Saturday, February 27, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: HOME BOY Author: H M Naqvi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / 27 Feb 2010 under the heading: Asphyxiation of the ‘American dream'

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Nine-eleven (9/11) fiction can be a high wire act; making it the centrepiece is a temptation many newcomers might succumb to. Several things set H M Naqvi’s debut novel apart from other books of the same genre, books that draw upon 9/11 for inspiration. The author, by comparison, never allows that instance to eclipse the stories of his central characters or their fractured world even when the lengthening shadows reach out to swathe their lives in momentary darkness. Consequently, the boom is muffled, and instead of a sudden fall into chaos, the descent is slow. In Home Boy, H M Naqvi grapples with the complexities of a new world order and the communities caught in the throes of this change.

Seen through the eyes of Shehzad aka Chuck, it captures the full spectrum of an immigrant’s life in the US by introducing three boys of Pakistani origin — an expatriate, a green card holder, and a born and bred New Jersey man — youngsters as deeply immersed in New York’s culture as they are tied to their Pakistani heritage. Ali Chaudhry (AC), a “charming rogue”, Jamshed Khan (Jimbo) the “bona fide American” (page 3) and Chuck — the expatriate who embraced the City and its ways with a vigour — whose lifestyle choices are bound to make some readers flinch. While it is difficult to identify with their carefree living and studied debauchery, the soon to be fragmented lives are certain to strike a chord.

At times the story feels more autobiographical than contrived, though the author is quick to issue a disclaimer that it is not. According to him these are fictional constructs, composites drawn from different people. And yet, the core scenes stem from a real enough place: a place where a passer-by feels distant reverberations of a collapsing world, where civil rights have been trounced by race and religion, a place where the void left in the aftermath has been populated by fear and a literal world is littered with virtual minefields. In a telling scene, the protagonist confronts two brawlers intent on knocking down the ‘Arabs’, observing that they were not just contending with each other but with the crushing momentum of history (page 23).

Naqvi carefully sidesteps the debris left in the wake of the tragedy in this fast paced, visceral ride where morality takes a backseat, as he lets words go on a rampage, painting the city life in lurid hues. Seen from this vantage point, the New York one knows is obscured in an unfamiliar haze. The prose is crisp; it moves with feral grace and dazzles with an obscene brilliance. But where the poet in him makes one gape in wonder, the graphic descriptions leave one cold.

The characters are deftly executed; Mini Auntie hovers in the background as the pillar of Pakistani expat community; the Duck occupies a swank apartment and is introduced in the book with much fanfare as someone who possesses a talent for introductions and one New York City cabbie is seen weaving his way in and out of Chuck’s life.

Chuck’s narrative takes copious amounts of detours, opening the doorway to two distinct worlds and trying to be faithful to each. Consequently, one finds Urdu, Punjabi and Yiddish scattered amongst the prose. The story segues from New York to Karachi, using one as the staging area and the other as a backdrop. However, the Karachi of Chuck’s childhood does not capture the tumultuousness associated with the mid 1980s, and is more reminiscent of the late 1970s.

A wide-angled shot pans to include the lives of the immigrant communities: from AC’s aunt, a one woman institution with an open door policy for her friend’s children, to Jamshed’s father, “a retired foreman who raised a son and a daughter and several notable edifices on either sides of the Hudson” (page 3). It seeks to establish Chuck’s strong ties to his real and adopted homeland. One visible through yearnings for home in the elaborate sequences starring desi cuisine; the other punctuated by a naive belief that he had claimed the city and the city had duly reciprocated leaving all of them “content in celebrating themselves and their city with libation” (page 6). Naqvi asserts that one could define oneself any way one felt like before 9/11. Of course, afterwards they were boxed in the specifications left by 19 Saudis.

When asked why he settled upon 9/11 as a subject matter, he responds that every tragedy inspires a body of literature, but he started writing in 2003 before the blitz of 9/11 literature hit the market. The author may be a rookie in the world of literary giants, but has managed to create quite a stir back home and abroad. The book has received rave reviews, and made it to the Huffington Post list of top 10 books (2009).

He calls Home Boy a comedy, mystery, coming of age and serves it up with a generous dash of humour, a sprinkle of irony and a smattering of some good old-fashioned slang on the side. This poignant tale is likely to resonate with the Pakistani diaspora in the US, for beneath its deceptively simple imagery lies a sombre realisation that the slow asphyxiation of the ‘American dream’ has already begun.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power

Published in Daily Times / 20 Feb 2010

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: David E Sanger

Today, US Vice President Biden believes that American foreign policy is once again respected in the world. While the new face of this policy - composed of something old, something new & something borrowed - unveiled a year ago was prelude to Obama’s uphill battle to regain military/political high ground, fallout from the old policy is the dominant theme here.

‘Inheritance…’ is a dramatic playback of events that follows parallel timelines to determine how certain parts of the world were shaping during ‘Iraq’. David Sanger has logged 7 years covering the White House and uses insights gained during his time as Chief Washington Correspondent for New York Times to ascertain the opportunities missed by one president, identify forthcoming challenges for the next and explore options still left in the smouldering ruins of disastrous decisions. He uses solid arguments based on interviews (on/off record) with key officials to crucify - where needed and credit - where appropriate.

