C. Christine Fair’s book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way to War (2014) will put off most Pakistanis. But let it be said that Pakistan has not trashed it after publication last year by OUP, Pakistan, forgivably replacing the more attractive original cover illustration with a staid photograph of the Pakistan army’s insignia. Fair writes with authority, quoting reliable Pakistani sources. It’s a pity that her final verdict had to be so negative: Pakistan is a “greedy state” that will not self-correct.
She leans on General (retired) Kamal Matinuddin’s 1994 book, Tragedy of Errors: East Pakistan Crisis, 1968-1971, Abdurrahman Siddiqi’s The Military in Pakistan: Image and Reality (1996), and the classic study of the Pakistan army by Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within (2008), to formulate her well-argued thesis on how the state has been pushed into unbending irredentism and how the army has punished attempted course-corrections by civilian rulers, only to effect marginal trimmings under its own rule to appease an offended world community. The mainstay is her scrutiny of the army’s in-house publications where officers are allowed regurgitations of their ill-digested manuals. Pakistan should be used to this, as its own scholar, Aqil Shah, in his The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (2014) too has unveiled some of these amateurish outpourings from the officers most likely to rule Pakistan.
There was a time no one could write a factual book on the Pakistan army and live in peace. Hasan Askari-Rizvi, who wrote The Military and Politics in Pakistan: 1947-1997 (2000), was an early scanner who used to say that all the “dangerous facts” are concealed in the footnotes, “which nobody reads”. Ayesha Siddiqa faced tough times because of remote-controlled non-state actors, but one can’t ignore the fact that such truth-telling books are still published in Pakistan. You can get away with stuff in English for which, in Urdu, you can get yourself shot.
Pakistan has heard its top-brass loonies like Generals Mirza Aslam Beg and Hameed Gul and the “enigmatic” Ashfaq Parvez Kayani selling “strategic defiance” and “strategic depth” to unbelieving audiences in Islamabad. But the variant view is always there. Ex-foreign secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan, in his significantly titled book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity (2011), trashed the “depth” folly when its purveyor, Kayani, was still in the saddle. Indian scholars have independently arrived at the conclusions in Fair’s critique, as in T.V. Paul’s The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World (2014), and are sold well in Pakistan, now that India-centric Pakistani nationalism is distracted by violence inflicted on Pakistanis by terrorists.
Does the army exercise control over knowledge and information? Unfortunately, it is difficult to pick apart the early formulation of Pakistani nationalism, its shaping by the “fear of India” after the first Kashmir war, and the mindset of the Pakistan army. It is certain, however, that when the army acts, it is supported by the school textbook that connects India-centrism with jihad. What distracts is the English discourse, where Fair’s book is accepted as rational argument. She wonders: “Pakistan presents an example of how more than six decades of ossified historical inaccuracies and distortion can resist the sanitising effect of the global information technology revolution and the resulting expansion of access to abundant — if, alas, low quality — information.”
In 2015, Pakistan is getting an airing of the global discourse against terrorism through an army used to running the country from behind the scenes. But will this lead to a “correction” in military publications? Fair lists them and latches on to General Javed Hassan’s seminal book, India: A Study in Profile(Services Book Club, 1990): “Lieutenant Colonel Javed Hassan, who studied more than 2,000 years of Indian history for the army’s faculty of research and doctrinal studies, claimed that ‘India has a poor track record at projection of power beyond its frontier and what is worse, a hopeless performance in protecting its own freedom and sovereignty’ (although Hindus show “incorrigible militarism”).
In addition, India has not been able to ‘resort to the warfare of the weak’ and lacks ‘revolutionary fervour’. India has thus ‘displayed consistent failure’ in the ‘use of violence as a means to the achievement of the aim’.”
Thereby hangs a tale. In 2013, Lieutenant General (retired) Shahid Aziz wrote his rebellious memoir in Urdu, titled Yeh Khamoshi Kahan Tak? (how long this silence), with a telltale subtitle, Ek Sipahi ki Dastan-e-Ishq-o-Junoon (the story of the passion and madness of a soldier), and disclosed that the Kargil fiasco in 1999 was owed, among others, to “Commander Force Command Northern Areas, Lt Gen Javed Hassan”. The book touched all hearts because it detailed conspiracies against Islam through history, from the Freemasons to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.
Fair asks the final question: “The current and past US policy approaches to Pakistan have assumed that Pakistan is a state that is motivated largely by security concerns that can be satisfied with some territorial concession and [is] thus capable of abandoning its revisionism with the appropriate allurements. But what if Pakistan is a purely greedy state, as the evidence I present intimates? If so, then any policy of appeasement may in fact aggravate the problems that Pakistan poses to regional and international security. If Pakistan is a purely greedy state, driven by ideological motives, then appeasement is in fact the more dangerous course of policy prescription.”
Pakistan has always avoided serious course-correction after reversals because of global and regional strategic rivalries.
It chose America during the Cold War and was proved right when the Soviet Union collapsed; now it is choosing China, but in a totally different environment, and once again gaining sustenance. The world is no longer black-and-white and it is talking trade routes and investments and telling Pakistan to mend its ways or become a “black hole” state like Afghanistan and Somalia. Islam is “scorched earth”, as evidenced by Syria and Yemen, and states with money to spend are no longer interested in “state-building” where states are imploding.
Fair’s book is instructive and she will be surprised that it is gaining traction in Pakistan. The course-correction is on, but has to remain subtle, given that the national narrative is still buried in textbooks guarded by non-state actors who remain to be tamed.
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’.