In Ajit Doval as National Security Adviser (NSA), has India finally got it right? Policy wonks in Islamabad see an ominous future for Indo-Pakistan relations.
Doval’s speeches on fourth generation warfare, on Balochistan and on India’s new offensive-defensive posture has set off a furious debate within Pakistan. Is India shifting gears and is its policy towards Pakistan changing? The increased firepower used in recent border clashes and the cancellation of talks are portentous.
Doval is a celebrated ex-spy and his reputation is legendary. A revered figure in the secret world of espionage, his exploits make fascinating reading. WikiLeaks reveal an alleged covert operation in 2005 to nab fugitive underworld don Dawood Ebrahim, in which, Doval is the central character. His detractors claim much of the halo around him is self-created and that he lacks a comprehensive worldview. None, however, can deny him his Kirti Chakra, an Indian gallantry award, an honour always reserved for the military.
Is there a Doval doctrine? In his address ‘The Challenge of Global Terrorism’ at the Australia India Institute last year, there are some clear pointers to his thinking. He is scathing in his assessment of America’s global “War on Terror”. He incessantly talks about mind wars being as important as defeating the enemy on the ground. He derides a war on terror that does not offer an alternative ideology to those who believe in the instrumentality of terror as drawing a line in the sand.
His unblinking view is that the global “War on Terror” has failed and will continue to fail unless a more holistic approach is taken. For a die-hard hawk, he surprisingly makes culture and soft power as important in this war as degrading and decapitating the terrorist infrastructure. Much of this thinking borrows on the so called fourth-generation warfare, which was a word first used in 1989 by US analysts and in simple terms covers wars waged by insurgents and non-state actors. It is an asymmetrical war and non–state actors make it their business to attack their enemy’s culture and deliberately perform genocidal acts. To win, a counter narrative that has strong ideological moorings is as important as firepower and drones and civil society needs to be made a willing partner in this war.
The Doval doctrine, therefore, takes on an integrated approach to India’s national security and cuts across domains — geopolitical, economic, military, culture and technology. Some of his key mantras are engaging with India’s immediate neighbourhood, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), revving up the economic engine, adopting an ‘Act East’ policy unlike the earlier passive ‘Look East’ policy, resetting the Pakistani engagement, upgrading intelligence, bringing the border areas into the national development agenda — creating infrastructure beyond the enlargement of border roads — and ramping up foreign direct investment in the military industrial complex.
But what is this offensive-defensive posture towards Pakistan? He says historically India has always relied on a defensive posture; safeguarding its homeland against invasions, covert or overt, instead of which it should explore a more aggressive stance and take the battle beyond its border. He does not advocate an open warfare, but argues for a calibrated and a multidimensional approach to tackling Pakistan, especially against its alleged terror attacks on India. In short, how to prevent another 26/11 Mumbai plot? And it is here that his most explosive and inflammatory comment came in for the severest condemnation. He said “should there be a repeat of a 26/11 type attack, India should immediately move to help the secessionists in Balochistan”.
The Pakistani security establishment has responded in horror and pounced on ‘the smoking gun’ — the hidden Indian hand — in the Balochi unrest. Doval knows Pakistan very well, having worked as an undercover Indian operative there for six long years. He is also a specialist in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and other border areas. He fathered the ‘Kuka Parray’, the one-time militant outfit that was turned to mount a counter insurgency operation against their earlier comrades. Whether these tactics were successful or not is debatable and the Hindi film Haider captures the complex war being fought in Jammu and Kashmir.
Doval’s comments have raised serious misgivings within the Indian establishment as well. None other than Arun Shourie, a cabinet minister during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister, has cautioned the Modi government from making too many hasty and abrupt changes to India’s foreign policy, particularly with regard to China and Pakistan.Recently, at the Munich security conference, Doval made explicit statements on China, which also did not go down very well with Beijing.
The job of the NSA has been traditionally held by senior Foreign Service officers and many feel Doval lacks a grand overarching view for formulating India’s foreign policy. Shashank Joshi writing in the Hindu says Doval’s vision is inward driven, rooted in Indian-ness and giving national security a cultural dimension that is controversial.
Doval bemoans the tendency to emphasise Indian diversity at the expense of unity — which is at odds with what India’s founding fathers believed in.
Ravi Menon is a Dubai-based writer, working on a series of essays on India and on a public service initiative called India Talks.