This skilfully drawn sketch captures key moments that defined the Presidency and redefined history. Post Iraq, the troika (think axis of evil) are emboldened to pursue dangerous agendas , abandoned nations become epicentres of trouble while savvy ones find ways to profit. An unsparing look at the Bush administration shows the unintended side-effects of Iraq leading ‘‘Dear Leader’ in North Korea to build a nuclear arsenal and ‘Supreme Leader’ in Iran to assemble a nuclear capability’ . There are several instances where the administration also concedes its failure .

He leads with the winners of Iraq war - Iran’s Mullah Manhattan Project, uncovering the brief window of opportunity (quickly squandered) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that brought Iran and the US on the ‘same side of a common fight’ - albeit briefly. Then there is the tragic irony where actual evidence of nuclear proliferation was held back because of the WMD fiasco.

He demonstrates Iraq as a vortex that sucked away aid - $18B for Iraq in 2004 vs. $720M for Afghanistan - and resources from the primary war at a critical juncture that might have prevented a resurgence of Taliban. Along the way he appreciates that America is a nation that wields the largest hammer, but not every problem is a nail .

David’s visit to Strategic Plans, home to Pakistan’s nuclear keys betrays the prevalent fear about the safety of its nuclear arsenal and widens the discussion to build a case for the invasion of an ally. The composite drawn from talks with US Director of National Intelligence, bolsters his view of a Musharraf as master of the double game ; a government which is complicit based on one officers fiery speech about supporting Afghan Taliban and an intercepted call where Pak Army Chief Kiyani allegedly calls Hekmatyar a ‘strategic asset’.

Heightened distrust, backed by credible sounding ‘intel’ led to a gradual shift in the US administrations attitude towards their ally, giving greater latitude to drones and ‘special’ forces. Among the accusations are repeated claims of Pakistani forces actively supporting the Taliban with Pakistan quietly arming/training militants and other insurgent groups in an effort to gain greater influence over the tribal areas . Of course, to conclude that these are not rogue ISI agents but sanctioned polices is pure conjecture. There have been enough attacks on Pakistani security forces to disprove the theory. Referring to the trim houses and well tended lawns in Chaklala Cantt., he is left to conclude that ‘….both army and ISI have reserved society’s best privileges for themselves’ . Perhaps if the local bodies took better care of their districts, the disparity between the two halves would not be so striking - or embarrassing for that matter.

While some of the suspicions (that militants and intelligence agencies are hand in glove) are shared by Pakistanis as revealed by Imtiaz Gul’s book ‘the Al-Qaeda Connection’, they are just that - suspicions. Confronted with such a devastating brew of insinuations and ‘cherry picked intelligence!’ the reader wonders why would you not invade such an ally, If, of course, one truly believed said ally was in effect blatantly subverting American interests from the safety of its well tended lawns. Fortunately, the recent capture of a key Afghan Taliban figure (no. 2) in a joint CIA-ISI operation goes against the carefully built up case against Pakistan. Besides these maddening declarations, ‘Inheritance….’ slips up is when it asserts that the Pakistani cabinet was to dine at Marriott the day it was bombed in 2007. The government did try to portray itself as a target but the author missed Marriott’s owner - Hashwani’s testimony (see BBC, CNN) where he dismissed the government’s claim.

A jaded world view of Pakistan aside, the books strength lies in its ability to infuse excitement in an otherwise drab subject matter. This widescreen view also ponders on the implications of China’s burgeoning economy already slated to overtake Japan, credits Bush with getting several China priorities right and seeks ways to manage, not contain the Chinese given their increasing interdependence on each other. A very delightful, if imaginary conversation between Obama and the Chinese has also been thrown in. Finally, we flash-forward to a couple of nightmarish scenarios, to demonstrate America’s preparedness against a nuclear/biological/cyber attack.

David Sanger retrofits history with his version of a GPS to serve a dual purpose – as a navigation device it gives the new administration manoeuvring space, the benefit of hindsight provides a nicer looking roadmap.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: POLITICAL IMPRESSIONS

Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy

PUBLISHED IN DAILY TIMES / 13 FEB 2010

Many would call it a wasteland where governments and old problems get recycled, institutions never get a chance to evolve and good intentions remain unrealized. Against such a backdrop, some people have an unerring sense of direction which brings moments of clarity in an otherwise murky scenario. Dr. Aftab Ahmed may have possessed such ability. Political Impressions is a collection of his articles that have appeared in prominent English dailies over the years.

21 articles, spanning 13 years from 1987-2003, have been arranged in three sections. They give readers a brief glimpse into the life of founding fathers who visualized a secular Pakistan, a reality check about headline making events of the time, topped off with proposed reforms to avert the slippery slope brought on by what can only be classified as a policy of benign neglect. Separately, they represent a well grounded analysis of Pakistan’s political scene. Together, they reflect the dichotomy between the charted vision and established practices.

