A vast majority of Pakistanis are well familiar with the name “Doval”. Some even pronounce it as “Devil” to amuse themselves and their listeners. These and other alterations all refer to Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Adviser in office since May 30, 2014. Who is this person and why is he discussed too often by government officials and security analysts around the world?
Ajit Kumar Doval is a former intelligence and law-enforcement officer who served extensively in the Intelligence Bureau (IB). He served as its Director between 2004-2005, prior to which he was incharge of its Operations Cell. He belongs to the prestigious Kerala cadre of Indian Police Service (IPS), equivalent to Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). He was officially recruited in 1968 and has since held important desk and field assignments; in the latter context, he is known as the key negotiator with hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 which was under siege in Kandahar, Afghanistan (1999). He was also instrumental in establishing the Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI), which in Pakistan can be compared to a crossover between FIA and NACTA.
Grand claims of his intelligence expertise such as in Mizoram, Indian Punjab and allegedly within Pakistan, are many. Though I am not going to comment on the authenticity of these claims, it must be borne in mind that there are dozens of IPS officers who pass out each year while few manage to build up such a repute as Doval jealously has. In December 2009, he established an Indian policy think-tank, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), to discuss issues on Indian national security and strategic outlook. Even today, VIF is acknowledged as a premier Indian policy advisory forum which has several analysts under its fold.
Ajit Doval is perhaps the most authoritative civilian in India today, who is seen, heard and obeyed by the entire military-intelligence apparatus. Most importantly, his views are held in high esteem by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who knows how to use him as and when required.
A month after his appointment, Doval was faced with a gigantic task: the safe return of 46 Indian nurses trapped in Daesh-controlled territory in Tikrit, Iraq. After visits to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the nurses were safely recovered in July 2014 after Daesh militants handed them over in Erbil city. Security analysts in Pakistan are still baffled as to how India, out of all countries, successfully negotiated with Daesh. That Doval knew who to meet, when and where, came from experience. It is quite possible he knew who is pulling the strings of Daesh.
The second major feather in Doval’s cap is the cross-border special forces raid in Myanmar. Then there is the recent news of a peace deal between the Government of Myanmar and a consortium of rebel Naga groups who have agreed to lay down arms. Although India’s prime enemy, the NSCN (K) have not signed a truce, the Government of India has high hopes pinned on Doval.
We must also take into account the appointment of serving and retired intelligence bigwigs on key assignments:
• Ex-IB chief Asif Ibrahim was appointed Special Envoy on Counter Terrorism.
• Ex-RAW chief Alok Joshi was appointed head of the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), which reports directly to Ajit Doval and deals in Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) affairs. NTRO also has a Cyber Warfare division.
• Ravindra Narayan Ravi, who was appointed new Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was concurrently appointed Special Envoy for North-East Affairs.
• Amitabh Mathur, who until recently headed RAW’S Aviation Research Centre (an aerial reconnaissance organization primarily targeting China), was appointed Adviser for Tibet Affairs.
With complete control of the national security apparatus through appointments on personal recommendation to Modi, Ajit Doval’s focus is on complete internal security assurance to set the grounds for expansionism in the region. With Modi as the public face, Doval is operating behind the scenes to destabilize India’s immediate neighborhood and justify intervention, as its newfound ally US has long been doing.
But is Doval the only brain behind the mass populism of Narendra Modi? Apparently not. Another Doval, son Shaurya, has been exerting influence in the policy circles of New Delhi.
Who Is Shaurya Doval?
Ajit Doval’s son Shaurya Doval (also referred to as “Doval Junior”) is an alumnus of the London Business School and University of Chicago. He has worked at GE Capital (India and UK) and Morgan Stanley (UK) in executive positions. Presently, he is Managing Director of Zeus Capital Limited in India, which is a Saudi-based private equity investing firm owned by Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
On a side basis, Doval Junior is Executive Director of the India Foundation, a think-tank which includes several serving and retired high-profile bureaucrats, civil servants, military officers, economists, cultural figures and academics in its ‘club’. Reportedly, the forum holds closed door sessions on high policy issues every Wednesday at the residence of Ram Madhav in South Avenue, New Delhi. Madhav is an RSS strongman with deep ties to the Hindutva establishment of ‘Akhand Bharat’ ideology. He is now the National General Secretary of Modi’s parent party, the BJP.
