How Vajpayee Honoured Special Frontier Force for Kargil War Valour

The SFF comprising, among others, Tibetan exiles, is not an army unit.

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Prime Minister Vajpayee called soldiers SFF home after Kargil war. 
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In the days following the 1999 Kargil conflict, a message was sent to Brajesh Mishra, then national security advisor and principal secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The message was from an R&AW officer code-named Rehman.

The officer wanted the government to acknowledge the sacrifice of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) whose name didn’t feature in the list of martyrs.

The SFF comprising, among others, Tibetan exiles, is not an army unit. It belongs to India’s external intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW). Its operational details are not made public and the sacrifices are not acknowledged publicly.

However, Yatish Yadav’s book ‘RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations’ throws light on an episode after the war, when Prime Minister Vajpayee called these shadowy soldiers home. Here is an excerpt:

The Tibetian Shadow Force

Tibetan soldiers of the Special Frontier Force.
Tibetan soldiers of the Special Frontier Force.
(Photo Courtesy: Odisha government archives)

The first successful strike against Pakistan during the 1999 Kargil war was mounted by eighty battle-trained covert action operatives of the R&AW. The team captured key locations and largely returned victorious. But some fell to the enemy’s guns. Their names did not figure in the lists of martyrs.

When TV channels began telecasting public ceremonies to honour the defence forces’ fallen heroes, the agency’s top brass were emotionally overwhelmed. Operatives who had lost friends and colleagues in the Kargil war watched the spectacle helplessly.

An officer code-named Rehman requested the top boss to acknowledge the sacrifice of the operatives who never returned. A message was sent to Brajesh Mishra, then national security advisor and principal secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mishra opposed the proposal.

Nevertheless, the message was conveyed to Vajpayee. In a closed conference room at 7 Race Course Road, the prime minister’s official residence, the names of eighteen R&AW officers were read aloud, along with details of their gallant performances on the Kargil battlefields. For the first time in the history of the R&AW, special medals were presented to these warriors in the shadows.

Vajpayee shook hands with top R&AW officers and expressed his deep gratitude for the supreme sacrifice made by these unsung heroes. No records of this meeting were kept. No government press release was issued for the next day’s newspapers. No photographs were published on the prime minister’s website. After the ceremony, the officers quietly retreated to their invisible world to work, taking their secrets to bed.

(This excerpt has been taken with permission from ‘RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operationsby Yatish Yadav, published by Westland. The book is available on Amazon.in)

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