The intelligent solution
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The intelligent solution

It's about time defence officials realise that military intelligence is indispensable, writes BN Bhatia.

india Updated: May 21, 2011 16:47 IST
BN Bhatia
BN Bhatia
Hindustan Times

It is pointless to pump in crores of rupees to refurbish our defence equipment and associated capabilities. Instead, what we need is revamping 'Military Intelligence' and look at it differently.

The armed forces don't just need a state-of-the-art intelligence apparatus. Equally important is the military commanders' mindset, a valuable force-multiplier that can't be pulled out of a hat at a critical moment. If you are a commander who likes to maintain his and the formation's poise when the chips are down, you will make sure that your intelligence advisor, like all other arms and supporting services, gets co-opted in the plan.

Military Intelligence, therefore, must be the starting point of all plans and it should be in a commander's mind at all times. It's mostly neglected and, later, it's convenient to hold 'lack of adequate intelligence' as the cause of failure. We saw it happening in Kargil.

But why do commanders neglect military intelligence? A lack of understanding of how to expect actionable intelligence unique to the operation at hand makes one focus on operations in isolation, which comes at the cost of operational intelligence and, consequently, the intelligence staff.

But surely it's not the fault of commanders alone. Earlier, people got into intelligence for convenient postings. Military secretaries know that mediocre officers are chosen for intelligence. The better ones go into 'operations'. Obviously, the image of intelligence suffers. Let me illustrate.

While attending the Defence Services Staff Course at Wellington many moons ago, I relished doing a tedious intelligence assignment. The following week I was hauled up for my task. Few students, who had waited till midnight for me to finish my work and 'consult' it till morning, were singled out in their respective syndicates for their exemplary work. At the end of the year-long course, our Directing Staff walked up to me and remarked: "You are the only one in this course whose graph has gone up after mid-term."

Many years later, the chief of staff of a command, while interviewing me, stared at my record of service for a long time. He had thought that I had furnished misleading information about topping a string of courses. He later verified it with the military secretary's branch. Commissioned into infantry, I later opted for Artillery where I did my Long Gunnery Staff Course. Posted as an instructor at the Intelligence SchooI, the commandant asked me if I wanted to switch to the Intelligence corps. I saw a new opportunity in a challenging field and agreed. In the two years in this command, I witnessed many occasions where balanced thinking from the 'adversary's point of view' defused 'crises'.

My General Officer Commanding placed his faith in the intelligence branch and allowed me to go to Delhi to update my database. There, prior to the November 1986 Operation Brasstacks, one of the largest mobilisations of the armed forces in the Indian subcontinent, I asked the concerned Director about what he thought would Pakistan's reaction be to the massive movement. He laughed at it. What followed was Pakistan's mobilisation that resulted in a face-off that was later contained at the highest political level.

I learned several lessons from the episode: First, Intelligence is not an isolated island. Second, rank is not a criterion for effective assessments. Third, senior officers can — and will — get into cemented thinking. Fourth, it pays for intelligence officers to speak out, for which you must have integrity -- and they will be respected for it.

Was Kargil avoidable? If we had thought like Pervez Musharraf and correlated all available inputs, cast away our disbeliefs, allowed the enemy to be different and filled in the intelligence gaps intelligently, maybe yes. Instead, senior commanders relied on subordinate commanders, who, in turn, relied on available inputs alone. What followed was confusion. The intelligence lesson was clear: you can't second-guess the enemy.

So, how do we get our relationship with intelligence right? It's a leadership thing. Trust the intelligence department and it will deliver. Also, avoid unrealistic expectations. We don't want situations where we'll be fed 'cooked' intelligence that can jeopardise operations and claim lives. Give importance to the intelligence staff and you'll get desired returns.

BN Bhatia is a former Colonel, Indian Army. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Nov 02, 2010 23:11 IST