In the first section titled ‘Concept’, the writer takes a look at secularism from two perspectives and elaborates upon Iqbal’s version of a nation inspired by a secular Turkey instead of an insular Saudi Arabia. In ‘Quaid’s concept of Pakistan’ Jinnah’s views on minorities have been compared to the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) pledge made during the founding of Medina when Jews were granted equal rights. The first two articles about ‘Iqbal‘s concept of a Muslim homeland’ - (I & II) appeared in different publications five years apart but are essentially the same, so one can be skipped. Portions from ‘democracy and party organization’ (Reality) also re-appear in ‘the parliamentary system and political parties’ (Reforms).

If ‘Concept’ shows visions of the professed destination for a ship at anchor, ‘Reality’ highlights the gradual shifts brought on by failures of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan among other things, due to the short-sightedness of its leaders who did not exploit their party’s strength or build ‘well organized and strong political parties’. It laments PPP’s U-turn that led them to make wrong choices on various pretexts. He wonders if ‘politics of consensus is possible’ in the year 2000 and comments on ‘Prospects after Agra’ where the author has on good authority that Indians will not compromise on Kashmir whatever else they may agree on. In ‘military rule with a difference’, he hopes Musharraf would get a consensus because ‘politicians matter’ and ‘cannot be ‘wished away’ and admires Musharraf’s restrained approach towards Indians in the face of open hostilities in ‘Prospects in New York’.

An analysis of the 1958 coup in light of American and British papers appears in the ‘…genesis of 1958 coup….’ The British papers – secret confidential documents relating to Ayub era (1958-69’), have been complied by Roedad Khan and recap the British High Commissioners conversation with President Mirza - the man disdainful of democracy, elections and constitution despite the HC’s observation of a ‘widespread demand of elections’. The American papers – secret/confidential dispatches between US embassies and State department reveal the American’s kindly stance towards Ayub and Ayub/Mirza’s joint opinion that ‘only dictatorships work in Pakistan’.

The author notes the contrasts between the Brits and the Yanks; Ayub did not confide in the British who stayed on the fence, he did however get the Americans to give a green-light to the projected future.

‘Reforms’ takes charge of an off-course nation by proposing requisite administrative/political reforms. ‘’Reforming the bureaucracy’ (I, II) is about the interchangeable nature of the assignments of political leaders and bureaucrats with one responsible for policy formulation and the other dealing with its execution and neither sticking to their designated roles. ‘Pakistan needs a truly federal democratic system’ details the anomalies in the territorial division of Pakistan . Here the writer draws his own conclusions that go against the set up of a centralized government in a country where regions have distinct identities and governance should be under a truly democratic federal system that respects the political, economic and cultural aspirations of its people without trying to ‘steamroll their diversity in the name of ideology’. He believes in ‘the process of devolution/decentralized power to ensure participation of people, only made possible when organized, broad based political parties act as ‘conduits between society and state’.

‘Power aspect of devolution’ examines the limitations of the devolution plan in light of certain obvious truths and disturbing practices by powerful MNA’s, MPA’s and bureaucrats where neither wants elected representatives of local bodies to run the districts. ‘Administrative reforms: an elusive goal?’ where experts tasked with producing a lean and effective bureaucracy in the 90’s considered cutting federal governments 5 tier system down to 3 by removing the deputy secretary and offering additional secretaries a golden handshake. He refers to his own involvement in Civil Services administration as a Member/Secretary of Anwar-ul-Haq Commission on civil services (1978-79) where he formulated recommendations which differed in the approach taken by the Ijlas Haider Zaidi Committee in later years.

Dr. Aftab Ahmed was a scholar of the Urdu literature, has written on contemporary and classical Urdu poets and received the Prime Ministers literary award in 1998 for ‘Bayad-e-Suhbat-e-Nazuk’ - a book of sketches of renowned literary figures from our times. This is a posthumous publication of his works. Political impressions may not be every ones cup of tea. It could, however, be served as a remedial draught to an ailing system.

BOOK REVIEW: Palestine Peace not Apartheid (2006)

PUBLISHED IN THE POST

Former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter makes a courageous debut in the literary circuits as a proven champion of one of ‘the’ most controversial of subjects. ‘Designed to spell out the only clear path to permanent peace & justice in the Holy Land’ what part, if any can this book play in the salvaging of a currently skewed ME policy?

This president’s long term association (as broker of the Camp David Accords-Framework for Peace in the ME 1978) with the Middle East makes him well aware of the prospects of peace and limitations in the way of good intentions in this conflict ridden region. Now, taking on a different role as an observer and consultant with ‘political leaders, academics and private citizens’ , Carter, in my opinion, manages to give both issues as non-discriminatory a treatment as they can hope to receive. You would think otherwise though judging from the furor generated from this publication.

The book does its best not to let interest of the world wane from this part of the Middle East as the author seeks give traction to the limping Palestinian cause, drawn as he is to an ultimate resolution of Israel-Palestine peace process acceptable to the chief stakeholders, namely the Arab world, USA and the Quartet (EU); The ‘United’ States supports Israel while a ‘divided’ Arab world backs Palestine.

