Doval to lead first international intel chiefs meet in Delhi

20 nations to participate in conference just ahead of MEA’s Raisina Dialogue

Updated - April 24, 2022 11:04 am IST

Published - April 23, 2022 10:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. File

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. File | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Two days before the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) begins its annual Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will lead discussions at India’s first such conference of intelligence agency chiefs, also being held in the capital on Sunday.

The conference, modelled on the lines of the annual Munich Security Conference and Singapore’s Shangri-La dialogue, is expected to bring together heads and deputy heads of the top intelligence and security organisations from more than 20 — mostly Western — countries and their allies. Intelligence chiefs and deputies from Australia, Germany, Israel, Singapore, Japan and New Zealand are among those expected to attend the conference.

Officials said the conference is being organised by country’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) that reports to National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. Mr. Doval is expected to steer the conference and also hold meetings with the spy chiefs and representatives of various countries.

Sources said U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Burns and Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) director David Vigneault were expected originally, but had to cancel their attendance in the last few days due to different reasons. As a result, planned meetings on the sidelines of the “Five eyes alliance” of U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand and Australia who regularly coordinate on terrorism and security issues, as well as a first meeting of Quad countries’ intelligence chiefs have been shelved.

Mr. Burns had last visited Delhi in September 2021, to discuss the challenges arising from the Taliban takeover of Kabul, in a visit the same week as Russian Security Council chief General Patrushev. Germany is sending its deputy intelligence chief. Mr. Vigneault and National Security Advisor Jody Thomas are now expected to visit Delhi later this year for bilateral meetings with NSA Doval as well, officials said.

The NSCS conference comes just before the MEA’s “flagship conference on geopolitics and geoeconomics”, the Raisina dialogue, held annually since 2016, kicks off on Tuesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the hybrid conference, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will be the chief guest.

Foreign Ministers of Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Guyana, Nigeria, Norway, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia will also participate along with about 200 speakers from 90 countries and multilateral organisations, the MEA said. When asked, however, government officials said the two conferences were not connected in any way.

Officials said that the intention of the conference was not a ‘meet and greet’, but a more “sustained” plan to make connections between the agencies. Each session will be followed by intensive interactions between participants and specialists in each area of intelligence operations.

Like the Raisina dialogue, the intelligence chief meeting on Sunday will be overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, and the impact of Russia’s strikes on Ukrainian cities as well as measures and sanctions by western countries against Russia. Along with the humanitarian situation arising from the strikes and deaths of thousands of civilians, American and European officials have been warning about the threat of nuclear, and chemical-biological warfare during the conflict. India has also been keen to ensure the focus on events in Europe don’t take away from international cooperation on security threats in the region, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and from China at the Line of Actual Control. The Modi government’s refusal to criticise Russia directly, and continue to discuss trade and payment mechanisms with Moscow, circumventing EU and US sanctions, would see more behind-the-scenes conversations, the sources expected.

The theme of of the conference is inspired by the annual Munich Security Conference where senior intelligence representatives, diplomats, ministers from 70 countries that discuss present and future security challenges in Germany each year. Pakistan inaugurated an Islamabad Security Dialogue last year as well, which held its second annual conference on April 1-2.

Unlike the Munich conference, however, which is a widely publicised event, the conference to be held in Delhi on April 24 has been kept under wraps. Senior government officials did not respond to messages when asked about the agenda of the meeting, and several embassies in Delhi said they could not “confirm or deny” the travel plans of their security and intelligence chiefs.

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