Carey Schofield on the Pakistani Army

I am really excited that Carey Schofield has a book coming out next year on the Pakistani Army.  [Correction:  Coming out THIS year, August 1, 2011, to be exact.  Apparently I missed this thing called “New Year.”]  Entitled Inside the Pakistani Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror, it promises to be a useful augmentation to the literature on the Pakistani Army and a good read.  (To be honest, I found Shuja Nawaz’s Crossed Swords so intimidating that I haven’t started it.  Instead, I loaned it to a friend so that it doesn’t stare at me reproachfully from my bookshelf.)

Why do I think that Schofield’s book will be so good?  Because her 1993 The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces was amazing. This book came out at a time when the Russian airborne forces were of great interest to all of us who were following the Russian military, its role in politics, and its responses to unrest in Russia and in the so-called Russian “near-abroad.”  While we were all looking from the outside, Schofield had managed to get literally inside the airborne, visiting most of the units and befriending many of its officers.  (She also notably befriended Alexander Lebed, not an airborne officer, though his little brother Aleksey was, who later entered politics and became Russia’s national security adviser.  We have him to blame for the lingering silliness about”suitcase nukes.”)  Her book really gave a sense of the people and the environment of this important force at a pivotal time in history.  It appears that she’s done much the same with for her Pakistan book.  The blurb on Amazon says “She spent five years with the Pakistan army, accompanying them on maneuvers and getting to know key figures from junior soldiers to [Army chief General] Kayani himself. For five years, she travelled everywhere with them.  They even had a uniform made for her.”

Schofield’s book had far more of the human element in it than Dave Glantz’s 1994 A History of Soviet Airborne Forces  or Steve Zaloga’s 1995 Inside the Blue Berets: A Combat History of Soviet & Russian Airborne Forces , 1930-1995.  It was also far more of a snapshot in time than a history.  They were all fine books, of course.  Glantz’ book was his usual detailed operational history focusing on World War II and Zaloga’s was much more a history of oriented on weapons and unit organizations.  (For a review of all three published in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies by then Lieutenant Colonel Les Grau, see here.)  Despite their many qualities, the one that my colleagues and I kept coming back to and discussing, the one with the real “wow” factor” was Carey Schofields.  (As an aside, her other book, the 1991 Inside the Soviet Military is similarly good.  It is, however, much broader in scope.  Basically, you can think of it as a “day in the life of the Soviet military” in 1991, with photos appropriate for a coffee-table book.)

I have often wondered what became of Carey Schofield and I’m delighted to hear that she’s still in the business.  If it lives up to my expectations, Inside the Pakistani Army should be of great interest to military historians, people interested in South Asia, and people following the progress of the Af-Pak struggle against jihadism.

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 4:30 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Russia to Open Massive WWII Archive

Russia plans to open the world’s largest WWII archive, the size of which will “comply with the contribution of our country to the Victory.”  (The Russians have always insisted that they won World War II, not us.  The real answer is that we all won it.)  This archive project will apparently entail building new buildings to house the holding which will be brought in from numerous archives around the country.  The project will also include a major digitization effort and will apparently include some sort of commercial database dealing with Soviet casualties.  The article hints that similar efforts may be undertaken to assess German and Hungarian losses on the Eastern Front.

There are significant practicality issues associated with this project.  Furthermore, the desirability of taking war records out of existing archives and putting them into a purpose-built archive designed around an event as opposed to something that organically grew as out of an agency or other organization, is eminently debatable.  (For an excellent discussion of these issues, see the fine post at The Russian Front.)  On the other hand, many archives in Russia are in lamentable condition, so if the price of survival for these records is some disorganization, perhaps that is a price worth paying.  In addition, the digitization component of the project is certainly a good thing, though one does wonder what if any political criteria will be applied to select the documents and files that will be digitized.

Interestingly, Andrei Artizov, the head of the Russian Federal Archive Agency (Federal’naia arkhivnaia sluzhba Rossii aka Rosarkhiv) says that the new archive should include substantial German records “like those of Hitler’s chancellery, the Reich’s Security Services and others. In compliance with the existing legislation, they are part of Russia’s property.”  Meanwhile, a so-far very modest U.S. Government effort to do something similar with copies of analogous Iraqi records captured in 2003 generates accusation of malfeasance.

In any case, this will be an interesting story to follow.

Palestinian Deaths More Newsworthy Than Chechen Deaths

The Ansar al-Jihad English language jihadist forum has a very interesting posting that it pulled over from Kavkaz Center that asks why the world hears so much about Palestinians killed by Israelis and so little about Chechens killed by Russians.  The posting gists a piece by Brett Stephens that the Wall Street Journal ran a year ago.

The forum version lays out Stephens’ argument pretty faithfully.  Stephens concludes that taking into account both the number of deaths in each conflict and the amount of media coverage of each conflict, Palestinian deaths get about 28 times more coverage than Chechen deaths.  In a snarky but probably at least partially true comment, Stephens ends: “As for the Chechens, too bad for their cause that no Jew will ever likely become president of Russia.”  At this point Kavkaz Center comments that “ethnic Russians know well he [Russian President Dmitry Medvedev] is a jew.”

