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MARCH 2015



Reading Pakistan

Fighting to the End:

The Pakistan Army’s Way of War

C. Christine Fair, Oxford University

Press, 2014, $34.95/hardcover, $14.39/

Kindle, 368 pages.

Reviewed by Kapil Gupta

Sometime in 2005 a Pentagon briefer

made a reference to Pakistan, and was

promptly cut off—“What Pakistan are you

referring to? There is no Pakistan! There

is the army, the ISI (Directorate for Inter-

Services Intelligence), the politicians,

the industrialists, the tribal areas…” The

moment was hallmark Donald Rumsfeld,

and the staffer had no reply.

With the publication of C. Christine


Fighting to the End: The Pakistan

Army’s Way of War

there is no longer

an excuse for any U.S. national security

policy professional to be unprepared for

such a question.

In writing this book, Fair has person-

ally upped the ante for scholarship on

Pakistan. Like a mathematically gifted

card-counter banned from the casino,

she is now persona non grata in Paki-

stan. Someone there even felt compelled

to produce at least two YouTube video

rebuttals to this book, complete with ad

hominem attacks.

Although she is a controversial figure

for Pakistan’s military-intelligence com-

munity, Fair’s work is firmly grounded in

political science, empirical analysis and

a detailed reading of the Pakistan Army’s

defense literature.

Dissecting Pakistan’s praetorianism

is not new territory, but in this book Fair

exposes the full extent to which Paki-

stan’s political character is defined by its

military’s strategic culture. She details

how Pakistan’s “unreasonable revision-

ism” regarding its history and role in the


world combines

dangerously with

the characteris-

tics of a “greedy

state” that is


driven to initi-

ate hostilities

against its per-

ceived existen-

tial rival, India.

Ironically, as Fair notes, pursuit of this

rivalry is ultimately self-defeating: “Paki-

stan has doggedly attempted to revise

the geographical status quo and roll back

India’s ascendancy, and the very instru-

ments it has used to attain these policies

have undermined Pakistan’s standing

within the international community and

even its own long-term viability.”

The army’s maladjustment to battle-

field defeats (to India) and the territo-

rial loss of East Pakistan (present-day

Bangladesh) have contributed signifi-

cantly to narratives of existential external

threats. According to its own self-serving

criteria, which differ from objective

measures of national defense, Pakistan’s

mission across the various conflicts it has

precipitated is simply to avoid defeat. For

Islamabad, winning is simply preserv-

ing the ability to inflict security costs on

India; loss is any constraint on offensive,

low-intensity capabilities.

Thus, win or lose, the Pakistan

military has been able to rationalize the

core tenets of its strategic culture that,

unfortunately, play out in a manner that

is regionally destabilizing. Fair explains

the ways in which Pakistan is existentially

hard-wired to act in a regionally destabi-

lizing manner, both against India and in

pursuit of “strategic depth” in Afghani-


If you have worked on the Pakistan

portfolio in the past 20 years,

Fighting to

the End

will either confirm your wisdom

of folding early, or carry the humiliation

of losing to a low-card pair. The history

Fair recounts is unforgiving on the facts

of how Pakistan’s strategic culture has led

to outcomes antithetical to U.S. national

security goals. There is no shortage of

evidence suggesting that Pakistani offi-

cials have acted as sponsors of terrorism,

proliferators of nuclear weapons and

providers of a safe haven for Osama Bin


According to Fair, it is unlikely that

Washington will call Islamabad’s bluff:

“Doing so would require American diplo-

mats who are as thoroughly knowledge-

able as their Pakistani counterparts. Even

if more American negotiators were able

to counter the narrative presented by

their Pakistani counterparts and prevent

them from employing their preferred

strategy of playing on American desire to

make restitutions for past failures, it is not

obvious that they would do so. American

policymaking—toward Pakistan gener-

ally and the army in particular—is always

aimed at quickly completing transactions

to meet short-term needs.”

Cumulatively, since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan’s winnings from the U.S. tax- payer are at least $27 billion and count-

ing. (For detailed documentation of U.S.

The history Fair recounts is unforgiving on the facts of how

Pakistan’s strategic culture has led to outcomes antithetical to

U.S. national security goals.