Review: The Army and Democracy by Aqil Shah

Book review as receieved from Major Amin

This is an interesting book and what the author wants to say is something I have always believed and said. However it is essential to examine in detail what Mr Aqil Shah has to say and offer some humble analysis .
On page- ix , would like to offer some comments on Mr Ahmad Mukhtar :–

Mr Mukhtar has been an industrialist who belongs to a town close to the military garrison town known as Kharian cantonment.He has always maintained good relations with the army like any good business man and ,frankly like most politicians in this world has no substance. Just like most generals worldwide are men without substance !

Firstly I do not agree with Aqil Shahs argument about Mr Jinnah on page-3 , nor with Aqil Shahs view that military coups and adventurism were not inevitable in Pakistan:–

We hold the view that Mr Jinnah the so called founder of Pakistan apart from British Raj , had inflicted the unkindest cut on Indian Muslims of Bengal and Punjab in 1916 and thereby by doing this had destabilized future politics of Indian Muslims for all times to come,Pakistan being the worst affected.

In the Lucknow Pact of 1916, without asking the Bengali Muslims or the Punjabi Muslims, he reduced Bengal Muslim majority in legislature from 52 to 40 % and in Punjab from 54 to 50 %.

This grave strategic imbalance destabilized Indian Muslim and later Indo Pak Muslim politics in post British Pakistan , leading to Pakistans first martial law in 1958. The following figures below summarise this imbalance graphically :–

If Aqil Shah has to analyse events as they happened dispassionately and in a detached manner he first himself has to intellectually set himself free from self created prisons of hero worship or Jinnah worship.

This is our first major disagreement with Mr Aqil Shah.

Our second major disagreement with Mr Aqil Shah is with regard to his argument that both Pakistan and India inherited a similar British colonial legacy. As Mr Shah claims on page-3 of his book :–

Page-4 , cannot agree with Aqil Shah about military threat. Kashmir war was initiated by Pakistans political leadership and was entirely avoidable :–

What kind of threat is Mr Aqil Shah talking about ? Did not expect this from a sagacious analyst like Mr Aqil Shah.

Again on page 4 Mr Aqil Shah misses the point totally. The first , original and unpardonable sin was Lucknow Pact of 1916 , almost entirely the handwork of Mr Jinnah that planted seeds of unjust tampering with ethnicity and , with just electoral majority of the Bengali Muslims.

Language was only the tip of the iceberg ! The real issue and the basic bone of contention was the Bengali due ethnic majority in votes that was sabotaged and derailed by no one other than Pakistans minority west wing politicians , supported by west wing civil servants and military establishment. This Aqil Shah misses altogether !

Pakistani and foreign analysts always miss the point that electoral tampering was first pioneered at Lucknow in 1916 and was all along the ideology of non Bengal Muslim political elite of India and later Pakistan.

On page 5 Aqil Shah while discussing Pakistani military starts quoting Huntington but totally misses the essential fact that Pakistani military was obsessed by British colonial gimmick known as “Martial Races Theory”. The issue all along was not just superiority of military as an institution but ethnic superiority of the west wing soldiers over the “low caste Dravidian Bengali East wingers”.

On page-6 Aqil Shahs rationalizations about Pakistani military adventurism and Bonapratism is an exercise in extreme oversimplification of a highly complex sociopolitical issue :–

Aqil Shahs projection of Pakistan Armys citadel of pedantry known as NDU is inaccurate (page-9), I first saw NDU when my father attended a course known as armed forces war course there in 1974-75. Later as an army officer I saw and heard a great deal more about NDU. From what I heard and saw NDU far from being a forward looking institution was another higher academy where officers attended courses and indulged in far superior and sophisticated forms of apple polishing and intellectual sucking-up as compared to staff college.

Nomination to NDU was by the military secretarys branch in general headquarters, another bastion of pedantry and parochialism where many decisions were taken based on personal likes and dislikes.

In 1999-2001 the Pakistan Army was shaken by a massive scandal where records were tampered with bribes etc at the military secretarys branch. The scandal as was, as is the norm, was covered up.

LTG Tariq Khan described his war course experience in NDU as disappointing where he was graded B grade by a bunch of vindictive directing staff and a sectarian set up, as he discussed with this scribe in 2011-14 many times.

