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Pak’s Million Riots, Ghosts, and Doval’s ‘defensive offensive’ doctrine


For decades, India has been on the receiving end of Pakistan’s relentless export of terrorism, the product in which it has enjoyed both a comparative and competitive advantage. Faced with Pakistan’s use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy, India struggled to devise an adequate response. After every major terrorist attack, there was a standard response in India: the government threatened to retaliate, and the talking heads on television pushed government strategists to return the same currency to Pakistan. The standard response to this unsolicited advice was that India could not lower itself to the level of Pakistan. But many security experts have reasoned that the real reason was that India simply never bothered to develop the leverage, capabilities and capabilities that would have allowed New Delhi to hit Pakistan where it hurt.

Since 2014, however, things have started to change, or so Pakistanis tell us.

For some time now, Pakistanis have been trying to implicate India in problems that are actually the result of backtracking from their own flirtation with terrorism and using it as an instrument of the state’s foreign and security policy. However, there is no strong evidence to support Pakistan’s accusations against India, unless of course someone is willing to subscribe to the pulp-fiction dossier, or if you will, shoddy ‘literature’, that Pakistan published recently with much fanfare.

If the Pakistani “dossier” were taken at face value, it would appear that India has paid Pakistan more. That Indian spies have been spectacularly successful in Pakistan not only engineering the biggest intelligence coup of the century, turning Pakistan’s strategic assets into its deadliest enemies, but also locked in Pakistan with such force by exploiting its flaws that it now fears their own survival.

However, the accusations and “achievements” attributed to India are not true.

For if it did, Pakistan would certainly have a smoking gun that was more convincing than a “fictitious dossier” or a kidnapped ex-naval officer who has been portrayed as some kind of Indian James Bond.

Still, the fact that Pakistanis are petrified that India is doing to them what they have been doing to India for decades is something that at least gives India a huge psychological advantage over its arch nemesis. On the one hand, it puts Pakistanis on the defensive; on another level, it makes them chase ghosts and prevents or distracts them from fixing the things that are really responsible for the ‘millions of riots’ that are breaking out in various parts of the country or about to break out in Pakistan. As is its custom, Pakistan is always looking for exogenous actors and factors to explain its problems.

National security adviser Ajit Doval has been her favorite bear for a few years.

Pakistanis have clung to a speech Doval had delivered at a university long before he was named an NSA. In that speech, he spoke about the need for India to develop a strategic response to the export of terrorism from Pakistan. After he was appointed an NSA by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, Pakistani strategists assumed that the Doval doctrine of ‘defensive offense’ – “go and attack the place where an offense comes from” – had been put into practice.

According to Pakistan, this doctrine is about returning the same currency to Pakistan. In other words, Pakistani security analysts believed that India would use terrorism to respond to Pakistan’s terrorism. Indeed, Doval seems to have instilled such unease in Pakistanis that from the time it became the NSA, some retired Pakistani military personnel authorized to appear and write in the Pakistani media have been trying to paint it as a sort of … army of men who can disrupt, disorder and dismantle Pakistan.

The Doval doctrine soon became part of Pakistan’s strategic folklore.

Little by little, the “doctrine” has risen to the status of being an embodiment of the “fifth generation” war that all Pakistani military personnel love to say incessantly that India is supposed to be waging against Pakistan.

However, the reality is nowhere near what Pakistanis imagine.

If there is a Doval doctrine, then it has manifested itself not in any covert action that Pakistan continues to accuse India of, but in overt action: the 2016 surgical strikes and the 2019 Balakot air strikes. It can be denied that India’s stance and approach to addressing terrorism emanating from Pakistan has changed in style and substance since 2014, India remains reluctant to use representatives or non-state actors against Pakistan.

In other words, India still does not subscribe to the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy; rather, India is now using state power as a legitimate instrument for the protection of the state and the promotion of its goals. The Balakot airstrike in 2019 and the surgical strike in 2016 are prime examples.

This is very different from what Pakistan accuses India.

Pakistan has often raised the issue of alleged Indian-sponsored terrorism with its interlocutors in other countries, only to be rejected. On several occasions, Americans at the highest levels of successive administrations have refuted Pakistan’s accusations against India. And yet Pakistan continues to sell the same old version in the hope that one day, perhaps, someone will buy its story.

The fact, however, is that virtually every terrorist attack that Pakistan attempts to place at India’s doorstep has its roots and ties within Pakistan and is the result of the deep state issue with jihadism gone horribly wrong. Other militant attacks – by Baloch or Sindhi freedom fighters, or even by disgruntled elements in Pakistani-occupied Gilgit Baltistan and the Pashtun areas in Pakistan – are also the result of the neo-colonial model followed by the Pakistani army against the people you call your own.

Take, for example, the heavy-handed treatment inflicted on the totally peaceful Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which fights for constitutionalism, but is accused of being a guy from India. That the fight for constitutionalism is seen as treason is something that can only happen in a praetorian state like Pakistan. The same goes for civil rights activists imprisoned in Gilgit Baltistan.

If the peaceful, political and civil society movements are going to be crushed by the Pakistani army and the “deep state”, and disgruntled people raise their guns, how is India doing?

The sudden wave of accusations being launched against India is nothing more than the perpetrator playing the victim, even as violence escalates in Jammu and Kashmir.

For its part, Pakistan does not even admit the involvement of its terrorists and the spy agency ISI in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 11/26, although security agencies around the world agree on Pakistan’s role in the terrorist attacks. In the “most wanted” list released earlier this month, Pakistan was careful to omit the names of the mastermind and the main conspirators in the Mumbai terror attacks. The Federal Investigative Agency named about 20 people accused of participating in the attacks, but the majority were crew members of two ships used by the attackers to travel to Mumbai and who helped finance the attacks through money transfers.

But Pakistan’s denials do not mean that its hands are clean.

As far as India is concerned, the ‘D’ doctrine is not so much the Doval doctrine as it is the deterrence doctrine. But if Pakistanis prefer to name it after the Indian NSA, there is no reason for India to deny them its fear of Doval. Quite the contrary, India needs to move on by filling the deep state of Pakistan with fear over India’s response and letting Pakistan haunt ghosts and shadows.

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