03 December 2006

"India's foreign policy 1947-2003" by J N Dixit

We don’t have in India “transparent” debates on public policy by “vested interests” (with opposing views) as they happen in more evolved democracies like the US. Our politicians are yet to appreciate that public policy should contribute to and draw from public opinion. There is very little information available in public forum on the thought processes that lead to evolution and management of public policy. Foreign policy is no exception.

J N Dixit, an erstwhile Foreign Secretary (and later political advisor) with several decades of experience in civil service provides a rare opportunity to get an insight into the evolution of India's foreign policy in this book. The reader is rewarded with informed anlaysis from someone with erudition and a ringside view.

Dixit’s book is enjoyably high on anlaysis and enjoyably low on episodes and anecdotes.

In a democracy any public policy is formed by a judicious mixture of brain (the right move), heart (the right feeling and the right principle) and lips (the right thing to say). Foreign policy, again, is no exception.

The infant India, initially tended to prefer the heart and the lips. Principles were considered more important than interests. We tended to pontificate and made a few mistakes:

(1) In 1947, it was India, not Pakistan, that took Kashmir to the UN in the expectation that the UN would uphold India’s claims on merits. Lt General Kulwant Singh pleaded with Nehru to give him “just a few more days” to free the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistani presence. Nehru did not listen. US and Britain used procedural gimmicks to transform invasion by one member state against territories of another state as a territorial dispute between two member states. India ended up converting Kashmir as a dispute while Tibet, Falklands and Grenada were not.

(2) In the 1950s India promoted “non alignment” as a guiding principle. In truth, India did not practice this principle. India was quick to criticize invasion of Suez Canal but hesitant to criticize invasion of Hungary. India’s credibility was challenged. Indira Gandhi modified this approach by aligning with Soviet Union to protect India’s defense interests cutting across ideology differences.

(3) In the 1950s India missed an opportunity to get the border resolved with China as a quid pro quo for recognizing Tibet as a province of China. Several mistakes were made: Chinese annexation of Tibet was recognized without a quid pro quo; the protests against border intrusions were not firm enough; the military action was silly and adventurous; choosing to open all fronts with China was a tactical error; not using the air force was a tactical error. The military defeat by China was total. It was US intervention that saved India.

(4) In mid 1950s US wanted India to replace China as a permanent member of the Security Council. India declined this offer in view of its friendship with China.

(5) In 1963 US advised India to develop nuclear weapons (as a strategic counter to Soviet and Chinese designs). India declined the offer on grounds of principle.

This tendency to project principles ahead of strategic interests did affect India. However, as the country’s leadership gained a mature understanding of why societies work together or against each other, the precedence to interests prevailed.

Thankfully several of our foreign policy decisions were guided by realpolitik interests and not by “lofty principles” and “moral high ground”:

(1) India got the princely states, especially Hyderabad, to accede to India to form a wholesome territorial entity instead of letting India look like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle of a five year old (only the British could think of such a solution!).

(2) India annexed Goa (after wasting 13 years in negotiating with Portugal’s Salazar) and Sikkim.

(3) India won the support of Kashmir’s ruler Hari Singh and its popular leader Sheikh Abdullah to support accession of Kashmir to India

(4) India’s escalated its response to the 1965 attack by Pakistan by opening all fronts and reaching Sialkot and Lahore unmindful of international opinion against disproportionate response.

(5) India engaged with Pakistan to liberate the eastern wing of Pakistan, unmindful of discouragement from the US, when 9 million refugees poured into India when Pakistan’s army unleashed a reign of terror on its own citizens.

(6) India aligned with the Soviet Union to protect its interests in an “unrepresentative” UN and to protect its defence interests cutting across ideological differences.

(7) India firmly refused to sign multi-national treaties (on nuclear weapons, fissile materials and missile technology) that attempted to prevent proliferation while enshrining a state of permanent competitive advantage for the “early birds”

(8) India exploded nuclear devices in 1974 and 1998, unmindful of international opinion, to firmly establish India as a nuclear weapons state to prevent a few “early birds”, using loftier principles, attempting to enshrine their advantages on a permanent basis.

(9) India dealt with Pakistan in Kargil, unmindful of its nuclear weapons potential, to again send a message that the territorial integrity of India cannot be compromised.

Dixit is substantially pleased with the way Indian foreign policy has been managed.

