My wife, Margaret, and I live in France, in the small village of Voutenay sur Cure in Burgundy, two hours south east of Paris.
I have studied South Asian affairs for forty years and am South Asia defence analyst for IHS/Jane's Sentinel, covering Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, updating material regularly. Other evaluations include updating of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological developments in the region for IHS Global. I have a weekly column in Strategic Culture Foundation and contribute pieces elsewhere, including Counterpunch, Pakistan's Army Journal Hilal and the business magazine Blue Chip.
Articles in IHS Jane's publications have included examination of Pakistan's operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and of nuclear security in Fission Fears. Frontier Fracture describes the tensions along the Sino-Indian border and Friends Disunited "examines the intricacies of the US-Pakistan relationship in the light of their commitment to the future of Afghanistan."
The fifth edition of A History of the Pakistan Army, published in New York on 5 January 2016 by Carrel Books, was revised to include some interesting bits and pieces recently discovered in unpublished memoirs and newly-released official papers and has been brought up-to-date to 2015, so it's now 650 pages, which is a bit daunting, but it's readable. As the reviewer Nile Green in The Times Literary Supplement observed of the last edition, it is "written in the bluff style of Jane's Defence Weekly, Cloughley's straightforward but sympathetic coverage of campaigns, strategy, and materiel remains unrivalled for detail."
Durham University's Pakistan Security and Research Unit has published some papers, including a discussion of US-Pakistan relations and an analysis of India-Pakistan problems in the Siachen Glacier area:
Briefing Paper 66
The Siachen Glacier and Independent Arbitration
The success of India and Pakistan in reaching and subsequently observing the Rann of Kutch agreement in 1968 provides not only an important illustration of the value of negotiation over violence but also offers important insight into how a similar agreement to resolve the dispute over the Siachen Glacier might be reached to the benefit of both India and Pakistan.
This briefing tracks the efforts of the two countries to resolve the Siachen dispute, and looks at the linkage of the dispute to other issues of contestation between India and Pakistan. The author tracks the development of his own thinking on the issue and suggests a face-saving way out for both parties based on demilitarisation and independent arbitration. ( Siachen)
Then there is
Which although terribly well-written (I would say that, wouldn't I?) has been overtaken by the latest edition of the History of the Pakistan Army.
I much enjoyed researching and writing Trumpeters.
This history of the Royal Artillery's boy trumpeters covers not only the 1920s and 30s - when some of 3,000 of them were trained at the Grand Depot at Woolwich in London and various Depots in India until the 1940s - but is also the tale of the trumpeters who were so much a part of the British Army over the centuries.
One of these teenage Trumpeters, Boy Richard Samson, was a born writer. He loved his horse, Tess, and in 1938, aged 16, when mechanisation was about to dispense with horses he asked to see his commanding officer to see if anything could be done so that he could keep his beloved steed:
And Colonel Fairclough was a real gentleman who took a special interest in the unit's trumpeters. He explained that it was absolutely necessary that the unit be mechanised and that the horses must go. He would hate it as much as I would...
The day came when Tess and all the other beautiful horses were sold. I last saw her being led out of the gate, and to this day I often think of her. I went back to barracks, a barracks that seemed so still and silent, a barracks that had lost its heart. I walked through the stable door and stood by her stall. Her nose-bag still hung on the hook. I touched it, then, 'goodbye Tess.' And walked briskly away. Soldiers don't cry, do they?
Trumpeters is published by Woodfield.(trumpeters)
I happened to notice on Amazon that the book had been "presented to all the Trumpeters of 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery on completion of the trumpeter training course." (RHA) How nice - and how much dear Tony would have liked that...
Also published by Woodfield is Letters of a Kashmir Memsahib, by Margaret, a collection of letters she wrote to her mother while in Kashmir when I was deputy head of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan in 1980-82.
I was sitting in the drawing room in our house in the Mission compound in Srinagar when I heard a crash in the kitchen, followed by a series of thumps. Grabbing a poker, I went through, and gingerly opened the kitchen door, expecting an intruder. There was a very large rat caught in the trap, but very much alive, and protesting violently. There was no way I could bring myself to despatch it, so I called the guard, three of whom rushed in with bayonets fixed on their rifles. None of them was any more anxious to deal with the situation than I was, but I gave instructions and fled. The three armed soldiers thrashing around in that confined space, must have been quite a sight, but eventually all was calm so obviously the enemy was subdued.
Politically, things are a little tense here at the moment. The spark this time was the incident where 'someone' put a pig in a mosque in a town somewhere south of Delhi. The subsequent riots resulted in the deaths of 108 people, and the unrest spread like wildfire throughout the subcontinent. For a country with 75% illiteracy, it is amazing just how fast news spreads around a vast area. Here in Srinagar, trouble breaks out with amazing speed in pockets around the city and there are an average of 3 dead per night, in spite of a curfew and the prohibition of people gathering in groups of more than four.
