Book Review: The Battle for Pakistan

From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain.

Book Review – The Battle for Pakistan by Shuja Nawaz

Hamid Hussain

 Shuja Nawaz’s new book The Battle for Pakistan is a timely release of a work that reviews Pakistan’s security challenges and U.S. Pakistan relations. A new unpredictable era of U.S.-Pakistan relations is around the corner in view of recent U.S.-Taliban agreement and uncertain future of Afghanistan.

There are not many analysts and scholars of the region with access to both Pakistani and American sources. Shuja is uniquely equipped for such a project as he has access to Pakistani army high command as well as Pentagon and State Department sources.  Book covers U.S.-Pakistan relations, working of Pakistan army high command and fraught civil-military relations in Pakistan.

 Shuja gives a comprehensive view of expectations and disappointments of Pakistan and United States.  The dilemma of this un-equal and transactional relationship is that each side fail to understand the interests of the other party and ends up blaming its own failures on the duplicity of the other party.  This has been a predicted cycle over the last seventy years.

 Shuja gives insight into power struggle among senior officers of Pakistan army.  The first round was when General Pervez Musharraf was forced to give up his uniform and his confidant and successor General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani worked to bring his own team.  He superseded and removed from important positions officers considered close to Musharraf.  Kayani brought his own team of senior officers and then eased Musharraf’s ouster in 2008 to enjoy two three years tenures as the master game-keeper of the reserve.  

 Several segments of the book deal with civil-military relations. Shuja provides details of many episodes of serious friction.  Army is the dominant force and civil-military relations are seriously imbalanced.  Mutual distrust, antipathy and outright disdain for each other ensures repeated cycles of crisis.  Each side has become expert in self-goal seriously damaging country’s reputation.  Army high command has not been able to work with two major political parties; Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).  This forced them to put their chips on the third option. Current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan is actively supported by army high command.  Army high command and PTI repeatedly claim that they are on the ‘same page’, however, army is taking lead in tackling different problems faced by the country.  Army nominated and supported serving and retired military personnel, bureaucrats and politicians have found place in all corridors of power.  The seeds of distrust are thus sowed, and friction will inevitably increase between army and new political force of PTI. 

 Shuja also provides details about increasing role of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Pakistan’s internal affairs.  In many cases, United States used Saudi Arabia and UAE to manage delicate domestic political matters of Pakistan. Pakistan is increasingly dependent on Saudi and UAE largesse due to difficult economic state. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) has developed close personal relation with President Donald Trump and Washington uses this connection to manage some areas of Pakistan policy.

 Book is a must read for everyone interested in U.S.-Pakistan relations and the region.  In Pakistan, the book launch became unintended casualty of controversy over Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s three years extension of service.  Book’s South Asian edition was published in India in August 2019.  When Pakistan enacted trade ban with India, book could not be delivered to Pakistan.  A Pakistani publisher released the book and Shuja travelled to Pakistan for book launch ceremonies in several cities.  Pakistan Supreme Court took the case of extension of COAS shaking the army brass.  They asked Shuja to delay the book launch as it could generate criticism of the army although book presents Pakistan army point of view on various issues. Shuja refused to cancel book launch and army directly pressurized event organizers to cancel the events.  More copies were sold in Pakistan due to silly acts of the brass. 

 Shuja Nawaz.  The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighborhood (Karachi: Liberty Publishing), 2020

 Hamid Hussain

May 2020

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