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V V: An apologia for Pakistan Army

V V  |  New Delhi 

You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to,” said (1885-1940).

There’s an old joke that while all countries have an army, theirs was an army that owned a country. Well-known analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, who has authored Military Inc Inside Military Economy, has told us that the dominant player in Pakistan’s politics is the army and will remain so for as long as it chooses: apart from the gun, they control chunks of real estate and agribusiness, and their empire includes banks, cable television companies, insurance agencies, sugar refineries, private security firms, schools, airlines, cargo services, textile factories and so on.

In recent years there has been a spate of critical studies on the dominance of the military. This probably led General to commission Carey Schofield, a British researcher who had earlier written on the Russian and Soviet armies, to do a similar account on the Pakistan Army. The result is: Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror (Pentagon Press, Indian reprint, Rs 695). It is a classic case of embedded journalism disguised as investigative reporting.

Schofield, who had open access to military establishments in Pakistan, has put out the story in 10 chapters: The Question of the Pakistan Army; The Place of the Army in Pakistan; How the Pakistan Army Got to be Where it is Today; Fauji Life; Inside the ISI; General Musharraf; Tackling the Militants; The War Goes on; The Death of Faisal Alavi; and the Conclusion. As expected from someone who had been paid by the piper, this is a highly sympathetic account of the travails of the Pakistan Army, the problems it faces in a rapidly crumbling nation because of its inner contradictions, structural weaknesses and the Taliban militancy.

Schofield was well looked after by the establishment. Kitted out in a uniform specially tailored for her by the Army at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, she travelled to remote outposts where no foreign journalists were ever allowed. She visited the military academy in Abbottabad and has written glowingly of how the institution “spares nothing in its quest for excellence. From dawn to dusk the gentlemen cadres are stretching their bodies and minds”. Of course, while describing the facilities at Abbottabad and the rigour of its training, she conveniently skips the fact that while she was being shown around, Osama bin Laden was safely ensconced in a bungalow less than a mile away.

As a special guest of General Musharraf, she quickly adopts an army persona, accepting the military’s belief in its own competence and the disdain for democratic rule. “Military men listen to each other and argue logically and courteously. The civilian world outside the cantonments is wild and violent.”

General Musharraf had offered an explanation as to why the military was superior, which Schofield accepts in toto. The first batch of generals was the offspring of the departing colonial power. They had been taught to obey orders, respect the command structure of the army irrespective of the cost and uphold the traditions of the British Indian army. The bureaucrats who ran Pakistan in the early days were the product of imperial selection procedures designed to turn out incorruptible civil servants wearing a mask of objectivity. While the military chain of command was still respected, the civil service now consisted largely of corrupt time servers. Therefore, they must take a subordinate place in the ruling power elite.

Schofield’s study of the role of the army in politics is superficial. To her, the army was the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan!

Of course, there has to be an exception here and there. In early 2008, an operation that came close to killing Baitullah Mehsud was called off at the last minute by the headquarters, a failure that was criticised by generals in the field. But Schofield doesn’t tell us why they backed off. Obviously, it must be on orders from the very top but we don’t get a clue who that could be. Mehsud, who was supposed to have had a hand in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, was eventually killed in a drone attack.

In her bid to be the sole spokesperson for the Pakistan Army, she glosses over disturbing developments: extra judicial killings of militants in the North-West Frontier Province, the rise of the Lashkar-e-Taiba which had been trained by the army, suicide bombings that are aided and abetted by Islamists and to which the army is beholden. One could add to the list of misses.

But let’s not be too critical. Schofield was taken on as an embedded journalist tasked with a public relations job and she has done her bit. Forget the warts and all.

First Published: Sat, August 20 2011. 00:30 IST