October Issue 2015

By | Books | Published 2 years ago

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has done a great service to the people of Pakistan by admitting them into the world of the country’s external relations – and this, with the help of an extremely readable narrative.

The 887-page book, Neither a Hawk nor a Dove, combines the author’s detailed account of his experiences as General Pervez Musharraf’s foreign minister during five momentous years (2002-2007), with his memoirs as the flag-bearer of an important political family.

Kasuri’s narrative makes one wonder as to how much can be done by a single foreign minister, even in an authoritarian set-up, but he attaches supreme importance, and perhaps rightly so, to his contribution to the promotion of peace with India. There is little doubt about his passionate search for peace and fruitful cooperation between the South Asian twins, through all possible means even before Musharraf began looking for non-traditional ways to unravel the Kashmir tangle. Although the main driving force behind the four-point Kashmir framework was the general, Kasuri played a decisive role in bringing the idea to the stage of signing of an accord by the leaders of India and Pakistan. The over 225 pages of the account of the pursuit of peace with India make for a fascinating read, and sensational too, as the process was derailed or suffered serious setbacks on many occasions.

Kasuri rightly viewed relations with India in the context of what he calls his worldview, especially after the upheavals in the fields of international law and human rights, subsequent to 9/11. Pakistan had to watch its step while dealing with the war in Afghanistan, saving its ties with the United States and keeping both the Arabs and Iran in good humour. Mr Kasuri walks through the labyrinth of international diplomacy with the aplomb of a good samaritan, acknowledging whatever good anyone did and ignoring the evil many others were capable of doing.

Among the many successes scored by Kasuri, two deserve special mention: he played a key role, along with the foreign ministers of France , Russia and Mexico, in frustrating the US bid to secure the Security Council sanction for its planned invasion of Iraq.

The second feat of diplomacy was to facilitate Musharraf’s reception at Camp David , considered a ‘meraj’ by potentates of client states. Condoleezza Rice had said “no” to Kasuri’s request but Dick Cheney’s intervention paid off. It is worth finding out what Cheny said to Bush to get Kasuri’s wish fulfilled within 15 minutes.

The author goes over the ups and downs in Pakistan-US relations but concludes that this odd couple will continue to find convergence of interests after each phase of estrangement.

The chapter on Foreign Office (FO) offers valuable insights into the ways this institution has developed from Zafarullah Khan’s days, how the foreign minister’s views on ties with the US were preferred to J. A. Rahim’s, and how S. K. Dehlavi was shunted out of the Foreign Office. Kasuri offers fulsome praise for the FO experts who worked with him and often consulted the retired diplomats. He has only kind words for the diplomatic community, though he reserves the place of pride for those who shared his worldview (like Riaz Mohammad Khan and the late Khalid Mahmud). He does not censure even the gentleman who spoiled the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh meeting at the UN General Assembly by putting in Musharraf’s speech words quite contrary to the peace line and neither Musharraf nor Kasuri saw the speech before Musharraf delivered it. (Apparently the general could not digress from the written text.)

Incidentally, Kasuri begins the chapter in a bid to rebuff the view that the Foreign Office had been superseded in the leading role by other agencies. He can do so up to the 1990s, but then has to accept the charge because during the 90s the governments, in his view, suffered systemic failures.

Even outside the FO, Kasuri avoids showing ill feeling towards anyone unless one is named Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. For him, no mercy, not even diplomatic reticence.

000_Del103973That Kasuri finds little fault with Musharraf’s authoritarian regime is understandable, but there were moments when he woke up to the legacy of Mahmud Ali Kasuri. He objected to Musharraf’s resolve not to shed his uniform, to the scandalous venting of his spleen against Asma, and especially to his proclamation of emergency on November 3, 2007. The last-mentioned episode distressed Kasuri to no end. On the one hand, he dashed off his resignation and, on the other hand, he was sorry that Musharraf’s arrogance completely devastated the edifice he had created.

In his essay on the army, Kasuri takes up two themes: the army’s stance on relations with India and its relationship with political governments. As for the former theme, Kasuri agrees with the army’s conditions for peace with India and also maintains that Musharraf had taken the generals on board while pushing for his four-stage formula on Kashmir. The author also offers brief sketches of the many top generals he came to know: He does not personally know Gen. Raheel Sharif but he will go by the opinion of the Corps Commander under whom Gen. Raheel Sharif was GOC, Lahore , about his “being a straightforward, no-nonsense soldier with a professional outlook.” He then throws his weight in favour of Operation Zarb-e-Azb for good measure.

As for the second theme, Kasuri begins by declaring: “I strongly believe that the army should be subservient to the civilian authority,” and goes on to demonstrate the civilian politicians’ failure to stay in the lead. Their failure to govern properly creates a vacuum in the political system that the army tends to fill. Bringing the narrative up to the present time, Kasuri traces the cause of “widespread perceptions of the main stake-holders not being on the same page” in the “non-institutional style of functioning of the present government.” Finally, he is convinced of the need for a body like the National Security Council under the Chief Executive or President.

Kasuri discusses Pakistan’s foreign policy options with considerable candour and gives much weight to the country’s security concerns that emerged strongly on the very morrow of independence. Unsophisticated minds may find it hard to agree with the thesis that Pakistan had no alternative to the policy framed by Ayub Khan in the early fifties, but Kasuri deserves credit for single-mindedly presenting his brief.

His personal memoir is perhaps the briefest and least compact part of the book. The reader is told about Kasuri’s grandfather, his uncle and his father’s status as the founder of the human rights movement in the country (perhaps he means the Civil Liberties Union of 1949) and his nomination on the Russell Tribunal. One also learns of the politicians who visited the author’s family home and also of the author’s habit of consulting his brothers without telling us of the weight their views carried. He wants his wife Nasreen (always making it clear that he means Mona Kasuri) by his side all the time, though the order usually is ‘I and Mona’ and not ‘Mona and I’. However, Mona Kasuri does get a few sentences for herself as the builder of the world’s greatest chain of schools and not for indefatigably nursing Kasuri’s political ambition. And while the leading men in the Loharu connection – from Nawab Shamsuddin Khan to Jamil-ud-Din  Aali and General Sahibzada Yaqub Ali to Gen Sher Ali, are remembered with pride – there is not a word about the distinguished daughters of Loharu who brought comfort to many a home across the subcontinent from Assam to Pataudi, Faridabad and Tank.

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has obviously worked hard to embellish his text with as much detail as he could lay his hands upon. He has access to a large number of books and valuable reference material and he follows his father’s penchant for making sure that the point he wishes to make is not missed by the reader. On the whole, he comes out as an excellent rapporteur and keeper of notes. The scheme of the book as a collection of compact and exhaustive essays, and their division into sections and sub-sections, will help the readers who wish to go through the sprawling work in instalments and phases and give it the attention it deserves.

Kasuri apparently possesses an inexhaustible store-house of words, and the idea of economy of words may not appeal to him right now. But if he does find time to put across his point of view in fewer words than he at present employs, he should not fail to realise the beauty, majesty and effectiveness of chiselled prose.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.

Mr. I.A. Rehman is a writer and activist living in Pakistan. He is the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretariat.