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Ajit Kumar Doval: The man, the legend and India’s security

While the raids were conducted by NIA predominantly with assistance from local authorities, it is safe to assume that dismantling a looming threat as large as ISIS would have the footprints of Ajit Doval.

“An intelligence officer must grow up to the level of Michelangelo,” he said…”He has to have in his brain an encyclopedia. He cannot today be a very narrow specialist. To get information, very, very delicate information. This is the task of an intelligence officer. – Former Russian spymaster, Vyacheslav Trubnikov

The best spymasters in the country are made of legends. The stories that surround them, part real, part myth, is perhaps an intelligence officer’s greatest asset. One just never knows where he has been, or, where he is going next. The 73-year-old Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Adviser is like the quintessential light-footed feline who has several lives and uncountable feats to his name. The most recent being one of India’s notorious Islamic State terror module being dismantled brick by brick.

Yesterday, the NIA along with UP anti-terror squad and Delhi Police’s special conducted raids in 17 locations across Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Several people connected to ‘Harkat ul Harb-e-Islam’ were arrested.

The items seized included 25 kg of explosive material, such as Potassium Nitrate, Ammonium Nitrate, Sulphur, Sugar material paste, 12 pistols, 150 rounds of live ammunition, 1 country- made rocket launcher, 112 alarm clocks, mobile phone circuits, batteries, 51 pipes, remote control car triggering switch, wireless digital doorbell for remote switch, steel containers, electric wires, 91mobilephones, 134 SIM cards, 3 laptops, knife, sword, ISIS-related literature and a cash amount of Rs. 7.5 lacs approximately.

According to NIA, those arrested were planning to conduct several terrorist attacks in an around Delhi.

While the raids were conducted by NIA predominantly with assistance from local authorities, it is safe to assume that dismantling a looming threat as large as ISIS would have the footprints of Ajit Doval.

A retired IPS officer of the Kerala cadre, Doval is the Prime Minister’s adviser on issues of internal and external security. The stories surrounding Doval jump out at you like tales from a fiction novel. He lived in Pakistan for 7 long years, disguised as a Muslim. Narrating a story, he once said that while living in Pakistan, a Pakistani man with a long white beard had once recognised him as a Hindu because he had a piercing in his ear. After he was directed into a small room, the man said that he recognised him as a Hindu because he himself was one, disguised as a Muslim, living in Pakistan after his entire family was murdered.

Another tale that follows Doval is that of Operation Dawood. This story has never been confirmed, and perhaps, never will be confirmed. In 2005, Dawood’s daughter Mahrukh was to marry Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad’s son Junaid in Mecca while the reception was to be held at Grand Hyatt Dubai. According to folklore, several men of the Chhota Rajan gang (a disenchanted faction after the 2003 bomb blasts) were trained in a secret locale. While the mission was being planned and Doval was pouring over the blueprints of the Hyatt, Dubai, because of a Dawood mole in the police (which was denied by the police), the locale was raided where sharpshooters Farid Tanasha and Vicky Malhotra were also present. DCP Dhananjay Kamalakar of the Mumbai crime branch stormed in with his weapon drawn. Doval is said to have screamed, but the plan, terribly compromised, had to be aborted. Some say that Doval coloured outside the lines and had no sanction from the Congress government to carry this operation out. Others say, that the Home Ministry had no option but to distance itself from an intelligence operation gone awry. Either way, Doval swore to finish Dawood – one way or another.

While the Dawood plan was unsuccessful, to the chagrin of Doval, operation Rajapaksha recently, which had the bearings of the legendary sleuth was not. Ajit Doval was said to have played a role in the ouster and destabilising of Rajapaksha in the recent elections. Mahinda Rajapaksha was an unfriendly element and his election would not have boded well for India. Rajapaksa had allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Sri Lanka without warning India as he should have under a standing agreement, and it did not sit well with Doval.

It was reported that Sri Lanka expelled the Colombo station chief of RAW accusing him of helping the opposition’s Maithripala Sirisena to oust Rajapaksha. Of course, Rajapaksha lost in the subsequent Presidential elections. It was widely believed that Maithripala Sirisena was asked to quit the Rajapaksha cabinet at the insistence of Ajit Doval. When one looks back, one realises that seemingly unrelated events had a pattern. After the Chinese submarines were allowed to dock, Ajit Doval travelled to Sri Lanka to meet Rajapaksha. On the face of it, it was a simple meeting, presumably, to persuade him to bear India’s interests in mind. However, the folklore suggests that Doval had actually travelled to Sri Lanka to meet Sirisena through meetings with him and his backers former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremensinghe. He also met leaders of the main Tamil party TNA. He allegedly persuaded the Tamil Party to not boycott the elections. It is said that Doval convinced Wickremensinghe to not contest against Rajapaksha and asked Kumaratunga to convince Sirisena to contest and defeat Rajapaksha.

While detractors questioned the Prime Minister’s ability to ‘control’ Sri Lanka and lost the narrative to China, Doval, his trusted lieutenant, worked in silence and perhaps, in the still of the night to turn the country around and gain the upper hand over China.

In 2014, 46 nurses were stranded in Tikrit and 39 men in Mosul. Both cities had fallen to Islamic State and their fate was not encouraging. The opposition huffed and puffed. There were left-leaning portals which were more than happy to clobber Ajit Doval and PM Modi with hammer and sickle for “failing to bring our brethren back”. However, after a high-level meeting, Doval travelled to Iraq himself. What transpired in Iraq is unknown. All we do know is that Intelligence Bureau Director Asif Ibrahim was also sent to Riyadh to negotiate the release. These visits, both by Doval and Ibrahim took place on 25th and 26th June. By 6th July, the Kerala nurses landed at Kochi Nedumbasseri airport from Iraq.

With a focus on West Asia, Ajit Doval is also said to have made secret trips to Iran and Israel. It is famed that Doval discussed sensitive matters of Iran. Like that of a long-term base for the Indian Navy. This discussion was independent of the progress on Chabahar port. However, the details were never made public. In Israel, the folklore says that Doval discussed Nuclear co-operation. Officials deny.

In Operation Black Thunder, Doval is said to have entered the Golden Temple with nonchalance. Thought of as an ISI officer, he worked with Surjit Singh Penta, the Khalistan terror commander to lace the temple with explosives. The “ISI officer” was in actuality, Ajit Kumar Doval who was gathering intelligence. Doval helped Penta lay bombs which were duds and what followed, was the Khalistani terrorists surrendered after a siege that lasted hours.

The stories and folklores are many. For example, when Ajit Doval met U.S. Defence Secretary-General (Retd) James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security General (retd.) John Kelly and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. HR McMaster in 2017, greater intelligence co-operation was discussed. With real-time intelligence exchange, Doval has managed a rare feat of no major terror attack being carried out on Indian soil in the past 4.5 years.

While the left has routinely demonised Doval and even asked for his resignation on occasion, Ajit Doval has proved time and again, that securing a nation has to be done with skin in the game. From covert trips to Iraq to turning Sri Lanka into an ally and sidelining China, Doval has managed to be an indispensable cog in the Prime Minister’s ‘surging India’ vision.

In the past few months, Ajit Doval has turned his attention to ISIS in India. A threat that has been discussed for years in the hushed corners of power corridors and yet, authorities have been muted in admitting the looming threat. Several plots have been foiled, arrests made, modules busted and threats neutralised. With an added focus on dismantling the Pakistan ISI spy-ring in India, Doval is to be credited with strengthening the internal and external security apparatus of the country. Besides, when the red corridors demand the sacking of a man of Doval’s accomplishments, one knows that power corridors are on the right path.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, since October 2017

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