Surgical strikes and the Doval doctrine

The Uri base attack brought back memories of Mumbai and similar calls for revenge

Surgical strikes and the Doval doctrine
Internally, the Indian security forces seem to be set on a kill-maim-blind-disable campaign in Kashmir. Externally, New Delhi has embarked on a smear-isolate-discredit-Pakistan mission—very much in synch with the Ajit Doval doctrine—accompanied by an offensive anchored in politico-diplomatic isolation of the country.

The barbs that diplomats and leaders of both countries exchange, particularly the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s characterization of Pakistan as a “terrorist country” represent the other plank of the campaign to bracket Pakistan with all sorts of negatives, including, of course, terrorism. And incidents such as Pathankot or Uri perfectly fit into this gameplan. Public calls for reprisal in the shape of surgical strikes are then the natural reaction to such deadly incidents. Uri revived emories of Mumbai and the public outrage that it triggered.

But the idea of surgical strikes dates to the post-Mumbai scenario, when India’s top military, political and intelligence leadership had in a secret meeting on December 2, 2008, mulled over this option. This meeting had apparently taken place shortly before a delegation of US senators led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham visited New Delhi to sniff out the mood. From there they travelled to Lahore, where they discussed the surgical strike option. “Senator McCain wanted to know from me... what the reaction of the Pakistan army and the public at large would be if there was a limited air-raid on Muridke,” writes Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri in his book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove. I was “horrified at the mere suggestion.”
There have been moderate voices too, such as that of Manoj Kumar Joshi, who have been far more restrained and calculated in their condemnation of Pakistan than the majority. We need to manage our relations, rather than push for "crushing Pakistan, cutting Pakistan to size," Joshi said in a Rajiya Sabha TV debate

The senators, also accompanied by Richard Holbrooke, the then special Pak-Afghan envoy, later traveled on to Islamabad for meetings with the army chief and president Zardari.

The dialogue between premier Gilani, General Kayani and president Zardari took place only a couple of days after the Americans had left.

Among those baying for the “revenge options” was DK?Singh. In a Hindustan Times comment, he listed a few options before India. Topping the list was the idea of “a covert strike on terror camps” in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. Making a point for hot pursuit,  Singh recalled that following an ambush-killing of 18 soldiers in Manipur in June 2015, the Indian forces went across the border into Myanmar and neutralised the attackers. But then he also hastened to say that Pakistan is a different kettle of fish to Myanmar. Again, the implication here is that the Indian government and the public at large is equating the act of “Pakistani individuals” to that of the State of Pakistan. The fourth suggestion was to engage the Pakistani Army, “which controls the levers of power, through backchannels. But their interest in peace is suspect.” Another option to pursue is to “scale up the offensive over Balochistan” to double up “Pakistan’s attrition and  to make it pay for its interference in Jammu and Kashmir”.

There are other suggestions too. But essentially, all of them reflect the Doval doctrine. A.G. Noorani, a noted Indian columnist and lawyer, nevertheless sees the Indian government’s current jingoism more rooted in the Dovalian doctrine that is aimed at causing “an obstinate Pakistan to kneel”. Pakistan cannot possibly accept what are but surrender terms. Equally India cannot acquiesce to the tardiness in bringing to book the culprits in the Mumbai blasts and the Pathankot attack, wrote Noorani recently in Dawn (Sept 17).

But there have been moderate voices too, such as that of Manoj Kumar Joshi, a senior research fellow with the Observer Foundation, who have been far more restrained and calculated in their condemnation of Pakistan than the majority. We need to manage our relations, rather than push for “crushing Pakistan, cutting Pakistan to size,” Joshi said in a Rajiya Sabha TV debate. He also called for the need to acknowledge “certain lapses in the security parameters at the high-security zone Uri base” and cautioned that “[i]f Pakistan collapses or disintegrates, this will not be in our interest.”

Joshi, however, strangely couldn’t resist calling the Chinese and the Americans “the two lynchpins of Pakistan’s support system” and urged his government to neutralize these sources of support through aggressive diplomacy. These two often go easy on Pakistan and let it off the hook, opined Joshi, regurgitating a clichéd thinking. Here again, the majority of Indians miss one point of the geo-political compulsions of global powers to maintain relations with all those countries they hold important for their national interest. Pakistan happens to be one of those lynchpins—good or bad—which are an unavoidable part of the geo-political chessboard.

There is no doubt that the the civilian and military ruling elite have often compromised its interests, pursued skewed policies for which the 200 million Pakistanis are paying heavily.

But this doesn’t mean India can conveniently dump all the dirt on Pakistan’s doorstep, hoping that the world would naively only believe its narrative. As of now, this has been the case but the juvenile conduct of most Indian politicians has undermined their narrative.

On the other hand, Pakistan cant be simply pushed or wished away.

Also, one big question begging a dispassionate answer is why are the Indian forces killing and maiming protesting Kashmiris if those attacking them are infiltrating from across the border as they believe? Will the families of victims of the pellet guns sit back quietly? How would the 100 local militants or so (a number given out by Indian officials soon after Wani’s killing) give vent to their anger? Just wait for outsiders to avenge deaths and injuries around them?

Nothing can sum up the Indian leadership’s nonchalant arrogant and dismissive attitude than this excerpt from a comment in the Hindustan Times (Sept 21): Sadly, one reason it happened (Uri attack) is that those in authority have cussedly refused to accept the seriousness of the situation in Kashmir; internal and external factors are not mutually exclusive. We have stumbled, blinkered if not blindfolded, into the fog of war. The demonstrations across Kashmir since July 8 were only one strain of a complex development that is still in its early stages.

Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad