KC Singh, a former Indian diplomat, could be accused of being churlish and uncharitable when he, while appearing on a television show, described Ajit Kumar Doval as “a policeman masquerading” as the NSA. However, what he was getting at merits consideration, given the manner in which the proposed talks between the NSAs of India and Pakistan unravelled as quickly as it was mooted. Inherent in the choice of interlocutors was an asymmetry in protocol and mandate. Unlike Doval, Sartaj Aziz of Pakistan is the de facto foreign minister even though his official designation is National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser. Again, unlike Doval, Aziz’s mandate straddles the diplomatic arena, too, which, in Doval’s case, is a handicap as he is more at home with cloak and dagger than diplomacy. The last bit explains why some reports suggested that Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar might be asked to assist Doval in the now-cancelled talks with Aziz.
In the end, India and Pakistan agreed to disagree over whether three is a crowd or not even as the Hurriyat insisted that it was an interested, not a third, party in the talks. Doval became the fall guy. Some ventured to say that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj might have redeemed herself after Lalitgate when she articulated India’s position at a press conference called to respond to the charges made earlier in the day by Aziz in Islamabad. Others suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would do well to enlist Swaraj’s services more often than he does.
In contrast to the Gujral doctrine, the Doval doctrine junks the principle of non-reciprocity, talks of offensive defence and hot pursuit (as evidenced in the cross-border strikes on insurgents inside Myanmar and the recurring theme of bringing Dawood Ibrahim to justice) and lays emphasis on augmenting India’s capabilities, including, but not limited to, covert assets or operations. To “not punch below our weight or above our weight, but improve our weight and punch proportionately,” is how Doval recently put it. Or, as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said before, “Deep assets are assets which have to be created over 20-30 years but this country has seen PMs who have compromised deep assets. I won’t take names. Many people know” — an indirect reference to the dismantling of India’s intelligence network in neighbouring countries during Gujral’s tenure. Parrikar was to expand further on India’s security doctrine when he spoke about using “terrorists to kill terrorists” and “targeted killings”.
An India-Pakistan meeting looks unlikely in New York next month but as Swaraj said, “There is never a full stop in diplomacy, there are semicolons and commas”. Modi can be expected to pick up the threads of the on-again, off-again talks closer to his visit to Pakistan next year for the SAARC summit.