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Book review of Carey Schofield's "Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman's Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror"

Aparna Pande

Carey Schofield’s book, Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror, claims to be a book on the Pakistan army but a more apt description of its subject would be “the world according to Pakistan’s military officers.” Instead of organizing the book into chapters on the social base of the army, its recruitment policies, promotion, training and doctrine — topics that would define it as a book about the institution — the book covers all these subjects in a single chapter and devotes full chapters to a discussion of the creation of Pakistan, the role of the army, its ideology and its place in Pakistan. There are also separate chapters on Pakistan’s intelligence services, on former Chief of Army General Pervez Musharraf and on the current war in the Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Ms. Schofield’s chapter on the creation of Pakistan reads like a chapter straight out of a Pakistani high school textbook on “Pakistan Studies,” where the invasion of Sindh by Arab-Umayyad General Muhammad Bin Qasim in 711 A.D. is seen as the critical founding step for the later creation of Pakistan. Embracing the ahistorical, ideological paradigm about Pakistan’s origins, the author goes on to describe the Pakistan army’s “narrative” as “a powerful interpretation of the past, possibly more coherent than that of the state itself, which is constantly prey to confused and competing interpretations.” (pg. 31)

Ms. Schofield is not particularly interested in checking out the validity of the narrative or finding out herself whether facts bear it out. While talking about Pakistani national identity and ideology, she claims that Pakistan has “older” ties with Iran than with others countries of the region, especially India. It is true that Pakistan has close historical, cultural and linguistic ties with Iran — and even Pakistan’s national anthem is written in Farsi. But these close ties are shared between Iran and all countries of South Asia, not just Pakistan. India too has very close ties with Iran. The Mughal Empire that ruled from Delhi and the Muslim-ruled Sultanates that preceded it all used Farsi as their official language. Even today, around 20% of India’s Muslims are Shia. Denying Pakistan’s South Asian identity and heritage has created an identity crisis in Pakistan rather than helping create a coherent national narrative.

The author agrees with the view that Pakistan “is beset by enemies” and is “engaged in an existential struggle” with “Bharat” (India). “Hindustan opposed Partition” and is against Pakistan’s “existence and intent upon absorbing Pakistan’s territories into its own republic.” (pg. 19) But she offers no evidence to substantiate her assertions except the fact that she was told so by her Pakistan army hosts.

As an example of India’s ill intent towards Pakistan, Ms. Schofield states that the Indian national anthem “refers possessively to Sindh” referring to the second line of the anthem where Sindh is mentioned along with other regions like Punjab, Gujarat and Maratha. She was clearly not told, or failed to research, the origins of the Indian national anthem, which was originally a poem written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. Does a poem written almost four decades before Pakistan’s Independence in 1947 really serve as evidence of independent India’s intentions towards Pakistan? Shouldn’t current policy be gleaned from expressions of national policy made by a country’s executive or legislature, not from a poem — even if it is the national anthem? This would be akin to considering the American national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 soon after the war of 1812, as more important for defining American foreign policy than any policy statements by the American president or the Congress.

The book’s argument appears to be that the reason for the dominance of the Pakistan army within Pakistan is not because the army has taken over civilian space through repeated military interventions but because the army was and remains the “only thing that works in the country.” (pg. 13)

Carey Schofield’s willingness to just believe whatever she is told glares at the reader repeatedly throughout the book. On page 48, while talking about the early years of Pakistan’s history, Ms. Schofield asserts that “there was one obvious flaw in the young democracy: the majority of the population lived in East Pakistan, but West Pakistanis would not tolerate a government dominated by Bengalis.” She provides no context for her assertion and does not explain why if the Bengalis were a majority in Pakistan they should not have been accepted as such. Instead she simply buys the explanation that West Pakistan had the right to rule over the eastern wing.

The entire chapter on the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) is based almost entirely on an interview with one former head of the agency. The chapter is focused on portraying the “correct” image of the ISI, countering criticism both within and outside Pakistan, as well as to find out the “motives” of those who are attacking the agency (pg. 106). While we are provided with a basic idea of the ISI’s internal organizational structure, the aim is to portray the ISI as an agency wrongly blamed by others. No non-ISI army officers or civilians are interviewed for their views and there is no effort to compare the claims of the author’s interviewees with other sources.

It is understandable that a book on the Pakistan army should be primarily based on interviews with army officers. But given the history of the Pakistan army’s political interventions, one would have expected at least some interviews with non-army military officers (for example, those from the Navy or the Air Force) as well as civilian defense analysts. It seems as though Ms Ms. Schofield believes that the only valid view about the Pakistan army is that held within the army, not outside. She makes not even a pretense to talk to others, especially foreigners or Pakistani civilians.

The chapters on the ongoing fight with the militants are interesting more for what they do not say than for what they do. Here again, Ms. Schofield unquestioningly accepts the Pakistan army narrative on Afghanistan, on the Afghan war, and on U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Like the Pakistan army, she repeatedly states that the Pakistan army does not lack intentions, only capabilities, in fighting the militants. There is no attempt to address U.S. concerns about Pakistan’s links with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, or Pakistani Jihadi groups. The prescription is simple: Americans need to help build Pakistan’s capabilities and resources if they want Pakistan to do more.

While discussing the role of religion in the Pakistan army, the author makes it seem as though it is something natural: a Muslim state would by definition have a Muslim army. “All the time, riven through the Army’s thinking and its debates is the influence of religion.” (pg. 14) But if that is the case, what is the explanation of the Pakistan army’s origins being as part of the British Indian army? After all, for over 100 years, officers and men from the areas that now constitute Pakistan served the British, quite often in fighting fellow Muslims both in the sub-continent and in far off places like Iraq, Hijaz, Egypt and Palestine. After failing to address the all-important question of recent ideological indoctrination, Ms. Schofield also does not ask whether an excessive emphasis on religion both in Pakistan’s national identity and within the army helped build ties between the security apparatus and the radical jihadi groups. She simply asserts towards the end of her book that the Pakistan army is “not extreme” and is “not close to jihadis.” (pg. 207-08)

On page 23, while interviewing a three-star general, Ms. Schofield narrates their discussion on religion. The Shia general explained to her the differences between Sunnis and Shias. At the end of the interview when she left with her “handler” Major General Shaukat Sultan (then director general of Inter Services Public Relations), she points out that Major General Sultan was “uncomfortable” and “angry” that the general had discussed the sectarian issue. “He should not have talked to you about being a Shia. Within the army we are all Muslims.” Instead of questioning this line of thought, Ms. Schofield said she agreed with him because “within the army unity is vital.” (pg. 23)

Ironically, Ms. Schofield does not draw from that episode the conclusion that is obvious to any reader: that her access to the army and all her interviews — and hence her book — had been arranged as part of a public relations exercise by the Pakistan army. When the interviewee — in this case the three-star general — did not stick to his script, the head of the army’s public relations was visibly upset.

For any embedded analysis, of the type attempted by Ms. Schofield, the researcher must know enough about the culture, language, history and politics of the country to distinguish plausible perspectives from mere propaganda. Otherwise you end up with simply portraying what the propaganda machine asks you to do, taking away any shred of credibility. It would be akin to writing on the Soviet army during the time of the Soviet Union but under the guidance of the Soviets. Interestingly, Carey Schofield has done that too, and with little impact. Her latest book is not an academic work on the Pakistani army, but a long press release written by a foreigner.

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