Doval's dirty war

Ajit Doval came in as India’s National Security Adviser with Narendra Modi in May 2014. He is an old hand at intelligence operations who had spent six years in Pakistan around 1990s when he travelled widely in Pakistan in fulfillment of his duties and possibly created significant pockets of support and sympathy for India’s cause in all segments of the society. (Indian diplomats are popular on the Pakistani social scene). After his return Doval was assigned to deal with what was being termed Kashmir’s ‘intifada’ which by Indian accounts he was able to handle ‘successfully’. As the NSA he brought his passion for Kashmir and Pakistan to his list of duties. It is suggested that India’s Pakistan policy lies with the NSA and not in the South Block. That frames the state of India Pakistan relations.

Before being nominated the NSA and after he was retired he had proposed in a seminar that dealing with Pakistan required an offensive strategy using Pakistanis as assets in an irregular, sub-national war against Pakistan. India, post-2008 Mumbai attacks, alleged Pakistan had a role in those attacks as well as in Kashmir where the freedom struggle had found renewed impetus. Doval proposed reversing the ‘paradigm of terror’ on Pakistan. Not that it wasn’t already happening — it was few and far between. Doval turned it into an industry.

The design was pretty clear. If India found pain in Kashmir, she will inflict the same on Pakistan in Balochistan — to many, Pakistan’s soft underbelly and pretty expansive where space for the inimical is aplenty and unrestricted. Time lags when covering space — it is a hardy place — but that is Balochistan and it has a history. Except, Balochistan is not a disputed territory as is Kashmir. So when Doval resorted to his antics in Balochistan it was as if things were happening in Mumbai or Hyderabad or any part of India proper. That is war. Or, given Doval’s illusion, he hoped to turn Balochistan into Kashmir if he could somehow agitate the Baloch mind to a tipping point except that he has access to only a fringe hiding away in Afghanistan and on the borders with Iran.

That should ring in the relevance of Chabahar in Iran and Indian keenness to develop it into a useable port. Think Kulbhushan Jadhav, the Indian Naval Commander and a self-professed spy who was apprehended red-handed in Balochistan while on a mission and is now in Pakistani custody. Thankfully, he has led Pakistan into neutralising numerous other cells that he had created to stir trouble in Balochistan and in Karachi. Yes, the trade links too through the Zaranj-Delaram Highway but it all comes with the package. What lies in Afghanistan is anyway open field to the Indians who swamp the entire region with numerous road-rail building projects which are a convenient cover to RAW agents looking to stir trouble. It has thus been a free run for Doval to exercise his plan as Pakistan went into a shell forced by ceaseless Indian propaganda in the aftermath of Mumbai which Modi and Doval have only honed further. Pakistan has pushed back a bit but it has been half-hearted and inconsistent.

Money is aplenty, as was explained in the FM-ISPR presser, as there are takers. Reports of RAW teaming up splintered TTP elements under one control against Pakistan and synching them with Allah Nazar and the BLA in Balochistan, as indeed with some nationalists in the former tribal regions of Pakistan, is how Doval plans his next phase of war. It is in play already and has gone on unremittingly, relentlessly and incessantly as Doval attempts at forcing Pakistan away from Kashmir and more within its own borders.

The revocation of Article 370 and 35A are both handiworks of the Doval Plan. His kind of war and politics merged in what India thought was the right moment after engaging Pakistan on both the eastern and her western borders and an aggravated internal front. When Indian state and the media intertwined to frame Pakistan with allegations of sponsored terrorism India felt she had the space to initiate structural changes to its constitutional statutes in an effort to redefine the issue of Kashmir and associated politico-legal implications. Kudos to the Kashmiris who have fought every step of this heinous Indian agenda and kept their struggle for freedom alive even as Kashmir completes its second year under siege of Indian forces.

When India attempted to reinforce its strategic dominance over Pakistan through a direct attack on Pakistani mainland in February, 2019, Pakistan responded with an impressive riposte. It may have restored strategic balance yet on the larger canvas of the full-spectrum warfare, especially in the low-intensity domain — the dirty war — Pakistan has been rather reticent ceding space to India. When a war is dirty you cannot fight it clean. By ceding initiative to India Pakistan remains defensive, restrained and reactive. By definition then what Pakistan undertakes as she desperately seeks peace along its borders is to fight such rearguard action only which may mitigate the destructiveness of Doval’s dirty war.

Egged on by the apparent success of how India had quietened Pakistan into acceptance over Kashmir, Doval advised a similar approach in Ladakh against China with designs on Aksai Chin. This would break the physical link between China and Pakistan and threaten Gilgit-Baltistan along two axes, if successful; India will retain her long lost connectivity with Afghanistan while threatening Pakistan along yet another front; and Pakistan’s encirclement would be complete as India’s glorious past is returned to it in no uncertain way. Except that China refused to play along in a minor hitch and India had to dump its illusory route to glory. The episode of February 2019 and Ladakh have together stemmed some Indian arrogance; yet the region is not entirely out of the woods. Doval is keeping at his game while India weighs its options. That keeps Pakistan and the region on tenterhooks.

What irks is: is ceding initiative and being reactive an appropriate strategic option? Pakistan may get some brownie points for playing the nice guy here but not every time will she have the luxury of a spotless skirmish to answer back as was the case in 2019. Warfare teaches us to be ahead in the decision loop. To be entirely reactive isn’t the best place to be. Counter offensive, even if defensive in nature, is to force the other side into its own muddle. And there is a lot out there to play with. It is time for Pakistan to review its options.

We know India is an enemy and it will do what enemies do. Period. Let diplomats take the case to FATF and the UNSC around the evidence of Indian violations of UNSC Resolutions 1267 and 1373 for planning, abetting and financing terror against Pakistan and for supporting and nurturing elements of Daesh on its soil for use against Pakistan. In the meanwhile we have a war at hand, to win. One golden rule that I have always believed in is to take the war to where the enemy is whether Baloch dissidents or TTP cohorts. Final chapters on Kashmir too are still to be written. It is time we re-introduce our script.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2020.

Shahzad Chaudhry is former Pakistani  air vice marshal