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How the Pakistan Army, by Attacking India, Fell Into Its Own Trap!

The four wars fought against India over the period between 1947 and 1999 have claimed a total of 18,000 lives.

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Ever since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has been perpetually at war either with India or against itself. In the case of India, the wars have been fought in 1947-48, 1965, 1971, Siachen 1984 onwards, Kargil 1999, and a proxy war in Kashmir. Ironically, Pakistan’s wars against itself proved more costly and deadly.

In 1971, a brutal military operation in East Pakistan launched in March triggered the ‘War of Liberation’ in East Pakistan on the one hand and the Indian attack on East Pakistan on the other.

The process culminated in the creation of Bangladesh in place of erstwhile East Pakistan besides the Pakistan Army’s ignominious surrendering before India on 16 December. In March-December 1971, horrible crimes against humanity were committed by the Pakistan military in East Pakistan. Likewise, the war against carefully nurtured domestic Frankenstein, the Pakistani Taliban 2002 onwards, has taken a huge toll.
Snapshot
  • Tariq Rehman, one of Pakistan’s most important academic voices, answers the nature of the decision-making process in Pakistan in waging wars in his latest book.

  • “A political culture of authoritarianism, lack of civilian control over the military, and a dysfunctional democracy explain ‘the gambling syndrome' in Pakistan's case," argues Rehman.

  • Rehman identifies four elements that constitute the military mind or worldview of the Pakistani military: India as the civilisational “other”; the assumption that Pakistanis are better fighters than the Indians; contempt for the civilians; and an Islamic fervour.

  • In terms of the 1971 war against India and East Pakistan, the decision-making was, as previously, cliquish. However, there was an added element: besides a ‘Hindu’ India, the Bengalis of East Pakistan were also inferiorised by the decision-makers.

  • Women's bodies became sites of horrible crimes, particularly during the two wars. First in 1947, when tribal mercenaries dispatched by Pakistan raped or kidnapped Sikh, Hindu, and Christian women.

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While the four wars against India (excluding Siachen and proxy war in Kashmir) have claimed 18,000 lives, the death toll in the ‘war on Taliban’ (organised as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) is over 70,000.

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Pakistan Army’s War Declarations

“What was the nature of the decision-making process in Pakistan” in waging these wars? Tariq Rehman, one of Pakistan’s most important academic voices, answers this question in his latest book Pakistan’s Wars: An Alternative History

His answer is, “…this decision-making involves only a clique, of some civilians but mostly Army officers who resort to excessive risk-taking." Ascribing decision-makers’ risk-taking behavioural pattern to “the gambling syndrome”, he describes the decision-making process, thus,“…these individuals act in a heterodox and deviant manner almost like rogue elements even when they have the legal authority to take decisions, bypassing the civilian cabinet and the parliament even when they exist and even trusting the military itself on a ‘need to know’ basis” (p 2).

Not that risk-taking is peculiar to Pakistan’s decision-making clique (p 61), there have also been dissidents inside the military opposing the hawkish cliques, nonetheless, it is “a political culture of authoritarianism, lack of civilian control over the military, and a dysfunctional democracy that explains ‘the gambling syndrome’” (p 2) in the case of Pakistan, Rehman argues.

While Pakistan’s first war (over Kashmir in 1947-48) was initiated by a civilian clique, the rest were triggered by the men in khaki. The khaki domination, in turn, owes to the “overdeveloped” character of the state (pp 9-12) and the praetorian character of Pakistani society (p 47). Since the rest of the wars have taken place under military rule/tutelage, Rehman considers it vital to understand the “military mind”.
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‘Inside a Military Mind’ & a Lopsided Perception Towards Indian Army

Rehman identifies four elements that constitute the military mind or worldview of the Pakistani military: India as the civilisational “other”; the assumption that Pakistanis are better fighters than the Indians; contempt for the civilians; and an Islamic fervour. Albeit, the last element is a development from the 1980s onwards (pp 55-61). 

In this 500-plus tome, Rehman mounts heaps of evidence to substantiate his thesis. For instance, the 1947-48 war was a brainchild of Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, his lieutenant, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan besides some mid-ranking Muslim army officers while the C-in-C, General Sir Frank Messervy and other British commanders were kept in the dark (pp 87-92).

An amusing digression is in place here. Maulana Maududi, founder of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami (Party of Islam) which later became a key element in Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir, opposed the 1947-48 war on religious grounds (p 87).

Likewise, the 1965 war, an extension of the 1947-48 episode since the aim was to capture Kashmir, was also decided by General Ayub Khan, the first military ruler. It was planned by Major General Akhtar Malik with two civilians, Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmed (p 112).

A typical military mind motivated the decision-making besides the miscalculation that “cowardly” India would not retaliate, the USA would continue supplying weapons and support besides the world recognising Pakistan’s right to Kashmir (p 120). The decision was so cliquish that even the Army High Command, including Army Chief General Musa did not want the war (pp 113-118).

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On Pak Army’s Decision Making & Its Repercussions

In terms of the 1971 war against India and East Pakistan, the decision-making was, as previously, cliquish. However, there was an added element: besides a ‘Hindu’ India, the Bengalis of East Pakistan were also inferiorised by the decision-makers (p 157).