In a democracy where political leadership changes quite frequently, it is only to be expected that there would be some faux pas. There are a few contenders for the “ugly” moments: Gujral’s embrace with Saddam Hussain in 1989, George Fernandez’s proclamation that India’s nuclear testing was driven by potential threats from China in 1998, Rajesh Pilot and General Krishna Rao pursuing self defined paths instead of working with a larger team while handling Kashmir in 1990s are a few.

In the end the foreign policy establishment seems to have understood one essential tactic. Every country acts in its own interest. Ensuring a friendship with India is in the strategic interest of those who matter is the best way to manage international relationships.

If that can be done without compromising with principles that would be lovely.

28 November 2006

"Pakistan: Eye of the storm" by Owen Bennett Jones

Owen Bennet Jones was BBC’s correspondent in Pakistan for three years till 2001.

His book is a wonderful way to understand Pakistan. It is not a typical chronological list of facts. It is a set of nicely grouped perspectives on the issues in Pakistan’s politics: the power players – army, politicians, feudal lords; the public opinion issues – Kashmir, Bomb, Bangladesh, Muhajirs; and their impact on Pakistan so far.

The reader can pick any chapter and start with it.

It is difficult to write a book about Pakistan (or India) without leaving in the reader’s mind a sense of disappointment at a biased perspective. Was partition the right thing to do? Different views may emerge based on who you ask.

It is even more difficult for a British author to keep a balanced perspective on the history of the sub-continent given the influence in his own ambience. Is Winston Churchill a wise statesman or an arrogant imperialist? Different views may emerge based on where you ask.

The author seems to have struck a fine balance between multiple views.

However, in a few instances, the author disappoints:

Pakistan does feel insecure about India’s intentions. The religious divide is a thin argument since India has more Muslims than Pakistan; and they are not raring to quit India. The divide stems from a public opinion that got shaped by the shameful violence during partition; that got nurtured after the partition by the army and politicians in Pakistan as a pet hate agenda for self serving reasons. Today, no politician or general in Pakistan can take a softer friendly stand towards India and survive in Pakistan. This is true to a lesser extent for politicians in India too. Feeding a public opinon for political convenience and in turn being fed by it is the vicious cycle that Pakistan has gotten into. The author misses this point and suggests that Pakistan’s insecurity stems from India responding to Pakistan’s invasion in 1965 by crossing the border and coming to occupy Lahore; and from India’s role in liberation of Bangaldesh. This world-view befits a public relations spin master and not a political journalist.

Pakistan’s view is that Mujahideens causing mass deaths in Kashmir are “freedom fighters” and not “terrorists”. This view suffers from several fallacies:
(a) Pakistan’s claim as homeland to the sub continent’s Muslims is not valid any more. Not after 180 million in East Pakistan walked away. Not after 200 million Muslims have stayed back in India and have played a big role in India’s growth. Pakistan has lesser Muslims, 150 million, today than either India or Bangladesh.
(b) The Mujahideen are trained and equipped by the State of Pakistan. This is low intensity proxy war. Not freedom fighting. Not terrorism.
(c) The Mujaihideen are not citizens of Kashmir. They are "outsiders" coming in for a shared religion. They sincerely believe they are fighting for the noble cause of their religion. They believe religion prevails over the State. This view raises challenges to several States. In the end this may prove to be a bigger challenge to Islamic States than other States.
The author’s sympathetic description of the events in Kashmir as “tribesmen crossing the border to fight for their muslim brethren” reflects one view reasonably well; but ignores an opposite view that may have a greater dosage of wisdom.

Pakistan’s army, in the words of Benazir Bhutto, has a better track record in fighting its own citizens than fighting other armies. The army’s response to this potential for doubt is made up of: (a) a signature tactic of proxy war – in defeat there is a cover of deniability; and in success there is glory and (b) lack of transparency on events during the war and a “spin” that could obfuscate truth. The author is willing to be a facilitator. Did Pakistan’s army lose its positions in Kargil? Or, did they walk out because Nawaz Sharif ceded to pressure from the US? The author says that Indians claim Pakistan army was dislodged in 80% of the positions before Sharif met Clinton; but “neutral” observers, relying on Pakistan sources, believe that India had dislodged Pakistan in just 12 of the 132 positions implying that the army won it and politicians lost it. Neutral observers relying on Pakistan sources? There are better neutral analyses like Arthur J Tellis’ book “Limited Conflicts Under the Nuclear Umbrella”.

