June 26, 2020
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Inside The Pakistani Mind

Welcome notes on the eve of the Pakistani general's visit

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Inside The Pakistani Mind
Inside The Pakistani Mind
Pakistan's Arms Procurement And Military Buildup, 1979-99: In Search Of A Policy
By Ayesha Sidiqqa-Agha
Palgrave Pages: 256; Special Indian Price: Rs 595
How do Pakistanis organise their defence and security? As India prepares to host the ruler of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, this is a vital question. Clearly, Messrs Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra would love to get inside the mindset of the Pakistani establishment as they prepare to negotiate with its leader. Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha’s book on Pakistani defence procurement may well come in handy.

In recent years, political scientists have tried to explain how countries make defence and security policy by recourse to notions of “strategic culture”—the shared myths, symbols, ideas and ideals that circulate amongst those who are mandated to protect us from organised violence. Strategic culture is a hard-to-define notion: it seemingly must exist, but it is also very hard to pin down.

Here is a study of Pakistan that avoids the elusive strategic culture idea and tells us a much more prosaic, nuts-and-bolts, institutional story, but one filled with interesting revelations and analyses. Siddiqa-Agha, a former Pakistani civil servant, who once worked in the Pakistan navy, has written an intriguing study of Pakistan’s defence and security which focuses on how the country buys and produces its arms and why. In doing so, she also tells us a lot about Pakistani threat perceptions (mostly India), its response to India (mostly militaristic), its relations with key allies and weapons suppliers (mostly the US and China), and the determinant of all of these things (mostly the Pakistan army).

A large part of the book is fodder for dour military and defence professionals. It describes the various players in the arms procurement process, the institutional settings and sites within which decisions are made, the kinds of security as well as bureaucratic interests that influence the shape and outcome of the process, and, yes, the role of agents (Pakistani insiders call them “indentors”) as well as corruption. A very similar story could probably be written for arms procurement in many countries, including India—except that these stories have not in large part been written. Certainly, the work of two Indian expatriates honourably excepted (Raju G.C. Thomas and Amit Gupta), there is very little on the Indian experience. (Given our greater claim to transparency, liberalism, and democracy, this is rather annoying and baffling—but that is another story altogether.)

For those who are not military/defence professionals, which is most of us, Siddiqa-Agha’s book offers a number of revelations and analyses. First, the revelations, in no particular order. Contemplate this: Musharraf was the Director General of Military Operations (dgmo) at the time of the Brasstacks crisis (so there is a history here!); in 1965, the Pakistan army launched Operation Gibraltar without consulting the other services (this makes India look good!); in 1971, the Pakistan navy found out that war had broken out via Indian radio broadcasts (!); in 1991, the Pakistani forces argued that the nuclear programme should be rolled back so that US conventional weapons could continue to flow; only Pakistani scientists have the “expertise” to “operate” nuclear weapons; the wastage of defence expenditures amounts to 30 per cent of total funds (what is the Indian figure?); there has been no foreign pressure on Pakistan to reduce defence expenditures (no, not even from the imf!); in the summer of 1990, the Pakistan air force’s trial runs to air-deliver nuclear weapons may have been interpreted by the US as the real thing and hence the famous Gates mission to the region; A. Q. Khan, the man supposedly most responsible for the Pakistani bomb, was not planted in Holland by the Pakistani government; it was his rival Samar Mubarikmand who carried out Pakistan’s six nuclear tests; the Pakistan-China nuclear and missile axis arose in part from Pakistanis giving western military technology to China (a point I’ve been arguing for some time!); and Beijing refused to help extend the shelf-life of the M-11 missiles beyond the year 2000.

No book of this kind would be complete if it did not deal with Pakistan’s nuclear posture and the Kargil war. What it says bears out what some in India have been arguing since the war-torn summer of 1999. Siddiqa-Agha confirms that Pakistani decision-makers concluded that with nuclear weapons as a shield they could do a Kargil without fear of large-scale conventional retaliation by India (as in 1965). Kargil was intended to gain a quick military advantage over India, internationalise Kashmir, link the dispute to nuclear tensions, and push India closer to the negotiating table. Siddiqa-Agha concludes that its strategy failed; but given where we are in India-Pakistan relations today, were Islamabad’s calculations so wrong? Food for thought as Musharraf comes calling.

As a former civil servant working in the armed forces, Ayesha-Siddiqa Agha has written a brave and informative book. Her judgments about Pakistani decision-making and perceptions are clear-eyed and ultimately rather critical. She closes on the note that the larger part of security is internal peace and human development and that Pakistanis ignore this at their peril. Alas, so do we in India.

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