NEW DELHI: National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval has been re-appointed to the top post in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office for a second five-year term, with an elevation, the government said on Monday.
Appointed as NSA during Modi’s first term with a minister of state rank, this time round Doval has been elevated to the rank of cabinet minister on par with members of the Cabinet Committee on Security—home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved the appointment of Ajit Doval, IPS (Retired) as National Security Adviser with effect from 31.05.2019. His appointment will be co-terminus with the term of the Prime Minister or until further orders, whichever is earlier," a government order said.
“During the term of his office, he will be assigned the rank of Cabinet Minister in the Table of Precedence," the brief order said.
Doval has been a major influence on the government’s security policy—including dealing with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, engaging with Pakistan and China as well as deepening India’s relationship with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Doval as NSA is well-equipped to deal with national security as he has shown," said P.S.Raghavan, who heads the National Security Advisory Board that deals with internal and external security, foreign affairs, defence, science and technology and economic affairs and normally meets at least once in a month.
“He has brought a holistic approach to national security in our country," Raghavan said.
“Thorough" and “sharp" have been two adjectives used to describe Doval. According to a former colleague of Doval, countering terrorism posed by groups based in Pakistan as well as splinter groups of the Islamic State would be one of the main challenges for the NSA, especially after the 21 April Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. There is also the question of India adopting 5G technology—the equipment for which is offered by five companies —the Finnish Nokia, Swedish Ericsson, South Korea’s Samsung, and China’s Huawei and ZTE.
In recent weeks, the US has been warning its allies against using Huawei for its 5G technology.
“Huawei is too close to the (Chinese) government," Patrick Shanahan, US acting secretary of defence was quoted as saying at the annual “Shangri-La Dialogue" in Singapore, warning of cybersecurity and intellectual property issues with the company. The US has been threatening to cut intelligence sharing with countries that choose telecom companies the US does not trust. India, on its part, has not banned Huawei from its process for 5G telecommunication network. Two of India’s three major telecom service providers are heavily dependent on Huawei and ZTE for equipment.
“This is a subject that is expected to be a challenge for India and I think something that Doval and Jaishankar will have to put their heads together for," the person cited above said.
Previously too Doval and Jaishankar have teamed up for challenging tasks. Doval as NSA and Jaishankar as then foreign secretary played a crucial role in ending India’s 73-day-long military standoff with China at Doklam in Bhutan. The confrontation was seen as the most serious in decades.
A 1968-batch Kerala cadre IPS officer, Doval was the first police officer to be awarded the second-highest peacetime gallantry award for his role in Operation Black Thunder-II launched to flush out militants from the Golden Temple in 1988.
One of the high points of Doval’s career was him working as an undercover agent in Pakistan for seven years posing as a Pakistani Muslim, according to official lore.
In his first term in office as NSA, Doval is credited with planning the 2015 surgical strike across the Myanmar border which came after 18 Indian army personnel were killed in an ambush in Manipur. He is also credited with gathering crucial intelligence for the Indian Air Force strike on the terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot region on 26 February which came after the 14 February suicide attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama region.
He is also recognised for streamlining and refining India’s intelligence gathering – both internal and external – something he advocated when he was heading the New Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation think tank after retiring as Director, Intelligence Bureau in 2005.