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Richard J. Bonney, Trividesh S. Maini & Tahir J.Malik's

reviewed by

Abbas Zaidi


Abbas Zaidi teaches media and linguistics at various universities in Sydney. He is the author of The Infidels of Mecca. He can be reached at:

Writing in History of the Peloponnesian, Thucydides makes several observations about waging, winning, or losing a war. The strong do not wage a war because they are strong since they know that their very strength can push them into errors that are not the makings of their enemies. Thus, he posted an important dictum in his book: “I am more afraid of our own blunders than of the enemy’s devices.”

In a similar vein, Sun Tzu offers his own dictum: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

From Mao to Jinping through Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese have not lost a single battle, let alone a war because they never initiated one. We may say that war is not a project that responsible people start without realizing its long-term effects. Often, both the victorious and the vanquished are losers in one way or another. Reading the social history of warfare will show that even the ‘comprehensive’ winners’ societies—or people in general—had to pay a heavy price for the wars that their ruling elites won.

The above details are better viewed in terms of history, a kind of look-back view. Often, wars do not end when physical hostilities cease, but at the negotiating table. The two Great Wars bear witness to it. It would, thus, be a truism to say that one of the lessons of history is that war is a terrible undertaking and must be avoided unless all the negotiatory possibilities have been explored and exhausted. And who can talk about the issue better than those who fight wars?

Tahir Malik and his colleagues’ Warriors after the War have done what few historians, political scientists, or journalists have done. The book is a collection of interviews with almost all the major generals who participated in various wars between India and Pakistan. Their thesis is that the origins of India-Pakistan animosities are found in the very division of India that opened several wounds and left them unhealed. Their sub-thesis is that both India and Pakistan feel vulnerable (“fearful,” is the expression they use) to each other’s intentions. Grievances against each other are the leitmotif that underpins their mutual animosity.

To elicit responses from their interlocutors—military men—the authors are as qualitatively objective as possible, conducting ethnographic investigations based on a questionnaire. Every respondent is asked the same questions.

The questionnaire invites them to ‘look back’ and tell: What happened? The answer is: War. Why did it happen? The answer is: Because the other side is at fault? Could it have been avoided? The answer is: Yes, only if the other side had been fair.

The ethnographic data is comprised of two parts: the Indian response and the Pakistani response.

The Indian view is that Pakistan never accepted the details of Partition and has been trying to destabilize its larger neighbour through infiltration and acts of terrorism. In contrast, the Pakistani view claims that India never accepted Pakistan’s sovereign existence from the very beginning. For India, Kashmir is a fait accompli, a fact of Partition. For Pakistan, Kashmir is an unfinished fact of Partition that seeks its resolution in its accession to Pakistan. India has been insisting that Kashmir is its atoot ang, an inseparable part. For Pakistan, Kashmir is its shehrag, the jugular vein. Both physical/physiological expressions confirm the tangibility of the issue.

Indian generals claim that Pakistan has always been the aggressor who has taken advantage of India’s generosity—an abstract term. Pakistani generals claim that the problem is the Hindu mentality—again, an abstract term. Thus, between the materiality of the terra firma where wars are waged and the ideality of terra incognita where ideas fly, the India-Pakistan conundrum lives on. The Indian generals make it clear that India never attacked Pakistan, not even once. Their Pakistani counterparts insist that the wars were inevitable, the result of Indian machinations. Sadly, the good times, when the generals on both sides were colleagues employed by the British Empire, did not create a goodwill capital (yet another abstract term, perhaps). Tahir Malik et al aptly point out that the main stage of the post-Partition violence was Punjab. They could have said that the Punjabi generals, especially on the Pakistan side where they dominate the army, could have shown better judgment. In Pakistan, unlike in India, the real decisions are made by the army, not politicians. However, they offer no verdict, which is in line with their objective stance.

To conclude, this is a significant work of ethnographic scholarship. It should be made part of several syllabi in India and Pakistan to show why the military mind does not—perhaps cannot—offer profound insights to those who want to end the business of war. But then, ending the business of war is one thing; but then wars becoming business is another matter. Typically, it is the generals who make war history. However, to make the genre of war history is one thing; learning or not learning a lesson from it is another.

By Abbas Zaidi:
The Man Who Would Be Remembered










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