If the purpose of an intelligence service is to inform their nation’s leaders and prevent them from being surprised, then the Sino-Indian war of 1962 was perhaps India’s worst intelligence failure. While Indian military leaders had assumed that Chinese forces would come from the north if they decided to invade what is now Arunachal Pradesh, the invasion force actually came from the East (Raman, 17). Chinese forces moved clandestinely through the Kachin state of Burma and over the Naga hills, which were unadministered by the Burmese government.

The move was not completely unanticipated as the Intelligence Bureau had observed an increase in mules in the Kachin state, but policy makers didn’t see this as sufficient reason for concern. The Chinese used the mules to transport war material from the Yunnan province in China, cutting through the ungoverned areas of Burma and launched their surprise attack. The war shook the Indian government and led to Indira Gandhi’s decision to split the external intelligence units within IB into their own agency, which came to be called the Research and Analysis Wing.

The RAW’s first director was an unassuming man named Rameshwar Nath Kao. Kao was selected for the job despite the complaints from others in the intelligence services of his lack of analytical and field experience because of Indira’s family relationship with Kao and because he had headed IB’s external intelligence division prior to RAW’s creation (Raman, 24). Kao was known to be a humble, low profile, and loyal gentlemen professional. British trained from the time he joined the Indian Police in 1940, Kao spent twenty years with IB until he was asked to head RAW.

Kao was known as a subtle but friendly professional who “cultivated strong bonds with foreign intelligence chiefs to expand strategic interests, achieving what normal diplomacy could not” (Akbar, 68). These bonds were so strong that they later led to joint intelligence operations with the CIA, DGSE, and SAVAK. But the master spy had his work cut out for him, as the IB was not very cooperative in transferring their external intelligence capability to RAW. “It would not be an exaggeration to say that Kao had to create the organization almost from scratch without much assistance from IB.” (Raman, 115). The members of RAW came to be known as “Kao-boys” under their director’s watch.

One senior RAW officer describes covert action as, “the safeguarding of national security through deniable action of a political, economic, para-diplomatic or para-military nature” (Raman, 7) and these type of external cross-border operations appear to be something that RAW has become quite adept at over the years. In the first months after the creation of RAW, Kao issued two priorities to his staff: intelligence collection in Pakistan and China and covert action in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

RAW’s first big win came with the creation of Bangladesh, a historic moment, which severed East, and West Pakistan. The role of RAW was to train freedom fighters in clandestine camps, create diplomatic liaisons in both East and West Pakistan who would cooperate with the independence movement, conduct Special Operations missions directed against Naga and Mizo insurgents, and conduct a PsyWar campaign against Pakistan’s leaders (Raman, 10).

The PsyWar campaign conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was largely successful in keeping the international community fixated on the brutal tactics employed by the Pakistani Army and the refugee crisis it created (Raman, 12) although the para-military operation directed against insurgent camps met with mixed results. The Nagas had moved to another camp and the Mizos escaped before the RAW para-military units could close the net around them, (Raman, 15) but important documents were captured at the camp.

An official history of RAW activities in the 1971 war was commissioned by Kao (Raman, 27) but reportedly sits in a archive somewhere collecting dust. While the full activities of RAW in the East Pakistan conflict are not known, “everyone agreed that 1971 was the R&AW’s finest hour” (Raman, 22).