Brigadier Khalid of my regiment described nominations to war course based on personal whims and likes and dislikes of the military secretary in army headquarters and these as per Khalid could be sectarian , ethnic or various shades of parochial ! Khalid specifically quoted one lieutenant general in Musharraf era who as Military secretary was extremely biased and selective in nominating officers from a particular sect or ethnicity to the war course.

Intellectual stagnation and bigotry was such at NDU that as per Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail during the time when one LTG Javed Hassan was commandant of NDU , uttering the word Kargil was banned , as Javed had commanded a disastorous operation at Kargil in 1999 ! Thus as per Kaiser Tufail, an air force officer attending course in NDU by mistake uttered the word Kargil in a model discussion and was banished from attending the course at NDU.

Aqil Shahs premise on page 10 that Pakistani military picked up supporting Jihadists due to insecurity is also incorrect :–

The first Pakistani use of religion in war was in Kashmir in October 1947 and this was pioneered and led by a totally civilian and democratic leadership. The second misuse of religious card in proxy wars was in 1974 in Afghanistan and this again was led by a totally civilian and democratically elected political leadership.

It is mind boggling how our Huntington quoting Aqil Shah comes up with such ideas !

Pakistan’s Afghan war proxy card was initiated by Bhutto, but was then picked up by a pariah military usurper who was politically and internationally isolated and there was no threat to Pakistans national security.

Pakistan’s Kashmir proxy war was also picked up as a useful war by Pakistans military elite as the Soviet Afghan war was over and a closed matter and Pakistani military needed another proxy war to perpetuate its political and foreign policy dominance.

Aqil Shahs analysis ignores the most crucial fact that India was controlled by the British using minority ethnic groups from northwest, particularly Punjab from 1885 onwards and in 1947 the British divided India and created a more controllable strategic base in northwest known as Pakistan. The Pakistani military and civil service were seen as strategic partners of the British and of the Americans after 1954 against USSR in the global power game.

In 1979 the USA and Pakistani military picked up Islam and Jihad as a useful strategic condom to be used against the USSR and then discarded.

While Huntintgon and many others may be quoted by researchers like Aqil Shah, the hard fact remains that Pakistans political development was distorted and derailed first by politicians like Mr Jinnah who had sabotaged Bengali Muslims at Lucknow in 1916 and then by Liaquat Ali Khan who particularly delayed constitution making etc.
Pakistan was never a tangible objective of Mr Jinnah till 1940 when a British viceroy Linlithgow suggested to him that he must have a slogan.
What was created in 1947 was not a nation state but a geopolitical creation to serve as a super base against USSR.

While technically a nation Pakistan was a unique state where the political establishment was not willing to hand over power to the majority ethnicity. Delay in constitution making as a result enabled the Pakistani military to take over power and from 1958 Pakistan was not a state but an army with a state. With of course British and later US support as they saw this arrangement as geopolitically useful.

This line of thinking figures nowhere in Aqil Shahs overly simplistic narrative.

Again on page 16 Aqil Shah is over simplistic in saying there was a bias against Bengali recruitment in the army. There was no bias against the Bengalis in the army but General Ayub Khan who had usurped power in 1958 sabotaged Bengali recruitment. Aqil Shah ignores the fact that the army is run by likes and dislikes of its chief and in this case it was Ayub Khan alone who sabotaged Bengali recruitment as he saw Bengalis as a political threat since they were Pakistans majority ethnic group.

On page 25 Aqil Shah terms Shuja Nawaz’s analysis as “rich” although Shuja Nawaz’s book crossed swords contains the totally fallacious claim that British Indian Army was mostly Punjabi Muslim from Rawalpindi division.

On page 46 Aqil Shah renames general Iftikhar Khan as iftikharuddin :–

On page -54 our  author terms the Bengal Army that rebelled in 1857 as a Bengali Army whereas the Bengal Army that rebelled in 1857 was named the Bengal army, but it was mostly UP and Bihar origin and had practically no Bengalis:–

Aqil Shah also misses the point that Pathans were a small minority in British Indian Army and Punjabi Muslims only became preferred after 1918 as the Sikhs who dominated the British Indian Army till 1918  had created political problems for British in WW One. so they were no longer as trusted.

