The Master Spy comes in from the cold

When we read about Indian officialdom (as well as in team sports) the focus is almost always on the people who are bumbling and stumbling. This is unlike Pakistan, where the officials (mostly from military background) as well as sports-persons are considered to be highly focused and motivated in their jobs.

Doval, spent six years in Pakistan in the Indian High Commission…. he
once disguised himself as a Muslim and went to a dargah in Lahore for an
evening of qawwali. Pakistani intelligence officers were tailing him
and, after some time, one of them crawled next to Doval to whisper that
his fake beard was dangling loose, forcing him to beat a hasty retreat.

To name just one organization, ISI is considered to be miles ahead of RAW. Yes, there is lot of envy on the Indian side and the common explanation is that it is ideology which drives Pakistanis (as opposed to greed and egoism slowing down Indians).

The only times when India has come through convincingly is the 1971 Bangla war under the command of JS Aurora, S Maneckshaw, R Jacob, and S Singh and the 2011 ICC World Cup under the command of MS Dhoni. There have been some remarkable civilian officers: Damayanti Sen and Durga Nagpal, Ashok Khemka and Amit Khare, but they are considered to be exceptions which prove the rule.

It is thus a pleasant surprise to know of a successful spy, the best of  the lot. Meet Ajit Kumar Doval who will be the National Security Advisor for this administration. Even in the short bio that follows, one notices plenty of the same bumbling/stumbling noted above, but also some remarkable successes taken at considerable personal risk.
Four or five men huddled together in a Delhi hotel room. They were
going through travel arrangements. Three of them were to leave for Dubai
a little later to execute one of the most audacious operations by
Indian intelligence agencies.

The plan was to smuggle in two
sharpshooters into the Grand Hyatt hotel near Dubai airport. The
marriage of the daughter of Dawood Ibrahim, India’s most wanted don,
with Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad’s son  had been solemnised in
Pakistan. A post-wedding feast was being organised at the hotel. Indian
intelligence believed Dawood would attend it and saw an opportunity to
take him down. The task was outsourced to the Chhota Rajan gang. The
calculation was that neither Indian operatives nor Chhota Rajan’s
gangsters could have pulled it off on their own; together, they stood a
better chance.

The sharpshooters, Farid Tanasha and Vicky Malhotra, had arrived in
India and were tested, briefed and trained at several locations. This
could not have been an ‘official’ operation, so a retired Intelligence
Bureau (IB) officer was conscripted to coordinate it. The officer was
giving last-minute instructions when DCP Dhananjay Kamalakar of the
Mumbai crime branch burst in with his men, his firearm drawn. Ignorant
of the ‘plan’, the Mumbai crime branch had intercepted Tanasha’s calls
and reached Delhi. They had decided to take the sharpshooters by

The retired IB officer began to scream, but Kamalakar refused
to back off. By the time the air was cleared, the sharpshooters  missed
the flight and the plan was abandoned. This incident finds mention in
Hussain Zaidi’s book From Dongri to Dubai. Zaidi writes that the Times of India
reported on a retired IB officer’s involvement with gangsters and
identified him as Ajit Doval—now India’s National Security Advisor
(NSA)—but Doval denied the incident. He told the Mumbai Mirror he’d been watching a football match at home.

Doval, 69 years old and an IPS officer of the Kerala cadre, is
India’s best-known spy—okay, mostly inland spy. He’s that rare police
officer who has won the Kirti Chakra, a military award. Incidents in his
professional life are the stuff of legend and films. In recent years,
Doval has worked closely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his
Gujarat CM days, attending strategy sessions and briefings in Ahmedabad.
He is known as a hardliner on terror and Pakistan, his views
articulated in a number of articles in journals and mainstream media.
More controversially, he believes Ishrat Jahan, the college student from
Mumbai killed in a fake encounter in Ahmedabad, was a terrorist. He has
been critical of the CBI for implicating a retired  IB special
director, Rajendra Kumar, in the case.

While his appointment as NSA, given his involvement with the BJP and
Modi, was expected, he has detractors in the security establishment and
the MEA who wonder if a hardcore operations man can ever be an ideal
NSA. But they too acknowledge Doval is an outstanding intelligence
operative. He has also served in Pakistan and London. But his critics
say Doval may have an eye for detail and the ability connect dots but
not the ability to see the large picture and deploy diplomatic skills.

