The Battle For Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood
374 pages, Rs 799
Following up on his magnum opus, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within, Shuja Nawaz attempts to “salvage” the “mis-alliance” of the troubled US-Pakistan relationship. Starting from “the sorry end” of General Musharraf’s military rule, he finds Pakistan’s internal battles, between civilians and the military, and against militancy and terror, overshadowed by failing ties with the US. Despite well-meaning attempts to create a new partnership, deep distrust of each other’s hidden aims and lack of clarity on long-term goals bedevilled ties. The US chose to deal with the powerful Pakistani military as its preferred interlocutor, despite the emergence of a fledgling democracy in Pakistan.
“A most horrible year”, 2011 witnessed the cataclysmic Raymond Davis affair, drone wars, the outing of two CIA chiefs of station by Pakistani intelligence and the attack eliminating Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Interviewed by the author in February 2016, former army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani denied there was any ‘walk-in’ to the US embassy. Yet, Nawaz notes that Lt Colonel Eqbal Saeed Khan of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), earlier of Military Intelligence, suddenly left Pakistan around this time, days before his child’s high school exams, with his second wife recovering from a medical procedure. He now lives in San Diego, California.
Chapter 5, on ‘Internal battles’ touches on the mysterious murder of intrepid journalist Saleem Shahzad and the controversial build up to the Memogate scandal, with the military giving an ultimatum to President Asif K Zardari to sack Hussain Haqqani as US ambassador. The Salala incident of November 2011, which left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead and another 13 injured in “attacks by American forces”, represented “the failure of the partnership in a most glaring manner”. It “provoked anger on the Pakistani side” and “seemingly reluctant attempts to express regret but not apologise”, from the Americans.
Persisting civil-military disconnects are discussed in Chapter 7. Dealing with the Dawn leaks of October 2016, Nawaz confirms a spat between the Punjab CM and the director general, ISI, on lack of uniform action against militant groups. Nawaz admits, rather tongue in cheek, that civil servants remain loath to oppose the military even after retirement, fearing retribution. He praises Imran Khan’s efforts to work with the military on strategic issues but admits that this may delay civilian supremacy in a democratic Pakistan!
Candid light is thrown on changes in the military leadership. General Kayani did not want Raheel Sharif to succeed him and kept him out of important war games. PM Nawaz Sharif chose Raheel deliberately, as he had the “name recognition” of his “martyr” elder brother, Shabbir, who was awarded the Nishan-e-Haidar in 1971. When Raheel’s term was ending, Sharif again went against the military consensus, choosing Qamar Javed Bajwa in preference to “the better-qualified and battle-tested” Lt General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, who had served both as DGMO and chief of general staff. “To his credit”, though, the
PM ignored rumours about Bajwa’s Ahmadi link. Significantly, Nawaz cites a former
chief acknowledging that the screening of top promotions in the army was not sufficient insurance against growing radicalisation within its ranks.
Chapter 8, intriguingly sub-titled ‘Leverage or Trap?’, examines US military aid to Pakistan, the differences between the Pentagon and State Department, as also “the willing suspension of disbelief” after placing Pakistan under sanctions for nuclear fuel processing, despite Congressional criticism of Pakistan’s duplicity. Shuja also dwells on the “Do More” paradigm of US “pressure tactics”, which riled the top Pakistani Army leadership.
Chapter 10, ‘Standing in the Right Corner’, describes the core dilemma of the Pakistan military’s evolving relationship with America. General Kayani presented several written papers to the Obama administration at the start of the US-Pak Strategic Dialogue in 2010 (Kayani 1.0 to Kayani 3.0) highlighting angst at Americans’ lack of trust, and downplaying the ground reality of continuing help to the Taliban. To the Americans, Kayani did not admit wanting to completely expunge India’s influence in Afghanistan. He accused them of wanting to de-nuclearise Pakistan and maintain it in a state of controlled chaos. The Americans handed over a reply during secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan in February 2011. According to Nawaz, it was not totally effective in meeting Pakistan’s concerns.
Coping with militancy in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) produced massive changes in the Pakistani military. Younger officers received battle inoculation in counter-insurgency operations. Their perspective changed — in-bred terrorists were the “arch enemy”, not India. The Azm-e-Nau exercises responded to India’s Cold Start with accelerated forward deployments at battalion levels. Nawaz is on a firmer wicket examining these changes (Chapters 11 & 12), as he “continued to enjoy rare access in Pakistan, as someone belonging to an old military family and warrior clan of Janjua Rajputs.” He attended internal meetings of commanders of the Frontier Corps in FATA like Maj General Tariq Khan (later I Corps Commander, Mangla) and in training commands like the School of Infantry and Tactics, Quetta.
In his concluding chapter, Nawaz outlines ‘Choices’ and a to-do list for the US to improve ties with Pakistan. He suggests more direct US influence to help Pakistan manage aid, including military assistance. Providing more helicopters with troop lifting capacity to enhance Pakistan’s defences could be tried, though Shuja admits that this may not “reduce Pakistan’s paranoia about India’s growing military might.” He advises USA to “eschew the short-term fix and over-reliance on the military channel to solve problems.”
The challenge for Pakistan, still “a fragile and dysfunctional polity, not recovered from lingering effects of extended military rule”, would be to “balance carefully its quest for security against its need to develop economically and to ask itself if its investment in defence has effectively purchased its security.” Nawaz cautions: “Pakistan’s military doctrine, such as it is, is caught between the rock of India and the hard place of its internal threats and economic difficulties.” It is not clear if there is a coherent and consensual view on how to proceed next. The Battle For Pakistan is an authoritative, well-researched and insightful book on Pakistan and its place in an ever-changing world.
Rana Banerji retired as Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat