SEEMA MUSTAFA | 24 MAY, 2018
‘Doval matters as Modi matters’
NEW DELHI: In 2016 a group of former Pakistan High Commissioners called on National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. He basically read them the riot act, told them “we are watching you. If something good does not come out of our investigation, and if we find a link between Pathankot and Mumbai and a state structure, there will be consequences.” And he left the room at the end of the meeting without even bothering to shake hands with the group of senior retired officials.
This is the account offered by former Pakistan ISI Chief General Asad Durrani in the book Spy Chronicles: RAW,ISI and the Illusion of Peace launched last evening at a political star studded function that he was unable to attend as New Delhi denied him a visa. Durrani asserts that he had got the above information directly from those who had attended the meeting.
Former RAW chief A.S.Dullat, the co-author and the initiator of the book, responds that the version he had heard in Delhi was that Doval “was nice and soft despite his reputation of being tough as nails” but did not contradict his Pakistan colleagues version beyond this intervention.
Doval, a spook himself and moreover a spook who has made it to the top, is predictably oft referred to by the two authors in the book which is essentially a transcript of conversations between the two, put together by journalist Aditya Sinha. A short chapter The Doval Doctrine is more about the man than the doctrine really, again a clear indicator that the two are rolled into one along with the NSA”s proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Doval is his (PM Modi) Pakistan policy,” says Durrani
“ Yeah but you know Doval and Modi are the same thing,” responds Dullat.
Doval is seen by Durrani as smart, “a good intelligence operator, a good thinker, a cunning mind” as against Pakistan’s NSA General Nasser Khan Janjua who he describes as a “run of the mill soldier” who has not learnt much about India in military command. And the former ISI boss goes on to state “No, he could not get the better of Doval. On both fronts prime minister and NSA, you have had a huge advantage.”
And yet both Durrani and Dullat are clear that this dispensation, moving from election to election as the latter puts it, will not bring peace. They cannot, they are not cut out for it. And here Doval who is the recurring motif in the book and this dialogue between the two spies clearly becomes relevant. As Dullat notes, the NSA seems to be the ‘devil incarnate’ for the Pakistanis.
Durrani has had two meetings with Dullat over a decade ago. The NSA sat quietly through these--- one being a Track-II initiative in 2005---and did not give even the more outgoing Pakistani a chance to get to know him. He kept his distance, was quiet, watchful and observing and as Durrani observed, “difficult to read.” And when he did speak it was clear to Durrani that his experience in Pakistan (he was posted there during his years in the Intelligence Bureau) had impacted on him “in a different way. He’s no Mani Shankar Aiyar.”
In fact in the few speeches that are available of Doval on Pakistan, long before 2014 when he came to power with Modi, the line has been hard, and tough. And this is the image that the two intelligence officers in the conversation that is the book confirm.
And yet they bring out an interesting dichotomy. Of the hardline, and yet not so hard that Doval will not visit Pakistan if an opportunity offers itself. “My gut feeling is he would love to go” says Dullat suggesting an invitation for the NSA to visit Lahore or Islamabad.
Durrani of course makes it clear that this invitation will not be forthcoming as one, it will not go down well in Pakistan, and two, what if Doval refuses and rebuffs and goes about saying, “despite all I have said and done about Pakistan these guys still come crawling on their knees. He’s capable of that.”
Dullat claims that the two NSA’s Doval and Jinjua have a good relationship, talk often, and get along just fine. A good relationship, in his words, that the two are not taking advantage of. Durrani makes it clear that he does not feel good about even thinking that Doval is the person around which bilateral relations hinge. But then points out that “he matters nowadays as Modi matters.”
It is apparent from what is said, and between the lines of the book that the Pakistan establishment that Durrani represents (once an ISI man always an ISI man) sees Doval as clever, hardline, difficult to deal with and responsible for the escalation of hostilities. And an anti-Pakistan sleuth who is the policy maker in the current dispensation, and brings all this and more to the table. And that Islamabad is not looking at a breakthrough under this regime, that trust is completely broken, and despite Dullats intervention that Doval would like to visit Pakistan, there is not going to be any such invitation in the foreseeable future.
The two underline a Doval-Islamabad relationship based on deep distrust, that neither is in a mood to change. Or perhaps even able to change.
So to what extent does Modi impact on Doval, or is Doval on Modi? There is of course confusion on this but it is clear from the conversation that Doval is the right hand of Modi, that he “is convinced that Modi is the greatest thing that has happened to India” and that he matters strategically as much as Modi matters. Perhaps even more as there is a hint from Dullat in particular that if he is turned around relations would see an upswing.
To a point where Durrani states at one stage, “so in future we have to work on Doval and not Modi” to which Dullat responds, “Doval would enjoy this. That’s why I keep saying get him to Lahore. He loves Pakistan.”