Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reviews of two recent books on Pakistan

IN SOME ways these books are complementary and their basic goal is to try and understand what Pakistan is all about, and the dynamics of the social, political and ideological developments taking place there. While Riedel, a former CIA officer, sees his task as one to propose a course of action in dealing with Pakistan, Lieven, a former journalist and now academic, seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the country, its institutions and people. He has examined the structures of the Islamic republic — its justice system, religious tensions, its vaunted military and syncopated politics, and the rise of the Taliban.
But, he insists, Pakistan is neither a failing, nor a failed state. Ironically one of his most emphatic judgments (and he makes many) is that the Pakistan Army would be able to hold its own against all the challenges because of its discipline and unity and the only thing that could change this is a US invasion which the officer-class failed to oppose. This would put the Pakistani soldiers in a dilemma of obeying their commanders or responding emotionally as Muslims opposed to US activities in the region.
This is the perspective with which we must see the Pakistani reaction to the Osama killing. The establishment may not be complicit in his presence in the country, but it cannot afford to be seen as having done nothing while the US entered the country and carried out the operation. Nationalism, of the Pakistan Army variety, is therefore a means through which the GHQ seeks to keep the radicalisation of the forces at bay.
While Lieven has provided a sympathetic portrait of Pakistan, his prescriptions are somewhat one-sided. He calls for India and the US to accommodate Islamabad’s concerns over Afghanistan, and for Sino-US cooperation to assist Pakistan whose real challenge is not so much Washington and New Delhi, but the ecological challenge — primarily the water stress — that the country faces.
Lieven’s arguments on the need to cherish and respect Pakistan are all right, but his solutions  seem to demand more from others than from Islamabad.
The only way in which Pakistan’s security and its well-being can be assured in the longer run is the integration of the country into larger regional framework. But as long as Pakistan insists on seeing itself as the fortress of Islam and  its relations with the US, Afghanistan and India in zero-sum terms, it cannot get on to a workable track.

It is only through better ties with New Delhi that Pakistan can also handle what he himself calls its central problem — water stress. Actually both India and Pakistan have recognised through summit meetings in January 2004 that the best means of muting their conflict is through a regional framework where Islamabad can deal with New Delhi without feeling that it is being dominated by India. The regional framework also provides the best possible way of resolving the Kashmir issue and that of Afghanistan’s border dispute with Pakistan. The emergence of a genuine South Asian Free Trade Area cannot but have benign political consequences. This is also a means by which external forces like the US, which are, as Lieven recognises, an anathema to Pakistanis, can be kept out. But Islamabad resists any effort to open up.
Riedel’s sweeping narrative and analyses sometimes misses the mark, or states the obvious. For example he places the IC814 hijack along with other terrorist actions by the Mullah Omar-Al Qaeda combine. But that’s not true. It was an autonomous action, the fourth or fifth in a series of hostage taking whose aim was to obtain the freedom of Masood Azhar. Equally, his claim that Ilyas Kashmiri was involved in the Delhi kidnaps in September 1994 also seems to be at variance with facts.
The organiser of this was Ahmed Sayeed Omar Sheikh, the British-Pakistani who is serving a life sentence in Pakistan for killing Daniel Pearl. Lastly, Riedel’s prescription on Kashmir — LoC as a permeable international border — is precisely what India and Pakistan have been discussing since 2005.
Riedel is right in saying that the only way to “change Pakistani behaviour is to engage Pakistan.” But the problem is the nature of the engagement. After all, the US has been engaged with Pakistan for a long time, but few will disagree with the fact that its returns have been mixed.

He is right in his short-term red lines that Pakistan must follow — avoid giving sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban and promoting the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. But he, like Lieven, ignores the less glamourous, albeit slower, process of trying to fashion a larger South Asian area, by building economic and people-to-people relationships which will alter mindsets, without necessarily touching borders.
The issue is quite simple — will India and Pakistan need to resolve their well-known problems before they can become friends, or will a process of growing engagement create the conditions in which the two can become friends, allay suspicions and resolve their outstanding problems.
I for one would place my bets on the latter course.
Mail Today May 8, 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another book on Pakistan on what is happening right now. It's fiction but is not fiction. Adeerus Ghayan's The Scriptwriter. It might be of interest to you. Talks about how things operate in Pakistan at top levels of the government and military.