military Intelligence unit in Indian Army and did not stop at that, but went a step ahead to blame the very epitome of integrity in Uniform: the then COAS. Generally, the Armed forces are blamed for being unfriendly and hostile with media and prefer to hush up matters of indiscipline, corruption and treachery within its troops. But surprisingly, in this one particular case the matter was first published as headlines of many National daily newspapers and then affirmed by the top brass Army officials too. 

WHAT IS THIS MOVIE ALL ABOUT?:

Just as Madras cafe, in the past tried to document the real events that triggered the death of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, this one too tries to attempt to document the events that triggered the sudden expose of Adarsh Society scam, purchase of Tatra Tanks and the disbanding of an Army surveillance unit. This recent Bollywood movie-AIYAARI, from the director of earlier hits such as Special 26, Baby and Naam Shabana, is another eye-opener about some real incidents that toppled (in fact destroyed) the lives and careers of many senior officers of Indian Army, including the then Chief and Vice-chiefs. For all those who didn't watch the movie, a little about what happens in this movie. The story revolves around a search operation to find about the Commanding Officer and another officer absconding from Indian Army's Military Intelligence unit. The officers are charged with offences such as treason and planning a coup against the Indian state. What enfolds as part of their journey to find each other turns out to be another story exposing corruption of senior Defence officials, arms dealers and politicians.

WHY SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?:

All those interested in Military Affairs and Governance, will agree with my views that the whole narrative has been a superb performance by some of the best actors of Bollywood. And for all those
part of the Combat family, the director has succeeded in picturing the true lives of people engaged in overt and/or covert operations. The only amount of halo added to the real story is watching yourself being portrayed by some known celebrities on a big screen and in houses not made by MES for once.
The way Colonel Abhay behaves with his juniors, small talk he does with the jawans, short replies to his Chief and assuring glances to his wife depicted by Manoj Bajpayee is so true that you fall in love with him immediately. Similarly, the firm denial and desperation of a head of the family who can't save his smartest officers and yet who ensures that not much harm comes to them is so well enacted by veteran Vikram Gokhale, that for a minute you won't feel he is an actor and not the Chief himself. In fact, it would be difficult to mention all the actors in a single article as they have all excelled in their small yet meaty roles, be it Anupam Kher or Naseer or any body else. Throughout the movie, the officers are shown trying to over smart the middlemen, arms dealers and the politicians too. Every time somebody comes close to finding them, they vanish into thin air like a brilliant escape artist (an AIYAAR) and finally, manage to earn back their uniform and pride.

WHAT IS TOO HARD TO BELIEVE?:

Although, at some places the director does succeed to blend the fiction with reality when he shows the officers doing surveillance themselves, killing the traitors on the roads,reaching MI 6 and arms dealers, reporters themselves, using such expensive disguises, roaming around with girlfriends without any calls from the CO for hours together and of course driving near India Gate without helmets. But maybe that was to make the real hard stuff a little palatable and appealing to the romantic Indians. Some of the audience just could not digest the simplicity with which the whole adventure comes to a peaceful amicable conclusion. Watching the MI officers working again in their own office at the end makes us feel we are cheated. It is not difficult to deduce that the movie is not going to be a super hit.

GENERAL RESPONSE FROM COMBAT FAMILY:

In fact it is very clear that the movie is not going to do even a normal business on Box Office. But if it is so why waste time writing and discussing this movie? Because being a second generation IAF officer, it is very heartening for me to see that at least in fiction, somebody attempted to document the significant contribution of honest, hard-working and patriotic officers of Indian Army. Yes, if the director had really attempted to show how these officers and the then Army chief became pawns in the hands of bureaucrats, politicians and arms dealers and saw their excellent careers getting destroyed for no fault of theirs, it would have been a much more authentic work of art. But, it would have really shattered the faith that people still have in heroic deeds of Armed forces personnel.

Before this article starts sounding like a movie review, let me tell you what I liked the best about this movie. In my opinion this movie has given a chance for the general masses of India to really understand a few facts about Military Intelligence, how it developed in India and how is it generally run or as a few would say destroyed by vested interests of many bureaucrats, business men and politicians in India.