It is expected from a decent scholar,  in this case one groomed and educated in a  reputable US university. to at least be correct in his facts. However sadly Mr Aqil Shahs book contains several factual inaccuracies. All entirely avoidable if Aqil Shah had been a little more careful rather than endlessly quoting western analysts ! Like on page -72 Aqil Shah fallaciously claims that Bengalis had a majority in constituent assembly of Pakistan :–

Mr Aqil Shah , sadly your facts are incorrect. 11 non Bengalis were elected on Bengal seats and there were 22 Bengalis in the 79 member first constituent assembly of Pakistan.

Mr Aqil Shah nowhere mentions that Pakistans political leaderships mindset was so petty that the conflict between Mr Jinnah and premier Liaquat Ali Khan originated over no lofty principle but over conflict of seating plan of ladies , where liaquats wife clashed with Mr Jinnahs sister over who was senior in seating protocol in a party hosted by Liaquat on the occasion of Mr Jinnahs birthday in December 1947. How was democracy to mature in such a country ,  Mr Aqil Shah does not question. This fateful incident was mentioned in Liaquats biography by Kazem Raza published around 1997-98 but Aqil Shah has not even listed this book in his bibliography.

Another issue with the book is that it has no bibliography and a reviwer or serious reader has to carry out the painful exercise of scanning through the author’s end notes !

One serious issue that one finds with Mr Aqil Shahs argument throughout the whole book is that he finds no space for the first sin and original crime to disenfranchise the Bengalis at Lucknow in 1916. Thus on page-102 Shah again mentions Bengali under representation but fails to mention that Pakistan’s so called founding fathers had delivered the first and most fatal stab on Bengali representation in 1916. He also fails to mention clearly that Bengalis were disenfranchised by Pakistans manipulated politicians in 1956 :–

And yet goes on quoting from western arm chair philosophers while totally forgetting Kazem Raza etc whose books were published and available all along the time span when he carried out this research. If Mr Aqil Shah had just glanced through Mc Graths book “Destruction of Democracy in Pakistan “¸ he could have avoided many serious factual errors in his book.

On page 103 Aqil Shahs basic facts are sadly wrong again as Akhnur was not the only road link between India and Kashmir :–

Hamid was promoted full general as chief of staff and not lieutenant general as stated on page 106 :–

He again demotes Hamid on page 113 :–

Regarding armys mishandling of East Pakistan , I totally agree with Mr Aqil Shah as he stated on page 117 :–

On page 154 Aqil Shahs facts are wrong.

Even the British were meddling and infiltrating civil service with nominated candidates from armed forces entering through back door without examinations based on push and pull. There was a pre Zia military quota in civil services dating back to Ayub Khans period and continued by ZA Bhutto.
In 1947 a totally novice military man Ghayur Khan was thrust over my grandfathers head in ministry of defence just because he was muslim league leader sardar nishtars brother. Other characters like son of a railway station master in good books of british officials joined foreign service in British era , and so did Sultan Khan who was son in law of a minor states ruler.
Throughout sons and sons in law and relatives and EX ADCs were joining the prestigious civil services (CSP, PFS) etc and this loot party did not start in 1980 as Aqil Shah claims.

On page 156 Shah discusses Symington amendment but fails to note that Pressler amendment effectively allowed Pakistan to hoodwink sanctions and Pakistans nuclear weapons were actually acquired in Reagan era with secret US blessings since it was feared that USSR may invade Pakistan and Pakistan needed an effective deterrent.

Shah fails to note that Mr Bhutto himself was a military discovery and a classic case of Pakistani military manipulating a politicians rise to power , whereas his father had even failed to win a single seat from his home constituency of Larkana.

Shahs analysis of armys islamist bugs is realistic but he fails to note that It was a civilian politician Mr ZA Bhutto who inflicted the unkindest cut on Pakistans civil society by pioneering constitutional amendment to declare Ahmadis non Muslims.

Aqil Shah is not honest in his analysis of BB. While the army under General Baig decisively ensured holding of 1988 elections. BB instead of being grateful and at least positive towards General Baig started snubbing him and wanted to replace him .

