Tariq Rahman's Book On Pakistan's Wars Is An Invitation For Introspection

Tariq Rahman's Book On Pakistan's Wars Is An Invitation For Introspection
Dr. Tariq Rahman, Dean at the School of Education, Beacon House National University Lahore, is a prolific writer. No wonder, then, that he has published yet another book. This time it is about Pakistan’s wars, which he describes as an alternative history. Before we say a word about it, it is imperative to briefly spell out his profile as it holds the key to fully appreciating the significance of this study.

Dr. Rahman started his career as an armoured corps officer in the Pakistan Army in 1971. However, when the latter decided to use force in East Pakistan he rebelled for being a conscientious objector (someone who is opposed to serving in the armed forces on the grounds of moral or religious principles) and in 1978 he took the fateful decision to quit it. Later, he opted to pursue an academic career and published a number of outstanding books. In 2013, the government of Bangladesh honoured him with a civil award for his stand against the army action in East Pakistan. This cost him dearly, as the Powers That Be rejected his candidature when he applied for the post of vice-chancellor.

One subject which was always dear to his heart – but on which, for one reason or another, he could not write – was that of Pakistan’s wars from the perspective of a conscientious objector. The book in hand is the realisation of that dream. He tries to answer two questions in this book. First, as to how decisions taken during the military conflicts in which Pakistan was involved during the last 75 years of its history, particularly in 1947-48 and 1965 Kashmir wars, 1971 Bangladesh war, the Siachin and Kargil conflicts, and the low-intensity war in occupied Kashmir. Second, as to how significant the experience has been, one way or another, of the military personnel, their families and ordinary citizens affected by these wars.

As to the first question, Dr. Rahman reaches the conclusion that in each case it was a small clique of individuals, comprising preponderantly of army officers and a sprinkling of civilians, who made the critical decision to initiate the conflict. While doing so, they were totally oblivious of the fact that the risk that they were taking was excessive and reckless; and that it could lead to full-scale hostilities with India, resulting in disastrous consequences for Pakistan. He calls these individuals rogue elements because they act bypassing the relevant civilian institutions if they are in place and even the relevant military stakeholders. He terms this behaviour as “the gambling syndrome.” We are familiar with this kind of behaviour as brought out by Nasim Zehra in her study on the Kargil conflict. The significance of Dr. Rahman’s research lies in the fact that he has made a comprehensive and systematic study of all of Pakistan’s military adventures.

As to the second question, Dr. Rahman focuses not only on the experiences of the officers and their households, but also of those who are bypassed or suppressed – such as widows, rank-and-file soldiers, villagers inhabiting the border areas, porters, etc. He discuses this question drawing inspiration from the tradition of subaltern studies. This approach has enormous significance as it gives voice to those who are ignored in the histories of war, whose narratives, in the words of Dr. Rahman, are constructed “by a macho masculinity privileging heroism in battle.” It must be underlined that since it involved lot of field study, he undertook considerable travelling – including a trip to Bangladesh which, given his age, must have been arduous for him. It also needs to be emphasised that he completed this project without any funding from any organisation, national or international. Instead, he defrayed all the expenses from his own pocket. Isn’t it a sign of a true and authentic scholar?

Whereas the book has considerable merit, it suffers from certain shortcomings. One that is particularly notable is Dr. Rahman’s statement that the international political morality which established the UN has not outlawed war. This statement is inaccurate. The fact is that the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 or the Pact of Paris outlawed war as it stipulated renunciation of the use of force as an instrument of national policy. Subsequently, the UN gave it a formal shape in chapter 7 of its Charter.

Another point which looks problematic relates to the raiders that transgressed into Kashmir in October 1947. Dr. Rahman refers to an entry in the diary of George Cunningham, the Governor of NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) where he states that he mentioned to Jinnah the presence of raiders in Kashmir and sought clarity as to whether he and PM Liaquat Ali Khan supported their operations. On the basis of this entry, Dr. Rahman concludes that Jinnah approved the presence of raiders in Kashmir. Honestly speaking, it is hard to agree with Dr. Rahman because Cunningham falls well short of suggesting that Jinnah knew or even had an inkling of it. The fact of the matter is that there was no clarity as to whether Jinnah knew about the presence of raiders in Kashmir. For example, Field Marshal Lord Birdwood in his book Two Nations and Kashmir observes that whereas senior officers in Pakistan believed that “Jinnah at least was honestly and completely taken by surprise,” there was another view according to which “he (Jinnah) vaguely heard of the intention and immediately satisfied his conscience by a refusal to ask further questions.”

Still another problematic point relates to the controversy on whether in terms of the 3 June 1947 Plan, which stipulated the termination of paramountcy, the rulers of the princely states would become independent and sovereign. Jinnah was of the opinion that they would – whereas Nehru differed from him in the matter. The Muslim League at that time made no reference to the will of people in determining the future of a princely state. According to Sheikh Abdullah, when quizzed as to whether Kashmir’s future would be decided by the people of Kashmir, Jinnah dismissed the people’s preferences by commenting, “Let the people go to hell.” In the footnote to Jinnah’s comment, Dr. Rahman states that it is not possible to verify this observation. He then adds that Abdullah did not like Jinnah and was commenting on the basis of hearsay. Our issue with the writer is that he makes the observation in the footnote – which he should have put in the main body of the text. Then it would have given a different meaning to the issue. Perhaps he did not do so because it might have weakened his thesis.

Notwithstanding these minor shortcomings, we believe that the book is a courageous attempt to examine Pakistan’s wars from a new perspective. Even though the book deserves to be recommended to different segments of the society, it is particularly recommended to the army’s high command. This is so because now, when the army has decided to become apolitical, it is high time that it should also review its attitude towards decision-making process.

Dr. Rahman’s book could be handy in this regard. In other words, the military should not look at it as an adversarial writing, but rather an invitation for introspection on why Pakistan has lost most of the conflicts with India and how to begin rectifying its decision-making culture.

The writer is a former dean of Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) Islamabad, and is the author of the book Dissenting and Separate Opinions at the World Court, published by Martinus Nijhoff of Netherlands