The author parrots a view he heard in Pakistan army: that Pakistan army uses tribesmen in its engagement with India because the Indian army is more afraid of the tribesmen than Pakistan’s regular army. Steve Coll in “Ghost wars” has a different story. Officers in Pakistan army preferred to get posted to the Western front than the Eastern front where they need to meet the tough professional army from India.

Aside from these minor biases, the author has done a very good job in portraying Pakistan’s history and the issues this young nation faces.

26 November 2006

"The true face of Jehadis: Inside Pakistan's network of terror" by Amir Mir

Several Pakistanis have written courageously critical analysis of intolerant dictatorships and terrorism in Pakistan.

Hassan Abbas’s book “Pakistan’s drift into extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s war on terror” and Hussain Haqani’s book “Pakistan between Mosque and Military” are two good examples. So are Tariq Ali’s “Clash of Fundamemntalism” and “Jehad and Modernity”.

However, Hassan Abbas and Hussain Haqani were part of Pakistan’s politics and policy for a while and have written their books from the safe shores of United States. Tariq Ali wrote his books from the free and safe environment of England. (To be fair to Tariq, the man who inspired Rolling Stones to write their song “street fighting man”, he was critical of Pakistan even when he lived in Pakistan; but his family moved him to the UK for higher education and his years in Oxford have only rendered him a more balanced and more respected critic. Yet his best books were written when he was in the UK).

Amir Mir is different. He lives in Pakistan. He is no politician and has the reputation of being Pakistan’s leading investigative journalist. It is quite difficult for Amir Mir to be honest without fear of reprisal – by the State, by the power brokers or by the offended terrorists. It is difficult to “not belong” in Pakistan. Imagine if its Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had to swear in public that he was instructed in his childhood by a certified orthodox Sunni cleric to avoid the dangerous allegation of being a Shiite.

Amir Mir’s courage in writing this critical analysis of Pakistan’s network of terror while living in Pakistan is a vindication of his love for his country.

Elected prime ministers as well as Military dictators are influenced by “public opinion”. One conforms to it to win popularity. Another conforms to it for “legitimacy”. Public opinion in Pakistan hovers around "religion" and "Kashmir".

The Jihad of the 1980s in Afghanistan ended up empowering the “religious right” as a major influence of public opinion in Pakistan. The religious right used zakat funds to harvest a crop of fighters willing to die for pet causes. United States was myopic to believe communism is worth thwarting using communalism. Pakistan’s ISI provided the institutional framework to assemble all this together and execute the objectives.

The current Jihad against a wider array of enemies – the United States, Israel, Afghanistan and India is an improved version with a public opinion even more supportive of religious right and intolerant of alternative view points. The State is trying to be a supporter of international opinion in containing terrorism and a supporter of Pakistan public opinion by not overdoing it. End result: an assorted list of small groups, all equipped with very powerful motivation to destroy civilization elsewhere for causes the groups firmly believe are moral and honourable.

Amir Mir provides a mosaic of news about the rise of various terrorist groups, their pet causes, operations etc.

The picture one gets makes one feel sad for Pakistan. Because terrorism has always failed in achieving its objectives and has alienated the vital support of public opinion to causes that otherwise would have been very moral and very supportable. On the other hand, terrorism has rarely failed to suppress quality of life at its point of origin. This is true of almost every theater where terrorism was practised.

Amir Mir is rightly frightened of terrorism’s impact on Pakistan.

19 November 2006

"Shameful Flight" by Stanley Wolpert

This book is about the last years of British rule of India – an unwise partition, an incompetent colonial government, and a botched up migration leaving bitter legacies. The author is UCLA’s Professor Emeritus teaching history with several other books about India to his credit.

The book is outstanding for many reasons: It is written in an easy style that would force you to read it one go, quite rarely seen in books covering history. Yet the book has sufficient background research that can only be expected from UCLA’s professor of history. It has a balanced presentation of facts by a scholar far removed by geography and time from the events.
Stanley Wolpert provides some interesting insights:

British rule of India is a tale of incompetence:

In 1943, India produced 50 million tons of food grains – enough to feed its population of 400 million. Yet 1.5 million people died of starvation in Bengal that year primarily due to mismanagement.

Bengal’s governor Herbert and Viceroy Lord Wavell pleaded for food grains. Britain’s war transport minister Baron Frederick James Leathers kept 6 million tons stored in ships in Indian Ocean but did not spare it for the starving. Wavell’s report to an uninterested Prime Minister Churchill says “the famine in Bengal was largely due to ministerial incompetence”.