The unkindest cut in degradation of quality of leadership of Pakistan Army was by appointing an officer , Ayub Khan. as chief by Liaquat Ali khan in 1951. Ayub Khan had been accused of tactical timidity in Burma and should never have been promoted to high office. The other disaster was the appointment of a highly mediocre officer (Zia) with no war record by ZA Bhutto in 1976, but these mistakes figure nowhere in Aqil’s analysis.

The removal of army officers job security and right to service in congenial circumstances without fear of arbitrary removal was removed by an elected prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. This institutionalized “spinelessness” in Pakistan Army. But Shah has no time for these matters.

Shah is unduly harsh on the army (page-171) for removing BB, whereas he totally ignores Ghulam Ishaq Khan. a civilian who was most instrumental in removal of Benazir in 1990 as well as retirement of General Baig in 1991.

Shahs knowledge about Pakistans so called Taliban Insurgency is limited (page 269):–

As a matter of fact this insurgency was fabricated by Musharraf junta to fool the Americans and to divert their attention towards FATA with dual aim of hiding vast bulk of Afghan insurgents in Baluchistan and milking the US taxpayer of 1.2 Billion US Dollar per year known as coalition support fund.

The author has no worthwhile conclusions. Two factors that he throughout misses out are that Pakistan Armys constituency is Northern Punjab and it has kept this area relatively much better developed than rest of Pakistan. He has failed to note that the army killed 90 % people in non Punjabi areas in 1977 agitation and when it came to killing people in Lahore the army refused and three brigadiers were sacked and finally this factor led to martial law.

The second major factor that Shah has ignored is that British colonial legacy preprogrammed Pakistan with a life script for military rule particularly with the history of British colonial legacy in Punjab.

The book is interesting but unfortunately it offers no  worthwhile conclusion.

It appears that the party in Pakistan will continue and Pakistani generals will favour their relatives and favourites for all times to come and organizations like Fauji Fertiliser and PIA will be citadels of generals relatives and in-laws. Pakistans nuclear deterrent guarantees that the loot party would continue while scholars like Aqil Shah will continue to write books (with several inaccuracies) that few people in Pakistan read.

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

23 thoughts on “Review: The Army and Democracy by Aqil Shah”

  1. “On page 5 Aqil Shah while discussing Pakistani military starts quoting Huntington but totally misses the essential fact that Pakistani military was obsessed by British colonial gimmick known as “Martial Races Theory”. The issue all along was not just superiority of military as an institution but ethnic superiority of the west wing soldiers over the “low caste Dravidian Bengali East wingers”.”

    I repeat once again:
    Nothing in S Asia makes sense except in the light of Steppe:AASI ratio

    Jai Shree Ameen. May the Skyfather’s Chokolingam smile upon you

    S Asia needs a racial enlightenment

    Btw, HM pointed out that he believes I was overthinking how Westerners, particularly American Whites, look at different subtypes of S Asians. Razib echoed that in a recent post.

    That view is certainly valid when applied broadly to United States, especially given that my experiences are colored by Americans quite familiar with desis, given that I was raised in the NYC metro area.

    But I will content that I wouldn’t underestimate the racial discerning prowess of whites. This can be seen even going back to the British. While the Martial Race Theory was certainly part of the broader geopolitical “divide and conquer” broad strategy. The physical anthropology used to back it up was based upon discernible phenotypic considerations made by Western anthropologists. On the most diverging ends, say a Punjabi Bollywoodoid Khatri vs. a Tamil Scheduled caste, the differences are quire apparent, even to the seemingly non-discerning eyes of White American folks (Obama voice).

    1. Yes, race is an important issue which has influenced the modern south Asia. British people(according to their writings) literally believed that the fair skinned “Indo-Aryan” race is superior to the dark dravidian(and related) races.They believed that indo aryans brought culture to south Asia.

      They also believed that the situation of the subcontinent is something like that of Africa whose northern portion is inhabited by some superior fair skinned caucasoid race and the southern part is inhabited by some inferior dark race.

