Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: Estranged Neighbours: India - Pakistan (1947-2010) By General K M Arif

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

General Arif admits that he is a “soldier by profession and peacemaker by choice”. The peacemaking side hastens to the battlefield to clear the air and maybe mend some fences while the soldier in him is ready to launch a verbal offensive. He does intend to bury the hatchet but not before evaluating the number of times this hatchet has been wielded in the past by the powerful nation of India against a flailing state of Pakistan. There is a third side — that of the pragmatist who intends to bring Pakistan back in alignment with its stated polices.

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

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What Pakistan Wants from Afghanistan...?

Published by Global Affairs / July 2017


In the aftermath of the deadly attacks in a diplomatic enclave and a funeral, Afghanistan’s fate now hangs in the balance, while experts mull over the merits of potential troop surges and worry about the endemic corruption, plummeting morale and ensuing chaos. Afghan President Ghani’s statement that his nation suffers from an ‘undeclared war of aggression from Pakistan’ delivered at Kabul Process meeting sums up the problem.

Interestingly, a week before, he expressed the exact same sentiment – only the words were ‘undeclared war of aggression from non-state actors.’ Later his Twitter feed regurgitated the passive aggressive plea from the speech that by turns call for dialogue and apportions blame to its neighbors.

What is it that Pakistan wants is the question foremost in his mind. He also wonders what the Taliban want.

The first question is easily answered. The Pak Army COAS wants Afghanistan to look inwards. Probably at the safe havens …

Pakistan’s Neutral Stance on Qatar

Written right after the Qatar embargo

Published Global Affairs Jul 2017


Qatar recently found itself in hot water based on comments attributed to its leadership – comments that had been categorized as fake news. As a pretext it served its purpose. The oil-gas rich nation has been placed in a diplomatic stranglehold though it renounced charges of funding terrorism and being a destabilizing influence the region. These may be pressure tactics meant to put Qatar in its place, cut it down to size, make it tow the GCC line whatever that might be at the moment. The definition of terror in this case is open to interpretation. Qatar fights ISIL alongside coalition partners. But its support for proscribed groups like Muslim Brotherhood for instance and relationship with Tehran keeps it in the doghouse.

Washington remains ambivalent. The American President endorsed the move. The Secretary of State cautioned against boycotts. But GCC nations seem clear-sighted. The small state houses US CENTCOM, t…

BOOK REVIEW: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam (2007)

Author: Zahid Hussain

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUNE 14, 2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam goes for the jugular with an insiders look at a deformed culture borne of a dated ideology, fueled by vested interest and driven by intolerance; and a nation’s complicity.

Not surprisingly, the legitimacy granted jihadists by ISI-CIA ran out soon, as did the sympathy for their jihadist actions formally perceived as heroic. Once used to counter the threat of communism, the rapid shift in their objectives that placed Pakistan’s national interest on a collision course with its security rendered them an anachronism.

This led to a parting of ways with the ISI; consequently, the deadliness of operations and depth of penetration in society seen in the context of 9/11 forever breached the line between liberators and terrorists.

Veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, Pakistani correspondent for the "Times of London", "The Wall Street Journal", …

The Importance of Being Pakistan

Published in Global Village Space / July 2017

Implications of a Modi – Trump style ‘meet and greet’

As Mr. Modi descended upon Washington, armed with Kashmiri shawls, tea, honey, and personalized invites for the first family to visit India, the U.S. media hastened to find parallels between the two nations. Democracies both (biggest / oldest), led by men with a degree of social-media savvy, men indifferent to public opinion and sporting unique greeting styles - hugs from Modi, handshakes from Trump.

Seen from afar, the show stopping performance yielded significant results, strengthened defense cooperation and secured 22 shiny new Guardian drones. Commentators noted that contentious issues like H1-B work visas and climate change etc were reportedly left out in the cold while detractors brooded over the symbolism that signaled the arrival of a new world order. As with all these visits, Pakistan wasn’t far from India’s thoughts and opinion makers now wonder at the extent Modi can shape…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

OPED: Why the World needs to see Pakistan’s Dark Side

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017


Because the dark side does not get enough exposure. Though this is where all the good Samaritans, the creative giants, crusading angels and intellectual powerhouses reside. It is where genius flourishes hoping to break free of type casting. It is where Oscar winners and Nobel laureates go once they have scaled the summit and conquered cultural biases and social disparity.

A vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans?

But their victories are somehow viewed in isolation. They are seen as outliers - their great accomplishments relegated to the shadows in favor of unflattering headlines beamed across the globe that slyly remove the context and reduce the country to one giant misogynistic, intolerant, vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans. While the worst of humanity hogs the limelight – our most prized assets go unheralded. And tragedies like Mashal Khan and mafias in religious guise along with shady men with offshore acc…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…