Monday, February 26, 2024

Mission Possible

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He does not want any third party “intervention, prompting or pressure” in Kashmir. He believes that Pakistan harbors a “compulsive hostility” against India. He thinks of Maoists as “enemy of the state”. 

By Vishwas Kumar
Ajit Kumar Doval, an IPS officer and the former head of Intelligence Bureau (IB).

He does not want any third party “intervention, prompting or pressure” in Kashmir. He believes that Pakistan harbors a “compulsive hostility” against India. He thinks of Maoists as “enemy of the state”. He wants Bangladeshi migrants to be sent back, or closely monitored because of their possible terrorism linkages. Most important, he supports the controversial killing of Sohrabuddin, allegedly by the Gujarat state police in an “encounter” during Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister.

He firmly believes in covert action and counter-terrorism. He has no qualms in using the underworld and mafia channels and entities to achieve national security objectives. His unqualified vision: there is a need to “transform” intelligence and not just reform it.

Ajit Kumar Doval, an IPS officer and the former head of Intelligence Bureau (IB), and a hawk on most security issues, seems the near-perfect person to become Modi’s national security advisor (NSA). Thus, his appointment wasn’t a surprise as he had worked closely with the previous Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA regime.

There is no room to treat (left wing extremists or Maoists) as anything other than being enemies of the state who have to be fought, vanquished and neutralized.

During his almost-four-decade career in police and intelligence, Doval was involved in most external and internal matters. He was sent to Mizoram to crack down on the Mizo National Front, and was present inside Amritsar’s Golden Temple during Operation Black Thunder that surgically flushed out militants in 1989. He negotiated with terrorists who hijacked Air India’s plane to Kandahar (Afghanistan) in 1999, and was stationed in Kashmir during the peak of insurgency in the state.

Despite his retirement in 2005, he hasn’t lost his touch. Even before he became the NSA, he advised Modi to invite the heads of SAARC nations for the swearing-in ceremony. The gamble was based on a simple assumption: None of the leaders could refuse to attend the event. In addition, the foreign dignitaries’ presence was bound to grab national and international headlines. And, it provided an opportunity for the new prime minister to establish personal rapport with these leaders.

Dogged by controversies

As the director of IB, Doval was caught in several storms that brewed in some security cups. The biggest was the possible connections between Mumbai mafia and IB. In the early 2000s, the special cell of the Delhi Police tapped phones of Delhi-based gangsters, who extorted money from Mumbai-based businessmen, especially realtors. The culprits, who lived in a rented house in Vikaspuri located in the western region of the capital, were part of the Chotta Rajan gang. Rajan, once a member of D-Company and Dawood Ibrahim’s loyalist, had turned against his mentor and started his own outfit.

There is a need to make the message to the extremists loud and clear that 
the state will use all its power to protect its sovereign rights.

Bombay Blast  1993 (3)

A day before the police planned to raid the Vikaspuri house, the surveillance team heard a new voice during one of the conversations. It belonged to assistant commissioner of police, Rajbir Singh, who headed one of the four units in the special cell. Singh spoke to none other than Rajan himself. The raid was cancelled, and the shocked policemen spoke to their superiors. Singh was summoned to explain his links with Rajan and a section of the Mumbai underworld.
A few years later, Singh told this correspondent that he was part of a joint covert operation between Delhi Police’s special cell and IB. He was the conduit between Intelli-gence and Rajan’s gang; IB had convinced the underworld outfit to kill senior members of Ibrahim’s D-Company. In one of his meetings with the mobsters, one of them gave him his mobile to speak to his boss. That’s how the discussion between Singh and Rajan got tapped by the former’s own special cell.

Although the incident never became public, those in the know saw the hidden hand of Doval behind such operations. This was almost confirmed in July 2005, when Delhi Police arrested Vicky Malhotra, one of Rajan’s hit men; the sharp shooter was in a car with none other than Doval, who had retired as the IB head six months earlier. Doval denied it, but the US diplomats picked it up. One of the cables, among the thousands put in the public domain by Wikileaks, which was sent by the US mission in Mumbai to Washington, said as per the media reports Doval had planned to use Malhotra to eliminate Ibrahim.

Ibrahim’s daughter’s wedding reception was scheduled at Grand Hotel, Dubai, in July 2005, and Doval and Malhotra chose the event to snare D-Company’s chief. The US cable added that Ibrahim had found out about Doval’s operations and used his “friends” in the Mumbai Police to eliminate Rajan’s gang members, and IB and police officials. For over a decade, Doval hunted Ibrahim; post 1993 Mumbai blasts, he headed the team set up to destroy Ibrahim and his notorious D-Company.