      I believe that an important reason for establishing Pakistan is to secure the existence of Indo Aryans who are a “superior race”.
      India(which is too diverse to be a true nation) was probably established for social and political experiments by the western world and some indo aryans were also kept within India so that india can be Aryanized.

      The British actually united India and did not divide India as many people claim. But they also promoted sectarian divides most probably for social experiments and may be for population control. Almost all major problems right now of this subcontinent are directly/indirectly contributions of the British rule and the racialized caste system.

      if i am not wrong, vast majority of Indians are dravidian looking and not Aryan. Ironically, though westerners have a tendency to belittle Indians on a racial basis, Indians often glorify westerners and try to imitate these “superior” people. They often draw the Hindu gods and historical indian personalities as caucasian-looking fair skinned people.

      Most probably, christianity(specially catholicism) was also introduced in this subcontinent for promoting european supremacy

      May the British sky father have mercy on those who glorify him <3

    2. @thewarlocke
      You know what is funny? Using the martial races theory was a stupid idea in the first place because Pakistani Punjabis from Lahore have a much higher AASI and a lower Iran + much lower steppe ancestry than people like Khatris do.

  2. I couldn’t parse this sentence: “The real issue and the basic bone of contention was the Bengali due ethnic majority in votes that was sabotaged and derailed ”

    Omar Ali, could you expand on this aspect of the Lucknow Pact ? I always thought it was just some give and take (perhaps more give than take) between Congress and Muslim League over electoral “adjustments”. Are you saying Mr. Jinnah threw Bengali Muslims under the bus to secure more benefits for Punjabi Muslims ?

    1. NOT PUNJABI MUSLIMS AT ALL BUT ONLY UP MUSLIMS WHO GOT 35 % WHICH WAS OF NO USE TO THEM- MR JINNAH BECAME PERSONA NON GRATA IN PUNJAB FOR MANY YEARS AND ALSO HARMED PUNJABI MAJORITY BY REDUCING IT TO 50 % – AS A RESULT PUNJABI MUSLIMS FORMED UNIONIST PARTY TO ALLY WITH HINDU AND SIKH RURAL CLASSES–TO UNDERSTAND LUCKNOW PACT you need to read :– (1) PATHWAY TO PAKISTAN by Ch Khaliquzzaman (2) Murder of History in Pakistan which has complete chapter on Lucknow Pact and (3) Separatism among Indian Muslims by Francis Robinson (4) Raj Mohan Gandhis UNDERSTANDING THE MUSLIM MIND – also explores it in detail in chapters on Fazlul Haq etc—BASICALLY MUSLIM MAJORITY PROVINCES WERE DESTABILISED AND muslim minority provinces benefitted to only LIMITED extent.

  3. Dear Major Amin

    No post of yours is complete until it does not berate the martial races theory and the damage it had wrought on the Pakistani army. It is obvious to keen readers that there a personal angle to it.

    Will you be kind enough to elaborate more on your own experience in the army, and the reasons you hold such a deep grudge against the senior army staff.

    Of course if you live in Pakistan and such a foolhardy step can have repercussions, we will understand if you choose to keep quiet.

    Thank you
    A long time reader and well wisher

    1. my views are clearly expressed in various publications my dear brother. there is no mystery nor any ambiguity. appreciate your moral support.

  4. I am a bit puzzled on Major Amin view on Jinnah. Broadly folks fall into two categories.

    A) Jinnah fought for Indian muslim rights, and got it correct by creating Pakistan.

    B) Jinnah by creating Pakistan divided the muslim community into 2, which weakened Muslims of the subcontinent.

    Seems like somehow Mr Amin doesnt fall into either category. Would appreciate if he expands on his view on Jinnah

    1. you need to study the available data/books in detail– (1) the position was that UP Ashrafia as well as UP Bihar Hindu Rajputs etc despised Bengalis (2) same was case in Punjab Bombay and in Muslim Ashrafia (3) However demographically Bengalis were the majority (4) This was first sabotaged at Lucknow in 1916 successfully and Bengal Muslims remained unstable politically (5) This was sabotaged by Liaquat who sabotaged and delayed constitution making for 9 years till 1956 (6) In 1956 bengalis were forced at gun point to accept 50 % seats (7) same continued till 1970 elections (8) rest your thoughts about dividing muslims (9) no muslim politician could imagine that indian army would overrun east bengal (10) here bengali muslims need to thank indian army (11) countries are not created by god but by mean mortals who make policy

