The second Oxford University Press edition of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within has brought a new focus on its gifted Pakistani author, Shuja Nawaz. He is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington DC and was its founding director, and has been credibly briefing senior government and military officials and parliamentarians in the United States, Europe, and Pakistan.

He says in his introduction to the 2017 edition: “The Pakistan Army has not been immune to many of the ills that afflict Pakistani society in general, perhaps less so because it has internal mechanisms to identify and correct mistakes.

But not always, and rarely if ever, are its mistakes or shortcomings shared with the public. When it is prepared to listen to outside voices, it can change for the better.”

General Ayub Khan took over a politically unstable Pakistan and gave it a decade of prosperity before succumbing to the Pavlovian lure of defeat by touching off the 1965 war with India. Pakistan had to endure a Tashkent Agreement signalling the end of the Ayub Khan regime, but Pakistan could still interpret it as a victory. The 1965 deadlock gave rise to the more decisive 1971 defeat which climaxed with the Simla Agreement, binding the two states to a bilateral resolution of disputes and practically ousting Pakistan from recourse to international organisations.

Writing about the 1965 fiasco, Nawaz refers to an unwise change of field command in the most important sector of the war quoting General Akhtar Malik: “Tactical brilliance and gallantry at the lower levels of command nullified by a lack of vision and courage among the higher levels of leadership of the Pakistan Army.”

The author goes on to “define” the Pakistan army in the following succinct observation: “This was a recurring theme of Pakistan’s external wars, as senior leaders failed their lower level commanders and ordinary soldiers with poorly conceived military adventures time and again. In the end, what was portrayed as a magnificent victory over India by Ayub Khan’s propaganda machine produced only disillusionment and catalysed his eventual fall from grace.”

Today acts of terrorism in Pakistan are not properly investigated because the device of the “India-did-it” and “America-did-it” agitprop satisfies the national hunger for conspiracy under the rubric of “foreign hand”. The obvious corollary to this epiphany is the Islamisation of the officers, particularly of the all-powerful ISI, which the book exemplifies in the figure of its director general, Javed Nasir: “A bearded, fire-and-brimstone spewing Islamic warrior, who had been a course-mate of General Hamid Gul at the PMA, Lt Gen Javed Nasir turned to religion in a serious way in 1986. Now, he was keen to find ways of supporting Islamic causes anywhere in the world. He saw opportunities to hurt India not only in Kashmir but also in other regions.”

If today there are 70,000 Burmese Rohingya in Karachi, led politically by late General Hamid Gul’s son Abdullah Gul, it is because of what General Nasir was to achieve with “provision of weapons to the Arakanese Muslims who inhabit the area bordering Burma’s frontier with Bangladesh and were fighting for an independent enclave.” The author also notes that “the DG ISI was reported to have established contacts with Tamil extremists and set up a gun-running operation and other fund-raising activities in Bangkok.” When army chief General Pervez Musharraf grabbed the low-hanging fruit of defeat once again at Kargil, retired Javed Nasir published triumphant articles in the press predicting victory for Pakistan.

Nawaz Shuja does a thorough analysis of what the Pakistan army did during the Kargil war that started as a covert operation and soon changed into a rout with heavy casualties: “The aim was to gain the military upper hand by dominating the Kargil heights, thus threatening the main Indian supply route. They had not presented this plan to the previous chief, General Jehangir Karamat, who would have rejected it, based on his knowledge of earlier such episodes when he had been DGMO. The Corps Commander X Corps, Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed and General Musharraf signed off on the plan and got the prime minister involved in the idea of raising the temperature of political discussions on Kashmir with India. This precipitated a military confrontation”. The upshot of this adventure was that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was toppled and made to go into exile.