Forbidden Fruit. Military in Politics in Pakistan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. An old article (from 2003).

Forbidden Fruit – Military & Politics

Hamid Hussain

2003

Introduction

Politics and profession of soldiering has nothing in common. They are totally different but essential elements of any society. Politicians and soldiers have an interesting relationship in all societies. In societies where civilians are in control, military officers act in accepted boundaries though ready to defend their turf against civilian encroachment. In societies where political institutions are weak and there is lack of consensus on legitimate course of succession, soldiers gradually expand their area of influence. They gradually restrict the role of civilians in various areas and sometimes directly take over the state replacing the civilians. This generally accepted model does not mean that military as an institution has no relevance to the important policy decisions. Even in countries where the tradition of civilian supremacy is well established, military has a political role relating to national security, albeit a different one. One commentator has correctly pointed that “the military’s political role is a question not of whether but of how much and what kind”. [1]

This article will evaluate soldier’s attitude towards political activity and how it develops. This will be followed by the details of Pakistani experience of politicization of officer’s corps and how repeated and prolonged military rules have militarized the politics. In the end, the complex relationship between soldiers and politicians will be summarized.

Soldiers & Politics

Soldier’s disdain for politics and politicians is universal. Soldiers by nature of their training and job requirement place high value on discipline, recognized chain of command and espirit de corps. These values are essential for any professional army. Soldiers generalize these values and attitudes to the whole society without appreciating the difficulties and various conflicting demands by interest groups in a modern nation state. In under-developed countries, the problems are compounded by host of other negative social and economic factors. Discussion, debate and arguments about different points of view are essential ingredients of politics in every society. The nature of political activity is more chaotic on surface. Soldier’s concept of political order is based on the model of discipline, which he has learned in his barracks and daily life. “Institutions that permit disorder are condemned. The men who purposefully encourage disorder, as well as those whose inactions inadvertently allow for disorder, are dangerous”.[2] This is how soldier sees the political activity of his society. Political activity is seen as undermining of the discipline of society and politicians as opportunists and self-seeking demagogues. This thought process is at the root of how a military first withdraws respect and later support of any civilian government which is followed by kicking the quarrelling politicians out of the corridors of power. The chaos and instability caused by the weak civilian institutions is blamed for paving the way for military to take over the state. This is the universal justification used by all military rulers. Once the politicians are condemned as useless bunch, the question arises then who is competent to run the state? Now the self-righteous attitude of officer corps comes into play. In under-developed countries, military sees itself as the most modern institution of the society. In addition, being a member of a well organized and disciplined force and overdose of patriotic and nationalistic symbols reinforces the notion that soldiers are more competent than civilians. In countries where military is the dominant institution, the military leadership considers itself as ‘final arbiters of political process, final judges as to whether a particular turn of events is acceptable from their standpoint as the guardians of national integrity’. [3] Continue reading “Forbidden Fruit. Military in Politics in Pakistan”

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Sex and the British-Indian Army

From Dr Hamid Hussain.

Some have asked questions about sexuality during the Raj as related to the army.  Enjoy.

Hamid

When British arrived in India, India was sexually more liberal than Europe. Heterosexual and homosexual relations were common, open and celebrated in poetry and paintings.  Concubines were a common phenomenon practiced by all religious and ethnic groups.  In contrast, there was quite strict sexual repression in Victorian England.  There are two aspects of sexual relations; one relating to British soldiers and second British officers. In eighteenth and nineteenth century India, prostitution was legal and well-regulated in British controlled India.  In 1850s, there were seventy five military districts and in every district prostitution was supervised by authorities.  Doctors of Indian Medical Service (IMS) were responsible for regulating brothels.  All prostitutes were registered, minimum age for prostitutes was fifteen and women were provided with their own living quarters or tents that were regularly inspected.  Some establishments were quite large and brothel in Lucknow had fifty five rooms.  Prostitutes infected with sexually transmitted diseases were removed and not allowed to practice their trade until recovered.  Both native and European soldiers used these bazaars; however sepoys were discouraged to visit those prostitutes preferred by European soldiers.  Most British soldiers were from lower strata of the society and were not held to the standard of a British officer.  British soldiers visited prostitutes more often than sepoys.  One reason was that British soldiers were not married while sepoys were usually married men.   These bazaars were called ‘lal bazaars’ (red streets).  Both heterosexual and homosexual relations were common.  British regiments spent several years in India and many a times children were born of such relationships.  Special houses and schools were assigned as early as eighteenth century for these children.  Continue reading “Sex and the British-Indian Army”

