Even as Indian commentators debate whether it is possible for the Modi government to successfully take down Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistani commentariat seems to have worked itself into a major frenzy over India's national security advisor Ajit Doval. Over the last few weeks, several hours of prime time TV and many reams of column space have centred around how Ajit Doval threatened to split Pakistan in case of another 26/11 Mumbai-style attack.
The fierce debate has been sparked by a YouTube video clip which has gone viral in Pakistan. The video has excerpts of an old speech which Doval made in February 2014 at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. At that time Doval was the director of the Vivekananda International Foundation and the Modi was still three months away from being sworn in as India's prime minister. While delivering the tenth Nani Palkhivala Memorial at the SASTRA University, Doval had hit out at the Manmohan government for failing to give an adequate response to Pakistan after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Doval went on to spell out a national security strategy that he felt could help keep Pakistan in check.
It is this public exposition of a suggested Pakistan doctrine that the country's media has lapped up as gospel. Every terror attack in Pakistan is now attributed to Doval and an attempt is being made to cast Doval as India's Hamid Gul. Speaking at SASTRA University, Doval had said that India had three options to counter Pakistani attacks - defence, defensive offense and offense.
Doval felt that India had so far been defensive in its response to Pakistan and this strategy had failed to bring about peace despite India's restraint. The defensive strategy involved beefing up internal security in a bid to prevent terror attacks. This, Doval felt, was ineffective because terrorists could always find a way of breaching defences and sneaking in. Doval also ruled out an offensive strategy because an all-out war could lead to the nuclear threshold being crossed.
Doval then went on to advocate exploiting Pakistan's vulnerabilities to India's advantage through the defensive-offense mode. Doval's preferred game plan was to deny Pakistan-sponsored terrorists weapons, funds and manpower. In his speech, Doval recommends outspending insurgent groups in a bid to contain terrorism. Doval says most terrorists are driven by money and they can be contained by showering them with more money than what has been given to them by their handlers in Pakistan. Another method Doval suggests is for the Indian government to work with the Muslim community through Islamic organisations to prevent the radicalisation of Indian youth.
Externally, Doval recommends that India give a hard-hitting response to terrorists and their masters. Doval recommends that India make Pakistan bear the cost of terrorist acts sponsored by its deep state. This Doval adds should be done through the use of the same kind of fourth-generation covert warfare weapons that Pakistan has been using to bleed us as part of its strategy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts. The response should send a message through use of massive disproportional force that causes huge damage. Doval concludes his exposition of defensive-offense by saying, "Let Pakistan know, you can do one Mumbai, you may lose Balochistan."
It is this comment made three months before Modi took over as India's PM that has sparked much debate in Pakistan. From respected journalists like Najam Sethi, former ISI chief general Talat Masood to sundry anchors and strategic analysts on TV, experts in Pakistan have started blaming Ajit Doval for all that is going wrong in Pakistan. The Pakistani Urdu press has started called him Devil Doval.
During an interview with Aapas ki Baat host Muneeb Farooq on Pakistani channel Geo News, senior journalist and former Punjab chief minister Najam Sethi said, "Ajit Doval has declared the Taliban as weakness of Pakistan and wants to use them against Pakistan. India wants to divide Pakistan's military might in two directions in order to render it unable to wipe out the Taliban. Soon after the Afghanistan visit of Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Ajit Doval had rushed to Kabul and offered one million dollars in military aid to Afghanistan which Ashraf Ghani rejected. Doval's defeat on this front agonised him and that is why he is talking of Balochistan and the Taliban."
Writing in the Express Tribune, former ISI chief and noted strategic affairs expert general Talat Masood wrote, "Ajit Doval, who is supposed to be a master of psychological warfare, has categorised Pakistan as an enemy. He recently articulated his highly controversial offensive-defence doctrine in a speech at a university. The salient features of this are to befriend Pakistan's enemies and exploit them for inflicting maximum damage. Any misadventure by Pakistan will be dealt through a composite response that will inflict disproportionate damage to major elements of national power."
General Masood added, "India is on a highly aggressive trajectory pursuing a policy of bullying Pakistan whenever and wherever it can. Taking advantage of Pakistan's current vulnerabilities, the Indian leadership probably considers this an opportune moment to build maximum pressure on us. And the external component of this policy is to keep Pakistan militarily engaged by demonising it for border violations and supporting infiltration of militants."
Some of the recent criticism of Ajit Doval in Pakistan has been totally bizarre. Anchoring a television show political analyst Dr Shahid Masood said, "RAW has an entire unit of actors. They dress them up as mujahideen and send them into Kashmir to hold up Pakistani and ISIS flags. These were the actors who were sent to Gurdaspur to look like jihadists. If Ajit Doval was not with the RAW, he could have easily been in Bollywood and done roles like Paresh Rawal. Doval's recent antics have shown that even a peon in Pakistan could deliver a better operation than the recent Gurdaspur episode."
Defence analyst and security expert Ikram Sehgal wrote, "Doval's doctrine of offensive-defence calls for inflicting disproportionate pain on Pakistan, with or without reason. He has been threatening ad nauseam that if a Mumbai-type incident happens, Pakistan may lose Balochistan. Doing everything possible to hasten Pakistan's disintegration, such deadly RAW adventures targeting Pakistan are neither surprising nor unexpected under the new policy of causing pain to Pakistan. With absolute control now over Indian foreign overt and covert policy, Doval has a plethora of resources to wage his plans. Doval has the knowhow, the expertise and, most importantly, now he has the resources and power to inflict damage upon the people of Pakistan."
Sehgal goes on to allege that Doval has been masterminding black flag operations in Pakistan. "Covert operations by others than those who actually plan and execute them are called false flag (or black flag) operations. Whether they know it or not, false flag terrorism is carried out by entities supported or controlled by the victim nation. Because of the increasing levels of duplicity and internal intrigue, this terminology is used relatively loosely as a form of deep politics. Doval's well-known predilection for false flag operations will only force multiply."
Psychological operations are an important part of warfare and after a long time India seems to have the upper hand when it comes to playing mind games with Pakistan. The more Pakistanis continue to believe that another Mumbai-style attack can lead to Balochistan breaking away, the better it works for super sleuth Doval and those in charge of keeping India safe.