Who’s to blame for Pathankot?
Modi’s trust in an inept Doval reflects upon his own competence
By Faraz Ahmad
India has not suffered such an inept, incompetent and so short sighted a prime minister as the nation is witnessing today.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inability to educate himself by expanding his horizon is evident from the kind of talent he has chosen both as members of his Union Cabinet, where Finance Minister Arun Jaitley shines by comparison and his hand-picked sycophant bureaucrats from home state Gujarat, who now take all decisions big or small on not just day to day governance but even sensitive subjects like security of the nation and now diplomacy.
Modi has blindly and mindlessly followed India’s first BJP/NDA Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee insofar as leaving all weighty and crucial decision in the hands of his National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. But Vajpayee’s Man for all Seasons was Brajesh Mishra, who would often disdainfully announce that he was no “knicker walla” nor had anything to do with “these knicker wallas. I am here only to serve Vajpayee,” he would often clarify to the newsmen who would visit him in the PMO then. It is relevant to mention this for Mishra had no association with the RSS and therefore did not suffer from the tunnel vision of a pracharak. On the other hand, time and again Modi betrays the mind of a RSS pracharak, a misfit in the chair of the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, who can trust only a spook like Doval.
And therefore he has chosen a man with the mind of a Police Sub-inspector or as someone pointed out, the narrow vision of a Darogha (head constable) to guide him on all crucial matters, pertaining not just to the security of the nation but even Diplomacy now of which anyone who has had the ill fortune of interacting with him would know, that our NSA would not know the letter ‘D’. He first made a mess of it in Mynamar.
Ever since the Pakistani terrorist attack on Pathankot Air base was messed up leading to the loss of seven precious lives of our security forces, because of inept handling by Ajit Doval, it is apparent that Doval can’t be trusted with the security of the nation at such crucial junctures. It probably makes sense, for by his own admission Doval’s distinction lay as an eavesdropper, a Spook rather than a man who had ever handled security management.
Of course even former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suffered M K Narayanan as his NSA for quite a while thanks to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s soft corner for a confidant of the family again for his ability to eavesdrop on all and sundry and report back to Sonia. But there was a difference. For one, as far as external affairs were concerned Singh had initially chosen Mani Dixit, who unfortunately died early leaving a big chasm which Narayanan was incapable of filling and finally it required only another Sonia confidant P Chidambaram to get him out of the post. Additionally Manmohan Singh himself was quite capable and competent to handle foreign affairs, leaving hardly any scope for the likes of Narayanan to dabble much into the uncharted field of diplomacy, except an occasional trip to Bangkok to sign on the dotted lines in the annual renewal of the cease fire with the NSCN-IM, a task, left earlier by Vajpayee to former Home Secretary K Padmanabiah.
While attending the Climate Change summit in Paris on December 1, Prime Minister Modi apparently accidentally ran into the Pakistani prime minister and instead of turning his back on his counterpart seemed to show the normal courtesy of greeting Sharif warmly shaking hands and then the two settled for a while in the Leaders’ Lounge where they had a one to one. That started off the new diplomatic initiative. India dispatched our External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to attend the fifth Heart of Asia meeting on Afghanistan, organized by Pakistan in Islamabad. Pakistan has been holding this meeting every year. All along Pakistan refused to accept and resisted India’s role in Afghanistan. The fact that India had been invited for this meet, itself was a major diplomatic headway.
With some imagination and foresight India could have benefited from this breakthrough in relation to Afghanistan which has been our long standing friend of several decades. We have also invested heavily in rebuilding its infrastructure. If there were any jhappi pappi diplomacy required, our External Affairs minister with her Punjabi origin was fully competent to give it a personal touch and she did it with some finesse. But the Prime Minister always wary and distrustful of his two cabinet colleagues, Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh, seemed more intent on upstaging his minister without a thought for the finer nuances of diplomacy and security concerns requiring some restrain, considering India has had not once but successive bad experiences in giving a personal touch to relations with Pakistan, be it Kargil or Parliament attack or 26/11.
So he devised means to upstage Sushma’s photo op with his own, by planning a trip to Lahore while returning from Moscow and Kabul. For that ground work had to be laid. Even before Sushma went to Islamabad, he sent off his Man Friday Ajit Doval at the head of a team with all the gravitas to Bangkok, including Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Counter Terrorism and former IB chief Asif Ibrahim, the first Muslim to head IB, along with Joint Secretary in the PMO Vnay Kwatra and his predecessor Jawed Ashraf to discreetly sound the Pakistani establishment on his plans. Pakistan aware of the Paris development, responded with equal enthusiasm sending an equally representative team led by its NSA General Naseer Khan Janjua and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary.
Sure enough Modi succeeded in catching the eyeball in Lahore. But Pathankot proved how ill-conceived and rushed the whole adventure was. Till Pathankot happened and even while it was happening the Prime Minister failed to realize he had left too many sensitive issues in the hands of a person who possessed neither the necessary experience nor vision to handle both Diplomacy and security management, instead of leaving the latter in the hands of the armed forces, for after all this was an attack on the restricted armed forces area, left it to the discretion of his trusted sleuth, who made a mess of it, as all reports emanating from the spot are now demonstrating. But there a little whisper in his ears by former Army chief and now MoS External Affairs General V K Singh might have worked on the Prime Minister ignoring Singh’s personal grudge against the current Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag.
Kargil happened in the last NDA government because the then Army chief General V P Malik refused to heed the reports of Pakistani troops infiltrating and occupying Indian posts, despite warnings from Brigadiers Devinder and Surinder Singh and instead of honouring and awarding his two priceless officers, penalized them for their patriotic act. Pathankot happened largely because of the failings of the Punjab Police but the damage could not be contained because of the ineptness of Ajit Doval. Yet there is no one to question Doval for he has the Prime Minister’s eyes and ears. And who dare raise an eye brow against the bankrupt Punjab government for Parkash Singh Badal is an old and trusted ally of the BJP. That’s a reflection on our Prime Minister’s clout and competence.