Amazon's write-up is that "Margaret's evocative letters succeed in painting an entertaining and often very amusing picture of her life as a latter-day 'memsahib,' a term she uses ironically, given the decidedly unglamorous circumstances in which she and her spouse found themselves in this remote but fascinating Himalayan territory." ( memsahib )
Coincidentally, when engaged in writing the Hilal article I was asked to contribute to the Order of Australia Newsletter in the UK, and wrote that:
The request for a few words for the Newsletter came while I was in the middle of writing a piece titled 'Airpower in the Frontier' about air operations in the region along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan since they began in 1916. It is a chapter in a book to be published shortly, and I have found the research to be engrossing, as is usual when submerged in the archives of such places as the Imperial War Museum or the Australian War Memorial. In fact there is temptation to be drawn away from the main subject, such are the charms of wandering down beckoning byways of most interesting but totally irrelevant detail. Irrelevant, that is, to the main work in progress - but sometimes there are snippets that, while indubitably away off at a tangent, open one's eyes about other matters that are just as important as the main topic, and sometimes even more so.
I came across one such item when reading about an Indian Officer, Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, a splendid man who had flown in the Frontier and became chief of his country's air force in 1954. He had been in the first batch of six Indian cadets to graduate from the Royal Air Force Academy at Cranwell in 1932, and in the absorbing story of his life one small paragraph leapt out of the pages at me. It was a letter to his mother in the following year when serving in an RAF Squadron along with some twenty Indian trainee technicians : "My dear Mother, I wonder if you could send some of our old books over as we have decided to make a library for the Indian Airmen, as they are not allowed to take books from the RAF Library. Yours Affectionately, Subroto."
This reference to an example of appalling racial discrimination made me think about the attitudes of that period, and indeed over the following years until quite recently, and made me thankful that such casual bigotry is no longer prevalent. But it does still exist, not least in the attitude of some people concerning our own original population in Australia, and we must be ever vigilant to ensure that the purveyors of intolerance can never again be influential.
I served in the British and Australian armies and, early in my time, following the agreement that ended the fighting during the wonderfully-named 'Emergency' in Cyprus, commanded the troop of guns that fired a salute for President Makarios who had been transformed in a few easy motions from reviled rebel to revered Head of State. (The fading British Empire was good at this : from Nehru onwards the former freedom-fighter's most envied national honour was to have spent a few months in a British colonial jail.)
In the 1960s I saw active service in what Indonesia called 'Confrontation' with Malaysia. As a Forward Observer in 6 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, in Borneo, I was fortunate enough to be attached to 42 Commando, Royal Marines; 1st Battalion Sarawak Rangers, of the Royal Malaysian Army; and 4th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (4 RAR), following which connection I was asked to join the Australian Army, which I did in January 1970.
An academic friend in Canberra, while researching in the Australian War Memorial Library, happened upon a 1965 photograph of 4 RAR and most kindly sent it.
Group portrait [in Borneo] of men from 9 Platoon, C Company, 4th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR), during a cross border (Claret) operation [into Indonesia].
From left are British Lieutenant (later Colonel), Brian William Cloughley, a Forward Observation Officer (FOO) from 'V' Battery Royal Artillery, attached to 4RAR (Lt Cloughley joined the Australian Army in 1970 and served in South Vietnam in 1970-71) ; Lieutenant (later Brigadier and Director Special Action Forces) Rodney Gerald Curtis (hand on head), commanding 9 Platoon, C Coy (Lt Curtis was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during a Claret operation in an ambush against members of the Indonesian Army Para Commando Regiment, RPKAD), on 15 June 1965); Signaller, Private John Frederick Young; and Corporal Brian James Morris (wearing hat).
And then I came across another old jungle photograph taken by 4 RAR
During my years in Cyprus I was able to travel extensively in northern Libya and had an attachment with the Jordan Desert Police Force (then patrolling by camel, intercepting salt smugglers from Syria to Saudi Arabia), which was most interesting, as were later tours as Reconnaissance and Survey Officer in 39 [nuclear] Missile Regiment in Germany, and fascinating but futile involvement in psychological operations in Vietnam.
Among other enjoyable duties I was deputy head of the UN military mission in Kashmir in 1980-82, and was able to walk and climb in the mountains along the Line of Control that delineates areas of Kashmir controlled by India and Pakistan
Later postings included being Senior Staff Officer (Force Structure), in Australian Army HQ, during which time I was appointed to the Order of Australia; Director of Protocol for the Australian Defence Force; and, lastly, Australian Defence Attaché in Pakistan from 1988 to 1994. In that agreeable appointment I visited almost every part of the country, including the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies in which intruders - including citizens of Pakistan - are rarely welcome but where I was greeted with warmth, possibly as a result of earlier visits at the invitation of President (General) Zia ul Haq when I travelled widely in North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan.
In the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP - reporting on the 'quantum of forces' in Kashmir, and trying to stop firing across the Line of Control dividing the disputed territory) in 1981 there happened to be a particularly delightful and civilised bunch of people - and we became a family (see Margaret's book). We have annual reunions, and are now joined by the children and grandchildren of Mission members.