The incompetence was acknowledged in London as well. Churchill’s Secretary of State for India Leopold Amery confesses in a private letter to the Viceroy Linlithgow “nothing has convinced me more than the Cabinet meetings…. of the fundamental incapacity of a British cabinet to try and govern India”.

Viceroy Wavell condemns Churchill four years later after sitting in one cabinet meeting: “He hates India and everything to do with it. Winston knows as much of the Indian problem as George III did of the American colonies!”

British rule of India is a tale of political insensitivity.

The best example of this insensitivity is Winston Churchill’s peevish telegram to his Viceroy asking “why Gandhi has not died yet?” after releasing the Mahatma from prison because of medical conditions. Not a class-act in international politics.

Partition could have been avoided with greater wisdom in Indian/British leadership.

In 1937 provincial elections the Congress won clear majority in six of the eleven provinces. Jinnah’s Muslim league failed to win a single province. Jinnah appealed to Nehru to agree to a coalition Congress-League ministries in the multicultural provinces. Nehru refused and retorted that there were only two parties left: “the British and the Congress”. Jinnah devoted the next ten years to create Pakistan. If Nehru had pursued an “inclusive style of politics” there would have been no opportunity to “divide and rule”.

1946 offered another opportunity to unite. British Secretary of State, Lord Pethick Lawrence advocated a coalition cabinet (made up of Congress and Muslim League) that decides by consensus (as coalitions normally do) and not by majority vote. Nehru declined to cede parity to Muslim league and share power. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad sadly reflected in his autobiography that “Jawaharlal’s mistake in 1937 had been bad enough. The mistake of 1946 proved even more costly”. This resolved Jinnah to insist on partition.

Britain played the “divide and rule” card to the long term detriment of India. Viceroys were quick to ignore good examples. Chief Ministers Sikandar Hayat Khan and Fazl-i-Husain governed Punjab province by using local patriotism and common language to unify the multi-religious Punjab society. It was the same Punjab that recorded the largest death triggered by inept governing.

British rule had no strategy to deal with partition.

Britain, as a colonial ruler, has a history of shameful behaviour. In 1942, when Britain exited Burma “the civil administration suddenly collapsed and those in charge sought their own safety. Private motor cars were commandeered for the evacuation of Europeans, leaving their owners stranded. …. The city of Rangoon was left at the mercy of …. hardened criminals”. There was no thought for life after British rule.

Months ahead of independence most of the British staff were evacuated to Britain leaving no credible law enforcement mechanism for the infant governments of India and Pakistan to deal with the migration induced violence and death.

Mountbatten was aware of the likely violence and the lack of a plan to deal with this. Though Cyril Radcliffe’s maps with the boundary lines of India and Pakistan were ready earlier, Mountbatten kept it under lock and key until the pageantry, splendor and photo opportunities of the Independence day were over and the British could no more be blamed for the violence or the ineptitude with which it was handled. His reasoning: “the earlier it was published, the more the British would have to bear the responsibility for the disturbances which would undoubtedly result”. Reasonable opportunity to manage the migration was denied for the sake of glory.

Says Bengal Secretary John Dawson Tyson, “Mountbatten’s focus was on withdrawal in fairly peaceful conditions….. the India after 15 August will not be the kind of country I should want to live in”

Rear Admiral Viscount Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Mountbatten expressed what he thought about the way he had done his job in India to BBC’s John Osmon in 1965. Thirty nine years later Osman says that though he dislikes using vulgar slang, the only honest way of reporting accurately what the last Viceroy said was “I fu….d it up”.

Stanley Wolpert concludes that both India and Pakistan are still saddled with the bitter legacies of Great Britain’s hasty, shameful flight.

Excellent book.

30 October 2006

"The Shawshank redemption" directed by Frank Darabont

I had the DVD with me for a while but did not see the movie because the title and the blurb were not helpful in understanding what this movie was about. Got curious last year when a nephew's blog proclaimed his interest in the movie. The curiosity was not enough to vault over the mental stumbling blocks.

Yesterday I got lucky. Saw the movie.

Wow. Wow. Whew.

No wonder this 1994 Morgan Freeman/Tim Robbins movie is voted as Number 2 in the 250 all time best movies by participants in the "Internet Movie Database".

