Home / Opinion / Book Review | Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War

In an interview with The Economist in 1981, General Zia ul-Haq said: “Pakistan is, like Israel, an ideological state. Take out Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse."

Thankfully for Zia, Pakistan never made any attempt to be secular before or after he was in power. Pakistan, the land of the pure (pak), was created for Islam and till date, the country’s administration (read its army), has shown unwavering resolve in protecting its Islamic ideology. But in reality, from the demand underlying the two-nation theory to the country’s ideological outlook and its changing nuclear weapons posture, all are aimed at one goal: parity in every respect with India, however unrealistic that goal may be.

Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War by Georgetown University scholar C. Christine Fair is a study of how the country’s army has sought to achieve this.

Fair argues that the Pakistan Army’s revisionist agenda is restricted not only to wresting Jammu and Kashmir from India but also in preventing India’s “inevitable if uneven ascendance" in South Asia and beyond. Unlike conventional armies which seek only to protect territorial boundaries, the Pakistani Army, Fair argues, has taken upon it to protect the country’s ideological frontiers as defined by Islam.

How this has come to be is a question that has been researched, discussed and debated by many. One compelling view has been put forth by Faisal Devji in Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea. Devji argues that Pakistan’s nationalism is founded on negation coupled with religion: rejecting old land for new, dismissing Hindu India for Muslim Pakistan. Therefore, “for Muslim nationalism…religion was conceived of not as a supplement to geography but as an alternative" (Muslim Zion, chapter 1, p. 47).

Seen from Pakistan’s perspective ceaseless attempts at taking Kashmir by force appear rational even if they are not so in terms of the real world challenge it faces from India. Fair argues that for the Pakistan Army, defeat does not lie in its failure to win Kashmir despite its numerous unsuccessful attempts; defeat will be the point when it stops trying. Therefore, failed attempts are just “honourable and brave Muslims" fighting against “meek, pusillanimous and treacherous Hindus". Fair, who has extensively researched the Pakistan Army’s publications, has found this to be the common theme in writings of senior army officers. Pakistan Army Green Books are replete with arguments of why the Hindu Indian army poses a threat to a resource-wise weaker, but conviction-wise stronger Muslim Pakistan. Even though this portrayal is incorrect, as the Indian army is multi-religious, it is accepted and propagated because it fits in perfectly with the Pakistan Army’s ideological fight.

These are age-old prejudices that lay behind the quest for electoral parity with Hindus in the British Raj, then moving on to being treated equally with India internationally (“hyphenation") after 1947 and to “equality" in nuclear weapons. This misguided quest has infected Pakistan’s nuclear posture to the point of irrationality. Fair highlights the two ways in which nuclear weapons enabled risk-taking against India. First, possession of these weapons allows it to engage in “minor" trespasses—the odd terrorist attack against New Delhi—that will go unpunished. Second, if things begin to get out of hand, it can count on the US to prevent a nuclear exchange. Between these extremes, Pakistan is free to do as it pleases.

That has not worked. In fact if India has not been able to deter Pakistan from launching terrorist attacks, Pakistan, while having succeeded in “internationalizing" the Kashmir issue, has been able to do precious little to acquire what it wants. At one time, it could indeed use nuclear weapons to bring in the US to sort things out. Now, out of frustration, it wants to dominate each offensive option against India—from terrorist attacks all the way to a first nuclear strike or what scholars call “escalation dominance". Pakistan’s refusal to agree to a no-first use of nuclear weapons, its development of tactical nuclear weapons and its refusal to sign the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty indicate that its nuclear adventures are indeed madcap plans. Fair is not optimistic about the chances of the Army changing its outlook. Her conclusion on the final pages of the book should sober anyone who thinks that Pakistan will give up its mindlessness.

Fair’s excellent scholarship makes it amply clear how dangerous Pakistan’s deep-rooted contradictions and convictions are. Pakistan is “stable in its instability", says Fair, but for India this is a cause of extreme worry.

Gayatri Chandrasekaran is Staff Writer (Views), Mint.

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