Bangabandhu delivering his historic speech on 7 March 1971
Bangabandhu delivering his historic speech on 7 March 1971File Photo

A lot has been written about the Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing role in liberating Bangladesh. But, little is known about the challenges R&AW agents had to face following Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s murder in August 1975.

The unprecedented crisis, a senior RAW officer AK Verma (later Verma became R&AW chief) believed it might have been partly engineered by the America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) according to a new book by investigative journalist Yatish Yadav that reveals linkage between the American embassy in Dhaka with the conspirators involved in Sheikh Mujib’s murder.

One of the Major rank officers involved in the coup had taken refuge at the American embassy at Dhaka on 20 August 1975, when he apprehended some danger to himself and the American embassy at Dhaka successfully interceded on his behalf with the army authorities and got certain assurances relating to his safety.
The RAW note as mentioned in the book

The book, “RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations,” has been released recently by Westland Publications.

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The R&AW note as mentioned in the book has clearly stated that one of the conspirators had taken refuge in the American embassy.

“One of the Major rank officers involved in the coup had taken refuge at the American embassy at Dhaka on 20 August 1975, when he apprehended some danger to himself and the American embassy at Dhaka successfully interceded on his behalf with the army authorities and got certain assurances relating to his safety."

To regain the lost ground in Bangladesh, RAW had launched a series of covert operations with four major objectives

“The Americans have (had) nothing at all to do with Bangladesh armed forces in the past. This sudden linkage between the American embassy in Dhaka and those in authority on the military side and the ease with which the Americans were able to sort out the problems on behalf of one of the conspirators certainly creates suspicions as to whether the role of the American embassy was more than that of an honest broker,” the book claims making a startling revelation that changes historical perspective on the coup and its aftermath.

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The US seems to have now realised that it may not be wise to keep supporting those involved in the 1975 coup and as per recent reports one of the conspirators who was provided asylum in America is likely to be deported.

Bloodbath and Mission impossible In Bangladesh

Yadav also wrote that after the coup and Sheikh Mujibur’s murder, Pakistan, China and the US had started exerting influence on Bangladesh and anti-India regime headed by Khondakar Mostaq Ahmad, who had appointed pro-Pakistani officials at key positions.

To regain the lost ground in Bangladesh, R&AW had launched a series of covert operations with four major objectives -- first to prevent anti-Indian foreign powers using Bangladesh as a base of operations for anti-Indian activities in the political, economic and military spheres. Secondly, to prevent the development of a situation in Bangladesh which might compel the Hindu majority to migrate to India, to have a friendly government in Dhaka and finally to forge as many mutually advantageous links as possible and get Bangladesh more and more involved with India.

Besides covert operations, R&AW had also tried to set up a Bangladeshi government in exile but due to lack of enthusiasm from pro-India leaders who had little ground-connect, the plan was dropped.

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R&AW officer NF Suntook, who later became the chief of the spy agency wrote in a note which has been quoted in the book: “The two prominent leaders who are outside Bangladesh, namely justice Abu Sayeed Chaudhury and Kamal Hossain, whilst personally not in favour of the developments in Bangladesh, have shown no stomach for a conflict with the regime in Bangladesh.”

Among the series of operations, a significant covert war highlighted in the book deals with Ziaur Rahman, military commander turned president of Bangladesh, who was close to America but he and his Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had an anti-India approach.

The primary concern was the much-publicised rift between the BNP’s Begum Khaleda Zia and the Awami League’s Sheikh Hasina. R&AW station head’s coded message to both the leaders was clear. Ershad was their common enemy and the moment was ripe to renounce their bitter rivalry and join hands

“The BNP and its supporters had turned corrupt and were radicalised in a very short span of time. There was no space for secularism in Bangladesh under Zia and a group within the army that had fought for liberation was disenchanted with his rule,” the book quoted an R&AW officer as saying.

Even during the regime of general Ershad, R&AW operations continued because threats from the Jamaat-e-Islami had become real and imminent. Ershad and his army were cautious of India’s influence in Bangladesh.

An incident in February 1982 showed that the Bangladeshis were almost paranoid about the presence of Indian officials in Dhaka. Surveillance on Indian diplomatic staff posted at the high commission was intense. On 25 February 1982, Bangladeshi security personnel tailed the car of Indian High Commissioner Muchkund Dubey on the Dhaka streets.

The Indian intelligence agency’s objective was very simple, ‘whoever is going to rule Dhaka must have a favourable approach towards India
The book quoted a spy

“The fear among (R&AW) was that Jamaat could transform itself into a mainstream force and play a crucial role whenever elections were held in Bangladesh. Although Ershad was quick to foresee the hazard an outfit like Jamaat posed for the country, he maintained a measured silence on certain activities fearing that he would be branded as pro-India,” the book quoted an R&AW officer as saying.

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In the book Author used codenames for the R&AW spies to protect their identity. Another important covert operation in Bangladesh was launched to oust the Ershad regime. It was codenamed -- Operation Farewell.

“The Indian intelligence agency’s objective was very simple, ‘whoever is going to rule Dhaka must have a favourable approach towards India,” the book quoted a spy involved in the operation as saying.

The R&AW head in Dhaka had prepared a team of assets and informers for the operation. He, however, was more worried about the deep divisions between the political parties of Bangladesh. The primary concern was the much-publicised rift between the BNP’s Begum Khaleda Zia and the Awami League’s Sheikh Hasina. R&AW station head’s coded message to both the leaders was clear. Ershad was their common enemy and the moment was ripe to renounce their bitter rivalry and join hands. Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina both agreed that the removal of Ershad was their main objective and other issues could be ignored for a while.

The book claims that in March 1990, R&AW agents achieved another breakthrough when a top army commander serving under Ershad, defected to the Indian spy agency and disclosed the names of the ISI and CIA officers who exercised considerable influence on the regime.

Yadav alleges that the CIA used slush funds to ensure that Ershad’s pro-West policy continued for decades to come. The then ISI chief Shamsur Rahman Kallue, loyal to Benazir Bhutto, was able to expand the Pakistani network with the help of the Americans and the nexus posed a formidable threat to R&AW operations. Operation Farewell neutralised these elements one by one and funded the public and political uprising against the Ershad regime.

“Very few at the top (in R&AW) were aware of the work (that) a small team of Indian spies were doing in hostile territory. Ershad did not know about Operation Farewell until 11 December 1990 when he was placed under house arrest. It was actually difficult for him to believe that we (R&AW) had played the game so brilliantly and with so much secrecy. We learnt later that Ershad even enquired about the Indian intelligence officers operating in Bangladesh. His trusted lieutenants had no names or faces to share,” the book reveals making the sensational claims.

R&AW with the global mission deals with issues, which has serious consequences for national security and provides policymakers the true picture of the threats and opportunities facing our country.

Yadav wrote: “No country can increase its global reach without intelligence support. That India has made enormous strides in its stature and influence is testimony to the R&AW’s success.”