National and International Issues

Crack it to Bust: Myths and Realities of Doval Doctrine

In the evolving geopolitical environment, the character of warfare is rapidly changing, with more options for pursuing strategic ends below the tolerance/threshold of traditional armed conflict. This conception has given rise to the grey-zone tactics or hybrid warfare, with the accruing benefits of ambiguity, surprise, regulated tempo and, above all, cost efficiency. Due to its abstract nature, Hybrid Warfare is an ill-defined notion, as the non-kinetic, non-contact warfare and the use of unconventional methods to disrupt and disable an adversary’s actions. A rational definition of the concept could be that, it is a military strategy that combines facets of warfare in the realms of conventional, irregular, psychological and cyber, to achieve the end results.1 The recent statement of Indian National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval that, “We will fight on our soil as well as on foreign soil”,2 is a manifestation of hybrid warfare to create a coercive undertone with China and Pakistan besides diverting domestic attention from the dismal internal dynamics and the loss of territory by India at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India with its political and economic ambitions, as well as its domestic military engagements and limitations of conventional capability, cannot risk an all-out war with Pakistan.  Such an undertaking could escalate to a nuclear exchange or even if it remains a limited war it could hamper its projections. More so, with the emergence of ominous Chinese factor, post stand-off in Ladakh. As a corollary, it is extensively involved in perpetrating terrorist operations and supporting dissident elements in Pakistan. A limited conflict, with control over escalation ladder, is a suited concept for India, both for domestic political ends and as deterrence against any act of aggression.
Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 elections on the popular slogans of making India great again and a strong nationhood. To satisfy his unsatiable ambitions for a legacy and ideology of Hindu nationalism, he selected his team of likeminded people, who could compensate for his lack of vision and politicking. The political gimmickry, dissension within opposition and to pursue the fascist agenda of Hindutva, were delegated to trusted Amit Shah, while Ajit Doval, a police officer of 1968 batch, was assigned the responsibility of national security. Over the years, and especially in the second term of BJP, both have assumed more powers and stature. Doval, not to hide his genius, began to systematically carve out a niche for himself and imposed his footprints on the course India has since followed in its external relations. The ‘Doval Doctrine’, which is viewed as the bedrock of Indian policy towards Pakistan, emerged in all its nuances in two lectures delivered at Shastra University in February 2014 and Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture on ‘State Security and Conflict of Values’ in August 2015. Ever since, there is a hype about advocates of Doval, more in India than the rest of the world. It is imperative to understand the true precepts of this Doctrine and the personality of its proponent to evolve a meaningful response.
Who is Ajit Doval?
Ajit Kumar Doval was born in 1945 into a Brahmin family in Uttarakhand. His father was a Major in the Indian Army. He did his schooling from King George’s Military School in Rajasthan and joined Agra University, graduating in 1967 with a Master’s degree in Economics. In 1968 he joined Indian Police Service and was actively involved in anti-insurgency operations in Punjab and Mizoram. In 1972, he was transferred to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) where he spent three decades, including stints in restive regions of Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the UK. In 1990, when the Kashmir Freedom Struggle was at its prime, Doval was sent to create discord and to ravage the struggle. He served for a decade as the head of IB operation wing and as the Director from 2004-05. In 1999, Doval was amongst the three negotiators who effected the release of passengers from highjacked Indian flight at Kandahar. He was undercover for several years in Burma and inside Chinese territory, from there went to Sikkim and played an important role during the merger of state with India in 1975.3 In 2009, he became the founding Director of Vivekananda International Foundation, a public policy right-of-center think tank and remained actively involved in the discourse on national security issues both in India and abroad. In May 2014 Doval was appointed as India’s fifth National Security Adviser by the Indian PM. His political connections to BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as Director IB and in the think tank, have contributed heavily to his career. In June 2014, he played a crucial role in ensuring the secure return of 46 Indian nurses trapped in a hospital in Tikrit, Iraq after the capture of Mosul by ISIS. He is reported to still harbor links with ISIS and is rumored to have played a role in their induction in South Asia. He is widely credited for the doctrinal shift in Indian national security policy related to Pakistan from defensive to proactive. He has said in a lecture in August, 2015 that, “India has a mindset that, where it hits, it punches below its weight. We have to increase our weight and punch proportionately”.4  In October 2018 he was appointed as Chairman of Strategic Policy Group (SPG), which has three services chiefs, secretaries of Defense, Home, External Affairs, Finance, Cabinet and heads of all premier intelligence agencies, as its members. SPG is the first tier of a three-tier structure at the National Security Council and forms the nucleus of its decision-making apparatus. In 2019, Doval was re-appointed as NSA for a five years term with the status of a Union Minister.
