Book Review: Pakistan Army: Wars Within
BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan army: warrs within — by Khaled Ahmed
Crossed Swords: Pakistan its Army and Wars within
By By Shuja Nawaz,
Oxford University Press 2008
Today an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to the terrorists. Trying to reclaim lost terrain is like invading your own people, but the additional handicap imposed on the army is that it is being sent in without political support
Here is finally a definitive book on the Pakistan army. It is from a former IMF officer whose credentials are reflected in his dedication: ‘born in the warlike Janjua clan, brought up by Brigadier Mohammad Zaman Khan, his uncle, married to the daughter of Lt Col ID Malik, and brother of General Asif Nawaz, army chief from 1991 to 1993’. The book has the advantage of primary sources and a vast array of interviews with the dramatis personae of a very controversial army. His hand is steady, his judgement moderate, on a theme of excesses.
The Pakistan army, a well organised entity, has tried to fit into an underdeveloped political system. While responding to the unequal challenge of nextdoor India, it has ended up cannibalising the state it is supposed to defend. Its acts of trespass and usurpation have sapped its professional function and habituated it to reinterpreting its defeats as victories. Author Nawaz compares it tentatively with the Kemalist army of Turkey that often clashes with the democratic aspirations of the Turks — with roles reversed as far as religion is concerned — and, more relevantly, with the Indonesian army with its tentacles deep inside the national economy and its system of privileges.
Throughout the book, the special relationship between the army and the United States appears most striking, not least because of the nature of the task the nation placed on the shoulders of its soldiers: that of defeating a many times larger enemy in a just war and of keeping the state itself geared to this military undertaking. Lack of realism in the subcontinental challenge was offset by this oceanic axis during the Cold War, which in turn converted the army into a rightwing organisation wary of all brands of socialist politics. From there, ideology framed for the state by politicians facilitated its mutation into an Islamic army that sat back and let jihad undermine the state itself in the 1980s.
Therefore, there is more that should be laid at the door of the civilian mind than the book allows, keeping strictly within what soon appears as a fascinating framework of inquiry. Is the Pakistani civilian mind militarised by the dominance of the army or by the history of the people who formed Pakistan? Does Pakistani nationalism postpone the civilianising of the Pakistani mind or is it the army that pulls Pakistan towards the collective dream of a winnable ‘just war’ with India? Out of this theorem emerges the phenomenon of the Islamic soldier — anywhere from the COAS to the mid-ranking officers — who heroically questions the legitimacy of Pakistan’s clinch with the US, thus enlarging the challenge of the army’s mission statement and making it potentially adventurist and dangerous.
The first clash with the prime minister the book describes culminated in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. It was the army’s only leftwing defiance of Liaquat Ali Khan’s method of handling what they thought was India’s annexation of Kashmir. The account is riveting because the book updates the information we so far have on a war — barring Kargil in 1999 — conducted under a civilian government that, unlike Kargil, ironically ended in triumph if you take into account the strategic blunder by Nehru of going to the UN Security Council to get the Pakistan army out of Kashmir. The ignored blunder on the Pakistani side was the use of the ‘tribals’ which the army repeated again and again till the ancillary replaced the actual in the 20-year ‘deniable’ jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
General Ayub thereafter found it easy to sweep aside the civil servants ruling a fractious Pakistan to inaugurate his own era. A non compos mentis governor general Ghulam Muhammad was succeeded by first president Iskander Mirza who didn’t survive his own martial law. Cold War was the matrix and the ‘pacts’ with the US — signed by civilian leaders — were the mainstay. But error still lurked in the inability of the military mind to strategise itself out of predictable losing wars with India. The author covers the decade of Ayub with great deftness. What Pakistanis condemn as a period of military usurpation ultimately reappears as Pakistan’s best years in the histories now increasingly dominated by a concern for the national economy. Tragically, this promises to happen to General Musharraf’s ‘liberal’ years too.
The democratic purple patch in our lives was the Bhutto Era, but today it serves as selective inspiration, better ignored in detail. Civilian leaders soon took regularly to pleading with the GHQ to relieve the country of its recurring democratic stomach pains. General Zia arose on the burning pyre of a polarised society, Islamised to exorcise Bhuttoism, and died at the hands of — the book vacillates between the US and the army itself, taking in stride the assertion of the inconclusive Justice Shafiur Rehman Inquiry Commission Report that its work was hampered by the army. It handles General Aslam Beg carefully, stopping short of examining the mind of the stereotypical anti-American officer. He could have discovered there new pathological deposits to turn over.
The book has ISI chief General Javed Nasir telling us, around 1992, how he tried, unsuccessfully, to bring the self-enrichment (as opposed to uranium enrichment!) of Dr AQ Khan — 23 properties in Islamabad by then — to the notice of prime minister Nawaz Sharif as Khan proceeded to gift Pakistan its nuclear bomb. An effort to prevent him from selling ‘documents’ abroad, probably during trips to Iran, Syria and Algeria, came to nothing when Dr Khan refused to deposit them at the GHQ (p.475).
Army chief General Waheed Kakar too put the tabs on Dr Khan: ‘ISI had gathered information about the Dubai activities of AQ Khan and his attempts at forming a network of agents. When confronted about these activities, Khan said he needed a clandestine network to bypass the US’s controls on access to nuclear technology’ (p.475). The book doesn’t explore the ‘Dubai opening’, where AQ Khan made his first sale to Iran, most likely because it could have spilled out if the scope of this large volume. Later disclosures in the West have dated the dangerous cleavage between pro-Arab General Zia and pro-Iran General Beg from this Dubai opening.
A glimpse into the ISI’s chaotic Islamic heroics all over the world under General Javed Nasir is on offer. So is the nugget about prime minister Nawaz Sharif giving his assent to the Kargil Operation: ‘This is a military operation. All I can say is that...there should be no withdrawal, no surrender of any post because that will greatly embarrass us’ (p.517). And the book quotes General Ziauddin on it, the man Mr Sharif was to appoint in place of General Musharraf after firing him as army chief in 1999.
This is a standard textbook. Author Nawaz gets us into the inner working of the army, at times making us marvel how wrong we have been about certain officers — one was army chief General Kakar — simply because we didn’t know what was happening within. And Kakar was not given to shooting off his mouth like General Beg who called it, unoriginally, his ‘glasnost’. Kakar acted with non-intervening wisdom in a national environment completely divorced from rationality and helplessly inviting trespass. We get to know that army chief General Asif Nawaz was dubbed an enemy of prime minister Nawaz Sharif on the basis of a tsunami of rumours concocted from within the civilian enclave, finally exposing the general’s professionalism as his only disadvantage.
Today an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to the terrorists. Trying to reclaim lost terrain is like invading your own people, but the additional handicap imposed on the army is that it is being sent in without political support. Meanwhile, the anarchists have discovered that when they kill non-Muslims in the West they inspire fear and loathing, but when they kill Muslims in Pakistan it leads to conversion. The army has the impossible task of saving a country of converts to the cause of the enemy. *