Provocative as the title may be, the success of such a book lies in its effectiveness in making readers as concerned with the outcome of core issues plaguing this particular Middle Eastern region as with the dispensing of justice fitting for all. The plight of Palestinians may well be at the heart of this debate but equal attention is paid to the potential influence of its neighboring Arab countries with a depiction of each as it relates to this region while comparing the success rate of commitments made by former U.S Presidents.

Carter once said in 1979 to the Israeli Knesset that ‘people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace’ . He retains this belief till today. Unfortunately, it is these politicians who have been entrusted with the key to freedom. That Carter was on scene during the Palestinian Election1996, 2005 and Palestinian/Israeli Elections 2006 may come as a surprise to many, but this is one of the mandate of the Carter Center; promotion of democracy.

‘Palestine Peace not Apartheid’ is a journey to the past where the birth of Israel triggered a tidal wave of cataclysmic proportions which continues to engulf the region to this day.

What is missing from the book is sugar coating of facts and this makes the powerful sincerity of the narrative take hold; it is a fairly small book, 216 pages, only because it is crisp and to the point .That being said; the simplicity adopted in the depiction of events does not detract from the seriousness of the subject matter.

If ‘most Americans are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories’ due to the ‘voices from Jerusalem’ dominant in the U.S. media, the book at least is set to alter their conditioned perceptive(if such be the case) and clarify some of the news that has taken center stage these days, specifically the ‘Roadmap’ proposed by Kofi Anan in 2003 on behalf of the U.S., U.N., Russia and EU(contested by Israelis but accepted by Palestinians) , preconditions to peace as laid out by the Quartet and U.S. with an assessment of the ability of staying true to the proposed ‘peacekeeping’ processes. Carter is quick to condemn anyone who seeks to derail the fragile peace process through obstinacy or lack of foresight or being privy to terrorist activities that violate the very basis of civilization, whatever the provocation.

I suggest ‘Palestine Peace not Apartheid’ should be on the reading list of everyone which ever side they support regardless of their political leanings or personal convictions, for the book frames both sides of the question (and we must admit that there have been remarkably few of such instances).

For now, the proposed formation of a Palestinian unity government of ‘Fatah’(accepted as good guys) and ‘Hamas’(lets just say, not the favorites) has further aggravated the already complicated negotiation process with the fate of peace hanging precariously in balance; and the jury is still out.

About the author: Jimmy Carter 2002 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, founder of the Cater Center an NGO involved in conflict prevention and resolution, enhancement of freedom and democracy and improvement of health on a global scale.

Image Courtesy of: http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1165949219l/9345.jpg

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player and later, as the onlooker.

Edited and annotated by Craig Baxter- senior political officer of Pakistan and Afghanistan 1968-1971, this extraordinary self portrait presents the Field Marshal having a bad day as a golfer, going on hunting expeditions with a King, once venerated as a hero by his people, globally popular to the end as a president, and finally, an ailing demoralized old man. The diaries were unsealed and released for publication after a lapse of several decades because of the sensitive nature of revelations. The appended notes at the end of the 548 page book provide supplemental information on the people and events mentioned. As a document of historical relevance, the diaries are priceless. As a commentary on the economic, political and military matters of the time, their significance is incontrovertible.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s long term role as a leader, first as an Army Chief and later as the President of Pakistan made him keenly aware of both the intricacies of our system and problems of the citizens; thus, his observations carry conviction and make him an able judge of the unique circumstances of the time. From the secure confines of 2007, the traumatic events of late 1960’s and early 1970’s can be viewed dispassionately. Then again, by 1967, some of the major problems plaguing a young nation in Ayub Khans view were ‘political mullahism’, a ‘disgruntled lawyer community’ and ‘negative, anti Pakistan attitude of political parties’. Taken in conjunction with an Indian military buildup, visible signs of American leaning towards India, impending ‘inflation’ against the backdrop of an America at war and a Middle East in turmoil, the parallels are chilling and implications for the present and future, ominous.

What makes the narrative pertinent in today’s world is that the entries reveal those factions that shake the stability of Pakistan every so often have demonstrated their capability to do so as far back as the 1960’s. The records of the political scenario, division of East and West Pakistan and the wars with India are interspersed with scathing character observations of key political, military and foreign players’ active at the time. Caustic remarks on Z.A Bhutto and the special brand of politics he practiced and cultivated are just an example of the unflattering depictions of several well known public figures; hence, ‘arch intriguers’, ‘cunning foxes’ and ‘snakes in the grass’, flit in and out of the narration, unexpectedly punctuated between tales of partridge shoots. The diaries are unsparing in detail regarding notable foreign policy matters with some telling anecdotes about various the Heads of State. Conversely, scandalous disclosures about President Yahya would be distressing for his supporters and family as would the generalizations about Sindhis, Bengalis and other such sects.

The opening sequence comes at a time when Pakistan is forced to explore alternate avenues in terms of military cooperation with a growing imbalance indicated in the Pak-Indo militaries. An intuitive synopsis concerning the causes of unrest and instability in a young nation touches upon the absence of knowledgeable, honest, dedicated political leaders with the spread of uncontrolled urbanization and unemployment among other factors; the relevance of such issues in society resonate till today. As does Ayub’s characterization of our people as ‘politically immature and gullible’. The part where the Field Marshal attributes army’s growing unpopularity with their ‘inability to maintain law and order’ or ‘control the rising prices’ could have been taken from a present chapter of history.

