by Adnan Qaiser, May 2018
Adnan Qaiser, a Research Associate at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Canada, with a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy, reviews Myra MacDonald’s book on Indo-Pakistan relations. The author can be reached at email@example.com
Rarely is history narrated in whole truth; it stays the voice of a vanquisher – or its publicist. No wonder, three factors play a crucial role in present-day warfare: Trend-setting, opinion shaping and perception management.
Falling into the same category Myra MacDonald’s scholarship, Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War records events shaping-up in India and Pakistan between 1998 and 2016. The author bestows lavish praises, levels blind accusations, makes flawed conclusions and renders erroneous judgements in favour of “a rising world power” (India) against what she calls a “near-failing state” (Pakistan) (27).
However, she cannot be faulted. Having been Reuter’s correspondent for nearly thirty years with specialization in South Asian politics and security – most probably based out of New Delhi – Ms. MacDonald’s India-bent justifiably pervades and parades. Never mind, it brings her otherwise great research effort into dispute.
Dividing her scholarship into 12 chapters, the author shows her India leaning in the prologue by proclaiming Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) connivance with the Kashmiri militants in hijacking Air India’s flight IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1998 for the release of some Jihadist militant leaders from India’s captivity (16).
Dedicating her first chapter to Indo-Pakistan nuclear issues, Ms. MacDonald claims the nuclear weapons “accelerated [Pakistan’s] downfall [as it gave the country] a false sense of inviolability [to] unleash militant forces that it could no longer fully control” (27). Endorsing the claim of Pakistan as “insufficiently imagined” by Salman Rushdie, the disgraced author of The Satanic Verses in the Muslim world, Ms. MacDonald believes “Opposition to India bind[s] Pakistan together” (30, 170).
Among at least three factual errors, the author erroneously quotes Pakistan’s leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, proclaiming in 1965 to “eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but [to] build a [nuclear] bomb of our own” (32). The words to that effect were said in 1974 after India had disingenuously carried-out its so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion.”
Discussing events leading to Indo-Pakistan nuclear tests of May 1998, the author justifies India’s “nuclear restraint,” but conveniently forgets it was Indian leaders’ threatening and provocative statements that had forced Pakistan to carry-out its own nuclear tests. However, she considers Pakistan to have “lock[ed] itself inside a house on fire … by making itself impregnable” (44).
In chapter two, Ms. MacDonald expediently overlooks India’s clandestine takeover of Siachen Glacier beyond bilaterally accepted point NJ9842 in April 1984 and denounces Pakistan’s Kargil operation, which was carried-out in the similar fashion in 1999. Despite turning out as a “strategic disaster” (57) due to Pakistan’s civil-military discord and geopolitical pressures, the operation was a “brilliant tactical” manoeuvre which gave India a bloody nose (51). Disregarding India’s territorial quest in the region and Pakistan’s right to avail any unguarded opportunity offered by its archrival, the author is out giving India brownie points: “India was simply too complacent. Poor intelligence and its expectation of peace after the nuclear tests had lulled [India] into a false sense of security” (55).
Chapter three covers Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s interactions with Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf during the 2000s. Despite having contrasting personalities and opposing political constituencies, the “general and a poet” (71) made sincere efforts in resolving their bilateral disputes.
In chapter four, Ms. MacDonald discusses the Afghan jihad by Pakistan supported “Islamist militants” whose “religious zeal” made them “natural opponents of the ‘godless’ Russian communists.” However, the author believes it was a “naïve Pakistani approach … it would come to regret” (87). Quoting Pakistan’s former ISI head, she accuses the ISI for redirecting “Islamist proxies … to the separatist insurgency that erupted in Kashmir in the late 1980s … ensur[ing] operational deniability” (89). In this dirty game of proxies, the author thankfully admits Indian intelligence’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) support to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance by setting-up a base at “Farkhor” in Tajikistan (93).
Chapter five covers the 9/11 events and how in a rush to win Ms. MacDonald’s so-called “Great South Asian War” India “[broke away with] its politics of non-alignment that prohibited foreign troops on Indian soil [and] offered the Americans to use its military bases” (106). However, owing to India not having contiguous borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan having acquiesced to all US demands under the (disputed) US threat of being “bombed back to the Stone Age,” Pakistan remained America’s best bet (107). Nevertheless, the author ominously states: “In making an ally of Pakistan, the United States gave it leverage over American policies in Afghanistan, locking both into a war in which they were on opposite sides” (110)
Chapter six covers the Indian parliament attack in December 2001. Terming it as “India’s 9/11” (121), India intensified its brutalization campaign in the disputed Kashmir Valley. While Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) were suspected of having carried it out, (122) India hanged one of its double-agents, Afzal Guru, for the terrorist attack (123). Remarkably, Ms. MacDonald documents Indian Supreme Court’s decisions, first quashing the death-sentence against Guru, but later finding him “guilty of waging war against the state of India” (128) – a blot that stays on India’s higher judiciary.
