Nasim Zehra’s Book on Kargil. Review by Maj Amin

 

Review from Major Amin. 

NASIM ZEHRAS TOO LATE AFTER THE EVENT KARGIL BOOK ANALYSED

Agha H Amin

My first issue with this book is that analysis delayed is analysis lost and Nasim Zehra is guilty of publishing this analysis some 20 years late. Before that she was in the good books of many culprits of Kargil who 20 years later are fired cartridges with near zero nuisance value. More seriously, I take analytical as well as conceptual dispute with her in regarding characters like Lieutenant General Javed Hassan as “ courageous and conscientious”

Continue reading “Nasim Zehra’s Book on Kargil. Review by Maj Amin”

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Pearls of Nonsense About Drones

See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA's Lethal Drone Program by [Fuller, Christopher J.]

See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA’s Lethal Drone Program. by Christopher J. Fuller

Book Review from Major Agha Humayun Amin. 

This is an interesting endeavor by a self-styled expert on drones from the University of Southampton in United Kingdom.

I first read about this great expert on drones in a review by one Mr. Phillip O Warlick II of Air Command and Staff College who elevated the book and its author to prophetic heights.

Having witnessed some drone strikes personally and having extensively travelled in the area affected by the so called US drone program I decided to buy this book which was quite a blunder as I now reflect in retrospect.

Blunder in the sense that I learnt nothing additional about the drone program. Continue reading “Pearls of Nonsense About Drones”

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Review: Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: Covert Action and Internal Operations

Book Review sent in by Maj Agha Amin. Unfortunately the pictures in the original are low quality and I was unable to fix that problem. Still, you will get the gist of it. 

This is a very interesting book by a Montana University (adjunct) Professor (Owen Sirrs).

The author explains that the  genesis of this book was his:– (page-9)

Two- month stay at the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan during the summer of 2009. It was there that I learned a great deal more about Afghanistan–Pakistan relations in general and ISI operations in Afghanistan in particular.”

The book examines the following issues in the writers own words:–

  1. How has ISI evolved as an institution exercising intelligence and security responsibilities at home and abroad? What were the driving forces behind that evolutionary process?
  2. How does ISI fit into the larger Pakistani Intelligence Community?
  3. What does the decades- old relationship between ISI and the CIA tell us about the larger US–Pakistan security relationship?
  4. What is ISI’s record in providing accurate and timely early warning intelligence to decision- makers?
  5. To what extent has ISI disrupted and abused Pakistan’s democratic processes? 
  6. Is ISI a rogue agency or a state within a state? 
  7. Can ISI be reined in and the PIC (Pakistani Intelligence community) reformed? 
  8. How has ISI employed UW (Unconventional warfare) in support of the state’s national security objectives? To what extent has UW been a successful strategy for Pakistan?

 These are the very interesting question that the writer has formulated as stated in the books beginning and has attempted to answer in this most interesting book. Continue reading “Review: Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: Covert Action and Internal Operations”

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Review: The Garrison State: Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947

The Garrison State: Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947 (SAGE Series in Modern Indian History)

The following is a review sent in by Major Agha Humayun Amin (retd). As usual, Major Amin is sometimes, shall we say, harsh, but his knowledge of this subject is encyclopedic and always worth reading..

My first association with works of Professor Tan Tai Yong started in 2000 when he wrote an article that as per his own admission forms the basis of this book.

Although Professor Yong seemed at that time in 2000 to be a well meaning scholar,there were serious basic flaws in his research.

I wrote a letter to the Journal of Military History at that time in 2000 which that journal , keeping in line with its tradition of intellectual dishonesty, did not publish, citing lame excuses about lack of space. That letter is appended at the end of this review, so that the reader may have an idea about what was the basis of my criticism.

The West is in the habit of accepting so called scholars like Professor Yong as experts on Indo Pak history. So Journal of Military History of USA was merely following this strange tradition.

When I read this book under review in 2018 some 18 years after my initial critique I was disappointed to find that Professor Yong had not improved his knowledge , although most the faults he has committed in this book were entirely avoidable.

The first issue is regarding why the British started preferred Punjab and Frontier for the army recruitment.

First the assertion that it was only by the 1880s that the British started favoring soldiers from Punjab is wrong.