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AND ITS DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA

"All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved." Sun Tzu

The Framework of Military Intelligence in India has been a grey area in many of the recent battles and operations in India. Presently it is only the Indian Army which has a dedicated branch of commissioned Officers and personnel belonging to other ranks looking after the task of  Intelligence collection.  Although, the Indian Navy and  Indian Air Force too deploys its own Officers and Sailors/Airmen for looking after their Intelligence operations but discontinuity of officers and personnel belonging to other ranks affect quality of Intelligence gathered. Further the Intelligence gathered are shared amongst other sister Intelligence agencies of civil like Special Bureau(erstwhile name R&AW) and Intelligence Bureau through informal  as well as formal platforms like MAC(Multi Agency Centre) and SMAC( Subsidary Multi Agency Centre) after Kargil Review committee Report.  But the output is still not at all creditable as they all have their own ways and methods to form their assets and networks of sources. Further civil Int agencies yet not have fathomed the Intelligence requirement of Armed Forces. This leads to sometimes delayed sharing of inputs by Civil Int agencies depending on their interpretation. Further when speed of sharing input is necessary then delayed input is totally irrelevant.

Still a major blow to the whatever existing system of Military as well as National intelligence assets was the Doctrine prepared by the gentleman sitting int he Prime Minister's chair named Shri Inder Kumar Gujral. With his clear vision of maintaining friendly relations with our neighbouring countries, he ordered all the Indian Intelligence agencies to abandon all assets and covert operations in Pakistan with immediate effect. He did allow the collection of intelligence in Pakistan but he clearly stopped all covert operations in Pakistan. As a result, during combat operations such as the Kargil operations it was clearly felt that there was no coordinated effort to collect,share and use any human intelligence also within the Indian Army and Indian Air Force and their civilian counterparts.

The governments after him too supported the same stance. As a result, we had the Kargil intrusion and what was worst, the 26/11 attacks at Taj Hotel in Mumbai. The infiltration on borders and attacks on Defence installations continue with the most recent one being the attack near Awantipur Air Force Base in J7K.

TSD AND ITS COVERT OPERATIONS:

"The peak efficiency of knowledge and strategy is to make conflict unnecessary." Sun Tzu

 The Technical Support Division as shown in the movie was raised to conduct top-secret covert operations to stage counter-attacks on high value enemy targets with the clear consent and orders  from  Lt Gen R K Loomba, then director-general of military intelligence  and then COAS Gen VK Singh. Col Hunny Bakshi was handpicked by Lt Gen Loomba to head the unit and report directly to the Chief. Col Bakshi, who had served as an Intelligence officer till then knew the men he required. He chose his team very carefully and trained them hard like his own. Within a short while, they became the most efficient MI unit as they were supported with highly advanced surveillance and CI equipments as shown in the movie. When the combat branches were still trying to justify to the MOD officials the utter necessity of funds for procurement of equipment, there was no dearth of funds for TSD. As a result, for once the ISI and the other Pakistan-funded terrorist organisations started to take Indian Military Intelligence seriously.And, as a result, the unit became indispensable within a short while. Their achievements and success stories still can't be shared but one got a glimpse of their daredevilry or to put it mildly,AIYAARI in the movie.

BUREAUCRATIC, FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL INTERVENTIONS:

"To..... not prepare is the greatest crimes." Sun Tzu

"As R. N. Kao used to say, the R&AW and the IB are the two clandestine swords of the Prime Minister. It is upto him to decide how they will be used. His desires and orders have to be observed. No intelligence chief can overlook them---charter or no charter."


said Mr BN Raman in his article about how he could not convince the PMO office (during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's first term as PM) about abandoning covert operations in Pakistan.

Similar is the case with Military Intelligence, in fact as I gather from my open sources, a little percentage of villainy is required if we want to protect our national interests in international arena. Sadly but the governments of our nation in the past wanted to defend the nation without carrying out any covert operations and depending only on real-time combat ability of the forces. And even in that field, enhancing the troops combat abilities are the last priority when procuring and distributing arms, ammunition and combat equipment. The commissions of middlemen and the perks of Babus/Bureaucrats handling the files in the Ministries decide and escalate the otherwise normal transportation costs, manufacturing costs, delivery charges of arms and equipment.

And the feeling is very well expressed by the Colonel in the movie when Major Jai Bakshi asks him about why so many educated people aren't able to find a solution to the problems of J & K, he says

 " When a problem benefits too many people, it is no longer a problem. This valley is an Industry and keeping the problem of terrorism alive and burning in it, is the only solution for many of us."


CROSS FIRE OF REAL LIFE EVENTS LEADING TO DISBANDING OF TSD:  

For the first time in Indian defence, a chief had to air his views about being offered and denied bribes for hastening the ongoing procurement deals of Tatra trucks. The general was convinced that the Army did not need any more golf carts named as trucks used to transport manpower and equipment in field areas. Media and others called it his outburst on being slammed by the Courts for asking a change in his birth certificate. As a result of the ego-clashes between two strong lobbies within the Indian Army, the TSD started getting the blame for unearthing otherwise genuine encounters as fake ones in J& K region. Gen VK Singh had retired by then and Army's top brass was all set to punish his blue-eyed boys. So, while inquiries were ordered against the top spies; the press got to know about the Adarsh Society scam which was already going on from a long time. While General VK Singh joined politics, fought an election and became a Cabinet Minister; the Indian Army saw to it that his initiatives and his chosen ones became the scapegoats. And that's when The Case That Shook Military Intelligence of India started.

It is interesting to note the timeline of these events which are directly shown and referred to in the movie:




1. A few years ago, a headlines and a special report about how some Army units were marching on to New Delhi without the orders of concerned ministries in Central government.It was later confirmed by the Army that these operations were part of routine exercises.

2. Houses allotted to senior defence officers in the name of  war widows of Kargil martyrs at Adarsha Society, Colaba, Mumbai. A 6-storeys building which was allotted for housing the war widows was allegedly raised to 31-storeys due to the interests of many senior defense officials and politicians.

3. Corruption in Tatra Truck procurements by Ministry of Defence and snior defence officials: Lt Gen Tejinder Singh, a retd DG of Defense Intelligence Agency along with two civilians were caught for probing allegations against them by the then Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh about trying to bribe him with 140 million dollars to hasten the procurement of 600 Tatra trucks. Interestingly, the retd officer managed to get bail and filed a defamation suit against the General.

4. Military Intelligence Unit disbanded on charges of laundering money, land and equipment to overthrow the government in J& K area, bugging of Defence Minister's office:Technical Support Division (TSD) one of the only Military Intelligence unit which the ISI and many other terrorist outfits in Pakistan and Afghanistan feared the most, was disbanded in an unprecedented way when all the officers were posted out with immediate effect and inquiries were ordered to punish them for their clandestine affairs. For the first time after may be Kargil operations, it seemed that the Indian media knew more about The Case That Shook Military Intelligence of India. It was not clear as to whether Army was going to disband the unit completely, but what was clear was that the intelligence gathered by them and all the covert operations they had done were going to be used against them in the name of severe offences under the Official Secrets Act as it was believed that they had gathered a lot of data which could damage the careers and future prospects of many top brass officials within the Army.

PRESENT DEVELOPMENTS:

" Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent;
   Of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents;
    Of all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations." Sun Tzu

Unfortunately for the real life officers of TSD, their proximity with the then Chief Gen VK Singh, their vast treasure of intelligence gathered against many others became the sole reason for their downfall. Their enemies within and outside the Intelligence network chose the ripe time of just 20 days prior to Chief's retirement to order an inquiry into so-called clandestine activities they were carrying out in the name of gathering information. Col Honey Bakshi was charged with the most severe offence of not being able to safeguard the information vital for India's security under relevant articles from Officials Secrets Act. The data available in 02 doctored CDs was claimed to have been found in possession of TSD and was used as the evidence to justify their claims. Immediately the whole unit was disbanded with all the officers and NCOs being posted out to distant and painfully lonely places such as Leh, Jharkhand, Shillong and so on. Officers who were decorated with non-Gallantry Awards  for their distinguished service to the nation were forced to perform mundane duties such as counting blankets and food articles, checking medical claims and looking after constructions of houses for troops. Their careers destroyed, their families left in dark, they were mostly on the verge of commiting suicides. Many of them, including Col Honey Bakshi had to be admitted in psychiatry wards as the mental stress and torture was too much to handle. Some of the family members were also told to appear before the Court of Inquiries and give statements and answer the cross-examinations. That's all the information that most of us know about The Case That Shook Military Intelligence of India. 

