"Zero Cost Mission": RAW covert operations inside Bangladesh

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NEW DELHI - Zero Cost Mission is a book by Amar Bhushan, former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's external intelligence agency, and a well-known operative, presents fictionalised accounts of two covert operations by RAW in Bangladesh after the Begum Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to power in 1991, DNA has reported.

BNP was seen as having close ties with fundamentalists and the Indian government was alarmed over increased infiltration from terror groups in Bangladeshthat could be used to target India.

*Zero Cost Mission*, the first of two stories in the book, is about a surgical strike mounted by RAW to demolish Jamaat-e-Islami terror nurseries inside Bangladesh. Sujal Rath, the fictional name Bhushan gives to the operative who helmed the operation in a bid to protect his identity (he is alive) and that of his 'assets' inside Bangladesh, was picked by RAW chief PN Narasimhan for the operation in 1992. He was stationed in Kolkata and his job was to recruit assets in Bangladesh to bomb Jamaat's terror training camps and the launch pads it had created on the border to facilitate terrorists' infiltration.

The operation was cleared by RAW on condition of complete deniability; Rath was solely responsible for the execution of the plan. While recruiting operatives, Rath took initiatives to ensure that RAW was insulated in case the surgical strike went wrong.

However, a few months after it was launched, RAW decided to abort the operation telling Rath there was a cash crunch. By that time, Rath had already recruited some assets in Bangladesh and set in motion the process of procuring explosives and ammunition. He refused to drop the operation and informed the RAW chief that he would raise the funds to complete it. This was unprecedented in RAW 's history.

Rath courted Jamaat's opponents in Bangladesh, who were looking to strengthen democracy by weeding out terror elements like it. In late 1992, several Jamaat terror camps were bombed and the safe house in Dhaka that had been turned into a command centre for Jamaat and other smaller terror groups was demolished.

Bhushan's book also reveals the other, more unsavoury side of the agency – instead of decorating him after the operation was successfully accomplished, seniors at RAW headquarters treated him with contempt. But the PV Narasimha Rao regime acknowledged the spectacular operation that was also India's first surgical strike.

The second story, Wily Agent, is about a covert mission by RAW 's Dhaka station chief Jeevnathan to recruit and run a high level source in the Bangladesh foreign ministry. It is not easy to recruit a top official abroad and get highly classified notes exposing the government's future actions. The source, whom Bhushan calls Rehman, was well-placed to gather sensitive information including Dhaka's interest in acquiring military hardware from Islamabad and how it was planning to corner India on its repeated allegations about Bangladesh sponsoring insurgency from its territory.

The operation was launched in early 1993 and Rehman provided top secret cables and documents to Jeevnathan that helped the Indian political leadership tackle the Zia's regime antagonism and prevented the country's embracement by Pakistan and China. Though, Rehman was later caught by Bangladesh counter intelligence, Bhushan did not abandon his prized asset, who was carefully extracted.

The narrative, based on first-hand experience, gives the reader a lucid overview of RAW operations – never before chronicled in Indian intelligence history. *Zero Cost Mission* provides finer details of the RAW 's working, raising of 'assets' deep inside hostile terrain, and handing of high level sources in targeted countries. This makes it essential reading for anyone interested in the closely guarded inner sanctum of India's spy agency. - DNA

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