The hard facts of the situation are that some 90 % of the pre 1857 Bengal Army recruited from UP and Bihar had rebelled or disbanded in 1857 and an entirely new army was created, composed mostly of set of regiments raised in Punjab (frontier being its part) in 1857-58.

While Lord Roberts pronouncements can be credited as “ Martial Races Theory” a clear shift in British recruitment policy favouring Punjab over UP and Bihar had been initiated in 1857-58.

Peel Commission of 1858-59 had clearly laid the basis of this policy. Thus the “Peel Commission” constituted after 1857 to study and analyse the future composition of the Indian Army recommended that the native army should be composed of different nationalities and castes, and as a general rule mixed promiscuously through each regiment! Such system had existed in the Madras and Bombay armies but these were much smaller as compared to the Bengal Army. However, India was now viewed in terms of loyal and disloyal.

Professor Yong , if I am to understand this book , simply denies the existence of the British loyalist Syed Ahmad Khans landmark work “Causes of Indian Mutiny” written in 1859 and republished as an Indian translation in 1873.

This pamphlet which suggested formation of class regiments did have immense impact on British thinking and pre-dates Robert who only came into prominence after 1885.

Lord Canning’s views about the policy of “Divide and Rule” expressed in 1857 are thought provoking; Canning thus said in a letter dated 9 October 1857:’ “the men who fought against us at Delhi were of both creeds; probably in equal numbers. If we destroy or desecrate Mussulman Mosques or Brahman Temples we do exactly what is wanting to band the two antagonist races against ourselves…..as we must rule 150 million of people by a handful (more or less small) number of Englishmen, let us do it in the manner best calculated to leave them divided (as in religion and national feeling as they already are) and to inspire them with the greatest possible awe of our power .

Canning went further and very subtly defined certain guidelines regarding employment of various classes after 1857:-

“All exclusion of Mahomeddan, Rajpoots or even of Brahmans should be a matter of management rather than of rule; and indeed that it will be right to take an opportunity, though not just yet, to show by an exception here and there, that the rule does not exist. It is desirable that no class should feel that it had henceforward nothing to expect from the government”

Continue reading “Review: The Garrison State: Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947”

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Review: Persian Fire

This book is basically a fun read. It covers both the Persian and the Greek side of the Greco-Persian wars quite well but I have to take away one star for Tom Holland’s (sometime mischievous or even tongue-in-cheek) propagandist style. But still, he has done his research and is fun to read, with quotes and anecdotes that enliven this history and bring it to life.
He describes the rise of the Persians and the creation of the first great world empire by Cyrus. This empire proceeded to conquer most of Asia minor (modern Turkey east of Istanbul) including multiple Greek city states (the Ionians). Holland describes the rise of the various Greek city states, with most of the attention focused on Sparta and Athens.The revolt of some of these cities against their Persian overlords and the burning of the Persian regional capital of Sardis triggered the first Persian invasion of mainland Greece, which ended with Athens historic victory at Marathon. The Persians came back with a huge army under Xerxes and as you may expect, battles like Thermopylae and Salamis get the full Tom Holland treatment; drama, suspense, objective facts and light-hearted propaganda. The book ends with the final Persian defeat and a brief survey of the (short lived) peace, prosperity and cultural efflorescence that ensued.
The book is an excellent account of the Greco-Roman wars and their background and ends on a high note. In a way, this is a bit misleading because a far greater and far more devastating war (the Peloponesian war) would break out within a few decades, so this book can be criticized for exaggerating the significance of the Persian invasion in Greek (and by extension, later Western) history. But that is a question for another day. If you have vaguely heard of Marathon, Thermopylae, the 300 Spartans, Themistocles or Salamis, but don’t really know what happened, this is the book for you. If you are ancient history nerd then you probably know all this and more, but even those who know most of the story may enjoy this effervescent and light-hearted retelling of this famous story.

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Review: Directorate S


Review from Major Amin: Directorate S –The CIA and Americas Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016-Steve Coll -Allen Lane- Penguin Books-2018-ISBN-978-1-846-14660-2 ISBN-13: 978-1987659184 ISBN-10: 198765918X


A leading US-Israeli Intelligence analyst and operator recently summed up pathetic state of US intelligence operators in Pakistan as following:–

They are afraid of their own shadows”

As great powers decline , their quality of strategic judgement and decision making and their operational effectiveness also markedly declines.

