Uri attack and Doval Doctrine:South Asian politics on the cusp of change?

While controversy rages on over the nature of the “surgical strikes” that India carried against Pakistan against Pakistan’s truculent denial over the same, it may be time to review India’s foreign policy against the backdrop of the alleged strikes. We will take the starting point of our analysis the “quasi pre-emptive” strikes that the Indian state made against militant sanctuaries in Burma last year. This approach and premise- first of a kind for the Indian state- came to be known as the “ Doval Doctrine”- named after India’s brilliant National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. To recapitulate briefly, the Doval Doctrine makes no bones about the use of power and roots for its use- regionally and perhaps even globally. If India has indeed carried out” surgical strikes” against targets in Pakistan, then this would constitute an extension of the Doval Doctrine.



What, the question is, are the doctrine’s implications?



It may be stated here that amidst the melee of Uri attacks and the intervening period of the UNGA address by Sushma Swaraj and the alleged “surgical strikes”, India has pulled out of the SAARC meeting slated to be held later in Pakistan. As India pulled out, other small states – Bangladesh and Afghanistan- displayed their aversion towards the SAARC and pulled out too. It is now speculated that Sri Lanka might withdraw as well. On the face of it, these developments seem insignificant or of less significance but interposed with the Uri attacks and their aftermath, these are ominous and pregnant with profound implications for the sub continent.



Historically, a certain tension defined India’s regional interest(s) and global aspirations. Should India be a regional hegemon or a global agenda setting or normative power? In the post independence years, Nehru settled the debate by veering towards norms and India’s relations with its neighbours remained fraught if not tense. Post 1991, however, after India opened up to the world economically, this tension has come to the fore again. India, after these watershed reforms that opening up entailed has sought to cannibalize economic growth into political power. But while this was and is welcomed by many quarters internationally and globally, it worried and alarmed India’s neighbours. Would India be a regional hegemon riding rough shod on its neighbours? Or would it be a benign hegemon? What, in other words, would be the character and nature of India’s regional hegemony?



These questions remained unanswered. Consequently, the foreign policy behaviour of small states in India’s region( excluding Pakistan) appeared to have taken the form of what in international relations is called “ soft balancing”. “ Soft balancing” happens when traditional forms of balancing behaviour is not feasible against a powerful, dominant state.  It takes the form of frustrating or undermining the dominant power through non military means such as economic, diplomatic and institutional means. Now , after the implementation and execution of the Doval Doctrine. South Asia appears to be gyrating to a different dynamic. Small states-again excluding Pakistan- appear to be accepting India’s regional hegemony and band wagoning(aligning) with it instead of balancing against the country. Walking out of the SAARC meeting may be one indication of this. This has implications and consequences on India’s foreign policy. While, gradually, India might be accepted by small countries on its periphery as a “ Big Brother” but this is accruing from the logic of force and power. While this approach might sate India’s regional interests, it might undercut the country’s global aspirations given that globally , given the very multi-dimensionality of power, normative power and hard power art complements, at times and antithetical some times. It then is not clear what the implications of the Doval Doctrine would be for India globally.



Our discussion has hitherto excluded Pakistan- an important state in South Asia- historically and contemporarily at odds with India, to say the least. This structural animosity is overlain by the larger politico- strategic  extra regional rivalry with China. Pakistan will not cede space to India in the region and corresponding to the prognostications of International Relations theory and practice will balance against India in conventional terms. In all likelihood, Pakistan will be supported by China in its balancing efforts against India. This has both regional and global implications. Regionally, the enduring rivalry in South Asia will be between India and Pakistan and globally, depending on the drift of Sino –American relations, the form and shape of interstate politics will depend on this grand strategic relationship.



All in all South Asia , like the world is in suspended animation. Profound structural changes and forces without and without are forcing a rethink of past paradigms and policies.  While the power dynamics and configurations within the region will for sure change and lead to adjustments and other substantive changes, whether these will lead to peace in the region, to cite Donald Rumsfeld, remains in the domain of the “ unknown unknown”.

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