Book review: The battle for Pakistan – Author Shuja Nawaz

The Battle for Pakistan : The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood Hardcover – August 1, 2019
by Shuja Nawaz (Author)
$ 22.86 Hardcover, 400 pages
ISBN 10: 0670092894 / ISBN 13: 9780670092895
Published by Penguin Random House, 2019

by Arnold Zeitlin 7 November 2019

The tale has been often told: the U.S.-Pakistan-relationship was founded on the misunderstanding that never has been resolved and, perhaps, has been deliberately maintained. In the mid-1950s, the American secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, saw Pakistan as a South Asian bulwark against the Soviet Union. Field Marshall Ayub Khan, then not quite yet the Pakistan dictator, saw the United States as the supplier of arms to protect his country from a hostile India. The counties entered into an alliance that has kept them locked together in error ever since.

Dennis Kux told the tale in his book The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies.

So did Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, in his aptly titled book, Magnificent Delusions.

Steve Coll touched on the misunderstanding in his dark comedy, Directorate S: the CIA and America’s secret wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Shuja Nawaz now has brought the story up to date in his new book, the battle for Pakistan: the bitter US Friendship and a tough neighborhood.    

Nawaz has produced a book essential to anyone’s South Asia library, especially for a detailed, 14-page list of important milestones in Pakistan history from 2007 to 2019. He provides particular emphasis on 2011, an annus-horribilis, when the American raid killing Osama Bin Laden a few blocks from the Pakistan military academy plummeted U.S.-Pakistan relations to a new low. Helping was the American attack on a Pakistan outpost near the Afghan border, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers and the fatal shooting of two Pakistanis in a Lahore street by CIA contractor Raymond Davis.

Of course, there is also the never-ending American accusation that Pakistan gave the Afghan Taliban safe havens in Quetta and Karachi.

Otherwise, in writing with serious intent, Nawaz has created, perhaps, inadvertently, another dark, tragic comedy of duplicity, chaos, misunderstanding, miscommunication, backstabbing, and betrayal.

Throughout the book, the notorious Inter-Serviced Intelligence (ISI) unit of the military spooks the civilian leadership and the army as well, the army leadership also spooks the civilians, while the civilian leaders spook each other and, occasionally, even the military. And, of course, everybody spooks the United States, which in turn, spooks almost everything Pakistan.

“Pakistan also tends to treat the US as a gullible partner,” Nawaz writes, “that can be fooled to part with its money in return for vague promises that may or not be fulfilled.” this state is sometimes described as Lucy holding the football for Charley Brown.

Nawaz is a member of a generation that succeeded outside Pakistan and retains a yearning to see their native land become a modern state.

Pakistan “has the wherewithal to become a stronger and more vibrant society. A politically awakened population, a large and enterprising middle class, a strong business community, a powerful and disciplined military, a critical mass of urban and educated men and women and more than 60, percent of its population that is still classified as a youth….,” Nawaz writes, adding. “….if Pakistan makes the right choices and investments, it could become an important part of a developed South and Central Asia, the potential centre of gravity of global stability and development.”.

But as his book illustrates, Pakistan has yet to make those choices and is today as was once described of late 19th century Prussia — not a country with an army but an army with a country.

Nawaz, with some justification, tends to dismiss the country’s civilian leadership. Asif Zardari is best described for his machinations as president. His prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, is described as “compliant” and “passive.” After his comeback in the 2013 election, Nawaz Sharif, Nawaz writes:” the more forward-looking commentators looked for Sharif 3.0 as a newer and updated version of the self-destructing premier of the past. he did not meet their expectations.”

Earlier in the book, Nawaz writes, “…Pakistan, like many other struggling former states once governed by colonial Britain, suffers from the same disease of empty rhetoric and unfilled promises….the talk of the political class was of democracy. its actions veered towards autocracy, kleptocracy and dictatorship, both civil and military.”

Much of the book is taken up with the U.S.-Pakistan army relationship and the army’s struggles with itself. The reader also gets ten pages of detail in two separate instances about the military supplies Pakistan received from the US Much more space (7 pages) is given to a 14-page document (1.5-line spaced, we are told) entitled “Pakistan’s Perspective” that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani wrote and handed to President Barack Obama at the White House in October 2010. Another six pages are devoted to a similar document Kayani gave to U.S. Marine General James Mattis in September 2011.

A more comic episode is Nawaz’s description of American efforts to respond to paper Kayani gave to Obama: The task bounces between the CIA, Department of Defense, the State Department and the White House’s National Security Council, demonstrating that official American disarray is not the exclusive province of the Trump administration.  

“There was no established centre of gravity for decision making in Washington DC,” writes Nawaz diplomatically. The episode ends with Lt. General Douglas Lute, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, working on the final draft of a response in his Arlington, Virginia, home while watching a Washington Redskins football game on television.

No heroes appear in these pages. There are at least two superior beings; Kayani is one of them. His portion in the book’s index is 22 lines, much more than any other individual mentioned in the book. The general gave generous access in meeting Nawaz, whose late elder brother, Asif Khan, was a previous highly regarded chief of army staff. Nawaz’s exceptional access allowed him to write an illuminating 2008 book on the Pakistan military entitled Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its army, and the wars within. The family is descended from the Janjua Rajputs of Punjab, proclaimed by the British as a “martial race,” another reason for the respect the military shows.

The other superior person is, unexpectedly, General Mattis. He is described admiringly for leading 100 U.S. Marines sometime after 9-11 from a stealth landing on Pakistan’s Makran coast (with the quiet, long-undisclosed cooperation of the Pakistan army) to an airstrip at Jacobabad, from which they flew to an airstrip near Kandahar used by the crown prince of Dubai to hunt bustards. There they established America’s first forward operating base in Afghanistan called Camp Rhino. Among the qualities Nawaz admires about Mattis is the general’s use of the call sign, chaos, which Nawaz says shows Mattis “was never one to sit tight and stay within the lines of his remit.” Mattis jokingly has said that his chaos actually means “the colonel has another outstanding solution.”

Nawaz also gives space to Mattis’s plan to capture Bin Laden supposedly pinned down at Tora Bora, based on his study of how the American Indian chief Geronimo was captured by the US army. Geronimo actually surrendered in 1886 after his small band was hounded in the Mexican mountains by force led by an American lieutenant who spoke some Apache language. Mattis wanted his marines to encircle Bin Laden. According to Nawaz’s account, Mattis was told to drop the idea because General Tommy Franks commanding the US presence at Tora Bora had made a deal with local tribal chiefs to get Bin Laden. That never happened.

Nawaz’s suggestions for creating a peaceful South Asia and a thriving Pakistan with better US relations demonstrate how difficult the task would be. For example, he writes:

* “But only if the US reopens its discussions with Iran rather than taking the path of confrontation”;

* Ending the no-war-no-peace condition in South Asia and working with friends, near and far, to help stabilize its economy and polity will be key to Pakistan’s economic growth”:

*The best that can be hoped for in keeping the centre meaningfully tied to its periphery would be to work with regional political parties in crafting links to potential economic partners across international  borders”;

*The best scenario is the emergence of a true Pakistani confederation as envisioned in the original call for Pakistan during the waning days of British India”;

“If conditions are created to provide a secure environment for growing numbers of young people and better equip them with education and opportunities for economic activity, Pakistan will flourish”;

And so on until his final statement:

 “in the end, Pakistan itself is the key to its change and development. It has the people, the ideas, the strategic location, and untapped resources to make it a peaceful hub for economic activity in South and Central Asia….It needs to define its goals and stick to them….”

the end