As the period covered in the diaries marked the beginning of an arms race between Pakistan and India, the signs of a 3rd war become perceptible while a new front was opened closer to home where the politician fashioned agitators from student communities and set them upon rivals. It is also a revelation to learn of the presence of communist elements and propagation of socialist tendencies in the political environment of the time. Having conceded presidency to General Yahya Khan, the bulk of the narrative concerns the lethal political power play that led to the division of East and West Pakistan. Those unaware of the facts behind the debacle of Pakistan will learn of the gradual movement that reared its head as early as 1967 signifying the imminent separation of East Pakistan and the gruesome finale of 1971 war. The impressions recorded after an 8 month stay in East Pakistan are particularly insightful albeit severe and will be invaluable to historians.

Several things become apparent from this forthcoming piece of literature. First, that Ayub was clearly ahead of his time in some respects as is evident from his comments about a computer factory visit in Britain where he foresaw their worth in terms of business and industrial applications for Pakistan. Second, that despite his military credentials, he was not opposed to the idea of democracy but doubted the effectiveness of the Americanized version in our peculiar surroundings. Third, the appearance of symptoms marking the nation’s current tribulations did not go unobserved. The ‘Diaries of Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan’ would be an asset to the collection of connoisseurs and the common man alike for the compassionate manner in which they capture the history of a young Pakistan and the unrealized vision they revealed for the now matured State.

BOOK REVIEW: The Prince - Secret Story of the Worlds Most Intriguing Royal Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Author: William Simpson

PUBLISHED IN THE POST MAY 24 ,2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

How a little known Middle Eastern fighter pilot came to wield such influence over Presidents, Prime Ministers and Senior Government Officials?

Intrigues are not always within the confines of the palace even if the instigator happens to be a royal. Bandar Bin Sultan answered his calling of a fighter pilot, performed diplomatic duties as a Prince and crossed the threshold to a world of Intrigue when required, a world where the East and West unite when bound by common interests.

William Simpson’s biographical account of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, son of the Saudi Defence Minister, revisits well known historical events, directing attention towards the unacknowledged facts of history and hitherto unseen involvement of a Prince in matters of national (Saudi) interest and international significance.

Though a Prince, Bandar Sultans beginnings were anything but ‘Princely’ but the controversy shrouding his birth could not bar this enterprising youngster from rising to great heights.

Obsessed with flying, Bandar graduated from the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell, was commissioned in the Royal Saudi Air force and trained in the US of A. The end of Bandar’s auspicious flying career marked the start of a remarkable political one which saw his seemingly effortless integration through impressive diplomatic cum language skills and a familiarity with the American way of life.

In 1978, the heading of a Saudi team lobbying for the sale of F-15’s laid the foundation of Bandar’s new role; that of an effective negotiator then and ultimately a force to reckon with in coming days; a role which proved to be as challenging as fighter flying and in some cases, nearly as perilous. And so, this Prince may have lived out his dream of being a fighter pilot but was destined to become the most prolific political player in recent history. This is his story as told by his friend and Cranwell course mate Bill Simpson.

Diplomatic skills notwithstanding, Bandar found himself in un chartered waters for his lack of political experience, for Capitol Hill is a place where one engages in battles of a different cadre altogether, with Saudis on one side, a seemingly invincible and a ‘highly effective well organized lobby’ the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-APIAC on the other with ‘recurring obstacles, objections and rejections’ along the way, barring sales of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia. The Prince’s strategy was effective in pushing the sale of this advance fighter aircraft and at a later stage, the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) to Saudi Arabia while his presence ‘actively challenged the AIPAC through ‘an organized Arab lobby’ and thus earned the respect and friendship of President Carter and his own King with grudging admiration from enemies. This and the resolution of Panama Canal Treaty Bill led to Bandar’s eventual take over as a Military Attaché to Washington and the Kings special envoy.

Bandar stood apart from other diplomats with his ‘unique access to Washington’ and friendship with the Bush family. They say he was the ‘only ambassador with this kind of a role’ and his presence provided a definite tactical advantage which secured the AWACS deal.

The ease with which Bandar has forged lasting diplomatic relations with Presidents and senior government officials seems extraordinary. Known for his forthrightness, albeit a certain degree of guile, this prince seems to be a mass of contradictions and the scope of his involvement in affairs of global interest span over two decades, his reach, transcends borders.

As the Saudi Arabian ambassador to USA, Bandar’s ‘flair for diplomacy and negotiation’ made him privy to many operations and It has been suggested that a ‘US Saudi covert, cooperation’ caused the eventual end of Soviet Union, the Cold War and defeat of Qaddafi’s Libyan Armed Forces. The book touches upon Bandars controversial part in the Iran Contra affair ; clearly, the affluence of the Kingdom, Bandar’s sway with Americans and reliance of US foreign policy on Saudi petrodollars won the Afghan War and affected a myriad of other issues.

