Myra MacDonald’s Defeat is an orphan

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 15.02.17

The learning curve of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing
(R&AW), is faulty. This is the central idea of Myra MacDonald’s book,
Defeat is an orphan:
How Pakistan lost the Great South Asian War
, published by Penguin Random House India
in 2017. MacDonald is a journalist who specializes in South Asian politics and has worked
for Reuters for nearly thirty years. She lives in Scotland. This opinion piece intends to
discuss MacDonald’s certain ideas expressed in the book.

In a concerted effort to define the term ‘Great South Asian War’ – the meaning of which is
still obscure despite reiterating the term nine times in the book – MacDonald ends up with
disclosing at least five instances when the R&AW, besides the Intelligence Bureau, failed to
forestall the next ominous event for India since its formation in 1968.

Regarding the first instance, MacDonald writes on page 158: “When Pakistan tried to
trigger a revolt in the [Kashmir] Valley in 1965 by infiltrating its own men, it was unable to
drum up enough local support and failed…To assert its authority on its side, India made a
succession of deal with Sheikh Abdullah, and later with his son Farooq Abdullah, giving
power to their National Conference party in exchange for cooperation with Delhi. Kashmir
became ‘a constituent unit of the Union of India’ and the autonomy promised by Article 370
[of the Indian Constitution in 1952] was gradually watered down. The National Conference
came to be seen as Delhi’s representative in Kashmir rather than Kashmir’s representative
in Delhi. Then when an alliance of secular and Islamist parties banded together in the
Muslim United Front (MUF) to challenge the party in 1987 state elections, the polls were
widely seen as rigged in favour of the National Conference. After that, rumbling discontent
slowly gathered steam until it became a full-blown separatist revolt [by 1989]. With no hope
of having their grievances addressed through the democratic process, young men crossed
the LoC to seek military training from Pakistan.” This self-explanatory para accentuates the
failure of the R&AW in advising the Indian government against the rigging of Kashmir
elections that prompted an uprising against India owing to reasons local to Indian-held
Kashmir but with the potential for influencing Pakistan. The Kashmir uprising is still extant
and has drawn in India’s half army and Pakistan’s attention.

Regarding the second instance, MacDonald writes on page 36: “In 1983, Pakistan carried
out a ‘cold test’ – exploding a nuclear-capable weapon without the fissionable core. It
followed up with about two dozen cold tests over a number of years. By 1986 or 1987,
Pakistan is believed to have weaponized its nuclear programme.” Here, MacDonald says
that, despite all clear indicators, the R&AW not only failed to assess Pakistan’s having a
credible nuclear weapon but it also failed to predict Pakistan’s next move in case India
tested its nuclear device. The incapacity of the R&AW cost India profoundly, as by testing
nuclear weapons on May 11, 1998, India offered a valid opportunity to Pakistan to test its
nuclear weapons and claim strategic parity, which Pakistan had lacked against India since
1947. Pakistan did avail itself the opportunity successfully. On page 29, MacDonald writes:
“[T]he Pakistani [nuclear tests on May 28, 1998] effectively countered Indian doubts about
Pakistan’s nuclear capability and by restoring the strategic balance between the two
countries...” These mistakes on the part of the R&AW not only made India lose its nuclear
edge (obtained through a nuclear test on May 18, 1974) over Pakistan, but these mistakes
also allowed Pakistan to equipoise strategically the oversized military of India.
Consequently, India had to forsake the Sunderjee doctrine (1981-2004).

Regarding the third instance, MacDonald writes on page 60: “Pakistan had started this
[Kargil] war [in 1999] and in crossing the LoC [Line of Control] breached its international
agreements. Whatever mitigation Pakistan might claim – India had, after all, started the
Siachen war in 1984 – was lost in the noise.” Further, on page 55, MacDonald writes: “India
was simply too complacent. Poor intelligence and its expectation of peace after the nuclear
tests had lulled it into a false sense of security.” Taken both these statements together,
MacDonald is saying that after the Indian army captured Siachen, the R&AW failed to help
the army foresee Kargil coming. Similarly, MacDonald writes on page 60: “[I]n Kargil,
Pakistan had longer supply lines across more difficult terrain than India, which had access
through the Srinagar-Leh road. Without fresh ammunition and supplies of food, the
Pakistani troops would not be able to hold indefinitely.” Here, MacDonald is saying that the
difference between Siachen and Kargil was that, in Siachen, India captured the height first
and then defended it with the help of its full army and equipment; in Kargil, Pakistan
captured the height first but did not defend it with the help of its full army and equipment. If
Pakistan had also done that, a new Siachen would have embodied in Kargil. In fact, the lop-
sided nature of conflict in Kargil made the Pakistan army withdraw – live to fight another day.

Regarding the fourth instance, MacDonald writes on page 18: “After two attempts to free
[Masood] Azhar [who was arrested in Kashmir in February 1994] – the kidnapping of
westerners in Delhi and in Kashmir [in October 1994 and July 1995 respectively] – failed
…In June 1999, another [third] attempt was made to free him by digging a tunnel into the
high-security jail where he was held.” By this time, it became known that the companions of
Azhar were making attempts to get him released. However, after these three futile attempts,
Azhar’s companions made a successful fourth attempt by hijacking Indian Airlines Flight IC-
814 en route from Kathmandu (Nepal) to Delhi (India) in December 1999 and got him
released.  By inference, if the fourth attempt had also met failure, there might have been
the fifth one and so on. MacDonald shows that the R&AW not only failed to study the
rescue-attempt pattern but it also failed to predict the next move of Azhar’s companions.

Regarding the fifth instance, MacDonald writes on page 121: “[Atal Bihari] Vajpayee had
already warned the United States that India’s patience was running out after the October 1
[2001] attack on the state parliament in Srinagar. On December 13 [2001], it snapped. ‘This
was not just an attack on the building [of Indian parliament], it was a warning to the entire
nation’…” Here, MacDonald says that the R&AW failed to help India foresee a militant
attack on Indian parliament coming from disgruntled Kashmiri elements after they attacked
Kashmir’s parliament.

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