Author Shuja Nawaz. Photo: Handout

Shuja Nawaz is a well-acclaimed writer who has authored books such as Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army and the Wars Within and Pakistan in the Danger Zone: A Tenuous US-Pakistan Relationship. An experienced journalist who worked for decades in Pakistan and abroad and is the brother of ex-Chief of Army Staff General Asif Nawaz, the author has strong connections in the corridors of powers in Pakistan and the US.

His latest book The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighborhood is a testimony to his strong connections and of course his impeccable skills at analyzing and presenting facts in such an interesting way that once you start reading the book you cannot put it down.

This new book has already created a controversy in Pakistan as its launch was stopped by the authorities. Only after reading the entire book can one understand why its launch ceremony was stopped by the authorities in Pakistan, as Nawaz has candidly written the details of the political developments from 2007 to 2018 and also analyzed the military establishment’s role in politics and its new doctrine that revolves around fifth-generation warfare with an India-centric approach.

The book begins with Nawaz recalling the visit of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto to the US  in 2007. The downfall of military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s role in restoring the judiciary is a well-known fact, but Nawaz summarizes this with details.

From Benazir’s murder in Rawalpindi to the change in the political team and philosophy of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the details are explicit and interesting. The face-saving exit of Musharraf and the US dollars credited into his bank account by the Arab monarchs is an interesting topic in the early chapters of the book, and for sure readers will gain many insights into how power politics in Pakistan works.

While discussing the PPP government’s tenure from 2007 to 2013, Nawaz has given a detailed version of why the party’s performance was dismal and how the military establishment did not let Asif Zardari rule the country freely, curtailing his attempts to shift the tilt of power in his favor. According to Nawaz, Zardari was a good replacement for Washington after Musharraf. Zardari first tried to curtail the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the help of his interior minister Rehman Malik by issuing a notice from the Prime Minister House that ISI would directly work under the supervision of the government, but it took only a few hours for the military establishment to force the PPP government to cancel that notification.

Nawaz also discusses the Memogate Scandal and how things unfolded after that. Since the controlled media only reported a one-sided narrative of the Memogate Scandal, this chapter in the book busts many myths surrounding that case.

Nawaz’ most startling revelation about politics in Pakistan is the reference to former US ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olsen. According to Nawaz, Olson had information that General Zaheer-ul-Islam, then the director general of ISI, was planning to stage a coup against Nawaz Sharif’s government during the 2014 sit-in organized by Imran Khan. However, General Raheel Sharif stopped him from doing that. This revelation was first made public by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart Senator Mushaid Ullah Khan, who in an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation claimed that Zaheer-ul-Islam was the main architect of Khan’s sit-in. Mushaid Ullah Khan had to resign from his ministry after the interview, as the military establishment did not like it.

Nawaz also highlights the famous Dawn Leaks scandal and how it created more tension between the PML-N government and the military establishment.

Nawaz also outlines the events and circumstances that led to the murder of the Asia Times Online’s Pakistan bureau chief, Saleem Shahzad, in 2011. Another highlight of the book is the inside details of the infamous Abbottabad operation where US troops entered Pakistani territory and eliminated Osama bin Laden.

According to Nawaz, the army chief at the time had no clue that the US was conducting a military operation to eliminate bin Laden. He writes that General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, in fact, told Admiral Mike Mullen that the US could have informed him of bin Laden’s presence and the Pakistan Army could have carried out this operation in two hours in broad daylight. This reference to the Abbottabad operation by Nawaz clearly suggests that at least the high command of the Pakistan Army was not aware of bin Laden’s presence nor was it taken into confidence in advance about the US operation.

Nawaz has also brilliantly depicted the personality and mindset of General Kayani and his role in building the image of the institution after the Musharraf era. The author also has highlighted Nawaz Sharif’s inability to trust even his own party members, writing that Sharif ran a kitchen cabinet where decisions were made by the prime minister and his chosen few cabinet members.

Nawaz has written brilliantly on the Dawn Leaks, a civil-military spat, and the tensions between the PML-N and the military establishment. The book gives details on Pakistan’s army operations against the terrorist entities on its soil while also providing useful information on how the US monitors the activities of the Pakistani military’s top brass. Nawaz gives full credit to Kayani for devising a doctrine against the internal militant groups and clearly states that General Raheel Sharif and General Qamar Javed Bajwa benefited from the Kayani doctrine during Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Rad-ul-Fasad.

However, Nawaz criticizes Pakistan’s military defense spending and its Indian-centric policy of shaping defense narratives, as he writes, “More needs to be done to turn back the forces of religious obscurantism and ritualism that have crept into Pakistani society and even the military.” He also criticizes the military for the censorship of the media and its overwhelming ability to shape public opinion.

Nawaz also maintains that the Inter-Services Public Relations Department (ISPR) is being accused of drawing a sharp line between journalists and scholars who are seen as cheerleaders and those who are prone to be critical at times. He writes that the ISPR needs to win the confidence of international media, and he suggests some good ideas for how this could be done. He also says the ISI should stay away from domestic spying and enforcement activities and its command should be returned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

He also has diligently explained what role the US can play to normalize the relations between Pakistan and India and how a possible accidental atomic war between the two countries can be prevented. Nawaz is of the view that if the US can persuade India to shift one or more of its three military corps facing Pakistan to the Chinese border or deeper inside its own territory, the signaling effect on Pakistan would be enormous.

The Battle for Pakistan is not only about political revelations that most of the domestic media have portrayed to gain ratings and viewership. This is a comprehensive book on Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with the US and its relations with India and Afghanistan, and a well-analyzed overview of Pakistan’s successful military operations against militant insurgencies. The book also offers a valid criticism of the mindset of the military establishment and criticizes its institutional flaws and its narratives. However, it is not criticism for its own sake, as the author also offers solid solutions to address the flaws and weaknesses of the military establishment. He also criticizes the democratic process of the country, which is not inclusive for the common masses and revolves around the elites only, who run the political parties like dictators.

One wonders why the Pakistani authorities stopped the launch of this book as it can not only provide critical knowledge of what is happening in Pakistan and around its neighborhood but also can make masses understand how the diplomatic ties between Pakistan and the US work based on their own goals and interests. This is a must-read, must-have book for those who are interested in knowing the deep insights of Pakistani-US relations and the military establishment’s view about the civilian leadership and its neighbors, highlighting some strong points on the military and also showing the weak sides of the narratives of the establishment.

The book deserves 4.5 points out of 5 for its well-detailed and balanced analysis, information, and an elegant way of describing events.

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