Steve Coll’s voluminous and bulky book reconfirms this fact .

The first defect of this book is that it does not contain a single relevant map connected to the subject i.e Directorate S.

On page 12 the writer repeats a false and unsubstantiated claim that CIA pilots had to fly Russian MI series helicopters for Northern Alliance , whereas in reality Afghanistan never had any shortage of Afghan helicopter pilots.

On page 14 the author confirms his absolute lack of knowledge of geography when he fallaciously claims that Panjsher valley slices north towards Tajikistan , whereas in reality Panjsher valley inclines towards Chitral in Pakistan towards the Northeast , ending at Anjuman Pass.

The authors analysis is a clear testament to the fallacious assessments of US policy makers about Afghanistan like on page-17 he discusses Al Qaeda and US policy makers obsession with Al Qaeda.

As a matter of fact Al Qaeda was never the real player in Afghanistan all along . It was a puny group with limited strategic ability. The real players in Afghanistan all along were Taliban supported by Directorate S of the ISI.

This basic US perceptual error repeatedly appears in Steve Colls voluminous narrative and Steve Coll himself is quite confused about it.

Steve Colls factually flawed statements like page-17 where he states “Recalling the miserable fates of Imperial Britain” while referring to Britain”s Afghan wars. Why Coll has to make such baseless statements is perplexing. As a matter of fact all three Afghan wars were a strategic success , the first being waged by a British private company. All three Afghan wars made British strategic position in India and West Asia stronger and created a more stable Afghanistan.I guess it is fashionable in western authors to make such statements about what a terrible place Afghanistan was and is . Continue reading “Review: Directorate S”

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Review: The Buddha and the Sahibs and Ashoka—The Search for India’s Lost Emperor

A review by my Uni batch mate,  Sunil Koswatta

Charles Allen has written two books on The Buddha and the Sahibs and Ashoka—The Search for India’s Lost Emperor.  The second book, written about a decade after the first one, is largely an expansion of the first.


Both are the stories of the “Orientalists” who discovered India’s lost history, the lost Emperor Ashoka, and the Buddha Dhamma that thrived in India during Ashoka’s time.  Their methods of discovery were crude, sometimes outright criminal by today’s standards.  However,there  were honest“sahibs” who dedicated their whole lives to science and discovery; conversely, there were opportunistic and greedy “sahibs” whose only objective was wealth.  Allen weaves his tale in a way to take the readers along with the discoverers while (mostly) permitting the readers to judge for themselves.

Among the most interesting are William “Oriental” Jones, who established the Asiatic Society of Bengal; James Prinsep, who deciphered Ashoka texts; George Turnour, who translated Mahawansa from Pali to English; Alexander Cunningham, who discovered many of the Buddhist pilgrimage sites; Dr. Waddell, who discovered Kapilavastu and Lumbini; and John Marshall, who finally introduced proper methods of archeological excavation.

Prinsep worked to decipher the lettering on the pillar known as the “Feroz Shah’s Lat” or “Delhi No 1” for four years.  His breakthrough came when he examined two dozen brief inscriptions of the same lettering at the Great Stupa at Sanchi.  Prinsep guessed that these short inscriptions could only be records of donations.  He was struck by the fact that almost all short transcripts ended with the same word with two characters: a snake-like squiggle and an inverted T followed by a single dot.

Here, he observed that the language was not Sanskrit but a vernacular modification of it, which had been fortunately preserved in Pali scriptures of Ceylon and Ava, a nineteenth century Burmese kingdom.Prinsep’sassistant with Pali was a Sinhalese named “Ratna Paula” (quite likely a corruption of the name “Rathanapala”).Both in Sanskrit and in Pali, the verb “to give” was “dana” and the noun “gift” or “donation” was “danaṁ” sharing the same Indo-European root as the Latin “donare” (to give) and “donus” (gift). This led to the recognition of the word “danaṁ,” teaching Prinsep the two letters, d and n of Brahmi 1. The snake-like squiggle represented the sound “da”, and the inverted T with the single dot the sound “naṁ.”

