Interview with General A.I. Akram [Part 4 of 4]
Agha Ibrahim Akram was a lieutenant general who served in the Pakistan Army during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. The interview Akram conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age concentrates on the history of tension and conflict between Pakistan and India. He reviews the three wars: the devastating bloodshed that followed partition in 1947, the pride he felt in 1965 as chief of staff of an infantry division along the West Pakistan border, and his bitterness toward India over the Bangladesh war in 1971. Despite the persistence of tension between Pakistan and India, Akram recognizes circumstances in which their perspectives and geopolitical positions meet. For instance, he fully supports India’s critique of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: that the major nuclear powers only selectively enforce and adhere to its provisions. He wishes that South Asia could be a nuclear-weapons-free zone but is willing to settle for India and Pakistan’s interdependence: “The two countries—we are the protagonists of South Asia. We’ll actually cross the threshold together or not cross it at all.” Akram also recalls 1974 as the watershed year when India detonated a nuclear explosive and took one step toward becoming a nuclear power in hopes of enhancing its global status. That moment also coincided with skyrocketing oil prices, which stiffened Pakistan’s resolve to develop nuclear energy for electricity and, if need be, weapons.
Nuclear weapons, Nuclear arms control
India-Pakistan war, 1971
Let me ask you about the 1971 war. First, your personal experience there but also what it meant. Did it mean a sense of loss to pakistan? How did it feel?
Well I was a divisional commander in that war. I was stationed -- my division was in what was then West Pakistan, is now Pakistan, at the front. Uh, it was a traumatic event for Pakistan in that we not only lost part of our territory to an enemy whom we knew was an enemy.
Could we start again?
Uh, well I was a divisional commander in the '71 war and my division was stationed at the front in the western part, what was then West Pakistan and now Pakistan. Uh, '71 was a very traumatic and painful experience for us because A1 we lost a part of our territory and B1 we suffered a defeat from India. Well we maintained that we would not be defeated by India. It so happened that the Indians attacked the Pakistan core in East Pakistan under conditions when we were in a weak position. Our forces there were not able to resist and so it was easy for the Indians to secure a victory. It wasn't a great victory anyway. But from our point of view it was terrible to suffer a defeat at the hand of the Indians. At the same time and losing part of our territory. It was a painful experience. It took us time to get over it. I think we have got over it now.
The 1971 war -- what did this mean for Pakistan, the defeat in that war?
Well... I was a divisional commander in that war and my division was stationed at the front on the western side, what was then called West Pakistan and is now just Pakistan. Uh, from the point of view of our own response or reaction to that war; it was a most painful and most traumatic experience for Pakistan in that we lost a part of, part of our country to a neighbor who had always acted as the enemy of Pakistan. And we hated the idea of losing a war to India. It was also a matter of national pride or a matter of professional pride in the Pakistan army. Because we were as good as the Indians. So we suffered in that way also. It was traumatic in that the Indians had built up and orchestrated a world-wide propaganda campaign against Pakistan to project Pakistanis or West Pakistanis as brutal and cruel colonizing people who were colonizing and ill treating the East Pakistanis. And in a way the impression was created that we were the bad guys and they were the good guys. It wasn't shared by everybody. As a matter of fact our American allies uh, stood by us uh, in a political sense in that President Nixon did try and persuade Mrs. Indira Gandhi not to start a war on, on the East Pakistan issue. And I think he did extract a promise from her that she wouldn't. But she went back on her promise and she did actually -when she came back from her visit to Washington she gave orders for the finalization of the plan to invade East Pakistan. It was a traumatic and painful experience for us. It took us time to get over it. But that is the kind of war we will not be -- hope not to fight again.
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