Doval makes no bones of his belief that it was a colossal mistake to
appoint former diplomats as NSAs. Three of the four NSAs before him were
retired IFS officers. The only intelligence officer to make the cut was
M.K. Narayanan, who had a hand in the appointment of Doval as the
director of the IB in 2004. Turf wars between diplomats and intelligence
officers are not unknown and the first NSA, Brajesh Mishra, is known to
have had trouble with the IB, the turf guarded zealously by then home
minister L.K. Advani. But Doval’s special relationship with Modi, his
detractors fear, would overshadow not just the intelligence agencies but
also the MHA and the MEA. The more charitable view is that this is
precisely the arrangement the new prime minister may have had in mind.

Like most spy stories and legends, it is difficult to sift fact from
fiction. His detractors claim Doval himself crafted many of the tales
about him. But what remains indisputable is that Doval did play a
sterling role in restoring peace in Mizoram. Posted at Aizawl, he
assiduously cultivated the insurgents, often inviting them over for
dinner at his home. For over two years, Doval recalls, his wife cooked
pork for the heavily armed guests who she thought were part of a
patriotic push. He is also said to have walked once from Aizawl to deep
inside Kachin in China to establish contact with Mizo insurgents.
leader and commander of the Mizo Liberation Army, Laldenga, is said to
have acknowledged that Doval had won over six of his seven commanders,
leaving him no option but to strike for peace.

Doval’s reputation acquired legendary proportions after he apparently
posed as an ISI officer and went inside the Golden Temple for a
rendezvous with Khalistani terrorists. It is claimed he stayed inside
for several weeks, helping terrorists mine the periphery with dud
explosives he had taken inside. The subterfuge lulled the terrorists to
believe they could blow up advancing troops while the government, secure
in the knowledge that the explosives were fake and threats issued from
the temple empty, planned Operation Black Thunder to storm the temple
again and flush out the terrorists in the summer of 1988.

His role in the rescue of the Romanian diplomat Liviu Radu, abducted
by the Khalistan Liberation Force from Delhi,
also finds glowing mention
among his adm­irers, though some acco­unts hold that the KLF released
the diplomat after they found no mention of the kidnapping in the
international media. With Romania making no move to release Khalistani
terrorists arrested following the attack on the Indian ambassador Julio
Ribeiro in Bucharest,
the abductors felt they needed to kidnap a
diplomat from one of the superpowers before they could hope to exert
pressure. Radu, therefore, was released and put on a train to Delhi.

But other accounts hold that Doval spearheaded the rescue, leading
teams into Punjab and taking out one kidnapper after the other. The
kidnappers were changing hideouts every ten hours, but Doval and his
team, according to these accounts, used honey-traps to good effect, till
the last surviving kidnappers panicked and released the diplomat.

Doval, who spent six years in Pakistan in the Indian High Commission,
does seem to relish relating his adventures as a spy. He has hinted at
his fondness for disguise, for example. He is quoted as saying that he
once disguised himself as a Muslim and went to a dargah in Lahore for an
evening of qawwali. Pakistani intelligence officers were tailing him
and, after some time, one of them crawled next to Doval to whisper that
his fake beard was dangling loose, forcing him to beat a hasty retreat.

His role as a negotiator at Kandahar, where Indian Airlines flight
IC-814 was hijacked with 160 passengers, is another high point of his
Doval and Nehchal Sandhu, also to become a director,
Intellig­ence Bureau, later, are credited to have engaged the hijackers
for over 110 hours, negotiating the release of hostages and stalling
their demand for the release of 36 terrorists held in Indian prisons. 

According to one account, one of the hijackers would speak for 15
minutes from the cockpit of the hijacked plane while Doval would reply
in kind, speaking for the next 15 minutes. While India did have to
finally release three terrorists, including Maulana Masood Azhar, the
negotiators are believed to have done a good job.

As he occupies the office next to the prime minister, Doval, credited
with building up IB’s counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism
capabilities, can be trusted to rush in where his predecessors feared to



Brown Pundits