Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Book Review - The News

The News November 14, 2004
Anecdotal evidence
Pakistan's Drift into Extremism
Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror by Hassan Abbas

By Dr Afzal Mirza

Hassan Abbas's eagerly awaited book was recently launched in an impressive function organised by the Jinnah Foundation for Peace at Baltimore. The author who belongs to police service of Pakistan is on leave from his department working for his doctorate at Tufts University. Excerpts of the book published before the launching by some newspapers showed that the book carried some flashy material about the politicians and political scenario of Pakistan.

In his twenty minute speech summarizing the contents of his thesis, the author touched upon some of the happenings in Pakistan's history since its inception. He blamed the political debacle that the country has gone through to the absence of any accountability from the day one. He questioned Quaid-i-Azam's appointing Liaquat Ali Khan as the prime minister instead of a representative of East Pakistan which created a sense of despondency among East Pakistanis who were in majority in the country. Again when Liaquat was murdered in broad daylight, the whole episode was buried in the files declaring it as an individual act of a desperate Afghan. Liaquat brought in the Objectives Resolution in the constituent assembly strengthening the hands of religious leaders who had no role in the creation of Pakistan but had taken control by raising the bogey that Pakistan was conceived as a religious state. Liaquat violated Quaid-e-Azam's guidelines for the future constitution of Pakistan laid in his famous speech of August 11, 1947 declaring that "in Pakistan Muslims will cease to be Muslims, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Christians will cease to be Christians, not in the religious sense but in the political sense." Then came a tilt in Pakistan's foreign policy towards America which with various ups and downs remains the 'corner stone' of Pakistan's role in world affairs even today.

So much for the author's observations. The book declares that there are "three main characters of this story -- the Pakistan Army, the jihadi actors and the United States of America." To understand the role of these three factors, Hassan Abbas has traced the history of Pakistan. Though brief but like Howard Zinn's A Peoples History of United States, it gives an unbiased account of what went wrong with this country. The author has touched every subject relevant to Pakistan and in a highly readable style has given his candid opinion.

In the book one finds many incidents and anecdotes already known to the Pakistanis as 'rumors' but Abbas has authenticated them with inside account of the events thus turning them into 'facts'. He laments that Pakistanis tolerated Ghulam Muhammad -- a sick and handicapped person -- as governor general who ousted and foisted different governments at his will with the connivance of the judiciary and the army.

He talks about what went wrong in 1965 Indo-Pak war. He has reproduced a letter of General Akhtar Husain Malik who was replaced as Chief of Army Staff with General Yahya Khan by then president Ayub Khan when victory in Akhnur Sector of Kashmir was round the corner. He shows how in the eyes of those generals the question of giving credit for the victory to a particular person was more important than the victory itself. In his letter to his younger brother General Abdul Ali Malik, General Akhtar Malik writes, "I reasoned and then pleaded with Yahya that if it was credit he was looking for he should take the overall command but let me go up to Akhnur as his subordinate but he refused. He went a step further and even changed the plan... we lost the initiative on the very first day of the war and never recovered it."

Ayub's downfall came after Tashkent agreement but he was forced to hand over government to Yahya Khan instead of handing it over to the speaker of the National Assembly, who belonged to East Pakistan, as laid down in 1962 constitution. Thus Ayub violated his own constitution.

About Yahya, Hassan Abbas writes: "As Ayub sank Yahya became more chirpy. Buoyed by spirits one evening which was not uncommon for him, he asked a lady seated next to him at dinner if she knew whom she was having her meal with. And before she could answer he confessed that it was with the future president of Pakistan. How this lady subsequently paid for this gratuitous sharing of evidence is not recorded." Abbas has written some amusing anecdotes about Generals Yahya and Niazi. One about Niazi is too provocative to repeat here.

The author has discussed Bhutto period in a quite objective manner. While pointing out all the positive things carried out by him, he criticises him for yielding to the rightists and going to the extent of appeasing them by declaring Friday as weekly holiday in place of Sunday, banning liquor consumption and declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Under the covert advice of agencies, anti-Bhutto movement became a movement for imposing the Sharia to pave the way for Ziaul Haq's dictatorship.

