Poverty is also a defence issue
The News on Sunday: When and how did you plan what eventually became Crossed Swords?
Shuja Nawaz: I first thought of writing a historical study of our armed forces in 1971 when I was working as a war correspondent for the PTV. Then, while I was completing my MA in Journalism from Columbia University, I started collecting documents that I would need to consult and analyse for writing this book. In the US, I consulted the National Archives. At that time, I showed my preliminary work to Ayesha Jalal who suggested that I explore the British Public Records Office too. Consulting the British records helped me understand the British perspective on Pakistan's military capabilities and heritage. Later on, I talked to General Aslam Beg and he allowed me to consult the army libraries. When my brother Asif Nawaz became a general, I stopped consulting the official records. By 1999, I had eighteen boxes of papers and books which I transported everywhere I was working. I seriously started writing in 2005 and then wrote six days a week. Eventually, I had about one thousand pages. The thickness of the volume was daunting for the publisher and the reader so I had to reduce it to its present status.
TNS: In your book, you talk about Musharraf as a liberal autocrat. What was the reason for this oxymoron?
SN: Musharraf had come in with a lot of promise but eventually, like Ayub Khan, he became an autocrat. He also surrounded himself with sycophants and cronies so he was not getting the best advice but, ultimately, the responsibility falls on the person who acts on ill advice instead of those who offer it. Later on, he started creating reality for himself and others. If you read his book In the Line of Fire, you will see many fabrications including the lie that Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age.
TNS: What do you think about Musharraf's book?
SN: The voice and tone of the book is definitely Musharraf's but it is a sloppily written and edited book.
TNS: In your book, you have argued that civilians should be given the chance to make mistakes. Can you elaborate on that?
SN: No military can provide solutions to political problems. Look at the FATA and NWFP now. Our military cannot solve this problem. Even armed insurgencies are political problems. Therefore we should allow civilians to make decisions at all levels. The military should just implement the decisions taken by civilians and stop meddling in the political sphere.
TNS: You have studied our military history. What are your observations on the ongoing crisis in the tribal areas now?
SN: I recently had a meeting with twenty three tribal leaders there. Their demands are totally different from those of the militants. The tribal elders desire three things: irrigation, education and health.
TNS: Usually our media focuses on education and health. What is the situation with irrigation?
SN: It is a dry region, in some ways similar to Palestine. If it has a proper irrigation system, the area is quite suitable for growing olive trees and date palms. The tribal elders also want processing plants so that they can package their own products and provide jobs to the local community. We should also remember there is a large Pakhtun diaspora, roughly 40 millions, in the world. They also want a politically developed tribal region where their investments are secure within a modernised infrastructure. At the moment, a lot of criminals are donning the black turbans of the Taliban and trying to impose their understanding of sharia and local traditions on everybody. Ironically, by blowing up the girls' schools, the local Taliban are alienating the local civilians who desire education for their female population. It is the responsibility of the state to provide security and justice to the civilians and it is failing in this basic function. At the moment, the Taliban are providing speedy justice and there is an element of seduction of speed there.
TNS: What are the problems you think the government or the army should tackle more urgently – the militancy in the tribal areas or the performance of the economy?
SN: I think inflation and food scarcity should be declared as national security threats and the politicians and the army should deal with these issues more urgently than the militants in the FATA. Our economy is buckling after the exogenous shocks it has received. It is an emergency situation. The middle and lower classes are in a very tense situation. There is even a possibility of an urban revolution as a reaction to the increase in the prices of everyday commodities. Poverty is a security issue.
TNS: What do you think is the solution to the problems of Pakistan?
SN: I am an optimist. I think the government should provide what I call an enabling environment. Our people are hardworking and very intelligent. Look at how they perform when they go somewhere where they have an enabling environment. We should provide all those structures here and then see our people perform.
TNS: What are you working on these days?
SN: I am working on several different projects: the demographics of the army, the possibility of peace in South Asia, and security and reform in the Middle East.
TNS: What is your opinion on the disappearances of Pakistani citizens?
SN: I think our state should respect its legal system and never bypass the laws. It is wrong to hand over people to another country. It is also not legal to arrest citizens and keep them incommunicado and without access to a free and fair trial.
TNS: What is your daily schedule like? How do you work as a writer?
SN: I am an early riser. I wake up around 5 or 6 AM and then start working. After working for a couple of hours, I try to go to the gym. I wish I could go there daily but I only manage to reach there two or three times a week. Then I have some speaking engagements. I work for Al-Jazeera International, The Huffington Post, and also maintain my own blog at shujanawaz.com.