Too, Prinsep noticed that a single letter (like an inverted y) appeared frequently before or near the terminal word. Prinsep determined this letter to mean “of,” the equivalent of Pali “ssa,” based on his earlier investigations of the coins from Saurashtra.  If his hunch was correct, then the general structure of each sentence was something like “So-and-so of the gift.”Prinsep’s translation of one such Sanchi inscription is “Isa-palitasa-cha Samanasa-cha danaṁ” (The gift of Isa-Palita and of Samana.)

The opening sentence of Delhi No 1 had been observed to repeat itself again and again at the start of many sections or paragraphs of text in the pillar inscriptions and on the rock edicts.  This,Prinsep could now read as “Devanampiyapiyadasi raja hevaṁ aha.”  After conferring with Ratna Paula, Prinsep concluded that this opening phrase was best represented in English as “Thus spake King Piyadasi, Beloved of the Gods.”  Prinsep published his findings in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in April, 1837.

But who was the author of these extraordinary edicts?  Who wasPiyadasi?  Prinsep couldn’t find a Piyadasi in all Hindu genealogical tables that he consulted.  Only one possible candidate presented himself, one who had emerged from George Turnour’s translations of the Pali Chronicles of Ceylon: “King Devanampiatissa succeeded his father on the throne of Ceylon in the year of Buddha 236.  He induced Dharmasoka, a sovereign of the many kingdoms into which Dambadiva was divided, and whose capital was Pataliputta, to depute his son Mahinda and his daughter Sangamitta, with several other principal priests to Anuradhapura for the purpose of introducing the religion of Buddha.”

In a letter sent to Prinsep on June 6th of 1837, Turnour excitedly revealed the identity of Piyadasi.   “I have made a most important discovery. You will find in the introduction to my Epitome that a valuable collection of Pali works was brought back to Ceylon from Siam, by George Nodaris, mudaliar in 1812. This collection of Pali texts included a copy of the Island Chronicle, the original chronicle from which the later Great Dynastic Chronicle took its earliest historical material, but a less corrupted version—and with crucial differences.  While casually turning the leaves of the manuscript I had hit upon an entirely new passage relating to the identity of Piyadasi … who, the grandson of Chandragupta, and own son of Bindusara, was at the time Viceroy of Ujjayani.”

King Devanmpriya Piyadasi of the Feroz Shar Lat inscription (Delhi 1) was not King Devanampiathissa of Lanka, as Prinsep had assumed. He was his Indian contemporary Ashoka Maurya.

After Prinsep’s death his work was continued.  Alexander Cunningham relied on the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang to discover the Buddhist pilgrim sites.  Faxian’s Records of Buddhist Kingdoms was translated in 1836, and Xuanzang’s History of the Life of Xuanzang and His Travels in India was translated in 1853.  Faxian, who travelled to India in 400 CE, identified Ashoka as Wuyou Wang (The King Not Feeling Sorrow).  Faxian visited Sankisa, and Lumbini, and from Lumbini travelled south to cross the Ganges at the point he describes as “the confluence of the five rivers,” just upstream of the capital of the country of Maghada: Pataliputra.  Faxian describes Wuyou’s palace and his towering city walls and gates as being inlaid with sculpture-work.  About two hundred years later, when Xuanzang arrived, the Buddha Dhamma was in decline and the Pataliputra was all but abandoned.  Cunningham conducted his field surveys with copies of Faxian’s andXuanzang’s travels in his knapsack.  He tracked down almost all sites visited by the Chinese pilgrims, including Sravasti, Kosambi, Ayodya, Sankisa, Taxila, and Nalanda.

However, Cunningham assumed that Pataliputra must have been swept away by the changing course of the Ganges.  Dr. Waddell thought otherwise.  Taking together both Faxian and Xuanzang accounts,Waddell prepared a chart of Ashoka’s palaces and other chief monuments, and his chart led him over a railway line that marked the southern limits of “old” Patna, to a series of mounds known as Panch Pahari or the Five Brothers.  He wrote afterwards, “I was surprised to find most of the leading landmarks of Ashoka’s palaces, monasteries, and other monuments when reexamined so very obvious that I was able in the short space of one day to identify many of them beyond all doubt.”  Around the modern village Kumrahar, Waddell found various fragments of sculpture and other confirmatory details and learned from the villagers that whenever they sunk wells, they stuck massive wooden beams at a depth of about 20 feet beneath the ground.  Megasthenes, a Greek diplomat who stayed at Pataliputra for six months during the Emperor Chandragupta’s reign, had recorded that Pataliputra was surrounded by wooden walls.

As mentioned before, not all sahibs treated their objects respectfully.  James Campbell, the Commissioner of Customs, Salt, Opium and Akbari in Bombay Presidency in the 1890s, excavated several sites in Gujarat.  Among his early triumphs was finding a new Ashokan rock edict, which he had allowed to be taken to bits, mislaid, and lost. A relic subsequently identified by the accompanying inscription as a segment of Buddha’s alms bowl was thrown away.  He then moved on to tear apart the “Girnar Mound,” a large stupa a few miles south of the famous Girnar rock inscription.

In spite of some irresponsibility, all of these men contributed to the rediscovery of India’s past.  The books that tell their stories are excellent,  and in this reviewer’s judgment both belong in any Sri Lankan’s private library.

Sunil Koswatta

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How Pakistan Got Divided

Review of General Rao Farman Ali’s book by Major Amin

HOW PAKISTAN GOT DIVIDED-RAO FARMAN ALI KHAN -298 PAGES – OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS-PAKISTAN –ISBN NUMBER 978-0-19-940698-2- YEAR OF PUBLICATION -2017

Reviewed by Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

This is yet another disappointing book in the genre that Pakistani writers write to rationalize the separation of East Pakistan and creation of the new state Bangladesh in 1971. The real causes are always simply whitewashed and not even discussed. This book does so again .

The book is divided in 17 chapters but only one deals in a very vague and rudimentary manner with the historical background. The remaining chapters are devoted to 1970 elections and its aftermath. This is a rather ultra myopic way of writing history. The bottom line of the whole issue was that ethnicity was the defining factor in Indian Muslim relations. Starting in 1906 Indian Muslim politics was dominated by United Provinces (UP) Muslims . When All India Muslim League was created in 1906 with Bengalis in the forefront , it was hijacked by UP Muslims and its headquarters shifted to Aligarh in 1907 . Bengalis were regarded as an inferior Dravidian race. The watershed moment was the Lucknow Pact under stewardship of Mr Jinnah,  where without discussing the matter with Punjabis or Bengali Muslims a twin thrust in the back was delivered to Punjab and Bengal. Punjab’s Muslim legislative majority being reduced from 54 to 50 % and Bengal’s Muslim majority reduced from 52 to 40 % . All this being done by an All India Muslim League that contained 90 % of its delegates from Lucknow city and UP. Continue reading “How Pakistan Got Divided”

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Ordered to Die; A History of the Ottoman Army in WWI

Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War (Contributions in Military Studies) Hardcover – November 30, 2000
by Edward J. Erickson  (Author)
Quick review by Major Amin
This is a very interesting, must read book.
The Ottoman Army was not logistically equipped to fight the huge battles that it was forced to fight in First World War. The main culprit was Ottoman Defence Minister Enver Pasha a man of myopic vision and petty intellect (Normal problems in Muslim world).The bottom line is that Ottoman Turkey had no reason to go to war but unnecessarily joined the war because of phenomenal stupidity of Enver Pasha.
The odds that Ottoman Army confronted were too heavy.This is the writers basic and most balanced assessment.
In Egypt the attack on Suez was a logistic miracle and Ottoman failure because of massive allied naval guns was a foregone conclusion.
In Caucasus Russian Army was vastly superior to Ottomans logistically and materially.
In Mesopotamia British numerical superiority was massive after 1916 and Ottoman failure was a foregone conclusion.
Despite all these huge odds Ottoman Army kept itself intact to finally save Turkey under Mustafa Kemal as nationalist army.
It fielded 2.8 Million troops and suffered 750,000 fatal casualties,proportionately one of the highest.
Like all third world armies it was outstanding in defense and weak in attack where greater military dynamism and superior numbers are required.
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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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