A senior unnamed diplomat was quoted as saying that what is most striking about India Foundation (a.k.a. Doval Junior’s brainchild) is the close ties it has with government officials in the highest echelons of power. For example, some of the speakers on routine Wednesday meetings included Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Doval Senior and Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
In one instance, Madhav commented on India Foundation’s influence as follows: “Do not think that this (India Foundation engagements) is back-channel or track II. These engagements are as important as official engagements and government takes it very seriously“.
A glance into India Foundation’s official website reveals interesting information:
• 3 serving Ministers are members of the Board of Directors (Suresh Prabhu, Nirmala Sitharaman and Jayant Sinha). Nirmala is a former Senior Manager at BBC World News.
• BoD member Chandra Wadhwa is a former member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Interview Board (equivalent to Pakistan’s Federal Public Service Commission Interview Panel).
• 2 BoD members M.J. Akbar and Alok Bansal have written books on Pakistan: ‘Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan’ and ‘Balochistan in Turmoil: Pakistan at Cross Roads’, respectively. Bansal’s profile is even more interesting as he was formerly associated with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), India and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), a think-tank working under the Indian Army. He is the Director of India Foundation’s Centre for Security and Strategy (CSS). A brief description of this centre reads: “Led by a team of former security professionals and diplomats it engages with Institutions, Governments and individuals both in India and overseas to forge alliances and develop a common understanding and response to the security challenges that face the Indian nation. Its team is made up of people who are of international repute and have established credentials in their domain areas.”
• In March 2015, the foundation hosted a Counter-Terrorism Conference 2015 in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Among the prominent speakers in the conference were Ajit Doval, ex-Indian Army chief General (retd) V.P. Malik, Amrullah Saleh (ex-Director of Afghanistan’s infamous National Directorate of Security) and Tarek Fatah (notorious Pakistan-hater based in Canada).
• The next month i.e. April 2015, India Foundation held a special seminar on “Gilgit Baltistan: Gateway to Inner Asia” in which self-exiled lobbyist Senge Hasnan Sering was the keynote speaker. Sering is the President of the so-called Institute of Gilgit-Baltistan Studies in Washington D.C. and is a staunch critic of Pakistan’s alleged “occupation” of GB. He is also vocal against the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC), terming it ‘Chinese aggression’ on GB land.
With Ajit Doval as National Security Adviser, Shaurya Doval as the young and energetic brains behind intellectual-cum-strategic thought, India’s spate of provocation along the Line of Control (LoC) and interference in neighboring countries appears to make sense.
Basically, Modi is the all-smiling, selfie-capturing and social media savvy glamor face of the highly sophisticated Hindutva establishment with its tentacles spread into all national institutions (bureaucracy, military, intelligence, academia, arts and culture, education, religion). Shiv Sena and its likes are insignificant little ants, comprising mostly of illiterate paid goons as compared to the ‘real deal’ i.e. Dovals & Co.
Since Modi’s rise to power and Ajit Doval’s headship of the National Security Council, the trends are visible: Revamping of the Cyber, Space and Special Operations Commands, Project Mausam as a cultural soft power tool, growing ties with ASEAN states and the US, interference in island states of Maldives and Sri Lanka, strikes in Myanmar, support to TTP in Pakistan via Afghanistan. The list can go on and on.
All this is not simply the result of hastily-penned policy directives. There is a whole network of like-minded individuals at the helm of India’s strategic leadership who call the shots on matters of national security and foreign policy. As highlighted above, The Dovals are the nucleus of this network.