Tag Archives: Book review

Reviews of ‘Indian Power Projection’

My book Indian Power Projection: Arms, Influence and Ambition, recently published in RUSI’s Whitehall Paper series of short monographs, was reviewed this week in two places.

Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times:

The rise of China has provoked lots of commentary on how Beijing sees the world. But there tends to be much less discussion of how India sees its place in the international order. Two recent publications shed some interesting light on that topic. One is a recent speech by Shivshankar Menon, who served for many years as India’s National Security Adviser. The other is a pamphlet on “Indian Power Projection”, by the scholar, Shashank Joshi … The motives and details of India’s strategic posture are discussed in Joshi’s admirably lucid pamphlet. The author, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, notes that the Indian elite is “embracing new and more ambitious tasks for the country’s military”. Joshi argues that India’s “threat perception” remains dominated “by the allied nuclear powers of Pakistan to the northwest and China to the north”. But, over the coming years, Joshi sees India joining the small group of nations – including the US, Britain, France, Russia and, increasingly, China – that are willing and able to “project power”, outside their own regions.

And Ankit Panda in the Diplomat:

Indian Power Projection: Ambition, Arms and Influence presents, as of 2016, what is perhaps the most up-to-date compendium of information on India’s hard power toolkit and Indian policymaker attitudes toward that toolkit … so much of what is written of Indian defense policy is pieced together from frenzied reporting and statements by officials. Without a white paper on defense, well-researched compendiums like Joshi’s become all the more valuable for analysts, scholars, and policy-makers working on India.




Notes from ‘Fighting to the End: the Pakistan Army’s Way of War’

I recently finished Christine Fair’s new book, ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War‘, which is based on an extensive survey of essays, books, and manuscripts written by Pakistani military personnel. I’ve written a review of the book for the RUSI Journal, but I wanted to pick out a few passages/nuggets from my notes that I couldn’t mention there:

  • “the army relaxes its educational and even physical standards in places where it hopes to expand recruitment. For example, in Balochistan, recruits with an eighth-grade education will be considered for all positions except as technicians, nurses, or military police. Recruits from Balochistan can be shorter as well, with a minimum height of  feet, 4 inches instead of  feet, 6 inches” (p31)
  • “PMA [Pakistan Military Academy]  recruit – like their enlisted counterparts – are taught how to use a flush toilet, sit on the commode, perform physical exercise, and even use the proper dining etiquette … South Asian Foreign Area Officers in the US Army as well as scholars of the Pakistan Army also note that in the Pakistan Army officers are “also judged on their personal behaviour to a degree that is uncommon” in western armies” (p33-34)
  • “The military cultivates civilians including scholars, journalists, and analysts, providing them selective access to the institution and punishing them – either with physical harm (or the threat of it) to the author or her family members or simply with  the denial of future access – should they produce knowledge that harms the interests of the army … self-censorship is still very common, as is deference to the army’s  preferred narratives. The intelligence agencies’ willingness to use lethal methods against intransigent journalists and other domestic critics …” (pp35-36); “in recent years ISI has established its own media cell tasked not only with monitoring international and domestic reporting about Pakistan but also with reaching out to and actively managing reporters … the army has long influenced Pakistan’s textbooks, in which the army appears as the institution best able to handle any crisis” (p198)
  • Pakistani military memoirs show “focus on battles in which Pakistan prevailed but within wars that Pakistan lost … there is a persistent emphasis on religious themes, such as the nature of the Islamic warrior, the role of Islam in training, the importance of Islamic ideology for the army, and the salience of jihad. Pakistan’s military journals frequently take as their subjects famous Quranic battles, such as the Battle of Badr. Ironically, the varied Quranic battles are discussed in more analytical detail in Pakistan’s journals than are Pakistan’s own wars with India. A comparable focus on religion in the Indian army … would be quite scandalous. It is difficult to fathom that any Indian military journal would present an appraisal of the Kurukshetra War” (p39)
  • Pakistani defence publications frequently cite the poetry of Iqbal on  a variety of themes ranging from the notions of faith and community to that of jihad” (p43)
  • “Oddly, many authors in Pakistan’s military journals do not consider the 1947-1948 war to be a war at all, even though the army was engaged and even though the operation had the backing of the senior most political leadership. While teaching undergraduates at the Lahore University for Management Sciences during summer 2010, I learned that those students, who came from throughout Pakistan, had never learned that a war took place in this period … these students believed that the conflict involved only mujahideen and were incredulous that the army and civilian leadership were involved” (p51)
  • “this tendency to conflate India with Hindu is a common trope in Pakistani military writings, and writers rarely bother explaining what precisely they mean by such expressions as Hindu mentality” (p57)
  • “the military attracts public support by describing the foe – inevitably Hindu India or its agents – as nonbelievers (kufar, pl. of kafir) and casting the conflict nearly exclusively in religious terms. Thus, conflict with India is portrayed as jihad against nonbelievers who threaten Pakistan” (p90)
  • “Another way of denigrating the enemy is to reduce the diverse Indian Army to a solely Hindu force … Perhaps one of the most important examples of such exposition was written by Brig. Javed Hassan (1990). Hassan, who would retire as a lieutenant general, published India: A Study in Profile while at … the Command and Staff College in Quetta. It is now required reading at the National Defense University as well … Among Hassan’s other derogatory remarks, he argues that India is not a nation, characterizes its past as having a “total absence of any popular resistance against foreign domination and rule”, describes the Indians as “less Warlike” than Pakistanis, and attributes India’s military failings to “racial” shortcomings” (p100) … “several prominent and intertwined rubrics or narrative tropes … the authors first establish that Hindus are dishonourable, meek, pusillanimous, treacherous, and inequitable and then argue that these traits define the country … Muslims are honourable, brave, dedicated to fighting for the umma, steadfastly committed to justice, and fight only when attacked” (p154) … “Hassan’s book frequently deploys such tropes as the “Hindu psyche” and other patently Orientalist, if not outright racist, concepts” (p162)
  • “the Afghan government actually supported Pakistan in the 1965 war with India and maintained strict neutrality  during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan” (p116); a “thaw in relations prompted Pakistan to stop its assistance to the Afghan Islamists in early 1977” (p123)
  • On Kargil: “one of [Sharif’s] advisors explained to me … that the briefing [by the army] was in English, and Sharif did not seem to understand the possibilities for escalation of the conflict” (p151); “the [ISI] chief had not been apprised of the mission in advance” (p152)
  • “prior to the 1971 war, no authors in Pakistan’s defence establishment blamed India for widespread unrest in Pakistan, with the exception of those who claimed that India encouraged Afghanistan to take provocative positions in the frontier” (p166)
  • “the Pakistan army clearly understands concepts like defeat and success in ways that differ from more mainstream understandings of these concepts. With the exception of the 1971 war, Pakistan does not see itself as ever having been defeated militarily” (p172)
  • “for several years, Pakistan voted against seating communist China [in the UN] … Pakistan jointly sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution criticising China’s suppression of the 1959 Tibetan uprising” (p185)
  • “In recent years, writers in Pakistan’s defence publications have begun to content that the United States is deliberately seeking to destroy Pakistan or is even aiding and abetting the Pakistani Taliban in its operations” (p195)
  • “Pakistani defense writing of the 1950s suggests that engagement with the US military led the Pakistan  Army to adopt important doctrinal shifts toward guerrilla warfare” (p227)
  • “Since 2001 … the Afghan Taliban have experienced regular turnover of midlevel commanders … The new commanders are less beholden to Pakistan, in part because of their age … Pakistan is struggling to cultivate influence among the emerging Afghan Taliban factions, even while it seeks to control elements of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura” (p21)
  • “One highly suggestive piece of evidence is the significant signals traffic between the ISIS and JeM recorded after JeM’s 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, indicating the ISI’s anger with JeM for that attack. In contrast, significantly less traffic was detected after the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai” (p252)
  • “Punjabis living outside of the Punjab are less likely than those in the Punjab to view jihad as a militarised struggle .. however [they] are also less supportive of complete civilian control of the army” (pp272-273)

