Kandahar negotiator gets IB top post

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 7.07.04
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New Delhi, July 7: Setting to rest speculation about the next head of the Intelligence Bureau, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to reward merit and seniority by appointing Ajit Doval, a 1968-batch IPS officer of the Kerala cadre, as its director.

Succession is also in the offing in the external intelligence agency — the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) — of the cabinet secretariat. Its current head, C.D. Sahay, retires next January. Another 1968-batch IPS officer of Kerala cadre, P.K. Hormese Tharakan, is likely to be appointed officer on special duty in RAW. Tharakan, who has served in RAW earlier, would eventually take over from Sahay.

Doval’s appointment seems to have sent a good signal. Officers in the Intelligence Bureau, with whom Doval enjoys respect and popularity — especially those in operations — said that “suitability and merit have won over other considerations”. National security adviser J.. Dixit and adviser in internal security M.K. Narayanan, himself a former director of the Intelligence Bureau, apparently were keen on Doval given his record.

A highly-decorated intelligence officer, Doval was next in line to be the director after the present incumbent, K.P. Singh. Doval, who would normally retire at the end of January 2005, may be given a tenured term of two years. Singh is likely to proceed on leave as he retires on August 31.

A quiet man who shuns public appearances, Doval was India’s main negotiator with the hijackers of IC-184 in Kandahar. That was the first time that glimpses of the man’s face were ever seen in the media.

Doval has spent the better part of his career in active insurgency areas or on the border. He is the youngest police officer ever to get the Indian Police Medal for meritorious service. He got it after six years in the police (the norm is at least 17 years’ service) for his work in the Northeast.

He spent long periods of time incognito with the Mizo National Army in the Arakans in Burma and deep inside Chinese territory. He became so close to the underground Mizo National Army chief Baikchchunga that the MNF leader Laldenga said in an interview that he had to threaten to sack his army chief if he listened to Doval.

Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made an exception in awarding him the police medal, noting that he had achieved in six years what most are unable to do in their entire career but she also noted that this would not be held out as a precedent.

Doval spent six years in Pakistan, a society on which his expertise in considered unrivalled. Almost like a comic book hero, Doval was actually inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1989 when the security forces were charging in during Operation Black Thunder to flush out terrorists from there. Subsequently, he was in London for three years and then in Kashmir.

In 1988, he was awarded the second highest gallantry award — the Kirti Chakra (second only to the Paramvir Chakra) and was the first police officer to get it. Kirti Chakra till then was reserved only for military honours.

In recognition of his operational abilities, Doval was made the head of the two intelligence co-ordination bodies set up in the wake of the Kargil conflict — the Multi-Agency Centre to co-ordinate between the security forces and intelligence agencies and the Joint Intelligence Task Force.

Doval worked in close co-operation with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and several home ministers, including .K. Advani. There was speculation that since Advani sought his advice often, a witch-hunt would ensure that Doval would not get the top job.

“But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has demonstrated once again that he believes in placing merit on top,” a senior official said. He claimed that the appointment of people in the PMO as well as in the Planning Commission were the first indications of the fact that the new government was taking decisions on merit.

“Even in the recent bureaucratic reshuffle, those appointed to key secretarial posts are individuals known for their integrity and honesty,” he said.