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Review: Shuja Nawaz’s Explosive New Book Busts Some Long-Standing Myths

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During the Cold War, Pakistan was America’s most allied ally. Yet when Pakistan needed the US during its 1965 war with India, the US imposed an arms embargo on supplies. Ayub’s outrage was captured in his memoirs’ title, “Friends not Masters.”

These days, the relations between the two countries are on a mend mostly because the US needs Pakistan to find an exit strategy out of Afghanistan. To that end, the US is coddling Pakistan’s military knowing that decision-making in Islamabad resides in Rawalpindi at GHQ.

Shuja Nawaz’s prior book, Crossed Swords contained a detailed analysis of the army. The brother of one of Pakistan’s army chiefs, Nawaz has lived in the US for decades. He is very well connected with decision makers, scholars and journalists in both countries.  

His new book, The Battle for Pakistan, focuses on US-Pakistan relations during 2007-19. It reveals that an ex-ISI colonel led the Americans to the hideout of Osama bin Laden. It also reveals that after retirement, Musharraf accepted money from the Saudi king to buy property in the UK.

Besides these revelations, the book contains six notable insights. First, the expression that “the military and the civilian government are on the same page” is a euphemism. It means that the civilian government is toeing the military’s line. The military “pays ritualistic obeisance to the concept of civilian supremacy.”

Thus, Pakistan is haunted by a “perennial specter of a soft coup followed by a hard coup,” and is an “Egypt on the Indus.” After the 2018 elections, a strong perception exists in the country that the military collaborated with the judiciary to eliminate the major political parties from the scene, allowing an obscure party to form a government and remain beholden to the military.

Second, despite the billions that the US has poured into Pakistan, there is very little love and affection for America among the Pakistani public.

Third, Pakistan cannot acquire national security simply by defense spending. Nawaz estimates that Pakistan has lost 1.5% of its GDP due to excessive defense spending. Pakistan’s biggest assets are its people but instead of investing in them, it has invested in “acquiring unproductive debt and military security.” If Pakistan wishes to make peace with India, it has to put its own house in order.

Fourth, the Pakistani army is “a traditional organization, bound by the broad structures and experiences of its predecessors. It has attempted to reorganize piecemeal, but there has been little impetus internally for a wholesale rethinking of the nature of the military…it is large but fairly immobile.” Furthermore, “rather than seeking a radical transformation, it has added layers of modernity over crusted layers of outmoded structures and thinking.”

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It badly dismissed the political dimension of the conflict in 1971 and lost. Later, the army used conventional tactics against separatists in Balochistan but failed to address the root cause of disaffection. To this day, Baloch nationalism simmers underneath the surface.

Fifth, Gen. Musharraf did not walk the talk of “enlightened moderation.” He “inducted more and more army officers into the civil service…spent more time playing on the basis of the military’s latent coercive power than in building a broad base of political support….Group-think took root and prevented the kind of transformation in military thought that was needed to cope with new warfare, inside Pakistani territory, against its own people, against fellow Muslims.”

Thus, “Pakistan remains a fragile and dysfunctional polity, still not recovered from the lingering effects of extended military rule under Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the detritus of previous military regimes.”

Sixth, 72 years after its creation, there is no consensus on Pakistan’s national identity. Is it an Islamic state where no law can be passed that contravenes the Scripture and where anyone who insults the Holy Prophet (PBUH) can be convicted and hanged under the blasphemy law? Or is it a secular and democratic state with a large Muslim population, as envisaged by its founder, M. A. Jinnah?

While neither new nor startling, these six trenchant observations sum up Pakistan’s predicament. In my mind, they raise five additional questions that Nawaz should consider addressing in his third book.

First, why does the typical Pakistani blame the enemy for all its faults, beginning with India, then the US and then Israel? Why is critical thinking equated to treason while coup making is justified based on the law of necessity? Why is there no appetite for dissent? Why is freedom of the press dwindling under the Imran Khan administration; is this yet another instance where being on the same page as the military simply means paying homage to the generals?

Second, why there is so little love and affection for Pakistan among the American public, despite the wars that Pakistan has fought on behalf of the US. To the average American, the first word that comes to mind when Pakistan is mentioned is Osama bin Laden; the second is Taliban. Despite its many natural wonders, Mughal monuments, archaeological sites, friendly people and wonderful cuisine, why is Pakistan not a destination of choice for the American tourist?

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Third, why does the army dominate the Pakistani military? Why does the army chief outrank not only the air and naval chiefs but also the Chairman of the joint chiefs? Why is it always the army chief that mounts the coup? Why is the tenure of the army chief so easily extended without discussion or debate?

Fourth, who will implement the wise policy recommendations in the book? Certainly not the army because it has the most to lose from a change in the status quo. Not the US since it has failed to gain any leverage over Pakistan during the past seven decades. Will there be a civilian awakening from within? A bloody revolution?

Fifth, why does the relationship between the US and Pakistan warm up noticeably when a Republican president is in office, such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush, and noticeably cooler when a Democratic president is in office, such as Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton and Obama?

Pakistan has the distinction of being one of the world’s biggest countries, has a long history of military rule, is situated in a strategic region, is engaged in a long-term conflict with a neighbor, and both are armed with nuclear weapons.

This book should stimulate a much-needed debate among policy circles in Washington and Islamabad. It is a must-read for policy makers, top military officers, diplomats, academics and scholars, not just in the two countries that are its focus, but throughout the globe.

 

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