The story is about an innocent banker being sentenced to life imprisonment in the Shawshank prison system; his journey through the sentence; the "hope" he carefully nurtures against all forces in the prison; the protection of "something inside him" that he does not allow others to touch; and his clever adaptation into and manipulation of the system.

I bet this movie would "touch" you in a way you dont expect it to; and would leave you with a faint smile.

I plan to see this movie again. And again.

Funny the movie, an adaptation of Stephen King's novel, did not do that well in the box office (thanks to Pulp Fiction and Speed); but had a dream run in the home video market.

If you have not seen it so far, you are lucky. You could enjoy seeing it for the first time!

28 October 2006

"A Call to Honour: in service of emergent India" by Jaswant Singh

Jaswant Singh is a solider turned Statesman inspired by another soldier turned Statesman: Charles de Gaulle. No wonder the book’s title mimics de Gaulle’s war memoir “The call to honour”.

The first paragraph is erudite; scholastic and a put off. After that the book gets very warm, inviting and enjoyable.

Early days in Jasol and Khuri are described in a vivid Arundathi Roy style. The sense of freedom and joy a young bride (Jaswant's mother) feels when traveling from her in law’s place to her parent’s place; the mild anxiety of a grandfather to get his weekly fix of opium; the anguish of a grandfather whose peace and prosperity is challenged by a mindless partition in 1947 are all conveyed in a style that would win attention.

Jaswant Singh does not waste your time. He moves fast forward from his younger days in Jasol and Khuri to becoming a Minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet.

The reader gets a first person’s account of

(a) India’s explosion of nuclear devices; the philosophy behind the bomb; and the management of the impact the explosion had in India’s relationship with US, G8, China and Pakistan
(b) Blow hot blow cold relationship with Pakistan where people are courteous to each other in person and vitriolic in their public postures
(c) The Kargil war in 1999 and the Military stand off with Pakistan in 2001
(d) The Kandahar hijack incident
(e) Building a relationship with US that is independent of US relationship with Pakistan and
(f) Building a relationship with China.

One gets the comfort that politics is not all that bad in New Delhi:

(a) R Venkatraman, Minister of Defence in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, takes into confidence Jaswant Singh in the Opposition benches of the cabinet’s decision to explode nuclear devices in 1980 (though the explosion was cancelled in the last minute by Indira Gandhi)

(b) Prime Minister Narasimha Rao while transitioning Government to Prime Minister Vajpayee says “I wanted to explode these devices but could not. Now it is up to you”.

Both incidents point to a deep respect for other players in politics and a willingness to put India ahead of competitive advantage in politics.

Jaswant Singh too displays this maturity. He has strong criticisms against Congress party and Jawaharlal Nehru. However these criticisms seem to stem from anguish and not hatred; does not reduce the respect a reader may have for Congress or Nehru.

The book has some disappointments. Jaswant Singh does not talk about Ayodhya incident or Godhra incident in great detail. He does not talk about divisive politics between Vajpayee and Advani. Or the Tehelka scandal and how his party tried to stifle an investigative reporter. They too were part of India’s history when Jaswant Singh was in the ring and the reader would have had a more balanced understanding of Jaswant’s time.

All said, an outstanding book by an outstanding son of India who served his country well.

His grandfather who told him to “Go to Delhi and tell them that this (partition of India and Pakistan) was wrong” would be very proud of Jaswant Singh.

26 October 2006

"Kargil: from surprise to victory" by General V P Malik

The head of Indian army is one of the best persons to provide a first person’s account of the Kargil war. If he happens to be an engaging writer, even better. If he has the intellectual honesty to be truthful, it would be a delight.

General V P Malik has done an exceptional job in this book.

He is quite honest, without being critical, about the flawed intelligence; flawed reporting from the frontline; a few failures; and lack of sufficient equipment. However, the story of how the armed forces mobilized its response; how every point was captured back reads well.

Malik gives due credit to the political leadership in India for having the courage to increase the intensity of response without the fear of a nuclear backlash; but is frustrated with the moral high ground of not letting the army cross the line of control into Pakistan.

Malik gives an insight into the strategic thinking in India. Pakistan has the advantage of surprise in a low intensity conflict. Pakistan has parity (thanks to its bomb) in a high intensity conflict. However, India has the advantage in a medium intensity conflict due to a much larger armed forces. (India is a $ 3,800 billion economy while Pakistan is a $ 374 billion economy; in the end, sheer budgetary support would differentiate the two armies in a conventional war).