As Mrs Bakshi, wife of Col Honey Bakshi has said it in one of her articles and I quote verbatim,"In the hindsight, I realise, and advise to all army officers, that saving your data in a computer being handled by somebody else is more important than saving your country........... Time will decide who was right and who was wrong:  Whether people in high positions or lowly officers and NCOs."

Time will come and go, we will die, but this movie  will ensure that the names of Col Honey Bakshi and his team become a history. 


 WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REFORM INDIA'S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE?

"Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move." 
Sun Tzu

Last time it was the Gujral Doctrine and this time it was ego-clashes of  Army's top brass. Time and again we have destroyed the vital human intelligence gathered by those few Military Intelligence units with the meager infrastructure and training they have. If history repeats itself even once more, I am sure our all Intelligence assets are going to dry up and no officers/men would look up to be in this field anymore. The repetitive attacks on the residential and operational areas in our IAF/Army installations is somewhere already a result of the dying Military Intelligence assets. The fact that there is a dire necessity to undergo worthwhile reforms on a permanent basis to change the existing network of Military Intelligence can not be debated anymore.

1. Let's start at the very beginning, Armed forces need to recruit, train and maintain an exclusive breed of Intelligence officers and personnel belonging to other ranks. Once they are inducted, there needs to be a way to build them up as assets with appropriate policies governing their output and career progression.
2.There needs to be a better way of supervising and sifting through the quality of intelligence in operational branches. One must remember not all information is intelligence. It is only the processed information which carries any meaning in safeguarding the value of a nation's military assets.
3. There need to be legal support for different types of actions taken by the Intelligence officers during peace and/or hostilities.
4. There needs to be a system of protecting the social welfare of important assets and esp sources who have rendered valuable years of their service for the national security, alive or otherwise.
5. There is a very thin line defining right and wrong in the business of Intelligence, hence the integrity of intentions and actions need to be reconciled with the way these actions have been performed. This may mean keeping the Human Rights advocates and snooping media people away from the premises of Intelligence units.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." Sun Tzu

Some of my open source information says that the tumultuous journey of Col Honey Bakshi and his unit personnel is the result of the cross fire between Army's top brass, fighting for their own interests. Some other sources say the same rules which they were using to gather intelligence for the nation's security were thrown into their faces with a little misuse of power and the same intelligence that they had gathered against those top brass officials.

During many times in the movie when the Colonel keeps asking Major as to what is he doing and why is he doing that?, he keeps answering back and saying that he knows what he is doing and that he learnt it from him. All the time, he is trying to tell his boss to run away because one fine day, he says everybody would disown them and all those life-threatening operations they did. But the Colonel is not bothered about the Intelligence that he is going to give away, he puts all his effort to save him. As he understands the worth of a trained, honest well committed third generation officer.

Same is the case of these TSD officers. Hard-core Faujis displaying all those principles of integrity, honesty, morality  worked day and night for years without thinking about their families' welfare for the country and the government they thought was also on their side. But, what  they got in return was this big question mark on their integrity.Why is it that these middle-level officers are made scapegoats while all the other ministers, bureaucrats and big-shot decision-makers enjoy their retired lives in some exotic foreign locations?

In the circles of Intelligence fraternity, it is always said that the most important asset that you possess is the intelligence and the sources of this intelligence. Till the time you listen and wait for the right time to use the intelligence, you have not yet lost the war. Col Honey Bakshi and his team might have lost some battles, but the movie Aiyaari will always remind us of the glorious acts done in the line of duty by these fallen heroes and The case that shook Military Intelligence of India.

Jai Hind.


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