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Major General Akbar Khan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. A short note on Major General Akbar Khan (of Kashmir Jihad and Rawalpindi conspiracy fame)

Akbar Khan (1912-1994) was a Pathan from Charsadda area of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa.  He was from the pareech khel clan of Muhammadzai tribe that inhabits the village of Utmanzai.  Akbar was from the last batch of Indian officers commissioned from Royal Military College Sandhurst in February 1934.  Lieutenant General B.M. Kaul ‘Bijji’ was his course mate at Sandhurst and they became friends during their service.  Officers commissioned from Sandhurst were called King Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs).  Akbar joined 6/13 Frontier Force Rifles (FFRif.).  This battalion is now One Frontier Force (FF) Regiment of Pakistan army.  He fought Second World War with 14/13 FFRif. (now15 FF).  This was a new war time battalion raised in April 1941, at Jhansi.  In new war time raised battalions, officers and men were posted from different battalions, usually from the same regimental group.  Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Felix-Williams, DSO, MC of 1/13 FFRis. was the first Commanding Officer (CO).  There were fourteen officers in the battalion and Akbar at the rank of Major was the senior most of the four Indian officers of the battalion.   Lieutenants H. H. Khan, Fazl-e-Wahid Khan and A.K. Akram were other Indian officers (Wahid won MC).  Battalion was part of 100th Brigade (other battalions of the brigade included 2 Borderers and 4/10 Gurkha Rifles) of 20th Division commanded by Major General Douglas Gracey.  Continue reading “Major General Akbar Khan”

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Indians as Officers in the British Indian Army

From Dr Hamid Hussain. Some random notes about the first generation of Indians to become officers in the British Indian army, this note includes interesting tidbits about the handling of religion, class and caste issues in the Indian army in those times.

Pakistani general perception that somehow British favored non-Muslims as far as army was concerned is incorrect:   In view of anti-British attitude of Hindu dominated Congress, British had more sympathetic view of Muslims.  Congress had refused to endorse war effort while Muslim League wholeheartedly supported war effort.

British support applied to all classes of Muslims; including politicians (many Muslim League leaders would meet regularly with Deputy Commissioners to get directions), British senior civil servants giving instructions directly to Muslim junior Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers regarding law and order bypassing senior Hindu ICS officers fearing that later may pass on information to Congress (Police especially CID files of that time period are a very interesting read in this regard).   Same was true for army officers.  Many senior officers especially Auk helped to push many Muslim officers.  Ayub Khan (1 Assam Reg.), Sher Ali Khan Pataudi (1/1 Punjab) and Habibullah Khan Khattak (I Bihar Reg.) were given battalion commands during the war by direct intervention of Auk.

The issue of DSO has another angle.  It is usually given to the rank of Lt. Colonel and above.  A lucky major may bag it if really good.  Very few Indian officers were at Lt. Colonel rank during the war and those commanding battalions in combat theatres were very few.  Non-Muslim officers being senior got appointments and hence got the opportunity to get awards.  Many pioneer Muslim officers had left the army early for more prestigious Indian Political Service (IPS) and the list include Sahabzada Khurshid, Sikandar Mirza, ABS Shah, MAO Beg etc.  If they had stayed in the army, they would have been senior enough to get battalion commands and hence a shot at gallantry awards in combat.

Most Muslim officers were Captains. I don’t have the whole list but I think disproportionately more Muslim officers got Military Cross (MC); an award for which they were eligible.

I agree with you that maintaining loyalty of Indian officers was crucial during the war especially in view of nationalist campaign by Congress with large scale protests as well as emergence of Indian National Army (INA) from Indian POWs in Japanese POW camps.  Many benefits such as equal pay, important postings and possibly more liberal gallantry awards were part of this effort.