In his career in the Police, IB and as NSA, Doval is credited with some outstanding feats of police craft, deceit and negotiations which has earned him the iconic title of, ‘James Bond of India’. Among several exploits, confessed during a lecture in 2014, has been his seven years stint as an undercover agent posed as a Muslim in Lahore for one year and in Indian High Commission at Islamabad as the head of Commercial Section.5 Doval once disguised himself as a rickshaw driver to infiltrate Sikhs inside the Golden Temple, convincing them that he was a Pakistani operative and has come to help them in establishing Khalistan. His inside information helped in later storming of the Temple by Indian security forces (Operation Black Thunder). It was speculated that, Indian ‘fake ‘strikes in Azad Kashmir in September 2016, after Uri incident, were his brainchild. Doval along with then Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar (now Minister of External Affairs, likely on Doval’s recommendation) is also acclaimed for resolving Doklam-Standoff with China in 2017. On February 2019, when the tension rose between India and Pakistan, it is rumored that Doval was the main factor in convincing Indian Prime Minister for airstrikes deep inside Pakistan. He has also been a prime advocate of the repealing of Articles 370 and 35A and its timings.
A study of Ajit Doval’s personality and his performances in various assignments, some true some folklore, reflect an interesting insight! A hawk and a staunch supporter of Hindutva, he has a thinking mind complemented by adeptness at execution. He is his own man, somewhat aloof, who appears to be very friendly, meets everybody but keeps his counsel very close. His educational background and diverse assignments have equipped him with uncanny negotiation skills. Even at the age of 76, he is compulsively an ‘operations’ man, at least in his mind if not physically involved. Doval’s preferred modus operandi is to bypass the command structure of intelligence agencies and deal directly with their operatives.6 As NSA, he is responsible for planning and coordination of a coherent strategy for the protection of India both in domestic and international spectrums. Doval is the main filter of security related information and advice between government organs and the PM. He also shows a penchant for publicity and projection. This persona has been buoyed in great part by media, that persistently repeat larger than life stories of Doval’s exploits from his IB days even though some of these stories remain unverified. Today, he has a higher profile in the media than any of his predecessors and is far more powerful and prominent than any other Minister. His experiences of IB made him an operations man, trained in methods of espionage and tactics of suppression but did not groom him in the kind of diplomatic and political strategizing required for an NSA, where prudent accommodation can be as important as subversion and intimidation. As an ideology, Ajit Doval is convinced that Modi is the greatest thing that has happened to India.7
The Doval Doctrine and its Genesis
The Doval Doctrine, which is mainly Pakistan specific has emerged in two lectures delivered by Ajit Doval in 2014 and 2015. To understand the rationale behind this doctrine, it is imperative to iterate the salient of February 2014 lecture. Doval stated, “Pakistan is a neighbor which continues to bleed us. What if we get a highly vulnerable domestic situation? How do we go about? We have to find a solution which is long term, sustainable and affordable. So first, accept reality. Second, define problem. Then, let us make a response. If we go to response, we have to understand what is terrorism. Generally, when we talk terrorism, it is termed senseless, inhuman etc. Yes, it is, but there are tactical issues. Indeed, terrorism is a tactic to achieve ideological or political advantages.” He expatiated on ‘Political Islam’ and asked: So how to tackle Pakistan? You know we engage enemy in three modes. One is a defensive mode. That is what you see the chowkidars and chaprassies do, i.e., to prevent somebody from coming in. One is defensive-offensive. To defend ourselves, we go to the place from where the offence is coming. The last mode is called offensive mode. When we come in defensive-offensive, we start working on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan. It can be economic, internal, political; it can be international isolation, defeating their policies in Afghanistan, making it difficult for them to manage internal political and security balance. It can be anything. “I am not going into details. But you need to change the engagement from the defensive mode, you throw 100 stones on me, I stop 90 but 10 will still hurt me and I can never win. Because, either I lose or there is a stalemate. You throw a stone when you want, you have a peace when you want, you have talks when you want. In defensive-offensive we see where the balance of equilibrium lies”. The Double Squeeze strategy Doval recommends is aimed at hard-hitting response to terrorists and their masters and simultaneously India should make Pakistan bear the cost of terrorist acts sponsored by its deep state.8
“Pakistan’s vulnerabilities are many times higher than us. Once they know that India has shifted its gear from defensive mode to defensive-offensive, they will find it is unaffordable for them”. Then came the line that went viral: “You may do one Mumbai you may lose Balochistan”. This is the essence of Doval Doctrine in all its clarity. He has said that India has to create a deterrence against attacks on its soil. “If you make a provocation, you are partly responsible. But if you are not able to exercise power, it is as good as not having it… There is no point of having Rs 50,000 in your pocket if you starve to death”.9 His views on the handling of J&K are, “Do not overreact, it will pass off as they cannot sustain beyond a point. No dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir”.10 The dynamics of Doval Doctrine have not been fleshed out, but it is understandable that terrorism as a tactic will be used increasingly in Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Balochistan, when India faces allegations from Pakistan over J&K. This is an evolving policy with roots in aspirations and delusion fostered by Nehru, who after the Independence, sought for India a clear ascendency over its neighbors and a role in world affairs – eventually a status of a great power. It also has a parallel in the U.S. policy of unchallengeable America. 
