Essay

The Doval doctrine

Print edition : November 13, 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on the Metro in New Delhi on April 25. Photo: PTI

Balaach Pardili, a Baloch nationalist, freedom fighter and spokeperson of the Baloch freedom struggle who got refugee status in India, in New Delhi in October. Photo: Prashant Nakwe

Activists of a female Kashmiri group presenting a memorandum to an official of the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), in Srinagar on March 6, 2006, demanding an end to human rights violations by security forces and the release of political detainees. On July 7, 2014, its office in New Delhi was asked to stop its work. The visiting U.N. Peacekeeping chief told New Delhi that the UNMOGIP's mandate could only be revoked by the Security Council. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Doval with Yang Jiechi, State Councillor and Chinese Special Representative on India-China Boundary Question, in New Delhi on March 23. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The National Security Adviser’s policy prescription is marked by three themes: irrelevance of morality, extremism freed from calculation or calibration, and reliance on military might.

LONG before he became Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit K. Doval had acquired a deserved reputation as a hawk. This former Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) was characterised by A.S. Dulat, the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), as “the hawkish Ajit Doval”. Doval retired in January 2005. No shrinking violet, he let loose a flurry of articles in the press soon thereafter. As the NSA, he has capped it with statements to the press and a couple of lectures in which he bared his outlook for all to see.

A 1968 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Kerala Cadre, he went on to perform exploits with all the gusto of a commando: infiltration into the then underground Mizo National Front to win over its top commanders; walk into the Golden Temple in Amritsar posing as a Pakistani agent months before the Operation Black Thunder in 1988 to obtain intelligence; and a seven-year tour of duty in Pakistan.

The articles he wrote in the decade between his retirement as Director I.B. (2005) and assumption of office as the NSA (2014) should be compiled for the citizen to be better informed about him. In this period, he headed the Vivekananda International Foundation. His son heads the Indira Foundation. Ali Ahmed, author of the highly regarded India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting Wars in South Asia (Routledge, Rs.695), noted that the foundations’ “web pages on culture …reflect the Hindutva narrative” and aptly remarked: “Ideology leads to a colouring of perceptions of national interest, with corresponding knock-on impact on national security.… Policy entrepreneurship and individual hyperactivism are recipes for personal and, worse, institutional failure with prohibitive national security concerns” ( Kashmir Times, September 11, 2015). The marked deterioration in relations with India’s neighbours proves this point.

Doval does not hesitate to roll up his sleeves and get into action. He went to Iraq on a rescue mission for Indians taken hostage by the Islamic State; organised the Indian Army’s “hot pursuit” into Myanmar and then went over to smoothen ruffled feathers; phoned Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi and instructed his counterpart in Islamabad to berate Pakistan for the firings on the Line of Control; supervised, astonishingly, the arrangements for crowd control at the funeral of Yakub Memon in Mumbai; questioned the Delhi Police on the Uber cab rape case; and much else. This is a real man of action, the kind of whom we have never seen before.

The style suits his boss, Narendra Modi, who is out to prove that he is superior to all his predecessors, A.B. Vajpayee included. He finds Doval’s outlook and activism endearing. On July 7, 2014, the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) at 1-AB Purana Qila Road in New Delhi was asked to vacate its bungalow and stop its work. Herve Ladsous, the visiting U.N. Peacekeeping chief, told New Delhi that the UNMOGIP was there pursuant to a U.N. Security Council resolution and its mandate could only be revoked by the Security Council (Suhasini Haidar, The Hindu, July 26, 2014). A little homework would have averted the snub.

Harish Khare recalls that as late as “August 2013 a group of 40-odd ‘security experts’ had presumptuously put out a joint statement. This gaggle of self-important gentlemen insisted that our then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should cancel his proposed meeting with the then newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the annual United National General Assembly Congregation.” Their advice was simplicity itself: no dialogue with Pakistan, a change in “the cost-benefit calculus”, and the devising of new policies “that will impose a cost on Pakistan”. He added: “The group was led by a gentleman named Ajit K. Doval.” This perceptive article was entitled “Manufacturing a National Consensus” ( The Tribune, September 25, 2015; emphasis added throughout).

