Published in The Express Tribune – cover photo by PTI
To listen to the Indian press – and some of the usual suspects at home – there was no way out. It was War No. 4, they said (if you don’t count Kargil), for the same reason Wars 1 and 2 were fought.
And where the press stopped, the lotus boys started. In 2008, the narrative went, Manmohan was weak, the janta divided. But the janta was angry now, and Modiji was in charge.
‘Pakistan is a terrorist state,’ Home Minister Rajnath tweeted, ‘and it should be identified and isolated as such.’ He was joined by defence chief Parrikar: ‘If required I can have a knee-jerk reaction also. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction is also required.’
Some of the rage was required too: public officials choosing anger over embarrassment. Eighteen Indian soldiers were killed in Uri, in what was by all accounts a massive intelligence failure. Even Congress pulled itself out of the morgue, to call for the heads of both Mr. Parrikar and national security advisor Ajit Doval.
After all, this is the house the BJP built: PM Modi – who’d once thump his 56-inch chest and jeer at Manmohan for writing Pakistan love letters – was himself attacked for ‘sari-shawl diplomacy’.
So fireworks it would be. Times Now’s Arnab would scream and shout. Retired major-generals would draw up war plans in their heads. Spy pigeons with ‘Urdu code’ would be arrested from Mukerian. Fake Whatsapp forwards would assure the public that counter-strikes had already been taken.
But, as the great guru Sakya Pandita once said, ‘Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune.’ When the noise finally died down, it was possible to put the pieces together. As even Mr. Parrikar admitted about Uri (when his knee stopped jerking), ‘Something must have been wrong.’
As it was soon borne out, a lot went wrong – especially the reporting. There was the claim that, per India’s DGMO, the infiltrators were carrying food and medicine ‘with Pakistani markings’: these turned out to be, surreally enough, packets of Tang and Sooper biscuits. The DGMO denied ever making the claim.
Then there was the aftermath: the four suspected infiltrators being buried a day after the attack. Contrast this with the fact that the militants that attacked India’s parliament in 2001, Mumbai in 2008, and Pathankot last January were buried a month, a year, and four months after the fact respectively. The Hindustan Times quotes retired air vice-marshal Kapil Kak, ‘It appears the burials were done hurriedly. There should be a consistency template in handling bodies of terrorists after such attacks.’
But there wasn’t. That this comes not long after Pathankot – for which, let’s remember, Islamabad was given a ‘clean chit’ by India’s own National Investigation Agency – means the hawks should take a breath for now.
Let’s not also forget, the hawks are as much part of the problem: as journalist Shivam Vij put it –‘After [the] Doval doctrine comes into play, Kashmir sees the biggest attack on the Indian Army in a decade. Anyone taking responsibility?’
Not Ajit Doval. Dubbed ‘India’s James Bond’, Mr. Doval is a textbook case why spooks shouldn’t be handed security. Whatever Gandhi said, Mr. Doval is an eye-for-an-eye man: ‘You do one Mumbai and you lose Balochistan,’ he said in 2010.
Thus the Doval Doctrine of ‘defensive offence’. Like Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown knowns’, defensive offence means nothing: semi-strategic words meant to intellectualize the rants of neocon bullies.
And it’s not worked anywhere: Kashmir has exploded in anger, its people stuck in a nightmare of blind children, raped women, and 87 dead. An entire generation of Kashmiris with no link to Hamid Gul, no memories of 1989, and no interest in Hurriyet has come of age – and they’re far angrier than their fathers. ‘You can call [Burhan Wani] a terrorist,’ said former RAW boss AS Dulat, ‘but you can’t ignore that he was some sort of an icon for the people out there.’
Nor does ‘defensive offence’, in case of a Uri-like attack, bring Delhi different results. The Indian military was quick to counsel Modi ‘against rash military action’ last week, whereas more than one commentator has pointed out their army’s capacity constraints.
In sum, the Doval Doctrine has failed to control Kashmir, failed to control terrorist attacks, and failed to contain Islamabad’s agenda. Quite the opposite, it has inflamed it: where once General Musharraf would play nice with Kashmir, or Asif Zardari would write-off the freedom fight as militancy, Nawaz Sharif goes to the UN. He calls Burhan a leader and the occupation an intifada – upending fifteen years of bartering away the valley.
Moving on from Doval, others are pushing a different line, one that’s dead on arrival: Pakistan’s isolation. For BJP spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao, that’s already happened: for the first time in history, he says, this government has succeeded in isolating Pakistan.
Not to break it to Mr. Rao, but not quite. The US has deemed Balochistan an internal matter, the UN wants to send its people to Kashmir, and the former USSR – icy since the Cold War – is swinging by for its first-ever joint military exercise. The Iranians wants a piece of CPEC, the Turks are negotiating a free trade agreement, and Beijing has again boosted Islamabad. Whither isolation, sir?
All that said, it’s high time for a soul-search on this side of the border: just because Delhi’s theories have flopped, doesn’t mean ours are any better. In a recent speech in Kerala, Modi finally played good cop, ‘We’ll fight poverty in our country and you fight in yours. Let’s see who eradicates poverty first. Let’s fight to eradicate unemployment.’ To some in Pakistan, this brought closure: the RSS hero was humbled.
They were wrong. Modi may be a creature of Hindutva, but he oversees an economic growth rate of 7.1 percent – the world’s fastest for large economies. 65 percent of Indians are satisfied with which way the country’s headed. It’s an exciting time to be Indian (excluding Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and women).
But it is fraught for Pakistan. In the end, the war drums will fade – our economic situation will not. Our exports are falling, our national debt rising, our population exploding, our GDP growth a crawl. At this rate, Pakistan will not have ‘water wars’ or ‘strategic strikes’ to blame for its woes.
For that, unless we correct course right now, we’ll only have ourselves.