In wake of the ultimate piece of evidence on decision making prowess and process of the Modi regime – Modi’s reasoning that clouds hampered radar that under-gird his decision on the Balakot aerial strike – the long-suspected dysfunctionality at the heart of India’s national security system is by now amply clear.
The dysfunction owes to the wrong choice of national security advisor (NSA) in first place. For this the hagiography by bhakts in the media fattened on intelligence handouts that heightened expectations on Ajit Doval’s taking over of the appointment as Modi’s first act in office is not alone to blame. All of Doval’s operational expertise could not redeem his record in office.
He started off matching his Agent Vinot image, with a finger in every pie:
- He was all over Burdwan, covering up the tracks of the Hindutva terrorists who had blown themselves up accidentally making bombs so as to implicate Muslims in bombings.
-In Delhi, he inquired after the Uber rape case.
-He dashed off to Mumbai to oversee arrangements on the hanging of Yacub Memon.
-He skipped the prime ministerial trip to Bangladesh to oversee the surgical strikes into Myanmar, though the army chief was also on hand.
-He undercut the foreign ministry by going to Myanmar to placate their ruffled feathers.
-He jumped off the prime minister’s plane on a trip to Central Asia in order to make an unscheduled trip to Dubai and arrange the prime minister’s West Asian outreach.
-He oversaw the supersession of traditional succession in the military and the foreign ministry. It is widely acknowledged he botched the Pathankot anti-terror operation by over-supervision, which - in this author’s view - was to cover up any Indian fingerprints over this possibly ‘black’ operation. (The view owes to a cryptic paragraph in a gushy account of Parrikar’s defence minister tenure in which the author refers to the strange case of a police officer escaping the clutches of the terror squad that infiltrated to carry out the attack.)
-He oversaw articulation and implementation of the Doval doctrine – variously called the Modi doctrine or Modi-Doval doctrine by bhakts in academia and the strategic community. The doctrine is a shift from India’s traditional strategic doctrine of strategic restraint to an offensive one, which Doval in a pre-accession lecture at Sastra University dubbed erroneously as ‘defensive offense’.
There is no such thing in strategic lexicon as defensive offense (ask Uncle Google). Presumably he meant to say ‘offensive defence’, taking a leaf out of the Pakistani characterization of its strategic doctrine. Given this confusion at the conception stage, it explains a description of its implementation in one characterization as ‘pirouettes’ in foreign policy, particularly in respect of Pakistan.
As for his elevation to displace the Defence Minister (in retrospect not such a bad idea in light of the defence minister’s inability to outgrow her ruling party spokesperson role) in his heading of the Defence Planning Committee and the Cabinet Secretary in taking over the reins of the strategic policy group, the outcomes speak for themselves.
There is no articulation of strategic doctrine. The nuclear doctrine remains static. The army’s latest doctrinal publication was put out surreptitiously. The air force rued missing Rafale aircraft during its response to Pakistan’s counter at Naushera to Modi’s Balakot caper.
The standing up to China at Doklam was accompanied by some eighteen rounds of talks to de-escalate the incident. That these were in Beijing tells a story. These were followed up the following year with Modi proceeding to Wuhan, the abject optics of which the so-called Wuhan spirit could not obscure. That India remains outside the nuclear suppliers group thanks to China speaks more than India having finally pushed Masood Azhar into a corner.
To be sure, it would be unfair to judge Doval in areas he has little expertise of. He should instead be appraised for his showing on the Pakistan-Kashmir front, where he reputedly did a seven years stint (‘undercover’ as hagiographers have it). The Pulwama-Balakot-Naushera episode has been presented by his boss, the Prime Minister, all through the elections as India’s arrival finally as a strategically-minded regional power capable of deploying hard power in the national interest.
Firstly, Doval’s persisting with the hardline in Kashmir set the conditions for the Pulwama episode. There was an intelligence lapse and no khaki heads rolled for convoy mismanagement. That the episode provided a political opportunity is no reason for not following up with accountability.
However, Doval is answerable for the key question as to why was Pulwama not deterred in first place. The conditions that can set up a spiral continue – Operation All Out and military alert - compounded by bans redolent of vendetta against the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Jamaat. The election figures from Kashmir of mere 20 per cent turnout bust India’s case against plebiscite as it is has extended democracy to Kashmir.
Secondly, as for the boldness on display in the Balakot operation, there was never a case that such a response was ever precluded by Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. For the Prime Minister to imply as much in his political gimmickry drawing a connection between nuclear weapons and Diwali implies that he is either ill-served by advisers or self-serving in appropriating a military achievement.
As former Pakistani foreign minister Mehmood Kasuri’s memoir’s mention, the Indians had apparently thought of targeting Muridke after 26/11, but in the event better strategic sense prevailed.
The option was discussed widely as far back as 2010 when the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry discussed it. Upping the ante against Pakistan was not exercised thereafter since there was no terror attack worth risking escalation, other than the one at Uri that was followed by surgical strikes.
Even if the military operations branch disavowed from any such strikes prior to September 2016, that surgical strikes were part of the repertoire of responses has been made crystal clear by the Congress owning up to six strikes. In any case, Pakistan’s response put the surgical strikes in better perspective than the eponymous super-hit movie that had a Doval look-alike and political affiliate assaying his character in the movie.
Third, from the hyperactivity of Baluch freedom fighters, there appears to be a fillip to intelligence operations, as Doval had outlined in his Sastra University addressed. This is understandable if the pressure point so created could provide dividend elsewhere. However, Doval busted his opportunity to network with the Pakistani deep state in his discussions, reportedly over six plus meetings.
The Pakistani NSA’s trip to Delhi was cancelled early on in mid 2015. Their military’s replacement of the NSA with a military man to provide Doval with a credible interlocutor also did not help any. Finally, the Pakistanis have done away with the position itself. Their positive feelers – to the extent of postponing their support for the Kashmir insurgency – have been rejected. Doval is handing over a rather empty file.
Last but not least is internal security. Lynchings apart, there is the designation of Hindu terrorists as India’s ‘good terrorists’, never mind the implications for India’s long standing advocacy for an international convention on international terrorism. Perhaps the convention keeps domestic terrorism outside its scope and restricts itself to Islamist terror. This is the long term damage Doval will be remembered for.
In short, national security has been ill-served. That information war has been deployed to paper this over and instead to project national security mindedness of this government as its USP amounts to yet another hoax, jumla in plainspeak. While national security does have political impulse behind it in genearl, Doval’s has politicized national security inordinately by allowing ideology to contaminate strategy, handing ovr his successor a ready start point – de-toxification.