Ideas

Ajit Doval’s Mission: National Security But Also Beyond That

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval speaking at an event. (Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Given his proclivities, Ajit Doval will aim at not just achieving national security, but also economic development, and provide India its due place in the world.

Ajit Doval was appointed National Security Adviser (NSA) for another five-year term, this time with Cabinet rank. This is widely being seen by many as an affirmation that national security is among the top focus areas for the government.

As NSA, and even earlier, as an Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer, Doval has had an exceptional record in the areas of foreign policy and strategy. Operations are his key strength, but no less are his strategising, negotiating skills, and bold decision-making.

He has extricated the country from several crisis situations over the years and dealt with situations of terrorism and insurgency as the situation demanded — taking tough stands and a no-nonsense approach in Kashmir; and through infiltration into ‘enemy’ camps, like in Punjab and Mizoram. He has been the preferred ‘master negotiator’ in hijacking cases. He has been instrumental in building security and strategic partnerships with Russia, South Asia and Gulf countries, which include de-radicalisation measures to counter terrorism.

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In the Uri and Balakot episodes and Doklam standoff, substantial amount of credit belongs to him. Earlier, it was his successful diplomatic steering that had secured the release of 46 nurses in Iraq from the ISIS in 2014.

Then, there is the other facet of security — internal security — which this ex-sleuth has been stressing on, all along, emphasising that “wars have changed their complexions”. He exhorted fresh Indian Police Service (IPS) officers at their passing-out parade at the National Police Academy in 2018, to remain constantly in the state of self-training, saying that “the phase of fourth-generation war is a very, very difficult war. It is warfare with an invisible enemy. It's warfare in which the civil society is both the battleground, and the ground and the people that you have to protect.” This war, he said had to be fought by the police, and could not be won by the armies, as it was not for land or terrain.

Doval’s expertise in both external and internal security, along with developments like the reconstitution of the Strategic Policy Group (SPG) in October last year, and now his elevation to Cabinet rank, have led to assertions that the entirety of things signifies that India now has a “National Security Minister, covering both Internal and external security”, with a think-tank structure surrounding a growing NSC (National Security Council).

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More Than National Security

It is possible that all these developments point to something else altogether.

In October last year, when the SPG was reconstituted, with Doval as its new chairperson, observers termed this as “a new kind of security architecture”.

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The new SPG would have as members not just the three services chiefs, IB chief, secretaries of External Affairs, Home, Defence, Energy, Space et al — but also, interestingly, the Reserve Bank of India Governor, Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog, Revenue and Finance secretaries. The NSA would head the SPG, and the erstwhile head, the Cabinet secretary would execute.

What is the mandate of the SPG? It is to assist the National Security Council, as its core group; to integrate inputs in the formulation of a national security policy and strategise on matters dealing with internal security and economic security.

Now, please read that again: policies related to — not just internal security — but also economic security.

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This, then, points towards a more comprehensive definition of security, perhaps better understood when we go back and understand where Doval may be coming from.

Right in the beginning of the Modi-government’s first term, Doval had said that “economic development is the best way to ensure security, and that a strong economy is the surest means of protecting the country and creates vested interests which will ensure India’s protection”.

Doval, in fact, has a Master’s degree in economics (source: Wikipedia), and also a strong belief in the power of economic development and economic inter-dependence as a framework to build peace. A prolific writer, one of his important works was a report — Indian Black Money Abroad In Secret Banks and Tax Havens — that he had co-authored with three others, and submitted to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2011. (His blog features the same ideas in a shorter format).

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The 95-page detailed report reveals the concern of the authors, about the immense suffering and havoc inflicted by black money on India’s economy, development, security and reputation.

It talked about the “need to look at the larger issues of not only corruption but also the impact on our foreign exchange, inflation and interest rates due to these illegal funds stashed abroad. Had these funds been available to India, its foreign exchange situation would have been totally different and the exchange rates favorable to India. Groups would be more than willing to bring it back… The returns in India are very attractive.”

