Inside the Pakistan Army Carey Schofield

Biteback, pp.240, 19.99

The most telling figure in Carey Schofield’s book on the Pakistan army is Faisal Alavi, a major general who was murdered in November 2008.

The most telling figure in Carey Schofield’s book on the Pakistan army is Faisal Alavi, a major general who was murdered in November 2008. As head of Pakistan’s special forces, Alavi found himself in a bitter struggle against influential military opponents in the Pakistan army. They favoured secret deals, paying large sums to the Taleban leader Baitullah Mehsud so that his supporters should not target the army. Alavi was by contrast desperate to attack the Taleban, and made no secret of this when on a visit to SAS headquarters at Hereford in 2005.

He told Lt Col Richard Williams, then commanding 22 SAS, that he knew ‘Pakistan was not pulling its weight on terror’ and that ‘a considerable section of Pakistani society was sympathetic to the Taleban and that this affected the ISI and the military.’ He added that ‘a great many officers were concerned about the impact that tough military action would have. People worried about the effect on their families.’ He advised SAS to build bridges with Pakistan Intelligence ‘so there were personal relationships to rely on’.

But at the very moment that Major General Alavi was seeking support in Hereford he was being intrigued against in his own army HQ in Rawalpindi. In August 2005 he was summarily dismissed ‘for conduct unbecoming’. His enemies had won. Schofield says he was privately told that he would be looked after if he went quietly.

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But Alavi, outraged by the injustice of it all, insisted on fighting his ground. This resolve proved to be his death warrant. On 19 November 2008 he was shot dead by three unknown gunmen on a highway in Islamabad. Only a few days earlier, over lunch with Schofield, the Major General had told her that he feared that he would be killed by the enemies at army HQ.  

Alavi’s murderers have never been brought to justice, and Schofield says that I do not know who killed, or commissioned the killing of, Major General Alavi. It may have been a sad coincidence that while Alavi prepared for assault by his personal enemies he was, in fact, targeted by others.

Such a story could only have been written by an insider and Schofield has provided the ultimate insider’s account. For five years she travelled everywhere with the Pakistan army, went on operations with them, ate in countless mess halls, and was treated with remarkable trust by many senior officers — and Alavi is not the only one who met a bloody end. Her book contains a gripping interview with ‘Colonel Imam’, the former ISI officer who was murdered by the Taleban in 2010.

She cannot hide her affection and admiration for the Pakistan army. Like other writers who know the country well, she regards it as the only institution which is able to transcend the religious and tribal divisions that rend the country apart. ‘A Christian or a Parsi or a Sikh can serve in the Pakistan army,’ writes Schofield. ‘Atheists do. But all are bound together by a willing submission to discipline and a battle for self-improvement that is in itself doctrinal in character.’

This is the reason Schofield is optimistic that the army has not been heavily infiltrated by the Taleban — and why she takes a bravely unfashionable line on former President Musharraf, with whose family she once spent Christmas:
What struck me most was this. General Musharraf talked about the problems facing Pakistan in a way that was far saner than most of the civilians I knew.

Carey Schofield has not written a comprehensive or definitive account of the Pakistan army. She does not deal fully with its complicated relations with the civilian community and the persistent claim that it has become a state within a state, strangling commerce and progress. Nevertheless, this is a book of profound interest and at its heart lies a paradox. She paints a convincing picture of the army as an honorable, indeed moral institution, dedicated to the security of the Pakistan nation. But what is this nation to which the army is loyal? Is it the nation as envisaged by Pakistan’s founder Jinna, Muslim certainly but also a secular society where all faiths are welcome? Or is it the exclusive Islamist state sought by Jinna’s successor President Zia, a former army chief of staff? It was surely the conflict between these two rival and contradictory visions which was ultimately responsible for the murder of Carey Schofield’s good friend Major General Faisal Alavi.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Book review, Military, Non-fiction, Pakistan