Still, an alliance with USA did not deter Saudis from making a clandestine missile deal elsewhere when required especially as America refused to equip the Kingdom with ballistic missiles for fear of Israel’s safety. Bandar played his part in keeping this deal from Americans for a considerable time period and similar lack of US military support in some other areas left the door open for Saudis to seek fresh military partnerships where the Prince masterminded and secured further landmark military deals.

That Bandar ‘precipitated the first Gulf war’ comes as a revelation which bears out his position as a master strategist; true that on several instances, shades of the Machiavellian prince surface, offset by Mandela’s words describing Bandar as a ‘man of principal, conscience and moral correctness’ or the esteem in which Margaret Thatcher, President Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. hold him. In fact, the diversity of his friendships is rivaled only by the diverse roles he has had to assume in life.

Bandar’s life is inextricably linked to the peace process in the Middle East and the possibility of being asked the question “Grandpa, why did you fail solving the damn thing?” continues to haunt him.

Some two decades and a grueling schedule later, even as he resigned as ambassador, Bandar realized that he will always remain the one ‘to perform missions essential to Saudi Arabia’ as he took on the position of a Secretary General of National Security Council(NSC) and resumed shuttle diplomacy on behalf of his country.

Bandar Bin Sultan wears the mantle of a skilled diplomat, an able statesman and a Bedouin Prince; and with such perfect ease.

This ‘unofficial biography’, in the words of the Prince, with Foreword by Nelson Mandela and Baroness Margaret Thatcher is now available in all leading book stores of the country.

Images Courtesy of: http://cache0.bookdepository.co.uk/assets/images/book/medium/9780/0608/9780060899868.jpg

http://www.prince-bandar.com/Color%201%20-%20Ron%20McGaffin.jpg

Monday, February 8, 2010

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a few had made cameo appearances in odd branches, the rest were lady doctors - products of Army Medical Corps (AMC), and a handful of commissioned Lady Psychologists aside, the air force was supremely a gentleman’s club – a highly coveted one at that, open to both the nobility and gentry of the land. Neither cast nor creed was a bar for the men - singled out for glory. Gender bias kept women at bay. Girls once eager to enlist in active military service eventually settled for cushy jobs. Their younger counterparts increasingly fascinated by the prospect of wearing (not marrying) the uniform, hoped to be seen as individuals with the potential to excel instead of a potentially dangerous innovation not worth investing in. It is not like there were no opportunities in the armed forces. They were just not equal. And even the Winds of Change sweeping through the land seemed reluctant to disrupt the natural (so called) order of things. Till, ACM (R) Abbas Khattak took the initiative to open all branches save flying, in 1995 and (late) ACM Mushaf Ali Mir – inspired by the progressive Turkish Air Force, took a leap of faith and removed the last wall of resistance by inducting the first batch of Pakistani women in fighter flying. This was in 2002. But before Pakistani women earned their coveted flying wings, the sight of women graduates whose induction in branches that had previously been off limits, had already captivated the imagination of a conservative nation.

Previously, the sporadic induction of a few women since 1976 seemed to be an insufficient incentive for the rest to join. Not everyone was oblivious of women’s ‘inherent abilities to match and outsmart their men folk.’ ACM Abbas Khattak grew increasingly convinced that women were ready to take charge of their own destiny, and all signs indicated that the tide would turn in their favour in the not so distant future. It was just a matter of time. He decided to convene the Air Board. And they finally said ‘Aye’! Under his visionary leadership, PAF saw two important changes. The first was the induction of women in nearly all major spheres (with the exception of fighter flying) of air force. The other was the setup of a Finishing School for women, which was mainly due to the efforts of his wife - Mrs. Samina Khattak.

For women, this was a major breakthrough. For men, it was a revolutionary concept. For the PAF, it was a monumental challenge. Among other things, finding the right balance between keeping cultural sensitivities from infringing upon training and operational requirements was a constant worry. Ensuring that high standards of excellence were not compromised for the sake of propriety was an important consideration. Clearly, the old script had to be rewritten, certain regulations needed to be reworded, and new caveats had to be added - quickly. Some major readjustment was in order. Girls queued up to enlist. And though entry was temporarily suspended for a brief while, the flow of women entrants has been consistent.

While they took induction in Admin, MET, ATC, Logistics, Education, Law, IT and Accounts in their stride, flying, however, was a risky venture and Air Defence Command (ADC) is still off limits because of deployment/shift issues. Nevertheless, claims of equal opportunity are accurate – given that women serve as senior engineering officers at Flight Lines, Wings, Squadrons and also act as instructors. Graduates from the College of Aeronautical Engineering work at both Avionics Units and Flight lines and the tech savvy ones are in-charge of IT labs, designing software, dealing with hardware, serving as base IT officers, etc. Fighter flying, ATC and MET are three of the more challenging branches. Women serve in MET and ATC, and teach these subjects to cadets and officers. Flying is an especially demanding field that takes a heavy toll. The women inducted in fighters and transports would have the same schedule and fly similar sorties during peace time. Their professional duties do not exempt them from attending civil and in-service courses related to respective branches. As Air Force evolves (air-air refuellers, AEW&C’s) so can the nature of appointments.