Pakistan’s thinking was that its nuclear capability would prevent India from escalating the war from low intensity. The political leadership and military leadership in India surprised Pakistan by escalating the response and engaging in a medium intensity conflict without being worried about nuclear responses.

Malik excels at the anecdotal level too. There are heroic stories about how individual peaks and points were captured back. The photographs of the terrain show how difficult the job was.

Reading this book along with Musharraf’s book “In the line of fire” would provide a contrast between India and Pakistan.

One, Malik appears proud of working under his political leadership and seems happy with their support though there are a few disappointments. Musharraf thinks all his political masters were useless.

Two, Malik does not describe Pakistan as an enemy in a passionate way. Malik sounds like a person who would not have minded a vacation in Pakistan if the two nations were friendly. Musharraf whips up passion in Pakistan by painting India as an arch enemy.

Three, Malik is happy to vanish into the wall paper in the political process. The highest level of interference Malik was willing to do was to call the Election Commissioner and complain that it would have been convenient for the army if the EC fixed the election dates after the war was over! Malik and his colleagues are apolitical professionals. Musharraf has emerged as a military dictator.

Four, Malik is quite critical of his country, his army and his political bosses – because he wants his successor to have a better probability of protecting his country. Musharraf cannot find one fault with Pakistan army.

Good book. Reads well.

24 October 2006

"Ghost wars" by Steve Coll

One of the best books written about the emergence of religion based terrorism directed against several causes and several societies. Steve Coll provides a balanced dispassionate analysis and profound insight into the new menace that is powerful enough to challenge peace everywhere.

United States has two kinds of friendships in world politics:

(a) Friendships founded on shared values
(b) Friendships founded on shared interests

Friendships founded on shared values (such as those with UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan) last forever. These friendships do not leave a trail of destruction behind. Friendships founded on shared interests (such as those with Iran under the Shah, Philippines under Marcos, Pakistan under Zia, Saudi Arabia above oil) last short periods of time but leave a trail of destruction somewhere.

US friendship with two such shared interests (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) has created a monster that is likely to be a greater challenge to peace and security everywhere than anything humanity has seen so far.

Saudi Arabia has been funding radical Islamic groups around the world to appease its domestic constituency of religious right. Saudi donations helped create radical Islamic groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan to attract, train and equip youth who are willing to kill and willing to die.

Pakistan provided an intelligence service that could orchestrate insurgency against a conventional army; provided a limitless supply of youth willing to die for holy causes; and an efficient supply chain of high tech arms.

United States used this friendship to create a "jehad" against Soviet expansionism. The mission was successful. But there were unfortunate side effects.

The Jihadists, assembled against Soviet Union, did not go home to become investment bankers and stock brokers. They stayed and sought new causes. Fight for Palestine. Fight against America. Fight against the House of Saud. Fight for Islamic rule in Afghanistan. Fight for liberation of Kashmir.

Pakistan had a field day. The ISI could use the jihadists for its favourite causes: Hekmatyar, Taliban, Kashmir. State sponsored terrorism was born. Funding was available from Saudi Arabia and from narcotics trade. State sponsored terrorism gave way to a multinational radical Islamic terrorism when Pakistan tainted every political objective with a religious colour (a lesson learnt from the jihad against Soviets). It is now possible for a Mullah in a village in Pakistan to issue a fatwah by fax that could motivate a young British Muslim to enroll in an ISI sponsored terrorism training center in Pakistan and undertake a mission to destroy social fabric in a nation that is probably busy with a super bowl.

A foreign policy shaped by shared interests is probably not that good an idea.

This book provides a well researched insight into the rise of radical Islamic terrorism.

The best on the subject. Easy to read. Disturbing to think about.

Shall look forward to the next book from Steve Coll.

21 October 2006

"DC Confidential" Christopher Meyer

Christopher Meyer was UK's ambassador to USA during the run up the Iraq war.

You would have thought this is likely to provide an insight into the alignment of views between the two leading democracies of the World, right?

Forget it. This book is boring.

All you get to read are:
(a) Britain's embassy in Washington DC; and next house neighbour Al Gore's copter disturbing peace in the neighbourhood
(b) Meyer's tracking of Presidential polls in USA to find out who is likely to win
(c) Political infighting between PM's office and Foreign ministry occasionally denying Meyer presence in high level parleys
(d) Germany's insensitivity in helping Her Majesty's Ambassador's wife winning a custody battle in German courts

Anglo American relationship is an important force in world polity. We shall await a book from Tony Blair or Dubya Bush to get insight into that.

