The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, March 16, 2003

An accurate account of present-day Pakistan
Himmat Singh Gill

by Owen Bennett Jones. Penguin Viking. Pages 328. Rs 395

PakistanSOME countries have strategic importance thrust upon them, and Pakistan is a classic example of one such country. The war against the Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the American reliance on Pakistan, diplomatically and materially, as the former prepares to go to war with Iraq, and its elevation to the status of a nuclear-weapon state, have all combined to increase the importance of Pakistan in world affairs. Will Gen Musharraf be able to rein in the religious radicalism that his country is so famous for, will he be able to keep his army and the ISI in check as he goes in for his second term as President, and will he be able to turn Pakistan’s pathetic economy around, are some of the burning questions that Jones has examined in great detail, and sought answers to in this definitive and readable account of our neighbour.

It is difficult to understand Pakistan without having a grasp of the history of its creation, the role of the Army in its political affairs and the importance of Punjab at the cost of the other three provinces in all matters of governance and political patronage. In Pakistan, the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor. Any reforms in Pakistan stand little chance of getting off the ground if the basic structure of its society doesn’t change and democracy in the true sense is not ushered in. Can Musharraf, with no opposition worth the name in sight, keep riding the army tiger and reap maximum gains from the USA and its allies in their professed war against global terrorism, are some of the issues that Jones has discussed.


Jones’s description of the way the Pakistanis saw the emerging events makes for a very gripping account. In Bangladesh, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission castigated General Niazi for not concentrating his forces in Dhaka. By sticking to the ‘fortress holding’ strategy all along the border, Niazi virtually left Dhaka uncovered, and made the task of its capture by Indian forces much easier. It is, of course, a different matter that Indians were always worried that if they did not take Dhaka at the earliest, the declaration of the city into an international free zone under the aegis of the UN, could pose a serious diplomatic embarrassment for them. The race for Dhaka under the able command of General Aurora and his Chief of Staff General Jacob, at present the Governor of Punjab, will remain a very vivid and glorious chapter in the annals of military history. Jones writes about General Jacob and his strategy that paid rich dividends against the Pak army in Bangladesh: "Fortunately for us the Pakistanis had concentrated their troops in the towns. Had they chosen to defend approaches to the river crossing sites we would not have been able to cross the rivers and reach Dacca".

The Kargil war, where many of our young officers and jawans died because of an intelligence failure is covered in some detail, and the author says of the Pakistani military, "But there is considerable evidence that the military did hold back a significant amount of crucial information from the prime minister (Nawaz Sharif)", in the planning and conduct of the Kargil war and the occupation of some of the Indian posts left unoccupied during the previous winter. The sad reality of Kargil was that whereas in the case of Pakistan the army appeared to have kept the PM in the dark, in our case the Indian Army, including its top brass, was in the dark about the size and magnitude of the Pakistani intrusion till it was very late. An in-depth study must be made to ferret out the whole truth of what happened at Kargil, so that we can avoid a repeat in the future. About Kashmir, Bennett Jones opines: "The tragedy of Kashmir is that the voices of the Kashmiri people themselves have been drowned out by the Islamists, nationalists and ideologues in Islamabad and Delhi".

Was it A.Q. Khan or the PAEC that produced Pakistan’s nuclear bomb? How many nukes are India and Pakistan estimated to possess today? Jones examines the nuclear chain of command in Pakistan in case the Head is incapacitated, and the relative missile power of the two neighbours. Pakistan’s role in encouraging the Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet army, and later on the flight of the Afghan army to northern Afghanistan, are some of the events of recent history that Jones covers in some detail. It is a candid account of a very turbulent part of South Asia that could well become the most dangerous part of the world today.

Jones has done a good job of presenting an accurate account of General Musharraf and the present-day Pakistan. Pick up a copy of the book to read how the military could fare in the years ahead in Pakistan. Jones rounds off his account with this telling sentence: "And while he (Musharraf) believes that the Pakistan army is the solution to the country’s problems, he shows no sign of accepting that, in fact, it is part of the problem."