J. N. Dixit

Hawkish diplomat and India's first full-time National Security Adviser
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The Independent Online

Jyotindra Nath Dixit, diplomat: born Madras, India 8 January 1936; ambassador to Bangladesh 1971-74; ambassador to Afghanistan 1980-85; high commissioner to Sri Lanka 1985-89; high commissioner to Pakistan 1989-91; Foreign Secretary 1991-94; National Security Adviser 2004-05; married 1958 Vijaya Sundaram (six children); died New Delhi 3 January 2005.

A strategic visionary who doggedly pursued India's interests abroad, the former diplomat J.N. Dixit became his country's National Security Adviser seven months ago and at the time of his death was engaged in secret peace negotiations with India's nuclear rival Pakistan.

Credited with shaping India's external policies after the Cold War as foreign secretary, the somewhat pompous Dixit became the first full-time National Security Adviser since the post was established in the mid-1990s. This made him a critical link in India's nuclear command and control chain.

Better known as "Mani" to his friends, Dixit believed strongly in India's destiny in world affairs. He shared Lord Curzon's strategic vision of India as the greatest regional player and one that would eventually be elevated to the status of a world power.

He was also of the view that being the largest country in South Asia, India should exercise control over its smaller neighbours. As India's envoy to almost all its neighbouring states including Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka before retiring in 1994 as foreign secretary, Dixit did get some opportunity to put some of his hawkish convictions into practice, albeit with disastrous consequences.

His ambitions blossomed in Sri Lanka where the local media had nicknamed him "Viceroy". As India's all-powerful high commissioner, Dixit was instrumental in Delhi pursuing the suicidal strategy of dispatching an expeditionary force in 1987 to disarm the Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island republic. This was soon after India's covert overseas intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, better known by its acronym RAW, had been training and arming the Tiger guerrillas to fight the Sri Lankan military.

Two years later, the Indian Peace Keeping Force was ignominiously withdrawn, its morale badly bruised at the hands of the doughty Tigers, and relations between the neighbours rapidly plummeted. Dixit also stood accused of making public a highly secret deal with the Tiger guerrilla leadership that not only damaged India's credibility but further deepened the divide between Delhi and Colombo. But to his credit, he later admitted his errors in Sri Lanka.

Born in the southern port city of Madras in 1936, the son of a well-known Malayalam writer from Kerala, Jyotindra Nath Dixit assumed his north Indian stepfather's name. After graduating from Delhi University, he joined the foreign service in 1958 and served in various capacities in Chile, Mexico, Japan and Australia before being handpicked by prime minister Indira Gandhi as India's first ambassador to Bangladesh after its formation in 1971.

Thereafter he served as the government spokesman in Delhi and later at the embassies in Tokyo and Washington before being appointed ambassador to Afghanistan in 1980 for five years. In 1985 he moved as high commissioner to Sri Lanka before becoming the envoy to Pakistan in 1989.

Two years later, Dixit became foreign secretary, at a time when India was at its weakest - politically and economically destitute. The insurgency in disputed Kashmir was at its zenith and the security forces, including the army, were panicking under the onslaught of Muslim militants fighting for independence.

Dixit opted for an approach based on self-interest, ably deflecting international pressure, particularly from Washington, to resolve Kashmir on western terms. His efforts were largely responsible for giving Delhi time to emerge as a nuclear weapon state in 1998. Dixit also pursued a "look East" policy to strengthen India's regional position.

After retiring in 1994, Dixit joined Delhi's elite group of security experts and the Opposition Congress Party's foreign affairs cell. Last May, when the Congress Party-led alliance won the elections, Dixit was a natural choice as National Security Adviser. Within days of assuming charge he was locked in secret parleys with his Pakistani counterpart Tariq Aziz. He was also nominated India's pointsman for talks with the Chinese to demarcate the disputed border between the two nations.

Kuldip Singh