Book review: Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, by C Christine Fair - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 6 July 2014

Book review: Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, by C Christine Fair

Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War
By C Christine Fair
Oxford University Press, 2014
347 pages

Fighting to the End, Christine Fair’s new book on the Pakistan Army turns out to be an informative primer on the strategic and political evolution of Pakistan, but it falls short in its stated aim of establishing the strategic culture of the Pakistani armed forces from a study of professional writing by Pakistani military officers over decades. Fair’s synthesis relies on a variety of Pakistan Army professional publications that include but are not confined to the Pakistan Army Journal, Citadel (official staff college publication), Margalla Papers (the National Defence University publication) and, not least, the Pakistan Army Green Book, an annual collection of writings on professional issues by officers of the Pakistani military.

Fair’s key conclusions --- the Pakistani military believes that India has never accepted partition and seeks to re-establish control over the territories that were sundered from it in 1947; that India has initiated all its wars with Pakistan; and that India is in its essence Hindu, and therefore contaminated with the “Hindu traits” of deviousness, avarice, treachery and cowardice. Pakistan’s military, Fair concludes, believes that it achieves its basic aims as long as it can resist India’s drive for regional hegemony, and beat off pressure to settle the Kashmir dispute on the basis of the status quo. None of this would be entirely new to any serious observer of Pakistan.

The author admits that the military writing she uses as base material does not constitute military doctrine. The Pakistani military (unlike modern western militaries or, for that matter, India’s) does not publish its official doctrine. What these writings do show up, believes Fair, is the Pakistan military’s “strategic culture”. Observing that the army chief personally signs off on the Pakistan Army Green Book, the author concludes that these publications make clear how the armed forces perceive their environment or, as she puts it, “the world in which it (the military) operates”.

This would perhaps be true in the American context, where military publications seriously engage with and discuss even controversial professional matters. It is far less true in Pakistan, where articles written by officers for professional military magazines are motivated less by their personal convictions or ideology than by the need to visibly and publicly conform to an ideal that they assess might further their military careers. In such a context, it is hard to accept Fair’s argument that these articles should be interpreted as serious statements of ideology, strategy and operational art.

The author herself acknowledges that contributors to the Pakistan Army Green Book hew not to a “strategic culture” but to the conviction and the convenience of the army chief of the day. The 1961 Green Book, written when President Ayub Khan was constructing a national ideology, focused mainly on “the ideology of Pakistan”. In 2000, just after General Pervez Musharraf had deposed Nawaz Sharif in a coup, the Green Book excoriated the corruption of civilian elites. When Major General Asif Duraiz Akhtar wrote in the Pakistan Army Green Book 2000, “our political leadership… has failed to provide requisite stability, show maturity and acumen,” this was driven more by opportunism than by strategic culture. The general could hardly have been oblivious of his impending promotion board where Musharraf would be sitting, pen in hand. During democratic interludes, like in 1993-94, officers wrote in the Green Book that the “interference of armed forces in national affairs” was one of the causes of Pakistan’s “disintegration”.

Nor is the “strategic culture” that the author cites uniform, monolithic or unchanging. Even as some publications (which the author cites) rant about “Hindu cowardice”, there are others (which she does not mentioned) that maintain assess Indian capabilities more objectively. The Pakistan Army’s day-to-day operational planning is characterised by due respect to Indian military capability, as are post-action reports of battles that were fought against India in 1965 and 1971. For example, Brigadier Jahangir Karamat (later Pakistan’s army chief) writing in the Sabre and Lance Magazine (1982 issue, School of Armour, Nowshera), admiringly analyses the “dynamic” Indian tank action in the Battle of Basantar in 1971.

Fortunately, the author --- in contrast to the title she has unwisely chosen --- has devoted only a small part of the book to quoting from these military publications of dubious value. The bulk of the book actually consists of a comprehensive, nuanced, contemporary account of a country under siege. That draws heavily on six decades of writing on Pakistan by eminent authors including Ayesha Jalal, Hussain Haqqani, Dennis Kux, Steve Cohen, Hasan Askari Rizvi, Anatole Lieven and Shuja Nawaz (whose 2008 book, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within still remains the gold standard on the Pakistan Army).

Making this updated historiography readable is Fair’s understanding of the Pakistani psyche, which gains from her fluency in Urdu and Punjabi and years of travel and research in Pakistan. Many western authors who preceded her, even incisive scholars like Steve Cohen, lost perspective due to their close relationship with Pakistan’s military and political elites. Christine Fair, in contrast, has been a long-time baiter of the Pakistani military and scathingly critical of its handmaiden, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The book most engaging sections are those that discuss General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation effort, Pakistan’s perception of “strategic depth” and an interesting account of how the tribal areas were radicalised long before the anti-Soviet jihad. Sharply written and well produced, this book is worth reading as a primer on Pakistan. 

1 comment:

  1. Hate to go off topic here but would have loved to hear your thoughts on HAL's throwing in the towel on the HJT-36. Was expecting an article on that instead of a book review



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