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Fifth column

June 11, 2018
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A season for all books

Opinion

June 11, 2018

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Apart from the heat generated by the unruly sun, new books are scorching the milieu and pushing the ever-raging debates on Pakistan and its socio-political trajectories to a new high or low, depending upon your affiliations or how one sees these developments.

In March, Hussain Haqqani, a former Islamist-militant-turned-extremist-secularist, came out with a new book, ‘Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State’. Haqqani, who is more famous for using his creative talent in destructive ways, constructs a deeply partisan narrative that could easily pass off as an attempt to bolster a narrative that always blames Pakistan for its ills or even the military, without any appreciation for the continued outside interference – both on its borders and within its geography. There is a growing indication that India and the US are working in tandem to push a more antagonistic storyline against Pakistan.

In comparison, Nasim Zehra’s ‘From Kargil to the coup: Events that Shook Pakistan’, is meticulously grounded in intellectual rigour. While investigating the Kargil debacle, the book unravels structural flaws within Pakistan’s decision-making system and a lack of any sustained policymaking processes that dogs the country’s wellbeing. Zehra emphasises a “comprehensive narration, one that would weave in critical dimensions of state-craft and policy-making while unravelling the mystery of a military adventure planned for the world’s highest and toughest battle-ground”.

That the Kargil operation was a disaster is understated as it not only caused huge international embarrassment for Pakistan, but also exposed its deep internal flaws and structural divisions that ultimately led to the derailment of a nascent democratic setup for more than a decade. The disaster caused the massive sufferings of army men who were thrown into the war theatre only to be abandoned and left to die in the most inhospitable conditions. In the aftermath, I heard several heart-wrenching stories from my former colleagues at the International Committee of the Red Cross who accompanied dozens of bodies and prisoners from India to Pakistan.

Nasim Zehra tries to dissect the heavily sensitive issue of the civil-military relations and the perpetual binary – civilian versus military. She believes such a binary “promotes a flawed reading of decision-making, policies, and policy impacts” that tends to produce contradictory or mutually antagonistic narratives that obfuscate any possibility of a serious debate or engagement within various state organs: “The common narrations either eulogize the army while critiquing the civilians or extol the civilians while critiquing the army”.

The book uncovers the anomalies that beset the whole decision-making process – civilian or military – and suggests that none of them is superior to the other. It also reveals how the self-serving and deficient politicians, who promote flattery rather than indulge in any serious conversation or debates about the issues of national import, are jeopardising any reforms within the system. This book is a must-read for every concerned Pakistani and student of contemporary Pakistan. It is unfortunate that the amount of interest this book should generate – both in public and policy circles – has eluded it, as the public imagination has suddenly been taken over by the unfolding gossip from an ex-wife.

Imran Khan’s former spouse, Reham Khan, is spouting distilled venom. In her latest TV interview with an Indian news channel, she has more or less confirmed the basic contents of her yet-to-be-named or released book, similar to what had already been leaked in the public domain for the past few days. Although the former Mrs Khan was in real conjugal bliss for less than three months, and her marriage could not benefit from an anniversary, the focus of her book, per the information available, seems to be Imran Khan – exposing her extremely unhealthy obsession with her past that was so very short-lived and fleeting.

The volume seems to be immersed in raunchy details about the alleged sexual exploits and misdemeanours of the men at the helm of the PTI. London-based Pakistani journalist and a former colleague of Rehman Khan, Mubeen Rashid, with whom the idea of the book and the first script was generated, told me that because the book is too vulgar and laden with unsubstantiated claims, nobody is willing to take up the manuscript in the UK.

The other book that is still causing ripples is the ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the illusion of Peace’, co-authored by AS Dulat, the former RAW chief, and Asad Durrani, the retired DG ISI. This has landed Durrani in trouble as he has been officially banned to travel outside of the country while having to face a court of inquiry from the army. It is probably for the first time that a former ISI chief has faced official censure, Retired Lt General Ghulam Mustafa told me last week.

He, like several others in the country, believes that Durrani was led into a trap by RAW to speak in a way and style that hurt Pakistan’s basic narrative. Whether such a claim will hold water during a court of inquiry or not, it is uncanny for a collaborative book to portray a one-sided narrative. What is clear from the exercise is that Durrani, who has very little intelligence experience as compared to Dulat, is talking non-stop while Dulat is circumspect and clinched with his answers, and even obfuscates an honest debate that would have otherwise been so very useful to promote a greater understanding between both countries.

During an interview with me, AS Dulat rubbished the claims that he had any motives other than wishing the ongoing “madness between India and Pakistan needs to end, [and] that we need to move forward”. The positive aspect of the book is that it makes bold and forthright statements about the operational war capacities and the limitations of India and Pakistan. Both the authors agree that no country is in a position to change the status quo on the ground in Kashmir, and, therefore, call for rapprochement.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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