Saturday, 2 June 2012

Inside the Pakistan Army

Sun Tsu rightly maintains, knowing the enemy is half the battle won. Carey Schoefield by humanizing the Pakistan Army has done a signal service. She presents the Pakistan Army as a social organization. This helps flesh out the foe India is up against. Arguably India’s adversary is not Pakistan, the state but its army. It is widely appreciated that Pakistan is a state and society that has been commandeered by its army for its own institutional purposes. It is for this reason that India follows a dual pronged strategy for addressing its Pakistan problem. On the one hand it is reaching out to the people and the civilian government of Pakistan. This helps empower them internally against the army, even while it is intended to bring democratic peace closer. Simultaneously, India is deepening the asymmetry with the Pakistan Army using the divergent economic trajectories of the two states gainfully. The idea is that the Army, as a rational actor, would realize its incapacity to match India and veer round to bandwagoning instead of balancing. In the interim, India keeps its deterrent honed at all levels: subconventional, conventional and nuclear. This explains India’s strategy of restraint. Reading Schoefield’s book would help younger generation officers understand the Pakistan army better, and thereby, also, India’s policy towards Pakistan. It is particularly suitable for junior officers since it deals with the opponent not at the policy or operational level, but at the tactical. They get to examine the opponent as they would apprise a boxer in the opposite corner.
Other books that engage with the Pakistani Army at higher levels on civil-military relations and strategy are Shuja Nawaz’s Crossed Swords, Brian Cloughley’s A History of the Pakistan Army, and Ayesha Siddiqua-Agha’s Military Inc. More sophisticated works need to be negotiated progressively such as Ayesha Jalal’s Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia. Arriving at a fairly accurate picture of the opponent this way enables appreciation of its choice of action. The enemy would, for his part, add to the problem by putting up a smokescreen. Seeing through this requires self-study to begin early. Schoefield’s work serves as a useful starting point. Currently, there are myths that cloud the perceptions. Misperceptions speak more of the self than of the object. For instance, there is the notion that the Pakistani military officer takes an oath to avenge the 1971 defeat. There also exists a misinterpretation of the term, ‘terror’, in the book authored by a Pakistani brigadier, SK Malik titled The Quranic Concept of War. A reading of the book would indicate that the term refers to inflicting psychological paralysis in the enemy’s mind through military action. This is perfectly understandable. The term however has been variously interpreted in India as an advocacy of terrorism! Such misconceptions can be cleared by being clear-eyed about the opponent. Sympathetic works such as the one under review and, for instance, that of Cloughley are useful on that score. The book is an outcome of a few years spent by Schoefield as a guest of the Pakistan army. Schoefield’s is a social snap shot of the army now run by an officer cadre, much like in India and elsewhere, having its origin in the lower middle classes. The army’s grip on power and the access to resources this furnishes helps provide social opportunities to those self-selecting to the profession and managing to get selected to the cadre. Schoefield describes the journey through the portals of Kakul and in the regimental system. The socialization in the Army makes it cohesive and responsive, force multipliers in a smaller force. However, the political maneuvering in the upper echelons, brought out in her coverage of the killing of General Faisal Alavi of the SSG (Special Services Group), does indicate the achilles heel of that Army. What would appeal to readers of this journal is Schoefield’s description of the predicament faced by the Pakistan army in tackling insurgency for the first time. The problems and how these were faced would whet professional fascination. Two implications of interest emerge. One is that a blooding has taken place of the Army that would position it as an abler enemy than it would otherwise have been. Secondly, the insurgent opposition is strong. This implies that stabilisation operations by India after conventional thrusts have made headway will be very severely tested by asymmetric warfare.
The book is well turned out and of a length that does not daunt a first time reader. It has a useful appendix for cavalry officers on the armoured regiments of Pakistan. Its index can help those short of time to navigate the book. A set of photos could have enhanced interest in the book for its intended clientele, the lay public in the West wondering if its dollars are not being misappropriated. All in all, the book is worth reading to get a fix on the ‘red corner’ before the next round.