Reviewed by Afrah Jamal
Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy
Published in Daily Times / 25 Sep 2010 under the title: Dreaming of an elusive peace
South Asia is frequently in crisis mode and Estranged Neighbours studies the inherited problems, shared dilemmas, post partition woes and regional complexities faced by both nations. General Arif witnessed the partition, was President Ziaul Haq’s chief of staff and spent nearly 40 years in the army. He got a front row seat in the coup d’état staged by Zia and observed the crumbling pillars of democracy up close and personal. But here he is a staunch supporter of democratic principles and values the freedom of the media, even going so far as to devote an entire chapter to media paradoxes and suggesting that citizens be allowed to observe both sides of parliamentary debates and not just be fed the approved sound bytes.
His latest book defines new parameters but prefers to cover old ground — a lot of it. The writer examines all the problems faced by Pakistan, hurdles cast by India and the opportunities lost by both. The general also offers advice to resolve the persistent water, energy, security and economic crisis and help change Pakistan’s political culture, referred here as a relic of colonial past. He quotes multiple instances to show that the overarching fear of Indian aggression is not irrational and as many instances to demonstrate that failure to address domestic problems poses an even graver threat to national security.
Dredging up the past and focusing on India’s hegemonic desires serves an important purpose: it allows him to demonstrate that Pakistan has not been sent into paroxysms of paranoia and makes it easier to explain away its obsession with shiny new military hardware and nuclear toys. It also tries to take the heat off the one that is always in the hot seat by dragging another’s skeletons out in the open while clarifying Pakistan’s position on Kashmir — South Asia’s personal nuclear flashpoint.
But past sins are easier to prove than present misdemeanours and it is difficult to determine if there is any evidence of enemy clandestine activity that will actually stand up in court. Pakistan has found it harder to convince the world of Indian involvement and the charges of sabotage ‘reportedly’ carried out by Indian agencies and ‘financial, material and political support extended to local dissidents’ mentioned in the book do not appear to affect the international community. India, on the other hand has gotten better at this game of ‘spy catching’.
The list of grievances against India is a mile long including cutting off Pakistan’s water, money, hardware, slicing off a chunk of its territory, starting the nuclear arms race and secretly harbouring the hope that partition was a temporary condition. He is equally voluble when it comes to British treachery and the inequitable division of assets. Pakistan’s side includes trying to ‘free’ Kashmir, initiating Operation Gibraltar and allowing weak statesmanship to endanger its national interest. At some point he will call both nations ‘blameworthy’ but the bulk of the blame is laid at India’s doorstep while the majority of ire is directed at Pakistan. This trust deficit has not sprung up overnight but while the book tries to prove its biggest neighbours intent hostile, the responsibility for the downfall of local institutions is all laid at Pakistan’s doorstep.
It begins with an accusatory tone and ends on a hopeful note. Whatever hurdles have been created by the ‘devious’ neighbours and/or unreliable allies, even the general cannot deny that present day Pakistan has gambled and lost some of its prestige and most of its recent troubles are self-inflicted. He calls his country a wounded nation hurt by friends and foes, riddled with injuries of insult, neglect and arrogance inflicted by dictators and democrats; judges and generals; bureaucrats and the media.
General Khalid Mahmud Arif, a recipient of Nishan-i-Imtiaz and SBt, is the author of Working with Zia: Pakistan Power Politics, 1977-1988 and Khaki Shadows: Pakistan Army 1947 to 1997 and is the co-author of three more books. Estranged Neighbour has been laced with a heavy dose of history and shows why the animosity has lasted as long as it has. It is a handy guide for academics and history buffs.
Dost Publications; Pp 339; Rs 595