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RAW: India’s External Intelligence Agency

RAW: India’s External Intelligence Agency


  • India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has long faced allegations of meddling in its neighbours’ affairs. Founded in 1968, primarily to counter China’s influence, over time it has shifted its focus to India’s other traditional rival, Pakistan.
  • RAW and Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have been engaged in covert operations against one other for over three decades. The ongoing dispute in Kashmir continues to fuel these clashes, but experts say Afghanistan may be emerging as the new battleground.
  • Islamabad sees India’s growing diplomatic initiatives in Afghanistan as a cover for RAW agents working to destabilize Pakistan. It accuses RAW of training and arming separatists in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province along the Afghan border.
  • RAW denies these charges, and inturn, accuses the ISI of the July 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

The History of RAW

  • Until 1968, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is responsible for India’s internal intelligence, also handled external intelligence. But after India’s miserable performance in a 1962 border war with China, the need for a separate external intelligence agency was clear.
  • During that conflict, “our intelligence failed to detect Chinese build up for the attack,” writes Maj. Gen. VK Singh, a retired army officer who did a stint in RAW, in his 2007 book, India’s External Intelligence: Secrets of Research and Analysis Wing.
  • As a result, India established a dedicated external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
  • Founded mainly to focus on China and Pakistan, over the last forty years the organization has expanded its mandate and is credited with greatly increasing India’s influence abroad. Experts say RAW’s powers and its role in India’s foreign policy have varied under different prime ministers.

Successes that RAW claims it contributed to include:

  • The Creation Of Bangladesh In 1971;
  • India’s Growing Influence In Afghanistan;
  • Sikkim’s Accession To India In The Northeast In 1975;
  • The Security Of India’s Nuclear Program;
  • The Success Of African liberation movements during the Cold War.

The first head of RAW, Rameshwar Nath Kao, who headed the IB’s external intelligence division, led the agency until he retired in 1977.

Many experts, including officers who worked with him, credit him with RAW’s initial successes: India’s triumph in the 1971 war with Pakistan, and India’s covert assistance to the African National Congress’s anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

“To a large extent, it was Kao who raised RAW to the level of India’s premier intelligence agency, with agents in virtually every major embassy and high commission,” writes Singh. But the organization has been criticized for its lack of coordination with domestic intelligence and security agencies, weak analytical capabilities, and complete lack of transparency.



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