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What is the ideology of Pakistan’s military?

The military’s ideology
By Ayesha Siddiqa
Friday, 25 Sep, 2009 (Dawn)

PAKISTAN observers often wonder what the Pakistan military’s primary ideology is. Is it a secular institution or one which is high on religious values? Since the military is considered the strongest institution of the Pakistani state, the question becomes critical in determining what direction the country will take or how its armed forces will fight the war on terror.

One particular perspective is that the military is essentially a secular institution which got transformed temporarily under Gen Ziaul Haq, who made sure that his officers had a religious grounding. He had allowed the tableeghi jamaat to penetrate the armed forces and introduced a religiously conservative current in society. Subsequently, the Zia era was blamed for the continued links between certain military personnel and the Taliban post-9/11.

Later, it was argued that Gen Pervez Musharraf put the military back on the secular track by weeding out religious-minded, senior officers replacing them with others who were socially acceptable to the international community. In fact, senior officers now claim that the military is highly professional and secular. This is correct in that ‘secular’ in this case means that the army is not driven purely by religious instincts in pursuing its goals. But then ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ are not the right terms to describe the organisation.

Indeed, if one is searching for the correct term, it would be pragmatic-nationalist. This means that instead of sticking to one ideology the institution can shift between a couple or more ideologies at the same time. So, when it was convenient to turn religiously ideological during the 1980s it could do so. Even Gen Zia was not solely driven by his personal inclination to support the Afghan ‘jihad’; the geo-strategic and geopolitical environment was important in the framing of decisions. There was no dichotomy between pursuing jihad and having a strategic alignment with the US even then.

Zia also found religious ideology handy in pursuing other military-strategic goals. Deploying non-state actors was financially, politically and militarily cost-effective. Hence, all generals maintained links with the jihadis despite the fact that they were different from Zia.

The pragmatist-nationalist character of the military also explains why it was able to swiftly shift between ideologies, especially after it had to undergo a change in the wake of 9/11. This also means that maintaining links with the different jihadi organisations, as explained by Arif Jamal in Shadow War: the Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, does not necessarily depend on having a religious ideology.

The author’s interesting conclusion is that even seemingly ‘secular’ generals like the present chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, could pursue the same policy as the generals during the 1990s. Jamal claims that a lot of jihadi organisations were thrilled to hear of the appointment of Gen Kayani as the new chief and many reopened their offices in 2008. He also argues that several meetings were arranged between the various Afghan Taliban groups and the Kashmiri jihadis in 2007 by the ISI to help them with a strategy to stop Indian help from reaching Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul and placing more sleeper cells in India for possible activation at later dates.

This argument explains the character of the Pakistan Army and its use of religion or at least one aspect of it, namely jihad, for its strategic advantage. There is nothing odd in the argument since the military was part of what was described by Hamza Alavi as the Muslim salariat class, which used religion to motivate a movement for an independent state.

The fact is that this class was always linked to the use of religious ideology. It might not want to adopt a Saudi model for state-making, though the Pakistani state has gradually moved closer to Saudi Arabia, but religion has always remained central to the fulfilment of the strategic goals of the salariat, which later evolved into the ruling elite.

This basically meant that while the Islamic norms of social justice might not be adopted, religious identity would be used in some form to meet political and military-strategic objectives. Jamal’s argument is that like all such plans that generate opportunity costs, the jihadis of today, who seem to be challenging the Pakistani state, are inadvertently a product of a specific plan to fight the war in Kashmir.

The camps where Ajmal Qasab and others were trained by the Lashkar-i-Taiba to carry out the Mumbai attacks, the author claims, were set up by the ISI to win the war in Kashmir. Even if the attack was not ordered by the intelligence agency, it indicates a situation where the jihadis trained for a particular purpose might have used their training to carry out attacks on their own or gone beyond the brief.

Obviously, the military always had to use religion as a motivating factor from the time when Col Akhtar Malik planned the first offensive to capture Kashmir in 1947/48 to the 1980s and 1990s when, according to Jamal, a lot of new jihadi organisations were established. Gen Ayub Khan adopted a similar approach while planning the historic but failed Operation Gibraltar in 1965. However, the military was not the only force which used the above-mentioned approach.

Even seemingly liberal-secular leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto favoured the policy of using non-state actors to the country’s perceived military advantage. For instance, Bhutto personally came to congratulate the hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight in January 1971. It is important to remember that the use of non-state actors was part of a larger package of mixing religion with state strategy.

In adopting this approach Bhutto might have not been too far off from Ziaul Haq who, as Jamal argues, developed an alignment with the Jamaat-i-Islami to support the Afghan jihad and to use that as a cover for strengthening the army’s war in Kashmir.

The country’s ruling elite and the military have traditionally used a particular aspect of religion to gain strategic dividends. While they can conveniently claim to have retained their secularism and saved one organisation from turning ideological, a similar claim might not be made for society at large. The proliferation of ‘jihad’ in mainland Pakistan is but the opportunity cost of strategy.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

Tailpiece: Daily Times Editorial

Musharraf changes tack on NATO forces

Talking to ABC new in the United States, former president General Pervez Musharraf (Retd) has said that “Pakistan and India will face great danger from Al Qaeda if the United States pulls out of Afghanistan”. In other words if the Americans leave Afghanistan it will fall to Al Qaeda which will then extend “its influence into Pakistan and possibly even India”.

