From Dr Hamid Hussain
Book Review – The Quetta Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Pakistan Army by David O Smith
David Smith’s book The Quetta Experience is a groundbreaking and unique study of Pakistan army’s prestigious Command & Staff College that trains army officers for higher ranks. This book is based on interviews of American army officers who attended Command and Staff College at Quetta in Pakistan. Foreign Area Officers (FAO) of US army spent a year at Staff College.
Colonel David Smith is well qualified to embark on this kind of project. He attended Staff College Quetta in 1982 and has remained in contact with large number of senior officers of Pakistan army. In view of his extensive contacts in Pakistan army, he has been a Pakistan hand at Pentagon and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for over two decades.
This study looks at functioning of Staff College and evolution of its curriculum to train Pakistan army officers for higher ranks. It covers the years from 1977 to 2014 when American officers attended Staff College.
Smith has reached many relevant conclusions and based on my own work on Pakistan army, I agree with several of his observations. The fear of ‘Islamization’ within officer corps is exaggerated and army has put in place filters at various levels to ease out officers with extreme views. There is a generational divide about national security threat among Pakistani officers. New generation that has been fighting against the militants for the last two decades sees internal security as existential threat to the country and India as a secondary threat.
New generation is more informed in view of access to information outside normal training manuals and study material. In early part of fight against militants, platoon and company commanders aghast at cluelessness of their brigade and division commanders devised solutions to their tactical problems. Old school officers were frantically looking for old maps of tribal territories where their troops were deployed and dusting old frontier warfare manuals. Young officers thrown right in the middle of the conflict found their own solution by simply using google maps. They have access to open sources on experience of other militaries engaged in internal security and counter-insurgency challenges. They look at American, Indian and Israeli experience and draw their own conclusions.
Pre 2000 generation of army officers had gaping holes in the art of higher direction of war. Kargil crisis of 1998 is a good case study. There was casual and unprofessional attitude at the highest decision making process at all stages of planning, execution, extrication and handling the fallout on all areas of national security. The only saving grace was the heroic fight of countless junior officers and men under their command who gave stellar performance in most unfavorable conditions. How the institution handled it? Almost all company and battalion commanders were retired or superseded. Brigadiers, Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals got promotions and prized appointments. It seems they were rewarded for a successful military operation and then army banned discussion of Kargil operation at all training institutions for over a decade. One cannot get more dystopian than this.
Pakistan army maintains good standard of education and training comparable to most military institutions. Majority of Pakistan army officers who attend courses at foreign training institutions usually excel and attain top positions. Teaching material and training at Staff College and National Defence University (NDU) has also evolved focusing on new challenges. Majority of Pakistan officers who attended Staff College consider curriculum adequate for promotion up to Colonel and Brigadier rank. Main limitation is tendency to stay with accepted solutions and hesitation to think out of the box. Rank is a major barrier where students are hesitant to challenge ideas forwarded by the faculty.
Smith’s work is important as it provides an outside perspective of training of Pakistan army officers at mid-career that has significant impact on the promotion to the higher ranks. However, it has significant limitations. It is perspective of American officers who spent only a year at one institution with significant restrictions. In addition, they view Pakistan and its neighborhood through American security interests.
This study is must read for anyone interested in Pakistan army as it lifts the curtain a little bit to shine light on training and selection to higher ranks of Pakistan army officer corps. Staff College is the first step of the ladder of promotion to senior ranks and have dominant influence on country’s policies not limited to national security.
David O Smith. The Quetta Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Pakistan Army (Washington D.C: Wilson Center Asia Program), 2018
Acknowledgements: Author thanks several Pakistan army officers of different ranks who candidly shared their own experiences and perspectives about Command & Staff College Quetta.
25 July 2020
Defence Journal, August 2020