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NSA frontrunner Ajit Doval will have his hands full

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-05-2014 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Ajit Kumar Doval, who is tipped to be the country’s national security adviser (NSA), will have his hands full with the possible re-examination of India’s nuclear doctrine, a focus on internal security and terrorism, analysts say.

When appointed, Doval, a former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau and a 1968-batch Indian Police Service Officer belonging to the Kerala cadre, will succeed former career diplomat Shivshankar Menon to become the fifth person to hold the post of NSA. Challengers to Doval for the post included former diplomats Kanwal Sibal and head of current head of the National Security Advisory Board think tank, Shyam Saran.

The NSA’s post was created in 1998 after India came out of the nuclear closet, conducting five atomic tests during the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who led the National Democratic Alliance regime in 1998-2004.

A re-look at India’s nuclear doctrine formulated in 1998 after India conducted its nuclear tests, a focus on internal security given that a large swathe of India is in the grip of Maoist extremism besides terrorism, will be Doval’s main priorities, said S.D. Pradhan, a former deputy national security advisor.

If indeed Doval is named the NSA, he will be the second officer from the intelligence cadre to be appointed to the post. Current West Bengal governor M.K. Narayanan was the first.

The NSA, who reports directly to the prime minister, heads the National Security Council Secretariat and receives inputs from the National Security Advisory Board. The NSA’s office also closely liaises with various intelligence agencies including the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the intelligence wings of the three armed and paramilitary forces and the National Intelligence Grid.

People who have been associated with Doval describe him as competent and hardworking, shunning the limelight and preferring to manage situations from behind the scenes.

“I have known Ajit for years, he was first secretary in Islamabad when I was Consul General in Karachi (1982-1985),” said Gopalaswami Parthasarthy, who also served as Indian high commissioner to Pakistan before retiring in 1999.

“He had very good contacts on the ground (in Pakistan),” said Parthasarthy about Doval’s six years in Pakistan. Doval then went to Kashmir in the 1990s where he is reported to have played a major role in persuading militants to become counter-insurgents targeting hardline anti-India terrorists. This was what reportedly paved the way for state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 1996.

A recipient of the Kirti Chakra, one of the highest military gallantry awards, a rare honour for an Indian Police Service officer, Doval was appointed director of IB in 2004 by the previous Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government and retired from service on 31 January, 2005.

Since his retirement, Doval has spent the last several years as the director of the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a right-wing think tank.

Doval’s batchmate, a former Kerala cadre police officer and RAW chief Hormis Tharakan, said that as a young officer Doval was sent by then chief minister of Kerala K. Karunakaran to control sectarian riots in Thalassery in northern Kannur district in 1971.

“He won a police medal after just six years of service. This was unusual,” said Tharakan.

People Mint spoke to said Doval, after deputation to the IB, played a crucial role in controlling the armed insurgency in the northeastern state of Mizoram by infiltrating into the insurgents’ network. The insurgency came to an end with the signing of the 1986 Mizo accord between the Indian government and the rebel Mizo National Front after the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi agreed to the creation of a separate state of Mizoram.

Operations that he is known for in Indian intelligence circles include Operation Black Thunder II which was carried out in 1988 to flush Sikh militants out of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. None of the other former officials involved in that operation, including former Punjab Police chief Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, went into operational details though all of them praised Doval’s role in the operation.

“A very good operational man and a very well-trained negotiator,” was how Pradhan described Doval.

During the 1999 hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 914 to Kandahar, Doval played a key role as a back-room negotiator, wearing down the hostage takers to reduce their demand to release 40 people to three.

“It was Doval who did this and it was only because of him that it (the reduction in the number of people to be released) happened,” said Pradhan.

A former top IB official who refused to be identified said that Doval was adept at developing human intelligence sources in a hostile environment besides being an “ace strategist.”

“He played a very important role in expanding and sharpening human intelligence gathering capabilities. Doval was also known within the IB for maximising the use of technology for intelligence gathering besides being known as a team builder,” the former IB official said.

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