Review by Manvendra Singh, a former Indian army officer and son of Jaswant Singh. Published June 19, 2008.
The Pakistani Army
A review in The Economist of 19th June 2008
FOR more than half the 60 years it has been independent, Pakistan has been ruled by its soldiers. The army has mostly stepped in when inept civilian governments were on the brink of collapse. In February, however, the reverse occurred. An elected government took over and a new army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, declared that his troops would take their orders from the country’s civilian leaders.
This shift was given a wary welcome abroad. America, long a benefactor of the Pakistani armed forces, remains perplexed about how to encourage the army to become an effective counter-insurgency force against the emboldened Islamic militants who shelter al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of the north.
Shuja Nawaz, the brother of a former chief of the Pakistani army who died in suspicious circumstances in 1993, drops some clues in this study on why the army developed into such an important national institution when it is so inept at dealing with this internal enemy, yet he draws no firm conclusions.
Mr Nawaz was the director of the International Monetary Fund’s publications division, still lives in Washington, DC, and writes a blog about Pakistan, India and America for the Huffington Post. He shows little animus about his brother’s death, is on good terms with senior Pakistani officers and has been allowed to use the military archives. He describes the army’s internal squabbles but avoids open criticism.
Mr Nawaz devotes considerable space to the air crash in which Pakistan’s most famous military leader, General Zia ul Haq was killed in 1988. General Zia’s insistence that Pakistan’s soldiers should adhere strictly to the tenets of Islam still persists. On the day of the crash, General Zia had been attending a demonstration of American-made M1A1 main battle tanks near Bahawalpur in the Punjabi desert. The performance was a shambles. “The most pathetic sight was of the tank trying to climb up a dirt ramp built at the site, getting stuck, and then sliding sideways off the ramp like a drunken sailor,” Mr Nawaz writes, implying that America was planning to deliver inferior equipment that was unsuited to the terrain.
General Zia’s plane nosedived as it was returning to the capital, Islamabad, and exploded on impact. Although he was flying aboard an American-made C-130 military aircraft with the American ambassador, Arnold Raphel, also on board, the American authorities refused to allow the FBI to investigate the crash. Mr Nawaz does not overtly accuse America of sabotaging the plane. But he points out that some 250 pages of American government documents remain sealed 20 years after the crash. General Zia’s violent death is also the subject of a recent novel by Mohammed Hanif, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, though neither book reveals much that is new about the incident.
In the 1990s relations between Pakistan’s politicians and the army became increasingly mired in personal intrigue, petty politics and corruption. Concern about its traditional enemy India also grew. In a tit-for-tat race between the two, Pakistan began testing nuclear weapons in 1998, ignoring protests from America. After the attacks on the twin towers President Bush stepped up America’s military assistance to the Pakistani army in the hope that it would be encouraged to attack the Taliban’s rear base in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But President Pervez Musharraf, who until last November was also chief of the armed forces, preferred to focus on developing conventional warfare, training and equipment to use against India.
It was not until 2003 that Pakistani soldiers were at last deployed, at America’s insistence, against the militants. The Pakistani army, most of which is drawn from flat, agricultural Punjab, lacks the skills to fight in the mountainous tribal areas. Having sustained heavy losses, it retreated to barracks, its morale battered. America, still sending cheques, has been left wringing its hands about what to do next. Unable to adapt, Pakistan’s most powerful institution may not be so strong after all.
During May I was in Pakistan and India for the launch of Crossed Swords. The first event was a launch on May 15 in Karachi organized by OUP Pakistan, then a talk at the Sindh Club, ogranized by Shafqat Ali Shah Jamote, and a talk with young bloggers and others at The Second Floor bookstore and cafe. The big launch took place on May 19 at the Marriott, Islamabad. The main speakers were Nasim Zehra and former army chief General (retd) Jehangir Karamat. The co-hosts were Mr. Sadruddin Hashwani and Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director of OUP Pakistan. I appeared on different Pakistani TV programs, incuding CNBC, Geo TV, and ATV, and gave interviews for local newsmedia.
The launch in India was organzied by OUP India on May 23 at the Indian International Centre in New Delhi. The main speakers were Lt. Gen. (retd) Raghavan, Ambassador Parthasarthy, and journalist Manoj Joshi. Managing Director OUP India Manzar Khan hosted the event.
I was also invited to speak at the United Services Institution, the Centre of Land Warfare Studies at Army headquarters, and the Observer Research Foundation.
Stories about the visit and some of the reviews of the book are given below:
Review of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within by Ali Eteraz for Jewcy.com
An interview with Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War blog, Jalil Afridi, Managing Editor of The Frontier Post, Lahore, and Shuja Nawaz on the emerging “deal’ bewteen the government of Pakistan and the militants in FATA
Op Ed article in The Boston Globe
1 March 2008
New post on Newsvine
Program hosted by Eric Felten.
Other discussants: Lisa Curtis of Heritage Foundation and Kevin Whitelaw of US News & World Report
Broadcast weekend of February 23/24, 2008