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

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…

VIEW: Of Clarion Calls and Golden Statuettes / By Afrah Jamal

First Published in Daily Times /Saturday, March 17, 2012

Elegiac laments for a fading film industry are interrupted midway with news that could give the documentary film medium at least a new lease of life. It owes its resurrection to a young filmmaker, who mined troubling sound-bytes overheard in theatres where war, injustice or social disparity reigns supreme. Clips aired at the third Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) held earlier this year provided glimpses of her work, including the internationally acclaimed ‘Saving Face’. At the time, she had an Emmy stacked away for one documentary and was just weeks away from winning an Academy Award for another. At the time, she had been relentlessly crusading to rid societies of those anachronistic practices (among other ills) that weigh them down in the modern world. And — despite these glittering credentials — her work was largely unknown amongst Pakistanis.

The young Oscar nominee who took the stage that day would soon be the face of a bur…

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…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

SERIES REVIEW: THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS / Rick Riordan (2013)

First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…

BOOK REVIEW: How It Happened

Published in Daily Times / Sat 9 Feb 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Shazaf Fatima Haider

Thanks to Liberty Books for the (temp) review copy

Gwendolen: I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . .”
-
The Importance of being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)


Characters chasing ‘happily ever after’s’ are often pulled aside by enterprising elders who try to flag all but the most traditional road to the altar. A fiendishly funny narrative pounces on the retreating figure of Cupid and explores his cultural relevance in the sport they call match-making.

The saga of the Bandian clan comes with a perpetually scandalized, formidable old lady fiercely protective…

BOOK REVIEW: Kasab, The Face of 26/11

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Thanks to the Writer for the lovely emails despite the 'scathing review'

Published inDaily Times / Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Author: Rommel Rodrigues

November 26, 2008 was India’s 9/11 — or so they say. It was the day 10 gunmen held one city hostage for over 60 hours. A day that sent accusations flying across the border, and the fear of something deadlier being traded saw the international community scrambling for cover. India was breaking news for days. Pakistan also made headlines around that time but not for the same reasons.

They caught the perpetrator. Ajmal Kasab is exhibit A in the case against the country of his birth. What little is known about Kasab (the name literally means butcher), beyond his nationality (Pakistani) and vocation (deadly pawn) comes from a hastily complied sketch leaked to the media in the early days of the attack. The rest came from following the trail of breadcrumbs, obligingly l…