We need not to forget the attitude of Indian officers; both Muslim & non-Muslim.  Almost all Indian officers had deep antipathy towards politicians and saw them as rabble rousers. Overwhelming majority considered INA as cowards who broke their oath while in captivity and accused them of taking an easy way out of a harsh imprisonment.  This attitude was maintained right up to the eve of independence in August 1947.  All officers were against the division of Indian army.  To understand this phenomenon, we need to look beyond the post-independence revisionist statements of some officers i.e. LG B.M. Kaul, General Ayub Khan, MG Sher Ali Khan Pataudi, MG Tajjammul Hussain.  We need to look at the files of that time period and actual statements of officers that are very well preserved in archives.

A small number of ambitious officers tried to hob nob with politicians at the very near end when they saw that British were going.  I’ll put B Kaul and JN Chaudhuri of India in this category.  MG Akbar Khan of 1951 conspiracy fame of Pakistan army was also ambitious but made the mistake of opening his mouth in front of Jinnah.  He complained that they hoped to get rapid promotions but in view of Jinnah’s decision to keep senior British officers, this process will be delayed.  Jinnah promptly rebuked him.

Racial & Class Bias: In general, British conquered India and naturally like any dominant group had no high regard for anything Indian.  They saw their own culture, religion and society superior.  In Victorian era, British army officers were exclusively from aristocracy.  Purchase of commission meant that only affluent could afford an officer commission.  Commoners were only to serve in the ranks and hope to become Sergeant as the ultimate professional ceiling.  If a British aristocrat officer was not allowing even a British commoner to enter the elite officer club, how he could allow an Indian?  After First World War, changes in English and Indian societies opened new avenues.  British encouraged traditional Indian elites including landlords, members of civil service, police and army to educate their children so that they could qualify for commission.  These classes were in service of the government for a long time and in return prospered under Imperial patronage.  Members of these classes joining army as officers ensured continued loyalty of the Indian officer corps.  This also diminished chances of subversion by newly emerging nationalist politics.

The bias was not simply a one way street between English and Indians.  Both English and Indian societies were riddled with social and class distinctions and outright bigotry. An English aristocrat had nothing in common with a peasant from highlands.  Similarly, Hindu Rajput would not allow a low caste Hindu to touch his food.  A Pathan Muslim had no affinity nor respect for a Bengali Muslim.  The problem went all the way down even in small and distinct communities.  Two examples will suffice;  High caste Jat Sikhs would not serve in a regiment with non-Jat Sikhs (Lobanas) let alone low caste Mazhabi & Ramdasia Sikhs. Hence these different groups of Sikhs were recruited in different regiments.  Dogras were Hindus but Rajput and Brahman Dogras would not eat together.  5th Probyn Horse traditionally had Dogra Rajput squadron.In Second World war, due to increased manpower needs that could not be met from traditional classes, Dogra Brahmans were recruited. This added to administrative headache as in Probyn’s Horse instead of squadron mess for a single class, troop messing had to be implemented as Brahman Dogra would not eat with Rajput Dogra. It is no mean achievement that a first class army was created despite these administrative nightmares.

In 1932, it was decided to start an Indian Military Academy to train officers in India and in December 1932, first batch of 40 cadets started their training. The first batches of Indian Commissioned Officers (ICOs) faced discrimination even from fellow Indian officers who attended Sandhurst and known as King Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs).  In 1934, when two Sikh ICOs joined 3rd Cavalry there was a debate whether they should be allowed to eat in the mess.  3rd Cavalry was Indianized in 1932 and several KCIOs (Iftikhar Khan, Shahid Hamid, K. P. Dhargalkar, P. C. Banerjee, P. S. Nair, K. K. Varma and Nawabzada Agha Raza) were already serving in the regiment.

On the other end of the spectrum, the world of officer corps was opened to the least educated and very conservative class of India.  One example will show the enormous adjustment problem for both the Indian officers and their spouses of this class.  Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon enlisted as soldier and spent three years in an infantry battalion (4/14 Punjab Regiment).  Light machine gun section of infantry battalions had mules for transport and every soldier was rotated to take care of the mules.  Gurbaksh on his turn also performed this duty while his wife Basant helped him in polishing the mule saddle.  Gurbaksh qualified for Dehra Dun and after successfully completing his training was commissioned as an officer in 1/14 Punjab Regiment.  One can easily imagine the psychological barrier that Gurbaksh and his wife had to cross as the worlds of sepoy and officer were poles apart.  Even an Indian officer of aristocratic background (LG Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, MG Sher Ali Khan Pataudi) or highly educated (General JN Chaudhri and LG Atiq ur Rahman were educated in England) would have found it very difficult to see Gurbaksh as brother officer. There is plenty of evidence that many Indian KCIOs from Sandhurst didn’t consider fellow Indian officers from Dehra Dun as equal.  They called them ‘Dun Pansies’.  Some Indian officers completely identified with British ethos and were called ‘Brindians’.  General JN Chaudhri when instructor at Staff College Quetta deliberately kept away from Indian officers and only interacted with British officers.  This attitude reached to a point where all other Indian officers at staff college rebuked him with social boycott. MG Iftikhar Khan ‘Ifti’ was also a ‘Brindian’.