In chapter seven, the author dissects the ten-month long India-Pakistan military standoff of 2001-2002, as India thought “it was time for a war to end all wars” (133). Ms. MacDonald believes India came out victorious as it achieved its objective “to defeat cross-border infiltration/terrorism without conflict [and] to contain the national mood of ‘teach[ing] Pakistan a lesson’ through international pressure” (134). However, Operation Parakram (valour) turned out to be a disaster for the Indian Army with high casualty-rate without engaging in war. India’s army chief, General V.K. Singh admitted: “We seemed to be at war with ourselves” (140).
The author, significantly points out that neither India had the political will nor military wherewithal to “destroy and degrade Pakistan’s war fighting capabilities.” She concludes “The Indian Army was not in a position to deal a decisive blow against Pakistan. Vajpayee’s best option was to use angry rhetoric to force the international community to squeeze more concessions from Pakistan” (135-137, 144). However, the author notes, the event led Pakistan to “expand its nuclear arsenal further … reinforce[ing] its belief that it was an insecure state that could be protected only by military force, including nuclear weapons and jihadist proxies” (149).
Chapter eight discusses the contemporary history of the Kashmir conflict that has “become both a territorial and ideological contest between the two” countries. The author quotes Josef Korbel, chairman of the UN Commission on India and Pakistan until 1949 describing the conflict as “the uncompromising and perhaps uncompromisable struggle of two ways of life” (157). Ms. MacDonald highlights the causes of Kashmiri “grievances” and “anti-India sentiments” that led to a call for “Azaadi” (freedom from India) through a “full-blown separatist revolt” in 1989-1990 (159). She discusses Kashmir’s internal political dynamics and condones India trying to suppress the uprising movements and the freedom fighter groups through political manoeuvring and bribe, electioneering and brute use of military force including a “daily routine of humiliating searches” (162-164, 166).
In chapter nine, the author strides ahead with developments taking place in India-Pakistan bilateral relations during the decade of 2000. Here Ms. MacDonald has reserved some of her scathing comments for Pakistan. Reiterating Pakistan as “insufficiently imagined” she calls the country a “noble lie – a term coined by Plato for a myth told by the elite to maintain social cohesion” (170-171). She finds Pakistan erroneously seeing itself as a leader of Muslim world having an ideology rooted in threat and hatred for India, justifying the need and “use of Islamist proxies” (172).
Discussing “secret talks” (Track-II diplomacy) between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President General Musharraf after their agreed ceasefire at the Line of Control in 2003, the author finds the two leaders coming close to finding a solution on Kashmir (172, 182). However, she claims both countries had their own interpretations of the so-called ‘Kashmir formula,’ which was later crucified at the altar of: 1) Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005 (176); 2) Mumbai train blasts in July 2006 (blamed on Pakistan) (185) and; 3) Pakistan’s internal political chaos of 2007 (186-187).
The author carries-out the post-mortem of Mumbai attacks of November 2008 in chapter ten. Ms. MacDonald concludes that the “seaborne attack … carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba after months of intensive preparations, given their scale, could not have carried out without the knowledge of the Pakistan Army and the ISI” (191). “Given that links to militant groups were kept deliberately loose to ensure operational deniability,” she finds it “possible [that ISI had] signed off on plans for a single attack on Mumbai” – in consideration of ISI’s “tremendous pressure to keep its Afghan and Kashmir-focussed jihadists apart” (195).
However, while conclusions are drawn from confessions of alleged perpetrators and foreign intelligence reports (202-204), it is intriguing why a bounty of US$10 million on LeT’s head, Hafiz Saeed, continues to “seek information” about his role in the attacks (206).
Chapter eleven examines General Musharraf’s flawed Afghan policy and his “good Taliban, bad Taliban approach” (218) which the author thinks: 1) granted a foothold to the Islamist militants (218); 2) revived Pashtun nationalism and “indigenous violence” in Pashtun culture (221) and; 3) made tribal militants turn their guns towards the state of Pakistan (220). “Blinded by competition with India and an unwillingness to recognize the changes wrought by its own security policies” Ms. MacDonald finds “Pakistan [to have] never formed a coherent, clear-sighted strategy towards Afghanistan and the north-west” (211).
According to the author three factors turned the Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas into a hotbed of militancy and terrorism: 1) “Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,” when the area became a “launch-pad for insurgency;” 2), mushrooming of “madrasas through Saudi money” and; 3) Pashtun migrant workers to the Middle East bringing back a “hard-line [version of] Islam of the Gulf.” She rightly sees “transfor[mation] and fissures [in] Pashtun society on both sides of Durand Line by the very modern influences of industrialized jihad and migration (213).
