Why did Russia’s intelligence czar Nikolay Patrushev come to Delhi last week to meet National Security Advisor Ajit Doval? Indeed, why was CIA head William Burns in the capital at about the same time, as was UK spy chief Richard Moore. The easy one-word answer is, Afghanistan, but look a bit closely and there’s a bit more than meets the eye.
All three men, plus Doval, are obviously looking at the “what now” question in Afghanistan. But what is fascinating this week is that the more things change, old relationships tend to reincarnate in interesting ways. There’s a caveat here, though: Old friends must actively rekindle their old passion, not just allow third-party events to influence it.
That’s why in the weeks to come, the Patrushev visit – as well as by Burns and Moore — to New Delhi will go down as the week in which India saw the light, not just on Afghanistan, but in the revamp of its own foreign policy.
Playing all sides
Let me explain. First, Patrushev sought the meeting with Ajit Doval. It is important to remember that Patrushev hails from St Petersburg, like his close friend Vladimir Putin. It’s a bit like saying, in today’s New Delhi, that so-and-so is from Gujarat – meaning, he/she is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charmed inner circle.
Both Putin and Patrushev were part of the Soviet spy agency KGB, which became the FSB when the Soviet Union disintegrated – Putin preceded Patrushev as head of the FSB. It is increasingly clear that although Patrushev also met External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his Delhi trip last week, it was his meetings with Doval and PM Modi that will henceforth set the tone of the India-Russia relationship.
Second, to those who believe that the Russians are crowing about being on the right side of the Afghan gamble, it might be time to clarify the air. Let us remember that big powers don’t crow when they are able to successfully transform a weak hand into a strong suit