By Ajai Shukla
Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within
By Shuja Nawaz
Oxford University Press, 2008
Cost: Rs 695/-
A trio of books over the last three years has fascinatingly illuminated the inner workings of Pakistan’s power establishment. Musharraf’s autobiography, In the Line of Fire, provided a window into the general’s mind; and Adrian Levy’s and Catherine Scott-Clark’s Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, described Pakistan’s systematic manipulation of the nuclear black market. Now Shuja Nawaj’s Crossed Swords: Pakistan; Its Army and the Wars Within gives a comprehensive insight into that country’s ultimate power centre.
Stephen Cohen has earlier written on the Pakistani army, but he was an “outsider”, granted selective access by a military that was confident of his discretion. Shuja Nawaz’s work is far more comprehensive, combining decades of experience as a journalist and TV broadcaster in Pakistan, the research rigour of an analyst, and an astonishing facility at recording and recalling incidents over the years. And yes! He just happens to be the brother of former Pakistani army chief, General Asif Nawaz, which obtained for him access to secret army records and files inaccessible to the ordinary chronicler.
Nawaz’s book also draws relevance from dozens of personal interviews with Pakistani decision makers over the years, shining important new light on events that are still current. That Nawaz Sharif is lying when he says Kargil came as a surprise to him becomes evident from the author’s interviews with Sharif’s foreign minister and close confidant, Sartaj Aziz, and with then ISI Director General, Ziauddin --- whom Sharif trusted enough to hand-pick as Musharraf’s successor. Sartaj Aziz admits to attending an army briefing on 12th March 1999 --- two months before the intrusions there discovered --- in which the army told him that groups of “mujahideen” had been sent into Indian territory. It is unlikely that Aziz would not have informed his PM.
And on 17th May, General Ziauddin --- Nawaz Sharif’s chosen man --- describes a detailed briefing at ISI headquarters in which Sharif was shown on a map the locations of all 108 Pakistani bunkers on the Indian side. Ziauddin recounts that, to his surprise, Sharif even asked questions and finally instructed the army that, “there should be no withdrawal, no surrender, because that would greatly embarrass us.”
Shuja Nawaz also debunks the traditional Pakistani version of the 1947 invasion of Kashmir, in which a maverick General Akbar Khan privately organised Pathan tribesmen, who swept past an effete Dogra army and were stopped at the doorstep of Srinagar only by Indian perfidy. Nawaz draws on Pakistani army archives to paint a new account of the deep involvement of Pakistan’s military in managing the invasion, even a tacit nod from Jinnah. And, most interestingly, the British generals in Pakistan were far more sympathetic towards the invasion than was earlier known. The British commander-in-chief in Pakistan, General Sir Frank Messervy favoured sending a Pakistani regular battalion into Srinagar in plainclothes, to capture the airfield and keep out Indian reinforcements; in December 1947 Messervy allocated a million bullets and Pakistani officer volunteers to the “tribal” invasion. Lt Gen Sir Douglas Gracey, who eventually succeeded Messervy, went even further in his support to the invasion of Kashmir.
Crossed Swords skilfully brings to life individuals like General Mirza Aslam Beg, the army chief after Zia’s death (murder, suggests Nawaz), and one of the murkiest figures in the history of Pakistan. Nawaz describes Aslam Beg as a man who coveted political power, but didn’t have the confidence to grab it; a closet Islamist with military judgement so poor that, even as US forces were scything across Kuwait in 1991, he was haranguing 600 Pakistani officers about America’s impending Vietnam in that country. And that was when his government had sent soldiers to the US-led coalition.
Given Nawaz’s identity as a Pakistani and the brother of an army chief, it would be unfair to expect complete objectivity from the book. It glosses over the truly dark issues of Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh, the army’s involvement in AQ Khan’s generous distribution of nuclear technology, and its direct presence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Nawaz does not convincingly explain how Pakistan lost wars without ever losing a battle; no Pakistani likes the thought of being bested in direct combat with Indian troops.
But Nawaz compensates for those omissions by a highly readable account that will be a standard reference work on the Pakistan Army. At 655 pages, this is not a quickie born of a few months of work in the archives. It is a rich stew that has bubbled for decades in the pot of experience. The Indian Army would be the richer for a similar account.