Living conditions in these days were somewhat basic in Srinagar and Rawalpindi (and even more so in the Field Stations along the Line of Control), and here are two of the children of dear friends, then in Srinagar and later in Denmark, and no longer children...
The 2012 reunion was in Jutland, Denmark. Here we are on parade, below, and on the right is Steen Hueg, the tallest Blue Beret, and the only one of us to have been deliberately shot at during a Field Task along the Line of Control, when he was subjected to over an hour of machine gun fire.
In July 2013 we were in Falsterbo in Sweden, courtesy of Peter Wetterberg, which was most enjoyable, and in 2014 we met in Bornholm Island, organised by Stig Jürgensen, which was also greatest fun. Then in August 2015 it was off to Flämslätt in Sweden
There weren't as many people as usual, because some had already booked summer holidays in sunny southern places, but it was the greatest fun, of course.
And our Dinner was excellent, with our host, Major Bernhard Englund...
Back to writing...
Editing the diaries and letters of Lieutenant General (retd) Ali Aurakzai, an outstanding officer who was Corps Commander in Pakistan's North West Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) from 2001-2004 and Governor from 2006 to 2008, has been a great pleasure. The diaries were originally a hand-written 445,000 words (all typed by Margaret), and I edited them down to 180,000. There are also many superb photographs, but unfortunately publication was forbidden on grounds of national security. Fortunately there was then official recognition that the memoirs in their edited form do not contain anything that would compromise the security of Pakistan, although there remain definitive and most telling descriptions of military deficiencies and social and political problems. Of considerable interest, there are accounts of military operations, political developments, and domestic and international discussions that have not before been recorded. General Aurakzai's briefing of President George W Bush is notable. My personal observation is that if President Bush had paid attention to the advice of General Aurakzai then there might have been avoidance of a few problems in Afghanistan.
So he and I are working on completing his memoirs, to be published in 2016.
Another project continues to be the editing for publication of the 1882-85 and 1902 diaries and letters of Captain Reginald Hunter Blair
of the Gordon Highlanders
at the request of his great-grandson, the late (died in 2014, alas, aged 83) Alister HB, a former Royal Navy officer and a "character" of some note.
These cover the British army's campaign in Egypt and include descriptions of the battle of Tel el Kebir and the amazing small boat journey up the Nile to the Sudan. I have also received from an old friend, retired Australian General Simon Willis, who has a long and distinguished family history, the diaries and letters of his ancestor Lieutenant Colonel Robert Coveny of the Black Watch, who, as a Captain, took part in the same events as Hunter Blair. It should be an interesting book - at least for enthusiasts - when it eventually appears. It has also added a tiny bit to the History of the Black Watch, being written by the brilliant author Victoria Schofield. Excerpts from both officers' diaries describing the Battle of Tel el Kebir in Egypt in 1882 are illuminating:
Here is Reginald:
Here our programme rather broke down - the noise of the rifles and guns of the enemy drowned every bugle that could be sounded. However we raised a tremendous cheer and charged up the hill. The noise of bullets was wonderful, just swishing over our heads - luckily as usual the fire was too high so we escaped without much loss up that hill, tho' poor Brooks was shot in five places and killed on the spot.
And Robert, over on the right flank:
Suddenly we saw some bright flashes about 100 yards in front of us. Puff! Puff! - we could just see, as it was now the break of dawn. 'Fix bayonets', quietly went down our line now. The bayonets had no sooner been fixed than the whole of the Egyptian line, about 100 yards in our front, seemed like a city suddenly lighted up with a continuous row of gas-jets; a deafening rattle of musketry - and a shower of Remington bullets hailed around us. Some of our men were hit; but the Highland blood was up; in less than I have time to write from that last full stop we joined in the attacking lines, and, with one yell, we went at those fellows with the bayonet. It was a regular company-officers' and soldiers' battle. Just as we got to the first entrenchment, and as we were storming it, I got a bullet in my left shoulder; but I simply despised it, and jumped down with lots of my brave chappies bayoneting right and left around me.
Reginald Hunter Blair's diary for 1902 has been discovered and has been a pleasure to edit. It describes his life in Kashmir, which is interesting even if almost the entire period is given over to polo, shooting, golf and bridge. The photograph album is fascinating.
His son Alister stands beside his father on the right of this photograph, and one of the saddest things is the record that
1st May. Srinagar. We all went by boat to the Nasim Bagh in Dahl Lake, about 1½ hours paddle. Took lunch and had a jolly picnic under the splendid Chinar trees. The Buists joined us. E [his wife, Emily] and I rode home with them afterwards. It was Alister's birthday treat and a jolly day...
It is sad because in the First World War, a week after his nineteenth birthday, Alister was killed. His body was never found, and his memorial in France reads
In Memory of Second Lieutenant ALISTER HUNTER BLAIR
1st Bn., Cameron Highlanders
who died age 19
on 09 May 1915
Son of Maj. and Mrs. Reginald Hunter Blair, of Broomhouse, Duns, Berwickshire.
Remembered with honour
LE TOURET MEMORIAL
Which tends to make one think about the grief, tragedy and futility of war.