This lingered on even after independence in India and Pakistan.  In early 1950s, ‘martial class’ senior Indian officers (Rajput & Sikh) used to whisper that Indian army would not accept a ‘dhoti parshad’ to be appointed army chief using a derogatory term for Hindu non-martial races.   In Pakistan army, contempt was shown for Bengalis and General Ayub Khan refused to expand Bengali recruitment stating that he could not take risk with classes who have not been tried in combat.

There was another problem with second generation of officers.  Officers whose fathers were commissioned officers vs those whose fathers were VCOs belonged to two different social classes.  Former were educated in missionary schools in line with English public school system, had good command of English, brought up in cities and their female family members educated and outgoing. Later, mainly from rural and conservative backgrounds, educated at village schools or special schools set up for sons of VCOs (King George Military Colleges), less command of English language and females mainly in ‘purdah’ and generally not educated.

Surprisingly, combat experience of Second World War where young British and Indian officers fought together broke many barriers. Professional conduct and acts of bravery of young Indian officers showed to British colleagues that Indians were no inferior in the profession of arms.  On the other hand, urban educated British youth raised in more liberal environment were not of the same old ‘Imperial mold’.  The color bar of clubs in India was broken by some of these British officers.  They refused membership of clubs that would not allow Indian officers and some cavalry regiments refused to lend their horses to such clubs for equestarian activities.  This comradeship is born by the fact that decades after independence, these officers kept in touch with each other attending regimental re-unions.

Subedar Major Prabhat Chand Katoch:  He won his MC in 1914 in France.  When all British officers of the battalion became casualty, he took over the command of the battalion.

6/13 FFR suffered heavy casualties in Great War in western theatre and probably highest number of casualty rate as far as British officers are concerned.  Battalion landed in France with 13 British officers, 18 Indian officers and 810 other ranks.  A year later, no British officers, 4 Indian officers and 75 ORs remained of the original contingent. Ten British officers were killed including their CO Lt. Colonel P. C. Elliott-Lockhart; originally from Guides and 19 wounded.  The only officer not wounded was Captain Inskip who was shell shocked and not present. Subedar Major Prabhat Chand of 6/13th FFR was the first Indian who was awarded Military Cross (MC) for his conduct and battalion command when all British officers became casualty.  Battalion used to have a tradition where Subedar Major would parade off the battalion on ceremonial occasions remembering Prabhat Chand’s bravery.

 

Three brothers had illustrious career (see picture below).  Prabhat’s valor already known.  Col Bakshi Chand Katoch was awarded an IDSM in Mesopotamia when he was the Subedar Major of the 56th FFR. He was subsequently commissioned with the first batch of KCIOs from the Cadet College, Indore in Dec 1919. Honorary Captain Bidhi Chand was Subedar Major of 38thDogra; a post I think he held for 18 years.

 

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A few random notes on gallantry awards (British Indian Army)

From an email from Dr Hamid Hussain. Also sheds some light on the cultural knowledge expected of British-Indian army officers..

Gallantry Awards:  Gallantry awards are always controversial depending on the perch from where you are looking at.  Many gallant deeds go unnoticed as there was no witness or Commanding Officer (CO) didn’t initiate his report in time.  Elite battalions and regiments have many godfathers in senior positions, hence these battalions have an edge when it comes to awards.  Those regiments known as ‘no body’s own’ usually fall behind in this race.  On the other hand, an enthusiastic CO can be too liberal in his recommendations for gallantry awards and military bureaucracy kicks in to downgrade or altogether reject his recommendations.  Bias against Indian officers may have been a factor in early stages of war but in later stages especially when Auk became C-in-C, he was instrumental in getting Indian officers battalion commands and liberal award of gallantry awards.

6/13 FFR (now 1 FF of Pakistan army):  6/13 FFR nick named ‘gaRbaR unnath’ for its naughtiness and old number of 59th Scind Rifles had one company each of Sikh, Dogra, Pathan & Punjabi Muslims.  VD Jayal was first Indian officer posted to this elite battalion.  It is to the credit of British Indian army that Indians came to know fellow Indians of different race and religion.  Officer assigned to a company had to pass language test and know about his men.  Jayal learned Pushtu and probably knew about Pathan culture and customs better than a Muslim from Hyderabad or Lucknow.  In the same paltan, a Muslim officer ‘ganga’ Hayauddin (later MG) was posted to Sikh company. He was a Pathan but a fluent speaker and writer of Gurmukhi and knew about Sikh religion more than many Sikhs.  6/13 FFR was commanded by Dudley Russell ‘Pasha’; a fine officer and gentleman.  Paltan won many gallantry awards in this theatre.  Jayal won DSO.  Battalion adjutant Sher Khan (later approved MG but died in air crash in 1949) was recommended for DSO but awarded MC.  Battalion intelligence officer Anant Singh Pathania (later 1/5 Gorkha Rifles and MG) also won MC.  The uncle of Pathania’s wife was the legendry Subedar Major of 6/13 FFR Prabhat Chand who won MC in First World War (the first Indian to win MC).  Lieutenant Sadiqullah Khan (later Brigadier, one of the first Indian officers posted to scouts, commanded South Waziristan Scouts and Tochi Scouts and retired as Inspector General of Frontier Corps) also won MC.  Later, in Italy, Sher Khan’s younger brother Bahadur Sher (later LG) who had joined battalion after emergency commission also won MC.  At the battle of Mont Cassino, Kashmir Singh Katoch (later LG) won his MC. In the battle of Gothic Line, Sepoy Ali Haider won his VC.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO):  Several Indian officers won DSO in Second world war. Rajendrasinhji ‘Reggie’ of 2nd Lancers (later General) was the first Indian officer to win DSO.  In addition to Jayal, another 6/13 FFR officer Akbar Khan (later Major General) won DSO in Burma while serving with 14/13 FFR.  The only Indian officer who won DSO and Bar was Lt. Colonel S. S. Kalha of 2/1 Punjab Regt.  He was killed in action during occupation duty in Dutch East Indies.  Family of Captain Taj Muhammad Khanzada (5/11 Sikh Regt) claims that he had won DSO in Burma but I could not confirm it.  He later joined INA and after the war, removed from the army.  The most famous case is of 51 Indian Infantry Brigade with unique distinction of Brigade commander Brigadier R. A. Hutton and three commanding officers of the battalions winning DSOs. Normally, infantry brigades had two Indian battalions and one either British or Gorkha battalion.  51 Brigade had all three Indian battalions and all three were commanded by Indian officers. Lt. Colonel S. P.P. Thorat (later LG) commanding 2/2 Punjab Regt, K. S. ‘Timmy’ Thimayya (later General) commanding 8/19 Hyderabad and Lt. Colonel L. P. ‘Bogey’ Sen (later LG) commanding 16/10 Baloch Regt. All these three Indian officers won DSO.

Additional award to a winner of DSO is addition of Bar.  There are many officers who won bar to DSO.  There are few officers who have the rare distinction of winning four DSOs (DSO with three bars).  The most decorated officer that comes to my mind is Brigadier Frederick Lumsden of the famous Lumsden clan that raised legendry Guides.  Frederick won VC and four DSOs before dying at the age of 45.  VC and three DSOs were won within six month time period during First World War.

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RIP Fahmida Riaz

The poet and scholar Fahmida Riaz passed away today. She was known for her fearlessness and her willingness to call a spade a spade and she suffered for it (including an Indian exile during the Zia regime).

Here is Hasan Mujtaba’s poetic tribute to her:

سربکف سارے ستارے مشعلیں
اس کی آنکھوں میں جلوسوں کی طرح چل رہے تھے
جل رہے تھے جام سورج کی طرح سارے اسکے نام پر
اجرکوں کے رنگ سارے اسکی آنکھوں سے چراکر
تتلیاں لیکر اڑیں
دیس دیس دور دور
بچے اپنے ہاتھ مائوں سے چھپاتے پھر رہے تھے
رتجگوں میں بھکشوئوں کی ریت تھی
جیت تھی اسکے ماتھے پر لکھی
تاریخ کی خونی گلی میں
رات وہ مجھ کو ملی۔

Translation:

Severed head in hand

All the stars were like lamps marching in procession in her eyes

In her name, the wine-cups were circulating like the sun

Taking all the colors of the (Sindhi) Ajrak from her eyes

The butterflies took wing

From land to land and country to country

Children are hiding their hands from their mothers

All-nighters and the rites of bhikshus

Victory was written on her forehead

as in the blood soaked alleys of history

She met me..

Her poem Aqlima was translated by Ruchira Paul

Aklima
jo Habil aur Kabil ki maa jaani hai
maa jaani,
magar muqtalif
muqtalif beech raano ke
aur pistanon ki ubhaar mein
aur apne pait ke andar
aur kokh mein
is sab ki kismet kyun hai
ek farba bher ke bachche ki qurbani
woh apne badan ki qaidi
taptee hui dhoop mein jalte
teele par khadi hui hai
patthar par naksh banee hai
us naksh ko ghaur se dekho
lambee raano se upar
ubharte pistanon se upar
paicheeda kokh se upar
Aklima ka sar bhi hai
Allah kabhi Aklima se qalam karain
aur kuchh puchhain.

(Translation)
Aqlima..
Born of the same mother as Abel and Cain
Born of the same mother but different
Different between her thighs
Different in the swell of her breasts
Different inside her stomach
And her womb too
Why is the fate of her body
Like that of a well fed sacrificial lamb
She, a prisoner of that body
See her standing in the scorching sun on a smoldering hill
Casting a shadow that burns itself into the stones
Look at that shadow closely
Above the long thighs
Above the swelling breasts
Above the coils in her womb
Aklima also has a head
Let Allah have a conversation with Aklima
And ask her a few questions.
(Aklima was the lesser known offspring of Adam and Eve, the sister or Cain and Abel)

RIP.

 

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Book Review: The Stan

Dead Reckoning is a (fairly new) imprint of the Naval Institute Press that publishes military-themed graphic novels and books (e.g. they have published “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a graphic novel).   The Stan is a comic book based on stories collected by two American journalists (autors Kevin Knodell and David Axe) who have spent a long time covering the war in Afghanistan. The only story not based on their work is the opening chapter, which is a comic based on the life and words of former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salam Zaeef. They use this first comic as a capsule history of the background to this war as well as a prediction of its futility and eventual failure.  This is the only comic that gives a nod, albeit a minimalistic and relatively simple one, to the “big picture” of the Afghan war and it is a strictly anti-war and anti-interventionist one. The other comics are all about the “little people”, ordinary soldiers, an Afghan interpreter, an Afghan soldier and an Afghan policeman. The last comic is about one of the authors (Kevin Knodell), who may have some PTSD, and his parting words are that “America’s longest war was going to stretch on longer”. Continue reading “Book Review: The Stan”

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Dynamics of the Saudi Royal Family

From Dr Hamid Hussain

This piece written in summer of 2017 is a backgrounder for Kingdom at a crossroad.  This will help in understanding the background to my upcoming piece about challenges faced by the Kingdom in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi murder. Stay tuned.

Hamid

Royal Rumble – Dynamics of Saudi Royal Family

Hamid Hussain

 ‘In a western democracy, you lose touch with your people, you lose elections; in a monarchy, you lose your head’.  Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Former Saudi ambassador to Washington.

 

 In the last two years, Saudi Arabia has gone through many changes.  Absolute monarchies are not easy to decipher.  There are many opacities and it is very difficult for any outside observer to have a real sense of events.  Two main factors are very limited expression by Saudis in their own country and opaque decision making process in the form of decrees with flavor of palace intrigue.  A Saudi will not express his honest view in the presence of another Saudi due to fear factor.  In view of these limitations, the perspective of an outsider has severe limitations.

Current system of governance of the country is based on accession to throne of one of the sons of the founder of the country Abdul Aziz bin Abdur Rahman al-Saud (d. 1953).  He works with other family members especially senior princes, Council of Ministers (most of whom are also royal family members) and Council of Senior Clerics in running day to day affairs of the country.  There is a fair amount of competition among all these groups about various issues and King carefully balances his act to avoid open conflict.

