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After MK, security baton back with IPS

Ajit Doval

New Delhi, May 30: Former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, described as a “spymaster” and conflict strategist by intelligence veterans, was today appointed national security adviser (NSA).

According to an official release, the appointment of Doval, 69, takes effect from today and his term will be co-terminus with the term of the Prime Minister or till further orders, whichever is earlier. He succeeds Shiv Shankar Menon, an ex-foreign secretary who resigned last week.

Doval will advise Modi on national and international security issues, and also serve as the Prime Minister’s special representative on the China border talks.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government created the NSA’s post in 1998 and appointed diplomat Brajesh Mishra as the first adviser.

Doval’s appointment was widely expected. He was one of the first to call on Modi as Prime Minister-designate and advised him on the talks with Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday. Modi is also learnt to have consulted the former IPS officer before inviting Saarc leaders to his swearing-in on Monday.

Doval is the second IPS officer to be picked for the post. The first was M.K. Narayanan, who served from 2005 to 2010 under the Manmohan Singh regime before being made the Bengal governor.

Doval retired as IB chief in January 2005 after the Manmohan government delayed implementing a two-year term for the post.

As an IB officer, the 1968-batch Kerala cadre officer had stints as an undercover agent in Pakistan and the UK.

At home, he was believed to be inside the Golden Temple during Operation Black Thunder of 1988 to flush out militants. He was awarded the Kirti Chakra for his role in the operation, the only police officer to have received the honour meant for the defence forces.

He also had experience dealing with Northeast insurgents and had once crossed over secretly to Myanmar to meet Mizo National Front leader Laldenga.

Later, Doval led the team that negotiated with the hijackers of the IC 814 flight in Kandahar in December 1999.

After retirement, Doval headed a security think tank, Vivekananda International Foundation.

Former IB director Shyamal Datta described Doval as a “brilliant mind” and someone with a perspective on both internal and external security. “The country will not regret it,” Datta said.

One of Doval’s tasks as NSA will be to overhaul the National Security Council Secretariat, headed by deputy NSA Nehchal Sandhu. The role of the council — which also has officers from the foreign service — remains “vague”, a member said.

An immediate security challenge will be terror and what Modi’s predecessor Manmohan described as the “troubled neighbourhood”.

Intelligence circles expect changes in the Centre’s approach to terrorism from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The threats were amplified when alleged Pakistan-inspired militants attacked the Indian consulate in Herat on May 23 — three days before Modi was sworn in.

“We remember how for years our presence in Afghanistan was directionless… we couldn’t break the ice with the Taliban,” an officer said.

While Doval is perceived as hawkish, he is not considered “inflexible”, a trait expected to help in talks with Islamabad. “Doval has been an operations man and is not rigid,” said a source.

Some experts felt that unlike diplomats who have held the NSA post so far, former top cops could have a myopic vision on security. But Doval’s backers disagreed and said he had a broader understanding of external and internal perils.

“What better hands-on experience could one have,” said Datta, the former IB chief.

An officer whose name did the rounds before Doval’s selection was that of Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary like Menon.