[Aside: that’s a story that Medvedev’s nationalist opposition circulated and that nasty people like those at Stormfront have picked up on.]

The Kavkas Center piece goes on to add that it is true that the Israelis and the “Crusaders” do “occupy” the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.  Thus, it’s natural that the Palestinian struggle would receive somewhat disproportionate attention from other Muslims.  Still, they say, it hardly seems fair that Palestinians receive international sympathy and support while Chechens do not.  They blame the facts that Russia is a great power and thereby holds other countries in its thrall and also that Hamas has gone democratic and thus seduced the world.

On the Ansar al-Jihad forum there was then a very thoughtful response (essentially seconded by a subsequent response from another forum reader).  The author of this response argued that there were six main reasons for the disproportion in attention and the al-Aqsa Mosque was not among them.

1) Media Blockade:  The Russians have successfully cut the Caucasus off from the world, they have murdered many Russian or Chechen journalists and simply don’t let foreign journalists or activists into the country….

2.) Language barrier: The material that somehow does make it out of the Caucasus is rarely translated into English or other languages, which greatly reduces its impact….

3.) Economic power: While Israel is a tiny nation which doesn’t export much to the world, Russia supplies enormous amounts of natural gas, oil and other resources to countries in Europe, whose governments keep quiet about the Russian record on human rights in return….

4.) Historical political power: The Soviet Union was the second most powerful nation on earth for at least three decades, it was the patron of nearly every Arab country during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and still is relatively powerful (having the veto power that comes with being on the UN Security Council etc…).  This explains why we see disgraceful scenes such as the leaders of HAMAS rushing to Moscow to pay tribute to the Russians, as they still see them as the only real rival to the United States.

5.) Petty Nationalism/Pan-Arabism: I am talking here mainly about the heads of the apostate Arab regimes, who make long, falsely passionate speeches about the suffering of their Arab brethren, but don’t actually lift a finger to help them.

There are several interesting things about this short thread.

First, the spitting contest between Hamas and al-Qaida’s sympathizers is going strong.  This should be a cause for celebration on our part.

Second, the list of reasons I reproduced about is short on religious bombast and features reasons that might readily occur to any dispassionate Western analyst.  This, along with Marc Lynch’s recent find on the Al Qaida assessment of the group’s informational and political failures in Iraq, suggest that at least some of the bad guys are thinking about these important issues in effective sorts of ways.  If that’s true, I’m pretty sure it’s bad news for us.

Third, the list above is also a further example of how our jihadist adversaries are not so different from us.  That’s actually good news.  Sun Tzu enjoins us to know our enemy.  Doing so needn’t be hard.

Anniversary of the Destruction of the 6th Airborne Company

English language jihadist forums have been circulating a piece which originated with Kavkaz Center reminding us of the recent 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Russian 6th Airborne Company at Ulus-Kert, Chechnya by a band of mujahideen.  On 29 February 2000 an isolated company of the Russian 76th Guards Airborne Division was surrounded on Hill 776 in Chechnya by a band of perhaps 70 mujahideen led by the famous Ibn al-Khattab and almost entirely wiped out.  (An account of the battle by American military analysts is here.)  This battle became part of legend for both the mujahideen and the Russians.

For the muj, the event was not only a great victory but engendered yet another story about battlefield miracles.  In the jihadists’ telling, Khattab did indeed lead the band of fighters who reached the top of the hill but they were not the ones who killed the Russians.  Instead, they found the Russians miraculously already killed apparently by angels.  In the present telling of the story:

About 100 Russian corpses were laying in one heap, as if someone specially dragged them into one place. A horror was written on the faces of all the commandos. Their faces had a sulfur-ashy color. Almost all of them had bullet holes in the head and breast just under the throat….Khattab who liked to speak about different episodes of various battles, practically never spoke about the battle of Ulus-Kert. The other fighters also didn’t speak much. When the Mujahideen asked Khattab to tell them about that battle, he usually answered briefly: “This was not our work…”

On the Russian side, the incident and the less-than-glorious larger battle of which it was a part, became another occasion for Russian government bumbling and dissembling on just what had happened.  Eventually, however, the government and to some degree Russian society itself took the destruction of the 6th Company as a chance to build patriotic Russian spirit.  Three different movies (or made-for-tv movies) have been produced on the topic.  There has even been a stage musical!  There are at least four monuments to the 6th Company in Russia.  (For an excellent French-language discussion of all of this, see here.)  For those with Russian–which I do not have to any appreciable extent–there is a Russian blog (Блог) dedicated to the event as well as a variety of other Russian websites.  YouTube also has its share of videos devtoed to the topic.  One for instance, is check out  a contemporary Russian TV news account.  One viewer left a comment suggesting the production of a movie in the spirit of The 300 about the 6th Company.  YouTube also has this simple tribute to the Russian desantniki.

(As an aside, an American has made the battle of Ulus-Kert into a boardgame, too.)

I think this is another interesting example of how “victory” is not an objective term.  Even a horrid defeat can be repurposed and turned into a positive.  In one sense, the jihadists do this all the time when they celebrate the martyrdom of yet another fighter.  (By the way, am I the only one who finds those martyrologies immensely boring??)  Why shouldn’t the Russians do it on a larger scale, celebrating their glorious defeats?