It is during Zia's eleven year rule that extremists multiplied in enormous proportions. There was a mushroom growth of madressas and Pakistan's drift towards extremism reached its peak. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave a new lease of life to Ziaul Haq and American and Saudi Arabian money as well as arms and ammunition started flowing into Pakistan. It is during this period that ISI (Inter Services Intelligence Service) grew into a size that in the words of Steve Cole became 'an army within an army.'

In order to perpetuate his hold on Pakistan and to vanquish Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, Ziaul Haq with the help of the agencies created divisions among various segments of society which resulted in formation of different jihadi organisations and also certain ethnic organisations like Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Hassan Abbas reveals that the murder of Iranian Consul General Sadiq Ganji in Lahore that triggered Shia-Sunni conflict was carried out by an assassin on the rear seat of whose motor bike was sitting an ISI man. The conflict has now taken alarming dimensions in the country. The influx of Afghan refugees and arms and dollars changed the complexion of the Pakistani society which became a society of jihadis and of Klashnikov culture.

Abbas has made sarcastic comments on Ziaul Haq declaring him as "the most remarkable man ever to have held the reigns of power in Pakistan."

After Ziaul Haq's departure from the scene a period of so-called democracy began in the country. But was it a real democracy or an army controlled democracy? The author doesn't have good words for General Mirza Aslam Baig. He describes his and agencies' role in keeping Benazir on razor's edge and then with the help of Ishaq Khan dismissing the first Benazir government and forging Islami Jamhoori Ittehad to elevate Nawaz Sharif to be the prime minister of the country. He points out at the power play in bringing back Benazir into the government and again scuttling her government and bringing back Nawaz Sharif to be toppled by yet another general. He has given amusing examples of Nawaz Sharif's demeanor as prime minister.

Abbas has also discussed General Pervez Musharraf in detail. He has termed his National Accountability Bureau experience as disappointing as some of the indicted persons were appointed in the new government that came into power as result of the general elections held under the watchful eye of President Musharraf.

The author has discussed Kargil episode in equally elaborate manner. He holds generals responsible for it. "The masterminds of the operation were driven by the belief that their nuclear capability provided a protective shield to Pakistan... All the four generals involved in the Kargil project had remained instructors in different military training institutions during their careers, teaching young officers how vital it is to weigh the pros and cons of a military offensive in terms of understanding the possible ramifications, and enemy reactions. It is strange that these generals forgot the basic military lesson and seriously miscalculated Indian capabilities in terms of military strength and political influence in the international arena."

He continues to write: "The people of Pakistan had been subjected to the largest whispering campaign in history to expect a great victory. When the operation fizzled out like a wet firecracker they were a nation left speechless in anger and disbelief. Musharraf and the planners could not give any excuses in public but privately they let it be known that the blame for scuttling of a brilliant operation lay on a panic-prone prime minister who could not stand up to the US president... Nawaz Sharif too could not say anything in his defense publicly but privately he let it be known that his generals had taken him for a ride... From this point on every action and word of Musharraf and Nawaz was under scrutiny of the other, fueling a spiraling of mutual suspicion and distrust."

The generals Abbas speaks very high of include Lt Gen Ghulam Ahmad Khan, Musharraf's chief of staff who died in a car accident. "With his demise Musharraf increasingly lost touch with reality and became a willing prisoner in a web of flattery... I cannot help recalling one of the conversations between Saeed A Malik and General G A -- Malik was strongly asserting that everything was 'do-able' provided the Musharraf government had the will to do it and G A stunned the audience when he said, "But, sir, first they (Musharraf, Mahmood and Aziz) have to get out of the cage of Kargil, otherwise all their efforts will be reactive." ... "After his death, Musharraf slid rapidly into the mold of his military predecessors who stepped in to save the country," Hassan Abbas points out.

There is a separate chapter in the book on jihadi organisations and their genesis.

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