While the decision to invade East Pakistan was made by General Yahya (who feared a coup in case he accepted the election results which would hand over power to East Pakistan-based Sheikh Mujib), there were such dissidents as Air Commandore Zafar Masud, Admiral Ahsan, and Major General Yakub Ali Khan who opposed the military action in the country’s eastern wing.

Besides the military mind (p 213) and business-as-usual, miscalculations (China and the USA would intervene in the case of an Indian attack), spurred on the disastrous and tragic episode of the 1971 war. 
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The rest of the wars examined in the book have also been convincingly attributed to a military mind and decision-making cliques. What is grotesquely mind-boggling is the tendency of the military mind to (un)learn. For instance, the Kargil war decided by a Gang of Four generals, had been in the offing for years.

The Feasibility reports to invade Kargil were presented to General Zia-ul-Haq, the third military ruler and Army Chief. He rejected the idea. His nemesis Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto rejected any such proposal. The former Army Chief General Jahangir Karamat also dismissed any adventure in Kargil (pp 271-273).

According to Rehman, this inability to (un)learn owes to the fact that “the decisions being shrouded in excessive secrecy because of their plausible deniability are not analysed critically later and do not form corrective antidote to such kind of decision-making in the future” (pp 2-3).

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A Poetic Epilogue

Decision-making is one aspect of the book. The other aspect is the experience of these wars by military personnel, their families, and civilian victims or survivors of these wars. While the former is written with an academic rigour Rehman is known for, the latter aspect is poetically penned by a peacenik in the spirit of Sahir Ludhianvi. India’s poet laureate, Sahir was awarded the Lenin Peace prize for his poetry promoting peace. In fact, Chapter 4’s epigram in Rehman’s book is an excerpt from Sahir’s famous poem Aay Shrif Insano (O Noble People):

Khet apne jalen ya aroon ke 

Zeest faqon say tilmilati hae

Tank aage barhen ya peeche haten

Kokh dharti ki baanjh hoti hae

(Whether our fields get burnt or those of others.

Life threshes about in the agony of starvation

Whether tanks go forward or pull back

The womb of the earth becomes sterile).

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Violence Against Women: A Potent War Tool

Chapter 9, titled ‘War and Gender: Female’ documents chilling stories from the female perspective. Women's bodies became sites of horrible crimes, particularly during the two wars. First in 1947, when tribal mercenaries dispatched by Pakistan raped or kidnapped Sikh, Hindu, and Christian women. (Soon afterwards, the Muslim women from Jammu paid the price). Later on, in 1971, while Bengali women were subjected to horrible crimes, Mukti Bahini guerrillas resorted to the equally brutal treatment of Bihari women or a few West Pakistani women who happened to be in East Pakistan. (Rehman is careful to note that excesses committed by Mukti Bahini should not be equated with war crimes committed by the Pakistan Army owing to the disproportionate power balance).

A Muzaffarabad resident is quoted in the context of the 1947 war mirrors the price women paid: “A woman from amongst our relatives had a young energetic child. As soon as we slipped into the goat shed, she strangled the young child to death lest the sound of his crying may alert the Pathans; as to their whereabouts.” (p 367)

Likewise, some snippets narrate the humanitarian aspect. Indian Prime Minister “Shastri requested Air Marshal Arjan Singh …Chief of the IAF … ‘to ensure that there were no bombing of civilian areas in Pakistan’. As Pakistan too did not bomb purely civilian areas, this war was perhaps more gentlemanly than the terrible devastation visited upon German cities by the Allies in World war II” (p 128). Similarly, amid firing and bombing in 1965, “…there was bonhomie on social occasions. On Eid, for instance, the Indians sent tangerines – tasty ones said major Zulfiqar – for Pakistanis who responded by sending them sweets.” (p 137)

Like all his previous works, Rehman’s book under review offers several insights and provides a fresh understanding of important aspects of Pakistani polity. This book is not merely about wars. It even breaks important new conceptual grounds. For instance, the concept of “situational subalterns” in relation to the wives of military officers who became widows or suffered other traumatic situations during the wars, is indeed, interesting.
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In a similar vein, his concept of the “Other” is remarkable as “The ‘Other’ in this study are the decisions which allow us to act inhumanly in the name of nation, duty, glory, or vengeance” (p 6).

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Are Cliques Exclusive to Pak's War Strategy?

Two brief points, however, deserve to be flagged for their inadequate treatment. Firstly, Rehman does not consider the following question: is clique decision-making regarding wars Pakistan-specific? Isn’t it the worldwide pattern? Likewise, while he justifiably proves Bhutto’s collaboration with generals during 1971, his evidence to indict Bhutto as part of the clique deciding the initiation of the 1965 war is thin.

Riaz Khokhar, former foreign secretary, in an interview with BBC Urdu claimed, “We have scanned the record. Bhutto was blamed by the military men.” All in all, this book is yet another feather in Rehman’s illustrious academic cap. Also, it is an important book for scholars, students, human rights activists, peaceniks, and feminists in the Indian sub-continent and beyond.

(Farooq Sulehria teaches at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. He is the author of “Media Imperialism in India and Pakistan” (Routledge). This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Kargil War   Pakistan Army 

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