  5. somehow west wingers thought that they would carry on (2) general yahya khan being non punjabi and non pathan and non urdu speaking finally accepted demography which jinnah and all muslim leaders till 1969 had sabotaged (3) this opened pandoras box (4) lastly if bengalis had due share in the army things could have been more balanced but that was sabotaged by ayub khan (5) my father was GSO2 Operations of 16 Division that carried out military action in north west bengal and states that wishful thinking was such that pakistan army thought as late as june 1971 that indian army could not overrun east bengal.

  6. Crazy how steppe:aasi plays such an important role in even Pakistani history. The funny thing is I would trust a Bengali or Tamil with anything academic, scientific, or medical related over a Punjabi or Haryanvi. Not to mention personal safety or violence. I’d take my chances in Bangladesh or Tamil Nadu any day before I venture at night into a north Indian or Pakistani city.

    Being a martial race sounds like such a chore…

    1. LOL, Just like we had the martial theory wallahs living in their own world, now we have the supposedly more-cultured-than-N-Indian wallahs. Good, everyone gets to live their pipe dreams.

  7. The funny thing is I would trust a Bengali or Tamil with anything academic, scientific, or medical related over a Punjabi or Haryanvi.

    no doubt!

    1. Gujus aka India’s “good jews” occupy a funny place in between lol

      I always find it interesting that AASI doesn’t seem to negatively impact IQ and Steppe doesn’t raise, much to the chagrin of white supremacists.

  8. Major Amin, what is your ethnicity? Are you a Urdu speaker. (I am deliberately avoiding the M word). It does appear so.

    You can’t possibly be a Punjabi based on the hostility you show towards them.

    Sorry to be a little nosy, but now my curiosity is really aroused. What exactly is your pique against Pak army? Something personal?

    1. He is a Woke Jatt Rajput Gujar Serbian Aryan. Descended to be great, he manifests it by standing up to the bullies for the well being of others. It is his arya heart of gold. Nobleness is not just in the namesake of his creed but also the defining trait of his identity.

      He is an R1a. I can sense it. It is a power in my indigenous shaman bones.

  9. Questioning is not a polite form of conversation – passing sweeping judgements is also in bad taste – and hiding behind nicknames makes the conversation pointless

  10. Rather than concentrating on relevant matters – labelling people is in bad taste – just because someone’s grandfather was in ministry of defence in New Delhi before partition. Does not make that person Urdu speaker and then unnecessarily bringing ethnicity in pure intellectual matters ! Ludicrous! My uncle serving in ISI narrated that in 1950s we were asked to ensure that Bengali Hindu demand of joint electorate is not accepted so that ISI could easily target Bengali Hindus as a distinct minority group

  11. LoL. Peace Major. Sorry to trigger you. It’s just that something stirred inside me seeing the great name of Pak army getting sullied like this 😉

    And I dont hide behind nicknames. Just a prudent precaution in the times we live. Privacy is a precious commodity in the age of Internet.

  12. LTG tariq Khan is personally known to me as well as brig khalid who is my unit officer – rest all points are hard irrefutable facts – in serious discussion “specific issues” should be addressed rather than questions about ethnicity of an author which is in bad taste and that too from anonymous users hiding behind nicknames ?

  13. Major Amin, if i may , what do you think is the reason that even with presence of conscientious officers like you, Pak army as a Organization has not reformed to keep itself away from Pak politics or even something smaller like not taking part in Business ( Fauji Fertiliser ,DHA etc ). I am assuming that you do feel all this does have a corrupting influence on the army.

    After all the army generals have advanced through being majors and lieutenants etc . To me its looks like Organization changes the personal rather than other way round, and every new general or army chief just continues with the same stuff, not withstanding their own views (which could differ from the Organization).

    I only see their views suddenly change when they retire , case in point Asad Durrani who was a hawkish ISI chief , but once he was part of track 2 , he suddenly changed to a more nuanced position.

    1. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and when no power is left they wear the false garb of moderation and liberalism

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