There are two distinct narratives on Pakistan. The first is of a country “on the brink” of disaster; the second is of a country tightly controlled by its military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The truth is, Pakistan is both. What makes it unique is that the latter narrative often uses the former. It is this particular art of manipulation that a number of Pakistani authors, from Husain Haqqani ( Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding ) to Ayesha Siddiqa ( Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy ) and Shuja Nawaz ( Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within ) have described in detail while explaining how the Army controls Pakistan.
But equally fascinating are how these and some new authors explain how the military uses the same premise to extract support from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Turkey, even Russia, using the age-old ruse of “the region will blow up”. Former intelligence official Tilak Devasher’s Pakistan: Courting the Abyss is an invaluable addition to the list. It explains how the military and the ISI are masters in dealing with each of these countries as well as being the “hidden powers” within. He unpacks Pakistan with an empathy and familiarity that many Indian authors on the subject have so far failed to bring.
German academic Hein G. Kiessling’s Faith Unity Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan is also gripping. Particularly riveting is Kiessling’s account of what transpired behind the scenes during the crucial period from 2008 to 2014, including the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis affair and the Mumbai attacks fallout, that show how the ISI has become one of the world’s most powerful and least accountable intelligence services. Scholars and analysts will find the appendices invaluable — including the ISI’s version of all these events, published as they were sent to the author (note how prominently National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the Research and Analysis Wing figure in the ISI’s justifications for its actions) — as well as an authoritative organisational structure chart of the ISI. In The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience , Christophe Jaffrelot writes that “Pakistan’s trajectory is far more complex than most simplistic approaches” acknowledge, adding that the country is “no more doomed to break apart than it is destined to be dominated by the military”. Pakistan’s salience in the world and India’s strategic calculus must be seen as equally inevitable, at least in the foreseeable future.