Highlighting the “US blunder [of] excluding the Afghan Taliban from the political process after 2001” the author found them “regrouping within a year with Pakistani support” (214) – calling it a “suicidal course” for Pakistan (217).
While Pakistan’s omissions and commissions are discussed threadbare, Ms. MacDonald finds a “grain of truth” in Pakistan’s accusations on “R&AW working with Afghan intelligence agency the National Directorate of Security (NDS) to destabilise Pakistan.” She admits “Indian intelligence agencies operated with far less oversight than their western counterparts. With their roots in British organisations designed to counter Indian nationalism, they inherited a tradition from the British of secrecy and non-accountability. Shielded from parliamentary oversight and public debate, and supported by a consensus that India’s security remained vulnerable, they had a certain amount of leeway in what they did in Afghanistan. Indian intelligence agencies were certainly not above giving money to Baloch separatists [in Pakistan] in exchange for influence and information” (216). The author quotes US General Stanley McChrystal: “While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions” (222).
After touching upon Pakistan Army’s various unsuccessful military operations and peace deals with the tribal militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, Ms. MacDonald concludes, “[Pakistan] was fighting a war it did not itself understand, one that originated in its own heartland, whose Islamist militant ideology it had then projected onto the Pashtun periphery” (226). (Translation: The war in the tribal areas was not a spill-over effect of the US/NATO war on terror in Afghanistan but a direct result of Pakistan’s jihadist policies).
Since it is the Pakistan’s military that is said to drive the country’s foreign and defence policies, Ms. MacDonald has reserved her last chapter to condemn army’s policies and its futile “pursuit of parity” with India (233).
Blaming the “bloody civilians” mindset of the Pakistani military, Ms. MacDonald finds “the army, like its British colonial predecessors, distrusts the people.” Highlighting the failures of the civilian governments to provide relief and rehabilitation to the hapless people of Pakistan during natural calamities like floods and earthquake – a void filled by the army and jihadist groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) – the author concludes that the “symbiotic relationship [of jihadists] with the military would ultimately keep Pakistan permanently off balance” (236).
Lauding India’s developmental achievements, the author finds no comparison between Indian and Pakistani economies. Pakistan’s lack of “domestic security” further makes her see China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unviable. According to her “[A]s Egyptians had discovered when the Suez Canal was built in the nineteenth century hosting a crucial transport route was no guarantee for increasing a country’s prosperity and autonomy” (240).
Crediting India for its “internal strengths” Ms. MacDonald finds Pakistan’s overreach “damaging” to itself and its alliances (240-241). Behind Pakistan’s flawed policies and its failure to “make peace with India,” she finds Pakistan’s “Deep State in action.” The author notes “An agglomeration of sympathetic militants, bureaucrats, diplomats, and the security establishment, the Deep State [remains] bigger than the military alone” (243).
Regrettably, while castigating Pakistan’s “obsession with India,” Ms. MacDonald fails to find “India[n] antagonism towards Pakistan during state or national elections” (241, 246). It is on record that during the 2014 elections, while the Congress party demonstrated some responsibility, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blatantly used the ‘Pakistan Card’ – galvanising Hindu nationalist sentiment against the enemy Pakistan.
Furthermore, the way the author has brushed aside India’s dangerous Cold Start Doctrine – that could easily ignite into a nuclear conflagration between the two countries – while reserving her criticism for Pakistan’s nuclear program, demonstrates her infatuation with India. Ms. MacDonald thinks Pakistan’s nukes have “perversely made Pakistan more insecure.” She believes, “Nearly two decades after the nuclear tests, Pakistan was turning its own country into a suicide bomb” (249-250).
Myra MacDonald’s favourable slant, tilt and predisposition towards India remain visible throughout the read. The book unmistakably stays as a one-sided narration of history, putting the scholarship’s authenticity in question. A reader – or someone privy to the events – noticeably finds the missing aspect of “Pakistan’s side of the story” in it.
For instance, while lauding India’s “reluctance to go to war” against Pakistan as “strategic restraint” Ms. MacDonald overlooks India’s revived nationalism and its desire for regional hegemony (248). Even while casually mentioning about India’s (heightened) “communal violence” under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “authoritarian streak that suppressed dissent and challenged some of the basic underpinnings of democracy,” she draws parallels with Pakistan, which, she says, has damaged itself “by mixing politics and religion” (246-247)
Myra Macdonald reiterates her convoluted and prejudiced thesis in the end: “The progress India made between 1998 and 2016 is a victory that has many fathers. In Pakistan, torn between blaming its external enemies and the ‘traitors’ of its internal power struggle, defeat is an orphan.” (261)
While logic can bend as easily as minds, Ms. MacDonald should know one thing: Nations cannot be made great by twisting facts; they need to earn their glory. As India’s time to fame is yet to arrive, it is too early to write-off Pakistan.