Meanwhile, what do the men think? They are openly admiring of their role in support branches and cautiously optimistic of their contribution in other capacities. Seen as worthy opponents, however grudgingly, men have conceded women to be their equals, at least in Education, Accounts and IT, to be commended not only for displaying strong workplace ethics but also for their resilience.

For the women, the journey from the moment they enter the selection centre till the time they become commissioned officers is fraught with challenges and for the uninitiated - some high drama. The triumphant march begins the same way for both men and women at the SELECTION & RECRUITMENT CENTRE. All PC (Permanent Commission) hopefuls go through a 4 day ISSB. SPSSC (Special Purposes Short Service Commission) do not. ISSB, a testing ground for Army, Navy, and Air force is for psych evaluation; candidates are screened for leadership abilities, patience, endurance, and confidence etc – qualities that will be more rigorously tested in the field and further honed as lady cadets in the academy. Many do not know what to expect in an ISSB session and those who try to learn by enlisting in coaching centres are no wiser. Being professionally coached does not always help, if anything, it makes them come across as robotic in a place where originality trumps scripted speeches (however pretty) and spontaneity is appreciated. Men and women go through the same procedures/fitness criteria (in most cases) during the selection process. Before heading out for training, the recruits must make a quick stop at CMB (Medical Board).

They may be firing a G-3 one minute and demurely sitting in class the next – impressing a bevy of reporters with their mad skills (horse riding) or getting disciplined for some minor infraction; life as a lady cadet may be many things - monotonous it is not. The other side of the looking glass is full of surprises. It is a world where the term ‘high maintenance’ is used for an aircraft; diamonds are what a carbon based life form becomes after going through some good old fashioned military training and a speck of dirt has more dignity than a cadet in training.

Known as much for its transformative power as for the exacting routines – Risalpur Academy takes clashing shades of personalities and diverse backgrounds brought together by chance, and weaves them into stellar cast of complementary characters, that have kept the nation enthralled for generations. So what is a little more diversity to an institution that not only trains cadets/students from Pak Army, PIA, and Pak Navy but also welcomes the ones from friendly parts of the world and accepts paying cadets from National University of Sciences and Technology.

The women entered to find that male and female cadets are expected to adhere to the same standards of military training although there may be some exceptions. PAF Academy has trained the first lady cadet para-jumper and women have since motor para-glided at national events. But those who dream of jumping off planes or consider motor paragliding for sport (or show) must fulfil the same criterion. Even after graduation there are ample opportunities to explore the adventurous side of life: women have represented Pakistan at the international level in skiing and are regular participants at ski events. Moreover, they can opt for archery lessons or take survival courses.

Their formative years in the academy are just as inspiring. A lady cadet in training is finally on her own but never alone. Not ever. As a group, she can only move in pairs, is assigned to squadrons (4 colours) and delegated to halls (wing-wise). Their first day of orientation is usually intense enough to give a taste of coming days. The next couple of days are a blur of introductions, paperwork, and getting de-glamorized (sorry ladies). The coming months are a haze of activity where they quickly get used to the gruelling schedule (up at Dawn, jogging, classes, PT, etiquette lessons), physical routines (that vary from course to course), rules (march as a course to every official activity), restrictions, inspections and penalties. Not surprisingly, this lifestyle leaves those not sneaking in snacks exceedingly fit, notwithstanding the lavish breakfast. For the Lady Cadets in Training life moves at a dizzying pace and in between commanding flights at review parades, there are sports - swimming in summers; riding in winters, cross country runs and when they are not taking part, they are cheering for their squadron (hockey, riding, etc) at sporting events, being taken on Local Field Exercises (LFE) to designated spots or the local lake, camping, witnessing paragliding demos and attending weekly ADLAs - after dinner literary activity. ADLA is a confidence building mechanism that requires cadets to speak on selected topics for a few minutes (no peeking at notes).

The variety show held once a year is a celebrated tradition where male cadets get their chance to take a swipe at their female counterparts. Rookie cadets have their share of responsibilities - they can get detailed to the female civilian contestants as their conducting officers (CO) during All Pakistan Declamation Contest (APDC) – when Risalpur hosts visiting teams from all over Pakistan. There is even a social life in the form of squadron parties for the lucky ones. All this as they battle the elements - Risalpur is no tropical paradise - and learn to steer clear of the appointment holding cadets; ‘Elite Templar Knights’, some call them (whose path is crossed at ones own peril and not because of the impossibly difficult titles which must be prefaced and ended with a Sir but because they wield ultimate power and can string up entire courses (not literally)).

A former cadet has an interesting observation about the strict training regimen and disciplinary actions. While it may be resented at the time, the spirit behind this is to build stamina and comradeship. “Nothing like shared labour to bring people closer, besides, taking consequences out of life results in lowering the standards - the only difference between a diamond and coal is the pressure or lack of it; otherwise both are essentially carbon.” There are no shortcuts to greatness. Cadets get no reprieve till graduation day. One officer recalled the academy as the busiest, toughest, hardest and the best days of an air force cadet’s life. The time there passes in an instant but the lessons learnt last a lifetime.

Training women for combat roles, even sword of honour winners, is a bold initiative and a complex equation that has to factor in marriage, children, biological makeup, and cultural constraints. And when the selection criteria and training requirements are already so tough, this is an additional hurdle. Flying combat missions over enemy territory is not an option, even if women are prepared to sacrifice their lives for God and Country, the nation is not willing to risk them as prisoner of war; air defence duties are tricky and their deployment at satellite bases (located in more conservative parts of the country) is not always advisable. Letting women work freed men to go to the front in both World Wars (I, II). Flying Air Defence Missions over own territory and being a part of reserve forces keep the option of a bigger war time role open.

Lady Officers concede that military service is not a career but a lifelong commitment - one where dividing lines between personal and professional life vanishes. They have battled centuries of prejudice, years of resistance and decades of disappointment to get where they are. While there may not be many women in the service, the ones that have joined the league of extraordinary gentlemen are no less extraordinary for taking on two fronts - as caregivers and warriors – in a society that may have graciously accepted the change but is slow to understand the concept of day care centres. Nevertheless, today’s women are equally at home in the cockpit as they are in the kitchen. Can they have it all, given all the limitations that society (and/or biology) imposes on them? Yes, at a slightly inflated price. But yes, they can. They will. They already have!

Acknowledgement: ACM(R) Abbas Khattak, Air/Cdre(R) Kaiser Tufail

Saturday, February 6, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to Masters in Pakistan’, which came to ‘two presidents, seven prime ministers, three chiefs of army staff and three foreign secretaries’.

His book vividly captures a medley of hits and misses during 30 years spent in the diplomatic service of Pakistan and chronicles assignments starting from Ghana (Africa) in 1965, as its first resident High Commissioner (as ambassadors from Commonwealth Member Nations were referred to), when war clouds were gathering in Pakistan, ending in the UN — New York as President and Member of the UN Security Council in 1994. He received a shot at multilateral diplomacy in the European Office of the United Nations, Geneva (Switzerland) and served as a Permanent Representative of the UN Secretary General for East Timor.

Divided into ten parts, each devoted to a specific country/region, accompanied by a ‘Chiaroscuro’, covering the “vagaries of bureaucracy”, synchronised with the polarising politics of home in a separate section aptly named, ‘Meanwhile in Pakistan’. Severing the narrative into three portions is an interesting departure from standard fare but it does not affect the flow of the narrative nor does it detract from the story.

As a historian, Marker faithfully records his impressions of people and places and politics of the time as his work takes him on a panoramic journey. As a diplomat he uses deft strokes to depict the diplomatic sparring contests carried out in charged atmospheres that led him to some of the most memorable and untenable moments of history. One such instance was in Russia, where he came closest to receiving a declaration of war whereas in Washington he helped shield Pakistan from the crippling effects of reduced US support at a critical juncture. Referring to his Washington days he admits that his modus operandi would get him declared a persona non grata in other capitals of the world including his own, for interfering in political affairs, without which he would be sacked.

He was in Russia (1969-72) at a time when ‘tripartite mutual distrust’ prevailed (Soviets vs the US and China, China vs the US and Soviets and the US vs Soviets and China) and watched the Russians assume the position of “prime arbiters of war and peace in the subcontinent” — a direct consequence of the Friendship Treaty of 1971; he came to the US during “historic moments of tectonic change in the existing international order”, opened the first Pakistani mission in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) while it was behind the Iron Curtain, and served in the dual capacity of ambassador and UNESCO representative while in Paris. Scattered among his high profile assignments are some that he would simply classify as goodwill missions. At each of these destinations we learn a little bit more about the delicately woven fabric of international relations and the dextrousness required to keep it intact.

He attributes success in the UN to the “skill, dedication and professionalism” of Pakistani diplomats and “skilled deployment of resources” at par with guns and oil that typically manipulate diplomacy. Even setbacks had silver linings. Pakistan was Chairman of the Group of 77 (129 + members from so-called developing nations, as the writer puts it), an organisation dealing with the economic side “set up to coordinate policies and positions for negotiations with developing nations”. Its role in the UN Conference in Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio, while unproductive at the time, ultimately led to the Kyoto protocols.

Leaders back home get their share of attention too. Marker shows President Zia in a different light as a man whose “bold and imaginative statesmanship” led to a peaceful end to the Baloch uprising, which held for eight years. Prominent world leaders of the time have a place but not everyone gets the respect. Some are casually brushed aside for evoking “apprehension not admiration”.

His world provokes comments about its decayed practices; the opening sessions of the Conference in Cuba have been referred to as “elaborate and opulent affairs — spectacular displays which only totalitarian regimes can produce”. The author infuses subtle shades of humour into his writing, transforming mundane acts like walking down a hall in the UN into delightful performances where delegations, likened to convoys composed of battleships followed by “fussy little destroyers and sloops”, break/tighten their formation depending upon their relations with the approaching ‘convoys’. Jamsheed Marker’s memoir provides a vital perspective on Pakistan’s foreign policy. It also leaves readers wondering if present day diplomacy can mirror these successes.