Enemies of the state

In one of the dozens of columns he wrote for Vivekananda International Foundation’s (VIF) website, Doval said: “They have started the war; it will be finished by us.” He was referring to the Maoist challenge in India. He added: “Left wing extremists are enemies of the nation…. Their history of siding with the Chinese during the 1962 war, supporting Pakistan Army’s genocide in East Pakistan and dubbing Indian intervention as imperialist, aligning with Kashmiri separatists and supporting North-East insurgents leave no doubt about their intentions…. There is no room to treat them anything other than being enemies of the state who have to be fought, vanquished and neutralized.”

His feelings, expressed in his VIF columns and interviews between 2005, when he retired from IB, and 2014, when he became NSA, provide ample proof of his tough, hardline views on Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh. In 2006, he told the website, “I consider infiltration of Bangladeshis the biggest internal security problem…. Pakistan will never be able to send 200 people (militants) at a time at the border. From Bangladesh, 2,000 persons can get in…. Lots of Bangladeshis are actively involved in espionage work. Lashkar-e-Taiba modules also use illegal Bangladeshis… to do their dirty job.”

Years ago, when the former NSA, MK Narayanan, said that one should avoid “finger pointing towards Pakistan” over every militant activity, Doval VIF’s column went ballistic. “Surely, finger pointing is the very least we can do in addressing our biggest problem irrespective of whether or not it results in a ‘slanging match’. Our leadership is guilty of letting the home team down by fighting shy of openly and directly drawing attention to Pakistan’s involvement in terrorist activity directed against India.”

Doval does not want India to give an inch in Kashmir. In fact, he is against any agreement between India and Pakistan that allows the Line of Control to be recognized as the national boundary. India’s position can only be that it owns the entire Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. “Pakistan, if not punished for waging a covert offensive against India, should, at least, not be rewarded by it,” he wrote. If one picks up hints in his pieces, it seems Doval supports “hot pursuit” of Pakistan-based militants through operations managed by the Indian intelligence.

On the Sohrabuddin issue, which created global controversy, sullied Modi’s image, and partly led to court indictment against Gujarat’s encounter cop, DG Vanzara, Doval supported the former chief minister. In another column on VIF website, he wrote: “Beware of half truths—because you may be holding the wrong half.” He explained there was nothing wrong in killing Sohrabuddin, as he was “an underworld gangster”, who worked with Dawood Ibrahim, and procured weapons and explosives from Pakistan to distribute them to Indian terrorist groups.

Covert strategies

The NSA is convinced that covert action has emerged as the new instrument of choice for most nations. It is used by the US to achieve “politico-strategic” objectives, and Pakistan “to bleed India through terrorism”. Therefore, Indian intelligence has to develop “counter capabilities both in defensive and defensive-offence modes”. A nuclear Pakistan has further reduced opportunities for conventional tactics, such as sending the army across the border; what’s now required are non-conventional responses.

Following an agenda (Left) Doval negotiated with the hijackers of the Air India flight to Kandahar; (Right) The intelligence officer was present inside Amritsar’s Golden Temple during Operation Black Thunder.

Doval is a champion of human intelligence (Humint) rather than technical intelligence (Techint, or technological snooping). He feels that human assets, which can infiltrate nations and militant organizations, help intelligence agencies to understand the enemy’s mindset and get precise information. Counter-intelligence experts agree that security operations based on Humint are 10 times more successful than those based on Techint.

This is why, as the IB director, Doval actively monitored terrorist groups to seek a faultline that could be exploited to infiltrate them. At the height of militant activities in Kashmir, Doval, who was posted there in the 1990s, persuaded an ex-militant, the late Kuka Parray, to form a group that killed the militants. Media reports indicated that IB managed and financed Parray’s operations. It was among the first indirect indigenous counter-terrorism movements in the valley.

Doval’s strategies have yielded results in the past. He was the youngest policeman to get the Indian Police Medal; he got it just after six years, while the norm is over 15 years. He became the first police officer to get the Kirti Chakra, the second highest military award. This is the reason why the home ministry is abuzz with Doval. “For Pakistani jehadis, there are two targets, Modi and Doval, to counter. Both believe in zero-tolerance with terrorism,” says a home ministry official. In short, expect an aggressive offensive against militants.

Wilson John, a terrorism expert, who knows Doval, believes that the NSA may be excellent operations man, and possibly the best in the country, but “I am not sure how strong he is in strategic terms.”

Will Doval be able to emerge as the advisor, who makes Modi look at the “big picture”, or will he be limited by his rhetoric about Bangladeshis, hot pursuit against Pakistan militants, and neutralization of Kashmiri and Maoist insurgents?

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