Sunday, July 20, 2008


By Shuja Nawaz

Oxford University Press, $34.95, 585 pages


Shuja Nawaz’s history of the Pakistan military is excellent reading for anyone seeking to understand the role of the army in Pakistan‘s development as a nation-state as well as its potential for rolling back the Islamist extremist threat it helped to unleash in the 1990s. The author, hailing from an influential Pakistani military family (his brother, Asif Nawaz, was chief of army in the early 1990s and died under suspicious circumstances while still in office), is well-positioned to provide an objective insider’s view of an institution few in the United States comprehend, despite having provided billions of dollars to support it since Sept. 11.

Mr. Nawaz follows the evolution of the army’s role in shaping Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy landscape from the country’s independence in 1947 up to the Musharraf era, highlighting key decision points and U.S. policy responses.

He recounts how Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first native army chief, realized in the early 1950s that Pakistan would need a superpower friend to survive and therefore convinced American officials to sign a defense pact with Pakistan to stem communist advances in the Middle East. Soon after the two sides inked the agreement in 1954, American officials realized Pakistan had neither the capability nor the will to confront communism and that its genuine strategic concerns revolved around India. The United States ignored aid leakages to preserve the broader strategic relationship and congressional members bemoaned the lack of transparency and accounting of the aid flowing to Pakistan. Sound familiar?

The description of decision making surrounding Pakistan’s incursion into the heights of Kargil on the Indian side of the Line of Control in 1999 drives home the pitfalls of allowing an army focused on tactical military gains to remain outside civilian control. Then Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf refused to endorse former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to seek U.S. help in extricating Pakistan gracefully from the ill-conceived operation and insisted the invasion benefited Pakistan by raising the international profile of the Kashmir issue. Mr. Musharraf was oblivious to the fact that the U.S. was angry at Pakistan for having started a border war with nuclear-armed India at the same time Indo-Pakistani diplomatic negotiations were bearing fruit.

The book also contains lessons for U.S. policy-makers. Soon after Washington imposed sanctions on Pakistan and disengaged from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, Pakistani strategists started to focus on policies of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, which contributed to the birth of the Taliban, and “strategic defiance” against the West. Gen. Aslam Beg, who took over as chief of the army following the death of Mohammad Zia ul-Haque in 1988, supported closer ties to Iran and may have even approved nuclear technology transfers to the Iranian leadership at the time. Gen. Beg represents an anti-West, Islamist-inspired attitude that some others within the Pakistani military almost certainly share, although to what degree and whether such leanings will prevail within the system is still unknown.

Here is where the author both honors the memory of his brother and provides hope for outsiders relying on the better angels in Pakistan’s military leadership. Asif Nawaz took over as chief of army from Gen. Beg in 1991 and sought to stabilize U.S.-Pakistan relations despite the sanctions; improve military-to-military ties with India; distance the Army from politics; and make clear to Tehran it would not transfer nuclear technology by explaining, “Pakistan has attained it [nuclear technology] for its own exclusive use.”

It would have been interesting for the author to spin out scenarios, based on his extensive research and experience with the Pakistani military, on the future of U.S.-Pakistan military ties, given the tremendous strains brought by the war in Afghanistan and increased U.S. anxiety about the Taliban/al-Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Will both sides learn from past mistakes and engage in frank strategic discussions that could better align their efforts and interests in Afghanistan?

The author also shies away from an in-depth discussion on the issue of greatest concern to U.S. policy-makers: The nature of the links between Pakistani officials and Islamist extremists and whether these will be severed in the future. “Pakistan still provides ample opportunity for global terrorist networks to operate, recruit, and train its soldiers in Pakistan,” he notes, and he calls on the Army “to break out of its prevaricating behavior vis-a-vis the Islamists.” But he avoids detailed prescriptions for how this should be done.

With a weak and fractured government, continued ethnic and sectarian tensions, and an Islamist extremist insurgency gaining ground in the northwest part of the country, the Pakistani military will continue to play a crucial role in helping secure and stabilize the country.

Shuja Nawaz’s thorough and informed research in Crossed Swords shines a light on past mistakes made by the Pakistani military and provides insight into its potential future role in supporting a Pakistan that is progressive, prosperous, and engaged with the West. Shuja Nawaz has served both Pakistan, which needs to come to terms with its past, and the U.S., which needs to better understand this critical ally whose future direction will largely determine the outcome of the global struggle against Islamist terrorism.

Lisa Curtis is senior research fellow on South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide