Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War by C. Christine Fair, Oxford University Press: New York, 2014, ISBN 13: 978-0-19-989270-9, 368 pp., $34.95 (Hardcover), $13.49 (Kindle).
C. Christine Fair, an Assistant Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, is a distinguished academic with a long research history in South Asia, and considerable experience researching the Pakistan Army. She makes good use of her expertise in this work, devising a unique thesis that is a valuable contribution to the growing body of literature on the many problems facing Pakistan and the Pakistan Army’s role in the entire imbroglio.
Professor Fair contends that while much has been written on this subject (her book is only the latest in a growing series of works by academics and journalists), much of it misses the mark. There are several specific components to her thesis. South Asian experts largely concur that India is the status quo state, while Pakistani state is a revisionist state. India, content to pursue business as usual, does not want to change existing borders. When it comes to Kashmir, Indians would like to put the issue behind them. India is increasingly willing to accept a permanent bifurcation of Kashmir along the current Line of Control (LOC), and the conversion of the LOC to an international border. Pakistan rejects such a solution and publicly insists that Kashmir be absorbed in Toto into the Pakistani state. Pakistan has used military force, Islamic proxies, and most recently its nuclear status to keep the Kashmir issue alive and change the situation on the ground. Fair points out that Pakistan’s obsession with the Kashmir issue has led many observers to conclude that the India/Pakistan dispute will be resolved at the same time as the Kashmir dispute.
Professor Fair argues that nothing could be further from the truth, because Pakistan is not merely a revisionist state, but rather an unreasonable revisionist state. David M. Zionts,1 defines “unreasonable revisionism as failing to revise an anti status quo position after suffering a clear and devastating defeat.” Pakistan suffered such a defeat in 1971, when its forces surrendered to the Indian Army in Dhaka. Furthermore, in 1965, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Gibraltar, in which it infiltrated regular army forces into Indian Administered Kashmir in a failed attempt to start a popular insurrection. For decades, the Pakistan Army has armed, trained and infiltrated Islamist proxies to launch terrorist attacks in Kashmir and other locations all over India. These efforts not only failed to change the status quo, but severely undermined Pakistan’s economy and internal security, as Army supported Islamic militants turned against the Pakistani state. A classic revisionist state would have concluded that repeated failure and devastating harm to the state are sufficient cause to give up its attempt to change the status quo.
For example, Nazi Germany was a revisionist state that wanted to change European borders to unite all ethnic Germans into a single national entity. The European powers tried to placate Nazi Germany and head off conflict by providing territorial concessions. Many historians have concluded that Nazi Germany, seeing itself as militarily weak, was reluctant to be drawn into war against the allies, and would likely have backed down if not presented with territorial concessions. However, when the concessions were granted, Germany interpreted this as a sign of weakness and kept increasing its territorial demands, touching off the Second World War.
Fair argues that Pakistan, like Nazi Germany, is a greedy state, in that it is “fundamentally dissatisfied with the status quo, desiring additional territory even when it is not required for security.”2 Pakistan, she argues, is trying to change the status quo not to assure its own security, but to “increase their prestige, to spread their ideology, or to propagate their religion.”3 As such, Pakistan would likely continue its aggressive revisionism even if given territorial concessions in Kashmir.
Fair ascribes this sad state of affairs to the strategic culture of the Pakistan Army. Fair quotes Alastair Iain Johnston’s definition of strategic culture as “an integrated ‘system of symbols’ (e.g., argumentative structures, languages, analogies, metaphors), which acts to establish pervasive and long-lasting strategic preferences.”4 Fair asserts that the Pakistan Army’s strategic culture is all-pervasive in Pakistan and contains the essential ideological elements that have locked Pakistan into a permanent and deadly confrontation with India (and at times Afghanistan and the United States) while endangering Pakistan’s basic security and crippling its economy.
In her research methodology, Fair uses the words of the Pakistan Army itself to define the principal elements of its strategic culture. She does this by reviewing and analyzing decades of Pakistan Army publications and quoting them directly. She isolates key components and explores them in specific chapters. When reading the book and trying to climb into the unique mindset of the Pakistan Army, I, like Fair, often felt I was entering a fantasyland out of touch with reality. Fair points out that the Pakistan Army routinely makes factually incorrect assertions and sticks to them for decades, as if frozen in time, regardless of the growing body of evidence proving the assertions patently untrue.
The Pakistan Army asserts that India is bent on Pakistan’s destruction, regardless of the overwhelming evidence that India has accepted the status quo. The Pakistan Army asserts, and apparently believes, that India is a “Hindu state,” although India is a multi-religious state, with a larger Muslim population than Pakistan’s and a secular constitution. It characterizes the Indian Army as a “Hindu Army,” although it includes personnel from all of India’s religious groups, including Muslims. The Pakistan Army blames India for the current wave of Islamist terrorism engulfing Pakistan, claiming that India sponsors Pakistan’s myriad terrorist groups. India is South Asia’s largest and most powerful state, and plays a leadership role. The Pakistan Army casts this as insidious Indian dominance, and itself as the only state courageous enough to stand up to it. Although Pakistan has never won a war against India, it claims victories in all conflicts except the 1971 war. It continues to assert that its troops played no role in the 1947-48 war.
The Pakistan Army claims to be engulfed in an existential and civilizational conflict between a righteous Islamic state and a perverted and aggressive Hindu one. This narrow and delusional focus has precluded normalization of relations between India and Pakistan. When the two states take concrete steps towards normalization, the Pakistan Army unleashes a terrorist attack in India by one of its Islamist proxy groups to scuttle the process. Defining the India/Pakistan conflict as eternal and unresolvable, the Pakistan Army refuses to accept defeat. It defines defeat as the eradication or subjugation of Pakistan, while defining “victory” as merely maintaining the ability to “stand up” to India and refuse “Indian hegemony.” This feeds Pakistan’s identity as an unreasonable revisionist state.
Fair describes how Pakistan has devised a set of dangerous and provocative policies based on this strategic culture. These include the manipulation of Islam, the support of Islamist proxy forces, the insertion of these forces into India and Afghanistan to conduct acts of terrorism, the sponsorship of the Taliban in hopes of installing a “friendly” regime in Kabul and keeping India out of the region, and the creation of a large nuclear arsenal and the flirtation with doctrines such as launching a first strike against India, and introducing tactical nuclear weapons onto the South Asian battlefield.
Fair points out that at the behest of the Pakistan Army, Pakistan has drifted away from the secular and liberal ideals of its founders and cultivated groups from the Islamic right. As a result, Pakistan has grown less inclusive, and has become dominated by narrow Sunni interpretations of Islam that discriminate actively against religious minorities. This active discrimination has now crossed the line into “ethnic cleansing,” as Islamist groups increasingly use violence to attack those deemed apostates, heretics, and “kafirs.”
Fair concludes by examining the potential for change. Will the Pakistan Army continue to embrace this strategic culture indefinitely? Are there any exogenous or endogenous “game changers,” that would cause the Pakistan Army to abandon or modify its strategic culture and adopt more rational policies? Fair does not hold out much prospect for change. Examining possible scenarios involving both endogenous and exogenous stimuli, she concludes that the Pakistan Army will likely prove resistant.
She isolates several variables that explain this pessimistic assessment. The Pakistan Army, through its control of Pakistan’s praetorian state, has manipulated the Pakistani education system and media over the course of several decades. As a result, Pakistani civilians largely share the same strategic culture with the Army. Fair points out that Pakistan pursues its revisionist agenda even during times of civilian control. In addition, Pakistan’s military elites are convinced that their nuclear arsenal provides a security cover that enables Pakistan to pursue asymmetric warfare more aggressively against India (and Afghanistan). The Pakistan Army believes India will not risk nuclear war by reacting aggressively against Pakistan for its support of anti Indian terrorism. Furthermore, Pakistan is convinced that the USA and other powers will quickly move to end a conventional war before Pakistan can be defeated, in order to prevent its escalation into a nuclear conflict.
In the foreign policy arena, the Pakistan Army has constructed a deceptive and factually incorrect narrative regarding its foreign alliances. It continues to portray itself as the victim of American perfidy, accusing the United States of being an unfaithful ally that refused to come to Pakistan’s aid when it was faced with “Indian aggression.” Although this narrative is patently false, the Pakistan Army uses it to manipulate naïve American diplomats, generals, and policy makers with little background in South Asia. By sticking to this narrative with no variation, Pakistan pursues, says Fair, a policy of conscious “rent seeking” to extract maximum amounts of military and economic aid from the United States. Like most observers, Fair has concluded that Pakistan had little interest from the very beginning in fulfilling alliance commitments to the United States, and has often actively worked against American interests while professing to be an ally.
By contrast, the Pakistan Army pretends that China is its staunch ally that, unlike the USA, will never desert it and will stick by Pakistan through thick or thin. Fair points out that this narrative, like the American one, also runs counter to the facts. She provides several instances in which China has refused to support Pakistan, most notably during its conflicts with India. She clarifies that China, like most states, acts in its own national interests, and has no inherent loyalty or sympathy with Pakistan. This narrative is convenient for the Pakistan Army, however. It enables Pakistan to tell the USA that it dare not curtail its support, or it will run into the arms of China.
While Fair urges American policymakers to be aware of their manipulation by the Pakistan Army, she sees little likelihood that the US will move in the foreseeable future to distance itself from Pakistan. Sadly, the US seems locked into a dangerous and counterproductive relationship with a duplicitous ally from which it cannot escape.