In January 2015, Salman bin Abdul Aziz ascended to Saudi throne after the death of his brother Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.  He came quite late into the complex inner power circle of the al Saudi royal family.  He was appointed Governor of Riyadh province in 1962; a post he held until 2011 when he was appointed Defence Minister.  For five decades, his main influence was in business and media through his sons and a half-brother (Sattam bin Abdul Aziz).  His sons controlled different business and media interests.  Abdul Aziz was Assistant & Deputy Minister of Oil and now Minister of State for Energy Affairs, Faisal owned Sharq-al-Awst newspaper and appointed Governor of Medina in 2013.  Sultan is a pilot and worked at Saudi Ministry of Information.  He now heads tourism commission with the rank of a minister.  Khalid is also a fighter pilot and in April 2017 appointed ambassador to Washington.  Turki, Saud, Rakan and Nayef are little known and involved in various business ventures.  Fahad; a business tycoon and Ahmad with media interests died in their 40s from heart disease.  Continue reading “Dynamics of the Saudi Royal Family”

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Pakistan’s Hybrid Government and the Aasia Bibi Fiasco..

Aasia bibi is a poor Christian woman from a village in Punjab who was arrested for blasphemy in 2009. She got into an argument with some other women from the village while working in the fields (purportedly over her drinking from a cup of water and hence “polluting” it) and in the course of the argument she allegedly said something  “blasphemous” about the holy prophet of Islam. The details of the case are murky and no one seems to know for sure what blasphemous statement she actually made that day (the most commonly reported one is that she said something along the lines of “Jesus died for the sins of the world, what has your prophet done for humanity”; other versions exist; the investigating police officer claims that she said much more, but even quoting it wud be blasphemy, so look it up on wikipedia) but whatever the details, a case was registered under Pakistan’s uniquely harsh blasphemy law (a death sentence is mandatory in case guilt is proven) and she has been in prison ever since.

Related image

As usually happens in blasphemy cases, she was sentenced to death by the local court (local judges usually feel it safest to convict any and all accused blasphemers, expecting that the most egregiously wrong verdicts will be reversed by higher courts that have better security). Meanwhile her case had come to national attention and the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, visited her in prison and spoke of her getting a presidential pardon. He was attacked in the media as a supporter of blasphemers and one of his own body guards shot him dead. The body guard was arrested and eventually hanged, but his grave has become a religious shrine and several ministers (including some in the current Imran Khan government as well as the opposition PMLN) have visited the grave to pay respects to this “hero”. Continue reading “Pakistan’s Hybrid Government and the Aasia Bibi Fiasco..”

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Review: Raiders of the China Coast

Raiders of the China Coast is the account of a little known CIA operation that trained and managed anti-communist guerrillas and agents on the various islands that were retained by the Taiwanese regime (the “Republic of China”) after the Chinese mainland was captured by the Chinese communists. The author, Frank Holober, spent his life in the CIA and later in several academic institutions teaching about China. The book is one of the few memoirs written by people who personally took part in various CIA covert operations on the “hot” fringes of the cold war and has been vetted by the agency to ensure that no secrets are spilled (the author thanks some in the agency for approving it, and criticizes others for needless bureaucratic obstruction and “security theater”, but he got a foreword from General Robert Barrow, USMC, who had served with Frank (and the CIA) in the 1950s, so it is all good).

The book is mostly a fond look back at the author’s male-bonding days, not a detailed history of CIA covert operations during the Korean war (which is the somewhat misleading subtitle of the book). As the author relates in the first chapter (“Old Haunts Beckon”), the idea of the book came to him after he retired and revisited Taiwan after a gap of 40 years and was reminded of the days of youthful adventure and excitement he had spent there with his CIA comrades in “Western Enterprises Inc”; that nostalgia is clearly the main driver of the book. Which is fine, because while his family and friends (and those of the other adventurers he mentions in the book) will no doubt get an extra-special thrill from reading the book, other readers can also learn about an interesting aspect of the early cold war, about CIA covert operations in general, about the colorful characters who took part in these events, about China and it’s fascinating recent history, and of course, about male-bonding, buddy movies and all that jazz.  Continue reading “Review: Raiders of the China Coast”

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