In strong words and backed by detailed research, a case was made for stopping the outflow and retrieving the wealth: “As a nation, we owe it to the deprived and ordinary people of India and its future citizens to perform the sacred duty of unearthing these vast national resources hidden abroad which has the potential to transform the country into a developed nation much sooner than we can otherwise do”.

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Importantly, the connection between black money and terrorism and hence, national security was brought out: “The issue of global black money is not just an issue of tax evasion, or bribe or kickbacks. It is also related to global and national security. Therefore, steps are needed to monitor and control unsupervised and unmonitored black funds, which are diverted and used for terror financing from these Tax havens.”

Reportedly, in 2007, the then national security adviser, M K Narayanan had also expressed concern regarding the possibility of terror funds coming through financial markets.

On a loftier level, the report categorises stashing wealth abroad as “treason”. It says, “domestic black money is a vote of no-confidence on the Government only; while illegal Indian wealth abroad is a vote of no-confidence on India as a country and hence, treason.”

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It even talked about restoring the trust and confidence of the people of India so that they stopped viewing “with suspicion and apprehension the entire political class, which is supposed to act to recover Indian monies stashed away abroad. In fact the political class is becoming a hate object.”

Significantly, the authors expressed lament at the fact that other countries had successfully recovered black monies through sheer will and determination, but India emerged as a contrast to the trend, neither doing anything within the country to expose and prosecute the offenders, nor taking geopolitical or legal steps outside to recover black wealth stashed away abroad.

They suggested: “constitutional, legal, geo-political, moral and ethical measures to recover the money, prevent the malady, and called for strict action against such ill-doers, treating them as criminals and cancelling their citizenship”.

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And, this is interesting: a suggestion had been made in the report to constitute “a high-level Task Force with representatives from Finance Ministry, National Intelligence Agencies, Ministry of Law, RBI, SEBI, Economic Intelligence Units, Central Vigilance Commission, CBI and other experts to collect and process the information and start legal action wherever feasible.” Ring a bell?

Given all this, it may be safe to conclude that there will be action on this front now.

Humble Suggestion

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We feel that a softer approach towards the wrong-doers — who may now after attaining a certain age, may be experiencing remorse or guilt pangs, but yet not have enough courage to own up for fear of backlash or stigma or uproar — may serve a better purpose in getting back funds.

Perhaps, granting them anonymity, while allowing for some deduction for their own progeny/family and then giving back the rest for the development of the country, may appeal to them better. The entire process would help absolve its own conscience.

The fact that these monies are lost forever or are appropriated by banks, because they cannot be bequeathed to their progenies may strike the necessary chord.

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The details of this exercise may be worked out, what percentages to be deduced, and creating a vehicle that collects such funds and finances development.

Final Word On Doval

Coming back to Doval, this intricate weaving across domains is what is expected from the NSA as head of the Strategic Policy Group. Given his proclivities, which are apparent from his writings for the Vivekananda Foundation, his end goal is not just achieving national security, but also economic development and security, respect for the nation and giving it its due place in the world.

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The ‘conclusions’ of the black-money report mentions that: “India is not only a country, but also a great civilization, which has from time immemorial propagated non-conflicting ideas and practiced non-conflicting methods. As a rising nation, we need to set proper standards for ourselves so that we become the alternative model for the world of conflict in search of peace and harmony.

“Being viewed as a corrupt and dishonest nation… when a vast section of the ordinary people of this country are in penury, will hardly give us the moral and ethical authority to be of example to the world.

“The entire world opinion is converging against tax havens, secret banking and evil monies. The issue spills beyond economic stability; it has the potential to dynamite the economic system itself; it has potential to destroy the global security itself as the terrorists are funded by secret and not open financial system.”

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Reading into all of this, the team headed by Doval now appears more like a “Ministry of Nation Building”, rather than a Ministry of Security.

Ergo, nothing less than a Cabinet Minister rank would have done justice to this modern-day ‘Chanakya’.

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