Deputy NSA Pankaj Saran (R) along with Russia's head of Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation during a summit in Goa. Saran was then serving as India’s ambassador to Russia

People who know Pankaj Saran said that he was not a exactly a "media personality" but is one of the sharpest minds in the Indian Foreign Services.

New Delhi: India’s ambassador to Russia, Pankaj Saran, was on Tuesday appointed as the deputy National Security Advisor (NSA).

With his appointment, India’s NSA Ajit Doval now has two deputies to help with his job -- Saran and former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Rajinder Khanna.

The 1982 batch officer of Indian Foreign Service (IFS) was in November 2015 appointed as India’s envoy to Russia. He also served as the joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s office between 2007 and 2012.

Saran: A Man of Few Words

Saran did his under graduation and masters in Economics from Delhi University. In 1982, he joined the IFS, with his outdoor posting coming in as third secretary (language trainee) / second secretary (political) in Moscow from 1984-86. He served in the East Europe division of the MEA from 1986-89 before joining the High Commission in Dhaka at secretary level from 1989-92.

Saran also served in Washington DC from 1992-94, post which he was the deputy secretary in the Foreign Secretary’s Office for a year from 1994. He also served in Cairo and was also part of the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.

Married to Preeti Saran, secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, with whom he has two sons, Saran is known to be a man of few words. People who know him said that he was not a exactly a “media personality” but is one of the sharpest minds in the Indian Foreign Services.

The historic land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh in 2015 came at the time when Saran was the High Commissioner of Indian to Bangladesh. He was instrumental in the deal which simplified the 4,000-km border of both countries and clarified the identities of 52,000 living in enclaves, over four decades after the neighbours first tried to untangle complex territorial rights set down in 1713.

Beyond Just Intelligence, Now a Diplomatic, Robust NSA

As of now, Saran is the only IFS man in the NSA top brass. Doval is a former intelligence officer and so is Khanna. That way, Saran’s appointment marks a significant development in the NSA office and how it’s going beyond just strategy, security and intelligence, and is now oriented towards diplomacy too.

The last time when an IFS officer was appointed to the post of deputy NSA was in 2014 when Arvind Gupta took charge and served the department till 2017. Gupta was succeeded by Khanna, a former intelligence chief. In a certain way, Saran’s appointment brings the NSA back to full circle.

Having already proved his mettle with the Bangladesh land deal and the strong relations with Moscow, his appointment as deputy NSA is being seen as a balancing act within the NSA. His experiences as a diplomat is also expected to ensure greater communication with the office of the Foreign Secretary and also the Ministry of External Affairs.