Fortress Europe

I’ve been reading Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent, by Matthew Carr (published this year).

According to a 2006 study carried out by the Berlin Wall Association and the Centre for Contemporary Historical Research, 125 people were killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall throughout its entire history. Between 1988 and April 2011, 15,551 migrants died trying to cross Europe’s borders, according to the anti-racist organization United. The majority of these deaths took place during the perilous journeys across Europe’s southern sea borders, where thousands of men, women and children have drowned in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.

The book opens with a remarkable and harrowing account of a beleaguered border at Europe’s southernmost point, the Spanish possessions on the Moroccan coast. Over the summer of 2005, waves of sub-Saharan sin papeles (irregular migrants) stormed the enclaves, and were brutally driven back by both Moroccan and Spanish security forces.  Some of the vignettes are horrifying:

In the ensuing melee one man broke his neck falling from the fence, another slashed his throat on the razor wire and bled to death, and three others were shot dead. By the morning most of the intruders had been driven back into Morocco, leaving strips of torn clothing on the fence and a detritus of shoes, gloves, baseball caps, piles of ladders and patches of blood on the nearby ground.

The most poignant image is of a breach later that year, in which “some managed to break through the security cordon and ran with bleeding hands and feet to the local police station, where they were legally entitled to apply for asylum having entered EU territory, and sang and prayed to give thanks for their deliverance”.

The book’s politics are clear throughout. There are casual references to a “detention gulag”, and a Europe heading towards “something that may not be fascism but may not be far removed from it”. Carr argues that it is a “gross violation of the EU’s moral and political values for governments to reduce rejected asylum seekers to homelessness and destitution in order to make them leave”.

He thinks forceful border enforcement has “legitimized the most xenophobic and racist anti-immigration politics of the ultra-nationalist and extreme right in ways that threaten to derail the entire European project”. And, ultimately, he wants member states to create a “Europe of Asylum” predicated on softer borders.

The detailed human stories apart, the book is data rich, evidence based, and well researched. Recommended. (Strangely, it doesn’t seem to have garnered any reviews in the papers yet).