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Reviewed by:
  • Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within
  • Rob Johnson
Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within. By Shuja Nawaz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-547660-6. Photographs. Tables. Notes. Appendixes. Selected bibliography. Index. Pp. xliv, 655. $34.95.

There are relatively few books dedicated to the entire history of the Pakistan Army, and fewer still manage to combine both the political and the military activities of this important institution. The Pakistan Army has, as the title implies, featured prominently in the nation's politics. The proximity of its vast and often hostile neighbour, India, and the difficulties in establishing a representative democracy in a country so divided by region and ethnicity, meant that the Pakistan Army came to see itself as the bastion of national survival. When what it regarded as corrupt and self-serving civilian politicians appeared to jeopardise the future, the army had little hesitation about intervention. Despite the succession of coups, military governments [End Page 1019] , and crackdowns, it is curious that there are so few histories of the army's political role. Shuja Nawaz has therefore filled a serious gap in the scholarship, and his comprehensive survey is the result of some thirty years of research. Nawaz was a television journalist in Pakistan, covering the war of 1971, before working for The New York Times, the World Health Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, as someone closely related to the army, through his wife and his brother, he was granted unprecedented access to the archives of the Pakistan Army at Rawalpindi, and to the army's personnel. The result is a detailed and fascinating account of the army, in peace and in wartime, through the lens of one not actually part of the organisation, yet possessed of a thorough appreciation of its ethos.

Given the crucial role the Pakistan Army finds itself playing in the international struggle against insurgency and terrorism, Nawaz's book is a vitally important contribution to our understanding of events in the region of Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province, where American forces now operate. Nawaz explains how the Pakistan Army functions, its view of civil society, and its record in Pakistan's history. The army, whilst trying the save the nation, has found itself acting as power broker for a variety of competing political groups and running a civilian administration for which it was never trained. Not only did this enmeshing in civil affairs compel the army to defeat its political opponents, often with violence, it also left it ill-equipped to fight external opponents, as examples in 1965 and 1971 have shown. Nawaz dwells less on the corruption of the army itself, and there is too little, perhaps, on the excesses of the ISI, the military intelligence branch, but there is a full acknowledgement that the army's interference in politics has actually stunted the democratic development of the country - a point often made by the late Benazir Bhutto. There is a full analysis of the Kargil Conflict (1999) and the army's role in it. Moreover, Nawaz reveals, through a great deal of previously unpublished material, the internal details of this Punjabi-dominated institution, its decision-making, and its relationships with Pakistan's political and religious factions. He also gives us the history of the inconsistencies of US-Pakistan relations which explain the often conspiratorial perceptions of many Pakistanis towards the United States today.

This is a thorough and stimulating book, and highly recommended.

Rob Johnson
Oxford University
Oxford, United Kingdom


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1019-1020
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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