As to this book, let it remain confidential.

20 October 2006

"In the line of Fire" by Pervez Musharraf

A memoir by a ruling Head of State of Pakistan! Without the measured expression by seasoned diplomacy! This is an exciting opportunity to discover what is ahead for Pakistan, mankind's fight against terrorism and for neighbour India.

Written in a racy style that keeps the reader engaged, the book does not disappoint.

Pervez Musharraf is quite outspoken about Pakistan. A few examples:

"Bhutto was the worst thing that happened to Pakistan. He did more damage to the country than anyone else, damage from which we have still not fully recovered"

"President Zia, in the 1980s, completed what Bhutto had started in the dying phase of his regime - the total appeasement of the religious lobby". "Zia found it convenient to align himself with the religious right and create a supportive constituency for himself".

"The four changes of prime minister involved two cycles of alteration between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Never in the history of Pakistan had we seen such a combination of the worst kind of governance - or rather, a nearly total lack of governance - along with corruption and the plunder of national wealth".

"We stood at the brink of being declared a failed state, a defaulted state, or even a terrorist state".

In four short quotes he disapproves the governance of Pakistan from 1971 to 1999.

Musharraf does admire one ruler of Pakistan however: Pervez Musharraf. He does make moderate claims to qualities of head and heart as a leader - to the extent one can expect in an autobiography. Every dictator or despot nurtures an ambition to claim legitimacy by seeking backing from his/her constituency. Musharraf claims his by bringing in the right mixture of national interests, a poor "state of the union", army support, a referendum and a convenient quote from Abraham Lincoln!

However, what surprises this Indian reader, is an antipathy toward India supported by misrepresentations and deceit:

Musharraf claims that India attacked Pakistan first in 1965 and was given a "bloody nose". Some might say that Pakistan sent its 2nd tank regiment into Jammu first. India halted it and advanced just miles short of Lahore and Sialkot when a UN brokered ceasefire stopped the war.

Musharraf also claims that India, with USSR alliance, invaded Pakistan in 1971 at a time when Pakistan was dealing with mass public uprising in the East. Musharraf ignores the millions of refugees that poured into India thanks to severe threats to normal life from Pakistan's Army. He claims India had an alliance of war with USSR and Pakistan's ally US was not supportive. Truth is different. The only super power to enter the war theater was the US. However, the Indian Army took complete control over the war theater for the US 7th fleet to play any active role and US backed off in the absence of achievable objectives.

Musharraf's recollection of Kargil is at best funny. He claims that "local freedom fighters" occupied Kargil in a maneuver that was "flawless tactical marvel of military professionalism" and Nawaz Sharif lost it in a truce brokered by US. Fact: It was Pakistan's army (Northern Light Infantry) that occupied Kargil. It was a tactical win at a Captain's level and a strategic failure at a General's level. The Indian Army discovered this late (and was criticized in India for this); but the Indian Army fought back and re-occupied all strategic heights. The US brokered truce happened after the re-occupation.

Musharraf stakes a final claim: That the Indian nuclear program used Dr AQ's design. This is a bit mixed up. India exploded its device in 1974. Dr AQ was at that time a young and brilliant metallurgy engineer in Delft in the Netherlands; it would take him another fifteen years to get a dirty bomb for Pakistan.

Musharraf, as a loyal Commander in Chief, tries to paint a larger than life size image for his Army. That is understandable. However, he does not worry about its impact on those who look to him for peace in the neighbourhood and elsewhere. That is worrying.

The leader of Paksitan is quite an important person for humanity's future. Because he can make a big difference on two major issues affecting humanity:

One, Pakistan is the biggest supplier of terrorists today. This supply chain misuses a great religion to provide motivation, drug trade to raise capital, and a vast accumulation of equipments from the cold war era for ammunition.

Two, Pakistan has the power to destroy. This power will have to be carefully handled. By wise, stable and mature hands. One would have thought Musharraf is the best person to control Pakistan's bomb. This book reduces that comfort.

Everyone would agree with one thing Musharraf says in his book. When one sees young Shahid Afridi hit sixers in a cricket match at will, one does feel like jumping with joy like a child. That, at least, is unquestionably true.