Praveen Swami

The move is aimed at addressing the shortage of experts faced by the intelligence organisation

  • Personnel with three years experience can be taken in
  • They will be free to return to their parent cadres
  • RAW officers want top jobs reserved for in-house cadre

    NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has approved proposals for a thorough restructuring of the organisational configuration of the country's external intelligence establishment, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

    Acting on the basis of the recommendations of a group of Secretaries to the Government, Dr. Singh has allowed RAW to call on the services of personnel with three years of service in various Government cadre. Officers on permanent secondment, as the new system is known, will be free to return to their parent cadres should career opportunities arise there a major departure from past practice.

    Intended to address RAW's debilitating shortage of linguists, technical experts and area specialists, the reforms depart from the practices put in place by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

    Officers on deputation from other services such as the police or the military, were obliged to join the covert service's in-house cadre, the Research and Analysis Service (RAS), after an eight-year stint or return to their parent cadres.

    Proponents of the new reforms said this deterred high-skills experts from joining RAW, since promotion prospects and perquisites in their parent organisations were often superior to those in the covert service. In addition, RAW's critics argued, its in-house cadre were beset by nepotism and mediocrity problems the Government hopes the influx of fresh talent will help address.

    Dissension in the ranks

    Members of RAW's in-house cadre, though, have made no secret of their anger with the proposals. Over a dozen senior officials met RAW chief P.K. Hormese Tharakan this past week to protest the permanent secondment plans. High-level sources at RAW said the officers demanded that their promotion prospects be protected, and that the organisation's three top jobs be reserved for in-house cadre.

    Just how far the proposals will go in addressing RAW's core deficiencies remains to be seen. The Intelligence Bureau, which uses a system of permanent secondment from the Indian Police Service on which the RAW reforms are modelled, has faced growing problems in attracting officers, in part because of diminishing recruitment to the Central services as a result of cost-cutting and the increased number of States.

    While IPS officers joining RAW come with investigative experience and knowledge of operating sources, critics said officers on deputation would not possess the specialist skills acquired by directly-hired RAS personnel, who make up half of RAW's 300-odd core officer strength. RAS direct recruits, unlike officers on deputation, undergo three years of training in languages, covert tradecraft and combat skills before their jobs are confirmed.

    Structural crisis

    Underpinning the crisis in RAW is the long-standing neglect of skill acquisition. RAW's presence in West and Central Asia, as well as in Afghanistan, has been severely restricted by the lack of officers with language skills and regional knowledge. Its deficiencies in Pakistani languages such as Pashto were brutally exposed during the Kargil war. Similar problems have beset its China and East Asia operations.

    Poor planning and administration have also worked to ensure that RAW lags behind covert services elsewhere in the world.

    It has no system of qualitative requirements for assignments overseas, opening the way for patronage and influence to shape postings.

    In several cases, officers assigned to important stations overseas do not have local language skills something unheard of in covert services worldwide.

    Experts said that RAW's problems were just a symptom of India's larger failure to invest in institutes of languages and regional studies, from which a pool of experts feeding Government services could have been drawn. "Despite our strategic concerns," a top RAW officer said, "the dismal truth is that we don't have a single well-funded institute of Pakistan studies, or schemes to attract good students to the field."