That exercise to break from the past covers the entire range of national life far beyond foreign policy and national security. It covers culture as well as the manufacture of a national ethos that wipes out the Gandhi-Nehru national consensus that Indians have known all these years. Given Doval’s recipe, one is not surprised that India called off the Foreign Secretaries talks, on August 18, 2014, and the NSAs’ talks on August 22, 2015.

If Pakistan possesses Doval, China obsesses him. On November 22, 2014, he warned at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit that, as the paper reported: “India has to be prepared for a two-front war and build deterrence that ensures that conflict is not an option for its adversaries.” He said: “India has two neighbours, both nuclear powers [which] share a relationship and a shared adversarial view of India” ( Hindustan Times, November 23, 2014).

China’s reservations

The ignorance is appalling. In an NSA, it is dangerous. Doval’s mind is frozen in the 1960s. But even in 1965, China did not join Pakistan in waging a war on India. Since the 1990s, China has discarded its support to a plebiscite in Kashmir and to the U.N. resolution. In the last two decades, it has refused to take sides in the India-Pakistan dispute and consistently advocated conciliation. All China-watchers are agreed on this. Is Doval’s a case of a Peter Pan who refuses to grow up or, more alarmingly, the Peter Principle at work?

On October 20, 2014, at the Munich Security Conference in New Delhi, Doval spoke of developing relations with our “very important neighbour” China but only to add that India would not compromise on its territorial interests. No negotiator should speak thus. He is also India’s Special Representative in the talks on the boundary dispute. K.P. Nayar reported in The Telegraph (November 23, 2014) China’s reservations on his authority and the impasse in Sino-Indian relations that Modi and his man Friday have created.

Doval has a poor understanding of the facts in the boundary dispute. In Beijing, on May 25, 2015, he expressed concern over China’s claim to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh as if it was something new. China has honed in on its demand on Tawang particularly in the last 30 years. Doval naively expressed surprise that while China had accepted the McMahon Line in the case of Myanmar it refused to do so in the sector over Arunachal Pradesh.

He ought to know that even in India’s case Zhou Enlai accepted the McMahon Line alignment at a summit in 1960. Jawaharlal Nehru rejected that, insisting that China vacate the Aksai Chin. They met in New Delhi in April 1960. The Sino-Burmese Boundary Agreement was signed on January 28, 1960.

The double standards that the Modi regime observes was exemplified in Doval meeting in Colombo, on October 1, 2014, not only the joint opposition candidate in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, Maithripala Sirisena, and other opposition leaders but also the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance ahead of his meeting the next day with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this during election time.

The Doval doctrine emerges in all its nuances in two lectures he has delivered. They are quoted in extenso to convey the flavour of the view he offers us. One was the 10th Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture at Shastra University, Tanjore, in February 2014. The other was the 21st Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture on “State Security Statecraft and Conflict of Values” in Mumbai on August 4, 2015.

Dealing with Pakistan

In February 2014, Doval said: “Pakistan is a neighbour which continues to bleed us. What if we get 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 said senseless, inhuman etc. Yes it is, but these 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, you see what the chokidars and chaprasis 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. We are now in defensive mode. The last mode is called offensive mode. When we come in defensive-offense, we start working on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan. It can be economic, it can be internal, it can be political; it can be international isolation, defeating their policies in Afghanistan, making it difficult for them to manage internal political lands security balance. It can be anything.

“I am not going into details. But you need to change the engagement from the defensive mode because in defensive mode you throw 100 stones on me, I stop 90. But 10 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 peace when you want, you have talks when you want. In defensive-offense we see where the balance of equilibriums lies.

“Pakistan’s vulnerabilities are many times higher than us. Once they know that India has shifted its gear from defence mode to defensive-offense, they will find that it is unaffordable for them.” Then came the line that went viral: “ You may do one Mumbai you may lose Balochistan.” It was a giveaway, an eye-opener. This is the heart of the Doval doctrine in all its clarity.

He added: “We don’t need Pakistan. Let Pakistan bleed with Taliban problem if they do not leave terrorism as an instrument of their state policy. The second thing is how you deal [with] terrorist organisations. Third thing is to deny them weapons, funds and manpower. Now funding may be denied with countering funds. If they have budget of 500 crores, we can match it with 1,800 crores. So they would be on our side. They are mercenaries. Do you think they are great fighters? No. So, go for more covert steps. We will match them with money, we are a bigger country. So work amongst the Muslim organisations, they are more willing. There are only a few bad families. Last, make the paradigm shift; go for high technology, and in response, prepare for intelligence driven operations” , covertly, of course, in commando style.

In August 2015, Doval lamented: “India has a mentality to punch below its weight. We should not punch below our weight or above our weight, but improve our weight and punch proportionately.” He said India had 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.”

Quoting from the Gita and the Quran, Doval sought to explain the dilemma one faces between “individual morality” and the “value system of the state”. The state is necessary. “If it is necessary, protecting itself will be its supreme role. Individual morality cannot be inflicted on the larger interest of society. The nation will have to take recourse to all means to protect itself. And in this, it cannot afford to subjugate what is in its long-term interest.”

He drew on his personal experience to illustrate that the values of the state have to be put above personal values. “I come from a Uttarakhand Brahmin family which is vegetarian. I was posted for seven years in the north-east and for another seven years in Pakistan. I was not fond of non-vegetarian food, but I had to eat it at times. Should there be clash of values, the higher values (of the state) is selfless” (selflessness?). What does it add up to?

India cannot possibly submit to another Mumbai-type attack without a fitting but calibrated response. But what are the implications of Doval’s threat of Pakistan’s loss of Balochistan except war? Two recent events are relevant. The Indian Express (September 23, 2015) reported that the Army had destroyed documents on the so-called “Technical Services Division” (TSD) before the Army chief V.K. Singh’s tenure ended. Sushant Singh wrote: “As per reports, the inquiry [set up after his retirement] said that the TSD had claimed to have carried out at least eight covert operations in a foreign country. The TSD also allegedly claimed that in October and November 2011, it had paid money from secret service funds to try and enrol the secessionist chief in a province of a neighbouring country.” There were thus two operations, eight covert ones and one of bribery. Is it far-fetched to guess that the “foreign country” was Pakistan and the “province” was Balochistan?

Sure enough, a representative of the Balochistan Liberation Organisation read out his exiled leader’s statement at a press conference in New Delhi on October 4, 2015. The report of his press conference makes interesting reading coming as it does from two able correspondents, Kallol Bhattacherjee and Suhasini Haidar. They wrote: “After highlighting the alleged human rights violations in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), India is preparing to take an aggressive position on Balochistan, in a marked departure from South Block’s Pakistan policy of the past.

“The new Indian position over Balochistan became public when Balochistan Liberation Organisation (BLO) representative Balaach Pardili addressed a gathering in New Delhi on 4 October, reading out a statement from BLO’s exiled leader Nawabzada Hyrbyair Marri.

“BLO, which is in favour of freedom of Balochistan from Pakistan, has confirmed to The Hindu about the presence of its political representative in Delhi. Mr Pardili, who originally hails from Afghanistan, has been living in Delhi since 2009 and was recently contacted by Nawabzada Marri to represent him at public meetings.

“The London-based Nawabzada Hyrbyair Marri is the leader of Free Balochistan Movement with a militant arm, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), and BLO, the political wing. ‘I hope to facilitate Nawabzada Marri’s visit to Delhi in near future,’ Pardili told The Hindu.…

“While the dynamics of the new policy have not been fleshed out, officials confirmed to The Hindu that both PoK and Balochistan will be used more and more when India faces allegations from Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. ‘This is an evolving policy. Remember that taking up PoK and Balochistan is an old idea that hasn’t been worked upon within the government over the past few years,’ a senior official said…. Interestingly, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who is understood to have pushed the new line on Pakistan, was Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in 2004….

“Speaking to The Hindu, Mr Pardili said he feels safe in Delhi and has the support of a section of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] led by R.S.N. Singh and Tejender Singh of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena” ( The Hindu, October 8, 2015). Will we have to wait for 20 years before the RAW chiefs write about this operation in their memoirs?

The BLO acquired a presence in India in 2009. All hell broke loose on July 16, 2009, when the Sharm-el-Sheikh communique merely said that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas”. The Congress shamelessly refused to support Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In the line that New Delhi proposes to pursue, diplomacy is peripheral to coercion. Implicit in this is a false depiction of the Nehru era as one of idealism and romanticism. Never mind that in September 1947 he was about to launch a war against Pakistan over Junagadh and in December 1947 over Kashmir; that he twice massed troops on the border with Pakistan, in 1950 and 1951; used force in his Forward Policy in Ladakh to regain “lost territory”. Months before Independence, he wrote a long memorandum on the role of each of the three wings of the armed forces. It was left to an ambitious and scheming Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, to don the garb of a “realist” to provide a contrast to the earlier period. He stooped so low as to traduce some of our finest envoys, vastly superior to himself, as not being patriotic enough. An obedient journalist took up the refrain and wrote glibly of “a Second Republic”. Curzon acquired a vogue. To Dixit, he was an Indian nationalist.

Four distinct strands have emerged in the ethos of India’s foreign policy establishment: the Great Power aspiration and delusion, both fostered by Nehru; the Hindutva element injected by the BJP; pride in a resurgent economy and, with it, the attentive respect of the Big Powers; and lastly, schadenfreude at Pakistan’s travails. It is an insular view that takes little account of seismic changes in the neighbourhood, Pakistan’s close relationship with Russia is one of them.

Adopting U.S.’ world view

Such waves of thinking are not without precedent. Americans have gone through it. James Mann’s brilliant book Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (2004) traces the ascendancy of the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz. Like the Indian upstarts, they poured scorn on policymakers of former years. Vulcan was the Roman god of fire. Theirs was the pursuit of unrivalled power. “The vision was that of an unchallengeable America, a United States whose military power was so awesome that it no longer needed to make compromises or accommodation (unless it chose to do so) with any other nation or group of countries.” This world view, which possesses the U.S. still, was in the making for over three decades.

The Doval doctrine is an adaptation of this world view, sans deep study or reflection, a product of its author’s experience and aspiration both of which Modi admires. Its immediate target is the neighbourhood, especially Pakistan. It is doomed to failure. South Asia is not an island.

Daniel S. Markey is a senior research professor at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His insightful work No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (Cambridge University Press, 248 pages, Rs.495) reflects deep frustration with Pakistan. But he is not enamoured of Modi’s “hard line” either. His article entitled “Peace through strength, Indian style” ( The Indian Express, January 26, 2015) notes that Modi’s strategy is “aimed at finally resolving the India-Pakistan dispute through a firm display of India’s strength”. The U.S. intensified covert operations to undermine Soviet-backed regimes. “It is hardly far-fetched to imagine that India would do something similar in the Pakistani context.” Significantly, he quoted Doval’s article in 2011 that India “could raise costs for Pakistan and compel it to roll back its anti-terrorist infrastructure”. The world closely watches the recent trends in India.

To Doval, the one single issue is “terrorism”, not the deep alienation in Kashmir, nor resumption of the interrupted peace process. The U.S. and others of the P5 in the U.N. Security Council will support India but only up to a point. Beyond it, the U.S. will lead the way in withdrawing support as it did in mid-2002 to bring Operation Parakram to an inglorious end. Pakistan is a vital interest of all the P5.

Common to the “realists” from Dixit to Doval is lack of education in world history and the realities of international relations. The lessons of the Cold War escape Indians because their sole concern was how far it impacted on India’s interests. Partisanship reigned supreme. Arthur Schlesinger Jr was a card-carrying Cold War warrior, a founder member of the front Americans for Democratic Action. In 1992, he reflected on that wasteful contest. “The cost to America, not to mention to the delayed nations, was very high. More than 100,000 Americans died fighting wars that had almost nothing to do with genuine American security. The American economy, in 1945 the envy of the earth and the engine of global growth unprecedented in history, by the 1990s sputtered and faltered under the weight of four decades of military spending inconceivable before the Cold War. The chronic deficits that were a primary legacy of that military spending prevented the federal government from addressing many of the serious problems that crowded in on the country. Perhaps worst of all, American leaders, sometimes without the knowledge of the American people, sometimes with the people’s approval, consistently cut moral corners in the Cold War, contradicting the ideals America was supposed to be defending. In 1945, nearly all Americans and probably a majority of interested foreigners had looked on the United States as a beacon shining the way to a better future for humanity, one in which ideals mattered more than tanks. During the next forty years. American leaders succeeded in convincing many Americans and all but a few foreigners that the United States could be counted on to act pretty much as great powers always have. If Americans felt ambivalent about their victory over the Soviet Union, they had reason to.”

The three themes of the Doval doctrine are irrelevance of morality, extremism freed from calculation or calibration, and reliance on military might. The great corpus of realist thought from Thucydides (471-399 BC), his History of the Peloponnesian War especially, and Carl von Clausewitz right down to the late Prof. Hans J. Morgenthau and its present and brilliant representative Prof. John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago where Morgenthau once taught escape our “realists”. Then, there was the Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. Six decades later, Francis Fukuyama wrote that the book serves “to remind us that a realistic morality is not the same thing as a moral realism; that power even in the service of justice, must recognise its own limitations, and that democracies were capable of their own kind of hubris” (see the author’s article “Morality and foreign policy”, Frontline, January 27, 2006, reproduced in Islam, South Asia & the Cold War, Tulika Books, 2012).

Nations before us experienced the tragic consequences of hubris and militarism. Our neorealists are worse. Their hubris is laced with hate, even venom. It is surcharged with profound ignorance of the enduring truths of the international system. Do you remember the ones among them who urged Prime Minister Vajpayee to accept the U.S.’ plea to send a contingent in support of its aggression on Iraq? He rejected it and asked a Left leader: “Comrade, zor zor se bolo” (Comrade, speak louder and louder) against the American plea. India’s name would have been mud today had Vajpayee relented. In 2001, during Operation Parakram at the crack of NSA Brajesh Mishra’s whip they demanded in chorus denunciation of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960 to deprive Pakistan of water. Barbarism was matched by incompetence. The World Bank and the U.S. were parties to the treaty. India depended on U.S. support for the operation’s success. Two of them were former High Commissioners to Pakistan. The neorealists went on in search of pastures new. Their clones yell every night as TV anchors in unison with the usual suspects among the retirees of the foreign and the armed services.

In himself, Doval is not of any significance. It is the office that gives him a platform and the prestige to hold forth on his senseless ideas. Riding on the crest of an old wave, he has imparted a new surge to it and made militarism fashionable. Public opinion is yet to realise its dangers. Will Durant did that for us decades ago in his work The Life of Greece. He wrote: “In the end Sparta’s narrowness of spirit betrayed even her strength of soul. She descended to the sanctioning of any means to gain a Spartan aim;… Militarism absorbed her, and made her, once so honoured, the hated terror of her neighbours. When she fell, all the nations marvelled, but none mourned.”

India must not be a Sparta; it must be an Athens.

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