Why We Can’t Be Friends
Two books, one by an American academic and the other by a Pakistani diplomat, address the issue of the insecure mindset of the Pakistani military and politicians, though from very different perspectives.
I just can’t find it.
I spent the last two days looking in vain for my copy of Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach To International Relations.
The reason for my frantic search, which has left my tiny apartment resembling a bookshop hit by a typhoon, was that the author, Chris Fair, (that’s how she’s marked on the cover) is the same C. Christine Fair who’s written Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War. The same Christine Fair who, responding to criticism about her support for American drone strikes, once tweeted: “I don’t care if you think I’m a Rambo bitch. Do you know why? I AM a Rambo bitch.” The same Christine Fair who can, and does, boast of having “…savoured the lovely cardamom tea (that I imagine the Taliban quaffing in their caves) above Peshawar’s bustling Thieves Market,…dined with soldiers in the Khyber Pass”, and so on.
Cuisines is probably not one of her better known books, and it definitely suffers from some laboured writing, with forced alliterations and multi-syllabic words that make one wince. But the recipes are genuine, and at a few places, so is the satire.
I was looking for this book to confirm my strong suspicion that a large chunk of the non-culinary things she wrote about Pakistan forms the basis of her latest book on the Pakistan Army. Which is not to run down or belittle the effort. Fighting to the End is one of the most insightful and extensively researched books I have read so far on the Pakistani Army’s strategic culture. The conclusions she draws might not be very encouraging to those riding the subcontinental Aman Ki Aasha (Hope for Peace) train, but they are based on facts drawn extensively from Pakistan’s “own defence literatures” and of course her own travels and travails in that country.
The opening lines of her introduction set the tone: “Pakistan was born as insecure state in 1947, and remains so to date.” And most of this insecurity (no marks for guessing right here) has to do with India, from which the Islamic nation was carved in 1947. This fear and loathing—and if I may add, envy—of “Hindu” India has been fuelled, furthered and exploited by Pakistan’s military, which has so far run the country longer than civilians have, having staged four coups over the past 68 years. Fair, however, argues that Pakistan’s apprehensions about India are “more ideological than security-driven, (and) understanding the nature of this security competition should influence how the international community seeks to manage this dispute.”
Having assumed the role of protecting and defending not just Pakistan’s territory, but also its “Islamic” identity and the “two-nation” theory, the military dominates and manipulates the country’s strategic discourse and culture to further its own institutional ends. Since 1947, this culture essentially involves: resist India’s rise; restrict its presence and ability to harm Pakistan; and overturn the territorial status quo at all costs.
Perceiving and projecting India as an “eternal foe that not only seeks to dominate Pakistan, but also to destroy it if and when the opportunity arises”, Pakistan has pursued “guerilla warfare, proxy warfare, terrorism, low intensity conflict, and full-scale wars with India”. And in order to wrest Kashmir from India, it has supported an “array of Islamist militant proxies that operate in Kashmir and throughout India”, notes Fair. Describing Pakistan as a “revisionist” and “purely greedy” State which seeks not just to acquire Jammu and Kashmir, but also to thwart India’s rise in the region and beyond, Fair contends that this is unlikely to change even if the military were someday to lose its pre-eminence in the country.
A greedy State, as defined by international relations scholar Charles L. Glaser, is one that is “fundamentally dissatisfied with the status quo, desiring additional territory even when it is not required for security”. And “purely greedy” States pursue revisionist policies to increase their prestige, spread their ideology, or to propagate their religion, even if it hurts them too in the process.
Although Pakistan has “failed to make even modest progress towards attaining Kashmir, Pakistan’s revisionist goals towards India have actually increased rather than decreased in scope”, writes Fair. This is because the Pakistan Army, and by default, the nation, has come to frame the conflict with India in civilisational terms. In other words, an Islamic Pakistan versus a Hindu India, locked in perennial conflict, overt and covert.
Therefore, she asserts, to argue that Pakistan will cease its adventurism in India—and even Afghanistan, if Pakistan is “accommodated” in some way on Kashmir, would be naïve. Apart from the fact that both sides have hardened their positions on the issue over the years, making such a possibility extremely unlikely, giving in to such revisionist demands would actually encourage a “greedy” Pakistan to try harder to undermine India. This is why, despite being grossly unequal in terms of size, economy and military might, despite having lost half its territory in the 1971 war and the formation of Bangladesh, Pakistan continues to view itself as India’s peer and competitor, and belligerently demands that it be treated as such by the world. The nuclear tests by both nations in 1998 actually lent some form of credence to this theory of parity, and emboldened Pakistan to ramp up its crusade against India. (The incursions in Kargil followed soon after.)
According to Fair, Pakistan “seems to be on an interminable downward spiral…(while) India has launched itself on a path of economic growth despite its own internal security challenges, not all of which can be blamed on its western neighbour”. For the Pakistan Army, however, not winning is not synonymous with losing: simply retaining its ability to challenge India is a victory. To acquiesce would be a defeat not just of the military, but also an erosion of the Pakistani State and the two-nation theory.
With its extensive research, annotations and references (which take up 40 pages of the 347-page book), as well the exhaustive discourse on the military’s distorted view of history, its skewed recruitment policies, the various wars and skirmishes between India and Pakistan, among other things, Fair’s book is obviously aimed more at the academic/ strategic community rather than the lay reader. However, anyone interested in the history of the subcontinent’s strife and unending animosity would do well to peruse it, though it is a bit of a slog.
Yet, despite Fair’s obvious expertise and experience with Pakistan and the region (she is fluent in Pashtu and Hindi, among other languages, and has spent extensive time in areas where even the Pakistan Army apparently fears to tread), she is still an outsider looking in.
Husain Haqqani, on the other hand, is the quintessential insider.
Having served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka and the United States, as well as an adviser and aide to Prime Ministers Yusuf Raza Gilani, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, he was privy to state secrets, some which perhaps even the omniscient ISI was unaware of. (Strangely, while the back page blurb of the book claims he was an adviser to four Prime Ministers, his personal website says three.)
India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends? has a photo of an Indo-Pak cricket match on its cover, and has caused a minor stir in India because it “exposed” Pakistan’s hand in the 26/11 siege of Mumbai. Yet that is but a random sentence in the book, where ISI Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha reportedly told Haqqani, who was then ambassador to the US, that “Log hamarey thay, operation hamara nahin tha (The people involved in the attack were ours, but the operation was not).”
While both Fair and Haqqani delve deep into the subcontinent’s gory history of Partition and subsequent wars to put the never-ending acrimony into context, Haqqani is unwilling to put all the blame at Pakistan’s doorstep. While conceding that Pakistan’s pathological obsession with India was the core issue, “Indians, beginning with Nehru and Patel, chose to punish Pakistan for breaking away instead of wooing it,” he says. “In doing so, they reinforced the efforts by Jinnah’s successors to militarise and Islamise Pakistan.” He also argues that Pakistan has been “strong in rhetoric about Kashmir without really having a well-considered plan”. For instance, what would it have done if the insurgency in Kashmir had actually succeeded as planned? What, after Kargil?
In a chapter titled “We should use the nuclear bomb”, he refers to a “slightly depressed” Brigadier’s dialogue with an American journalist, justifying why a nuclear holocaust was called for, and why he didn’t care if even his own children perished in the fallout. Haqqani, who ends his book with a poem by a Fehmida Riaz titled Turned Out You Were Just Like Us said in a recent interview that the aim of his book was to “acknowledge what may be the contribution of Pakistan to the current stalemate but at the same time to remind Indians that they are also to blame….that we have both not handled the last 69 years well.”
Both Fair and Haqqani address the same issue, albeit from different perspectives. Both agree that Pakistan’s constant attempt to seek parity with India has led to a lot of unnecessary enmity and bloodshed. But while Fair contends that the Pakistani army’s obsession with India means the country will remain a destabilising force in world politics, Haqqani tries to put some of that blame on India.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, both agree that things are likely to get a lot worse before they get any better.
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