Book Review: Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War

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by C. Christine Fair

Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. xvi, 348. Maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0199892709

Pew Research Center opinion polls indicate that a majority of Pakistanis believe that the United States is an enemy of their country. A majority of Americans, on the other hand, probably could not find Pakistan on a world map, but assume that if it's Muslim, it must be Bad.

Pakistan was born in the bloody Partition of British India 1947, which created a Muslim state in two parts, separated by the width of mostly Hindu India.  West Pakistan included many Punjabis and Pashtuns, the “martial races” favored by the British.  East Pakistan was populated by supposedly unwarlike Bengalis; smaller in stature, darker skinned, and held in contempt by West Pakistanis.  The predictable result was a bloody breakup in 1971, which created the nation of Bangladesh.  Pakistan’s Army blames this on India; The Pakistan Army blames everything on India, except for anything it can blame on America.

Strife-torn, dysfunctional, duplicitous, constantly failing, but not quite a failed state, Pakistan is an endless source of trouble for American policy-makers, strategic planners and diplomats.  Yet, because elite British-educated Pakistanis speak such charming English, we often think we understand them.

Mostly, we don't.

But Christine Fair does.

Fighting to the End begins with an exploration of the “Strategic Culture” of the Pakistan Army, which dominates the state and society.  Why is it, Fair asks, that through many regime changes, four unsuccessful wars with India and decades of crisis edging to the brink of war, Pakistan has clung so stubbornly to self-defeating policies? These include repeated failures to provoke insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir, constant intervention in Afghanistan’s bloody politics, and “proxy wars” using militant terrorist groups, which often turn against the hand that feeds them.

Fair’s point is that Pakistan’s paranoid fantasy-based ideology is the explanation.  If Pakistan were a troubled adolescent, the diagnosis would be “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.”

As long as Pakistan resists India’s perceived drive for regional hegemony, it sees itself as winning.  The Pakistan Army’s version of history “does not correspond the to generally accepted scholarly literature.” This is the polite way of saying it’s a pack of comforting lies. Most countries teach a sanitized version of their military history, especially to cadets, but aspiring Pakistani officers are taught that their Hindu foes are cowardly and dishonorable, a racist viewpoint politely described as “Orientalist essentialism.”

The Pakistan Army views itself as the global defender of Islam.  Its proudest achievement is the nuclear program masterminded by A.Q. Khan, which impoverished the nation but led to the development of the first “Islamic bomb.”

At least in the short term, Fair is pessimistic about the future.  Because Pakistan’s strategic culture is so strongly embedded, she sees little hope of change resulting from further defeats, recruitment of officers from more diverse regional and ethnic backgrounds, or democratic reforms driven by a more empowered civil society.

Fighting to the End is a very well researched and insightful book that draw upon on years of interaction with the Pakistani military, and a deep immersion in the professional literature by which it educates its officer class. Although the book is studded with the academic jargon of International Relations, it should be of value to anyone with an interest in Islamic and South Asian political-military affairs.

 

The Author: C. Christine Fair has a PhD from the University of Chicago.  She is Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program in Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.  She was a senior political scientist with RAND Corporation, a political officer with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan in Kabul, and a senior research associate in the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute of Peace.

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Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is a D.C. based defense analyst, who writes for several defense related journals and Defense Media Network, including, The Year in Special Operations.  He is the co-designer, with John Gresham, of Supermarina 1 and Supermarina 2, both from Clash of Arms.  A collector and lecturer on ancient coins, he is active in the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, DC.  His previous reviews for StrategyPage include To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine EmpireThe Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204 Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros BryenniosThe Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), and D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion

Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   


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