The Doval Doctrine is an adaption of this worldview, sans deep study or reflection, a product of its author’s experiences and inspirations both of which Modi admires. Its immediate target is the neighborhood, especially Pakistan. Riding on the crest of an old wave, Doval has made militarism fashionable in Indian national dialogue. The three themes of Doval Doctrine are irrelevance of morality, extremism freed from calculation and reliance on military might. It is personality driven and not a plethora of a formalized concepts which can ensure longevity. From India’s standpoint, it promotes national interest above self and morality, mobilize world opinions against Pakistan and China to isolate them and shuns talks with Pakistan. The doctrine promotes arms race and a disregard to previous agreements and diplomacy. The strategy aimed at finally resolving the India-Pakistan dispute through a firm display of India’s strength has not only failed in the case of Pakistan and in suppressing freedom struggle in IIOJ&K, it has also exposed its frivolity when confronted by China at the LAC. The saner elements in India questioned the veracity of this doctrine after India’s futile airstrikes in Pakistan and the resultant display of a pro-active response by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in February 2019, shooting down two Indian jets. The Indian public opinion, blinded by media galore of Doval, is yet to realize its dangers. A dispassionate analysis of Doval Doctrine corroborates that it is more of a concept related to a specific adversary and a nature of threat, without stipulating detailed principles. A doctrine in a classical sense is defined as, “A codification of a body of teachings, or instructions, taught principles in a given branch of knowledge”.11 Doval’s plan of an aggressive response by India is derivative of past Indian notions of power projection and an emulation of U.S. concept of arrogance of power. He first broached his concepts not at a formal forum, where it could have been debated, but in a series of public lectures to garner support for its acceptance as a fait accompli. The doctrine uses psychology, subversion, deceit and all elements of national power to weaken the will of the opponent state, create despondency in their public and gain international acceptance and support.
The Contours of Response
The Doval Doctrine at its heart is a concept of disproportionate retaliation in collusion with the stratagem of hybrid war to achieve the end results of making India a great power and acceptance of its hegemony in the region. In the context of Pakistan, it aims at exploiting the existing domestic ‘faultlines’ to create a despondency among the populace, political instability, and economic meltdowns, making initiation of any actions, cost prohibitive. Every nation has its vulnerabilities and Pakistan is no exception, but while most other states have tried to address them through a deliberate policy, we have by and large, shied away and preferred to put them under the carpet. Some of the maladies facing Pakistan are dismal economic performance, sectarian and communal strife, proxy wars, subnationalism, ever growing corruption even at the cost of national security, hyper-active media and vulnerability to cyber warfare. Doval aims to exploit these very faultlines, in his own words, “In defensive offensive we start working on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan. It can be economic, internal security, political, its isolation internationally by exposing their terrorist activities”.12 I have always believed that every crisis in its wake has an opportunity! FATF though discriminatory and a result of intense Indian lobbying against Pakistan, has provided us an opportunity to streamline our systems and policies to international benchmarks. Similarly, the response to the Doval Doctrine primarily lies in addressing our faultlines and continuing to maintain an aggressive posture against any Indian attempts to infringe inside our territory, covertly or overtly or to their diplomatic overtures against Pakistan. The Doval Doctrine is a ‘real and a present danger’ against Pakistan and as the past events have testified, is being perpetrated, and followed by the BJP government in India. It calls for a serious, well deliberated and a unified response by all the elements of national power. I shall delve into certain important facets, as a blueprint for a synergized policy.
Economy. Paul Kennedy in his famous work, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, has attributed failed economy as the main factor for the fall of states.13  Economic warfare is at the heart of Doval Doctrine to keep Pakistan’s economy stagnant and uncompetitive. This can be through the violation of Indus Waters Treaty to starve agro-based economy, cyber-attacks at the financial institutions and banks, sponsoring imposition of sanctions by U.S., denying exports market shares through flooding of similar, cheaper goods etc. The present government is working earnestly to improve economic parameters of the country but for a long-term sustainability, the tax base has to be expanded with realistic levying of taxes, especially to the commercial and industrial enterprises. The present tax apparatus is discretionary, outdated and requires reforms despite intra oppositions. The exports to be enhanced and the restricted base of U.S. and Europe needs expansion to our regional countries like China, Russia, Turkey and Iran, which collectively have an annual trade of over five trillion U.S. dollars, of which Pakistan has a measly 0.7% share. Similarly, Africa, South America and the Middle East markets to be explored. We can learn from Bangladesh’s model of exports now over USD 40 billion, in particular their involvement of untapped women participation. Privatization to offload debt burdening public sectors and reduction in establishment cost, which forms the main head of budget expenditures, are imperative to improve the economy. Renewable energy development to reduce Pakistan’s hydrocarbon fuel imports, plus an early shift of most transport to non-hydrocarbon energy will also reduce the burden on our economy. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), if handled with interest of Pakistan as foremost, can be a game changer for our industry, exports, agriculture and in the creation of jobs.
Proxy Wars. Over the decades, Pakistan has become a favorite battleground for waging a war between proponent states of different sects and by the hostile neighbors. Doval is on record having stated that, “Either Pakistan give up terrorism against India as a state policy or India would let it bleed with the Taliban”.14 Acts of terrorism against Mehran Naval and Kamra Air Bases cannot be the targets of a terrorist group but the State sponsoring them to reduce military potential of an adversary. The acts of proxy are also manifested in a few cases by agitations or statements against state institutions to create cleavages between them and the public at large. The mushroom growth of madrassas provides religious players a ready force to exploitation and blackmail. A key factor to addressing these enigmas is access to their accounts to stop foreign funding. A blatant diplomatic caution to the states involved is also mandated to prevent sectarian disharmony. No Muslim country has progressed without curbing the misuse and potential abuse of the otherwise sacred institutions like madrassa and mosque, which in our case has mostly followed the policies of tolerance and appeasement. 
National Security Apparatus. Most modern countries and India have an institutionalized national security setup with a defined charter and coordination amongst all stakeholders in the formulation of security policies. Pakistan, unfortunately, has not paid any heed to its efficacy in the past. There cannot be a substitute to a free debate on national security issues, inputs by the think tanks and synergized response by all the elements of the national power against the threat of a hybrid warfare. The National Security Council (NSC), created by then President Pervez Musharraf in 2004 under the NSC Act, as a statutory body, with representation by key federal ministers, CMs of provinces and all the service chiefs could be reconsidered for temporary adoption due to grave security threats facing Pakistan.
Information Warfare and Media. The 21st century warfare is dominated by information warfare with the emergence of digital technologies, like internet, the Darknet, digital data, and social media platforms, increasing both the access and reach of the media. These capabilities are used extensively by the adversaries to divide societies, create interfaith and sectarian disharmony, mistrust with institutions to tarnish the image of the targeted country and present a bleak image of its stability paradigm. An effective media strategy, its implementation, continuous monitoring and course corrections are an absolute must for countering hybrid tactics of Doval Doctrine. Our media response lacks proactiveness and coordination amongst various organs of media. Many leaders at national level, including government, issue statements on all other aspects, including the foreign policy, less their specific domains. There is virtually no presence on social media, English or Arabic news channels, to counter hostile propaganda or misperceptions against Pakistan. Another weak link in the projection of image and soft face of Pakistan to the world is our Missions and Foreign Office. Pakistan has a sizeable diaspora in U.S., Europe and all major countries of the world. They remain disorganized as our missions mostly don’t interact with them or involve them in projecting national interests and countering hostile lobbies. These need tapping through a well-organized effort. A revamping of media policies and coordination is a pre-requisite to thwart the attempts of our adversaries and improving the image of Pakistan.
