Nawaz traces rise of Pakistan’s military as force in its politics


Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer

Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, D.C., focused on that geographical and political region.

Raised in Pakistan, Nawaz earned degrees in economics and English literature from Gordon College, Rawalpindi, and in journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He now lives just outside Washington, and he is a crucial link between the United States and Pakistan.

Thursday at 10:45 in the Amphitheater, Nawaz will speak about the role of the military in Pakistan, and the civil-military relationship that dominates politics in his native country.

“In terms of the army’s relationship with the United States, it’s a very old relationship,” he said. “At heart, the Pakistan military likes to have a good relationship with the United States military, to receive equipment from the West.”

Nawaz’s recent book, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, is a comprehensive history of Pakistan’s military in times of peace and war.

“It took a very long time of research, close to 35 years,” Nawaz said. “It’s always difficult when you’re researching a book on the military in Pakistan — or any other topic in which the government or the military has control of the information.”

Fortunately, he was well positioned to collect the information. Nawaz was the main English-language journalist with Pakistani television from 1967 to 1972, and he covered the India-Pakistan war in 1971.

“Because I belong to a military family, and so does my wife, I had a good network of people that I could talk to and through whom I could reach other people that I could talk to,” he said.

Nawaz’s brother, General Asif Nawaz, was chief of the Pakistani army from 1991 until 1993. He was famously pro-West, opposed to corruption, and kept the army out of the political sphere until he died suddenly, leaving the military in an uncertain state.

Using his family and journalism connections, Shuja Nawaz conducted research inside the Pakistani military archives, as well as in British and U.S. archives. He spoke with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, former Prime Minister Benazhir Bhutto and many retired senior officers. The information and interviews that Nawaz includes in the book are insightful and in many cases unique.

Nawaz began writing Crossed Swords the first day after taking early retirement from the International Monetary Fund, where he worked for 30 years. During that time, he was the editor of Finance and Development, a quarterly publication in six languages, and took two years off to serve as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Before the IMF, he worked for The New York Times and the World Health Organization.

Currently, Nawaz heads a think tank composed of South Asians that “seeks to foster partnerships with key institutions in the region to establish itself as a forum for dialogue between decision-makers,” according to its website. He writes often for many major newspapers, on the topics of Pakistan’s military and relationship to the United States.

“I think there is clearly behind-the-scenes desire to converge on a clear aim in this relationship,” he said. “I think both sides need to reiterate that aim, which is to my mind the stability of Pakistan and Afghanistan in the region, and then they have to see how we get there without crossing wires.”

Nawaz sees the partnerships the U.S. has forged with both Pakistan and India as promising for peace in the region.

“The U.S. can help what appears to be a thawing relationship between India and Pakistan,” he said. “I think that’s going to be very critical, because it will lead to economic stability and prosperity in both India and Pakistan, and it’s going to link Afghanistan and India and Pakistan economically, and reduce some of the tensions that currently exist.”

The military must continue to stay out of political affairs in Pakistan if the country is to succeed, said Nawaz, which seems likely given its important location among Iran, Afghanistan, China and India.

“It can be a powerful trading route linking Central Asia to South Asia, it can be a trading route linking to the Arabian Sea the Persian Gulf, and it could have an influence on Iran’s behavior over time,” he said.

If Pakistan’s political institutions are strengthened, and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is supportive, Nawaz sees Pakistan stabilizing. He was very pleased to hear that Chautauqua was dedicating a week to the study of Pakistan.

“I think Chautauqua has done well in getting a wide range of serious thinkers, people who know the relationship between the United States and Pakistan and know the country very well,” he said.