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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror

Why is it that the military in Pakistan continues to be above reproach? This is an old question which has only come up for some real discussion in recent years, and the one which has been asked with unprecedented frequency and intensity in the wake of the recent removal of a prominent civilian — Husain Haqqani — as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.

The current debate about the civil-military relations pushes Carey Schofield’s Inside the Pakistan Army further away from the area occupied by works undertaken to earnestly understand all dimensions of an entity. The subtitle says the book is about “a woman’s experience on the frontline of the war on terror”. In actuality, it leaves the reader craving a complete picture. It is a book closer to the official accounts designed to inspire pride within and command respect outside.

“The Pakistan Army may be flawed but it is the best there is. Despite its failings it works better than anything else in Pakistan,” says Schofield, and the case is summarily closed. The expectations raised at the beginning of the book by a fascinating analogy of Pakistan and its provinces and Britain and its various parts are dashed.

Instead, what we get are simplistic explanations about the army’s commitment and its place in the Pakistani society, based on ever ready sources. For instance, for understanding the problem in northwest Pakistan, Schofield finds it quite sufficient to go by the word of a soldier from these areas who is close at hand. And this is how she quotes an army officer who is trying to distance the army from Osama Bin Laden and Abbottabad. “The [PMA] academy and bin Laden’s house are not intervisible.” The assertion here is too obvious to require an elaboration.

Schofield has a bias for the military. Before Inside the Pakistan Army she wrote a book on the Russian army besides authoring various others including one on Mick Jagger. In Pakistan, her five-year-long research was aided by a number of senior army officers.

She comes up with her own adjectives for those who have helped her in her work in Pakistan. These mementoes from her years in this country give her readers an idea of the expanse of her research: “the unimpeachable Imtiaz Hussian; glamorous Hamid Rab Nawaz; outgoing Safdar Hussain; scrupulous Khalid Shameem Wyne; clever and kind Ahmed Shuja Pasha; darkly brilliant Nadim Ijaz; indefatigable Salahuddin Satti; neat Tariq Majid; honourable Hamid Khan; guileless Javed Alam; principled Masood Aslam; gutsy Alam Khattak; gentle Munir Hafiez and his thoughtful cousin Mahmood Durrani; wryly
humorous Shaukat Sultan; endearing Ahsan Saleem Hyat; uncompromising and enlightened Waheed Arshad; and the rather grand Ahsan Azhar Hayat.”

At the outset Schofield candidly writes: “Three successive chiefs had a major influence on my view of the Army. General Jahangir Karamat, General Pervez Musharraf and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani each embodied different aspects of the Army and of the country.” This is all the support a faithful soldier can ever hope to have. Schofield simply refuses to lend an ear to the civilian case, bar a few pages where she goes through the ritual of summing up the history behind the Pakistan Army.

Unlike what Ayesha Jalal and others have done in their works, she dismisses the civilian view out of hand. That would have been okay had this story been limited to her very lucid descriptions of life in the garrison, its little scandals and routine inter-
regiment rivalries, its moment of reflections, defeats and celebrations of victories. But she drags the ‘unworthy’ civilians into the story and hers is at best an ex parte trial.

Her guard is dropped only for a brief moment in order for her to pay a tribute to a fallen comrade. But even when she discusses the assassination of Major General Faisal Alavi, she does pause to remark that her loyalties are divided between a wronged dear friend and an organisation that had a few problems with him.

Her take on General Musharraf goes: “I met him often when he was President. As Chief of Army Staff it was he, ultimately, who was responsible for giving me access to the Army. What most struck me was this: General Musharraf talked about the problems facing Pakistan in a way that was far saner than most of the civilians I knew. He talked about poverty, disease, lack of education, lack of opportunity, despair.”

It is not for Schofield to find out just how successful the general was in his fight against these problems and how different was his approach from others who have ruled Pakistan. She does acknowledge some of the reasons behind Musharraf’s fall, but is bold enough not to hide her affiliation even when she moves to a front which had exposed the general to attacks based on principles:

“Before his dismissal Chief Justice Iftikhar had been attempting to end the President’s ability to allow terrorists to be handed over to the US, a move that would have further worsened the general’s already difficult relationship with his allies. He was also likely to block the re-election of the President.”

Carey Schofield was in Pakistan long enough to report the soldiers’ approval of the civilian setup that came into being in 2008. “The Army,” she says “wanted the new [Gilani] government to succeed. Officers and men cared about the fate of the country, and the country needed stability. A great many officers supported the PPP’s traditional left-leaning views and would have voted for the party if they had voted at all (few in the armed forces seem to be registered to vote).”

But her displeasure at the ‘disorganised’ manner in which the civilians carry themselves is manifest in an incident she mentions towards the end of the volume: Schofield goes to meet President Asif Zardari, who is on her list of likeable people, and is deeply disappointed by her chaotic reception.

Only a few pages earlier, she recounts an incident related to her by her friend Major General Faisal Alavi. Alavi had told Schofield about his interaction with the Sharif brothers who were brought to Attock jail when he was acting as the custodian of the prison after the 1999 coup. Seeing through her highly-regarded friend’s eyes, Schofield adds her bit to portray Nawaz Sharif as a man with a huge appetite and not so big a heart.

By contrast, she adds a little bit of colour to Shahbaz Sharif’s image when she quotes his answer to a question put to him by Alavi. Asked who was the elder of the two brothers, Shahbaz is reported to have told his keeper that had he been the elder one, they wouldn’t have ended up here.

This is as brainy as the politicians get in Schofield’s diary. In her ruling she says: “They [the soldiers] have no doubt that the Army is more than the sum of its parts and that, whatever its foibles, its wisdom usually prevails.”

By contrast, “the politicians are still venal, the liberal intelligentsia callous about the hardships faced by ordinary people. The lawyers are corrupt and civilian elites seem to have no interest in making things function. Their complacency is revealed in many ways.”

This knowledge about the Pakistani civil society comes as a bonus for Schofield’s course in the Pakistani military. One mystery remains unresolved, though. Why did she call hers a “woman’s experience”? One can only speculate and say that it adds an extra thrill for those used to viewing Pakistan as a cowboy country unfit for visits by women. Perhaps the book has been.

Reviewed By Asha’ar Rehman , written for an exclusively foreign readership.

The reviewer is resident editor, Dawn, Lahore "Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror" (TERRORISM), By Carey Schofield, Biteback Publishing, London, ISBN 9788182745636, 232pp.http://www.dawn.com/2012/01/08/cover-story-a-case-made-by-a-loyalist.html

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