Cyber Warfare. Rogue states equipped with cyber-warfare prowess can infect systems, computers, software and critical networks installed on military and strategic installations. There are allegations against a state interfering in U.S. presidential elections. Revelations by Edward Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, reflect mass surveillance program run by U.S. National Security Agency. Data access today is the most vulnerable facet of the security of any nation and needs to be denied at all costs. There is an urgent need to formulate a National Cyber Security Policy to lay down objectives and essential requirements for compliance by each component of critical infrastructure, followed by legislative framework to define digital privacy rights of citizens and protection of digital data. A centralized coordination of all aspects of Cyber Warfare amongst government agencies may be mandated to JS HQ.
Balochistan Factor. To divert attention from Indian atrocities in Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir and deny Pakistan the claim, Doval Doctrine’s preferred ploy against Pakistan is Balochistan. He and many other political leaders in India are on record to foster subnationalist movements in Balochistan for a separate state. India is not alone in this quest and has the support of many other states opposed to the operation of Gwadar Port and the CPEC. The province has its own representative government with proportionate representation in federal appointments. Its share of federal funds is also according to the formula agreed in 18th Amendment and policies applicable to other provinces. The façade of disenchantment has been created by the separatists on the basis of unfair allocation of funds, lack of employment opportunities for the youth and so-called ‘missing’ persons. These issues need to be addressed through a well deliberated campaign, focusing at the educational institutes and extraordinary measures in consultation with all stakeholders to win hearts and minds. The social indicators of the provinces like healthcare and education need to be accorded foremost priority. Establishment of industry at the site of Reko Diq copper mines to value-add raw copper and industrial parks with Chinese collaboration can change the complexion of the province. Technical training institutes with short courses in market related skills can create employment opportunities in a short period. The mainstreaming of disgruntled elements through political accommodation would also augur well.
Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). After the repeal of Article 370 of Indian Constitution, Indian political and military leadership in unison have voiced their claims on AJ&K and GB and threats to capture these. GB is considered a bigger thorn for India due to its linkage with CPEC. The recent decision to declare GB as the fifth province of Pakistan and holding of fair elections are most appropriate and would result in improving living standards and better job opportunities for its people. AJ&K remains underdeveloped and most of the social indicators are dismal. There is a need to develop the state of AJ&K as a model for the deprived people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir in the realm of political representation, development of infrastructures, healthcare, education and job opportunities. Small scale industries, technical education institutes and tourism can be game changers. Army by virtue of its presence in most parts of AJ&K can play a leading role in the development work. It could also be considered to accord an ‘Observer’ status to the PM of AJ&K in Council of Common Interests along with CMs of other provinces to have direct access to the PM free from bureaucratic hurdles.
The Doval Doctrine is a reality with its mirror image reflected in the hardline policies of Modi government against Pakistan and other neighboring states. Its manifestation is in the form of hybrid warfare, with acts of subversion and terrorism, media, psychological warfare as the main forms, without invoking our tolerance threshold. This needs to be thoroughly deliberated, aggressively responded and existing exploitable fault lines addressed in earnest. A forum like NSC or NSA, with representation by all stakeholders, needs to be institutionalized for a viable response and course correction. In the absence of these forums, even JS Headquarters can be entrusted the responsibility. A special package for Balochistan, AJ&K and GB may be considered to address the sensitivities of populace and to foil any outside attempts to create disenchantment.

The writer is former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He has also been Commander Lahore Corps and remained Military Secretary to the President. He is the author of 'Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan' (published 1983).
E-mail: [email protected] 

1. Article by Lt Gen Shafaat Ullah Shah (R), Hybrid Warfare and its Manifestations, Hilal, December 2018.
2. Times of India, October, 26, 2020.
3. Sikkim Day: How Sikkim Became a Part of India, Sundeep Sharma, May 26, 2016.
4. The Indian Express, Srinath Rao, August, 5, 2015.
5. Indian TV News Desk October 09, 2018 and Press Trust of India.
6. Ajit Doval Biography by Arfa Javaid, July, 06, 2020 published in Josh magazine.
7. The Caravan Magazine, Ajit Doval in Theory and Practice.
8. The Spy Chronicles, A. S. Daulat and Lt Gen Asad Durrani (R).
9. The Organiser, March 5, 2019, From Defensive to Offensive Defense: The Doval Doctrine in Action.
10.First Post, NSA Ajit Doval remarks on Peace, Detention and Pakistan role on September 9, 2019 and Ajit Kumar Doval Lecture at Sastra University, February 21, 2014.
11. Wikipedia.
12.  February 21, 2014, Sastra University, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
13. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000.
14.  News Nation, Pratyush Ranjan, New Delhi, September 27, 2016.

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