He wants more troops in Afghanistan and has accused Nawaz Sharif of never speaking out against terrorism and of being “a closet Taliban”. Tragically no one in Pakistan is going to believe a word of what he says. In fact, his defence of the staying on of the NATO-ISAF forces in Afghanistan will further solidify the growing opinion in Pakistan carried in the slogan “go, America, go”.

The rise of the Taliban terror happened on Musharraf’s watch. He kept the army on a tight leash as the population went under the control of Baitullah Mehsud in FATA and Fazlullah in Swat. He is generally accused of keeping the Taliban as his “option” for Afghanistan if another power vacuum occurred there after the exit from there of a “reluctant” NATO and a “defeated” United Sates.

It is clear that Musharraf had no clue about the Frankenstein created by his procrastination. He looked the other way while the Taliban attacked across the Durand Line into Afghanistan, demonstrating that he not only “anticipated” the exit of NATO from there but also wanted to “facilitate” it. Now of course his “reverse advocacy” of NATO is not going to benefit Pakistan. In fact, due to an irrational hatred of him, the Pakistani view will go in the opposition direction simply to spite him. There is a time for all soldiers to fade away.

Dawn Editorial (27 Sep 2009)

Let us not suffer from any delusions: the nation is in for a long-drawn-out battle, and it is time the democratic government prepared the nation and the security apparatus for it. There is no quick-fix solution and a pacification of the Taliban-infested areas is nowhere in sight. How things have come to such a pass need not be retold. For more than a decade the security establishment, with help from our cold-war allies, trained, funded and armed the mujahideen for the anti-Soviet ‘jihad’. Even when the Soviets had gone home, Islamabad chose the Taliban as favourites when the victorious mujahideen fell out. No wonder this country became a big recruiting and training ground for the Taliban. The tragedy was that even when Pakistan became a ‘front-line state’ following 9/11, Islamabad still did not take on the Taliban with the kind of single-minded devotion that was needed. We have no choice now but to take the war against the rebels to its logical conclusion. What is at stake is our way of life. A microscopic minority of bigots cannot be allowed to destroy the values on which Jinnah founded Pakistan.

About the author

Abdul Nishapuri


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  • Reforming khakis

    Legal eye

    Saturday, January 09, 2010
    Babar Sattar

    The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

    The end of Musharraf’s rule, return of leaders of our mainstream political parties, restoration of the representative electoral process, restitution of independent-minded judiciary, recent rulings in the PCO judges case and the NRO, together with the role of our diligent media and civil society all mark the advent of an age of constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy. This journey might be slow and perilous, but rule of law and constitutionalism are the only mechanisms available to resurrect a peaceful, strong and stable Pakistan wherein equality and justice thrive along with hope and economic well-being.

    We are rightly becoming more cognizant of the need to hold the feet of our corrupt and inept politicos to fire, in order to transform dilapidated structures of representative politics into an effective, sustainable and beneficial democracy. However, the province of khakis, with all its frills, prerogatives and privileges, remains largely outside the scope of rule of law, out of sync with the imperatives of constitutionalism and democracy, and is probably the most ignored area in need of urgent reform.

    Any sensible definition of an effective and functional democracy requires effective civilian control of the military. But the military in Pakistan has traditionally been more powerful than all civilian institutions put together. This civil-military imbalance remains a fundamental fault line that imperils both democracy and rule of law.

    The omnipotence of the military in Pakistan — the cause and the consequence of recurring martial rule — has resulted in the evolution of political and social ethos, promulgation of statutory instruments, and partial judicial pronouncements (coupled with judicial inaction) that have the effect of placing the interests, acts and omissions of the military beyond the scope of political, judicial and social scrutiny. The history of khaki rule together with effective manifestation of its overarching power and influence, every time its institutional interests come under threat, has led to the creation of a khaki mindset that equally afflicts the military and the civilians.

    The khaki mindset has multiple facets. The first is an undaunted sense of righteousness. This indoctrinates the military with the belief that its vision and definition of national security and national interest is the perennial manifestation of wisdom and truth. Any involvement of civilians with matters deemed to fall within the domain of national security is seen as unwarranted interference with exclusively military matters and an affront to its interests. This protective sense encourages the military to guard its proclaimed territory as a fief.

    The second facet of the khaki mindset is the military’s saviour instinct. Despite being a non-representative institution, the military has assigned to itself the role of deciphering aspirations of Pakistanis and protecting them when they are perceived to be threatened by a corrupt civilian government or an activist judiciary. This provides a justification to intervene in the domain of civilian institutions that are seen by the military as malfunctioning. And the most insidious facet of this mindset is the unstated sense of being above the law that binds ordinary citizens.

    The civilian sector has been equally responsive to the khaki mindset. Its acquiescence has in fact entrenched this mindset further. Successive civilian governments have made no effort to review and streamline the military’s scope of work as an institution, strengthen its capacity to perform its external and internal security functions and curtail its involvement with political and commercial activities.

    The focus instead swings between two extremes: finding ways to control the top generals and interfere with purely operational matters such as military promotions and postings, or findings ways to appease these generals through sycophancy and by adding to their already lengthy and undesirable list of prerogatives. Demands for military accountability are a mere reaction to calls for political accountability. They are essentially meant to deter what is seen as military-instigated witch-hunt of a civilian government, and not rooted in the principle that public office holders in all state institutions must be held equally accountable for graft or abuse of authority.

    The status of khakis as untouchables is not compatible with rule of law and constitutionalism. This nation has a collective interest in ensuring that power is widely divided amongst state institutions as prescribed by the Constitution, civilian institutions steadily recover their legitimate authority and influence annexed by the military, and the usurpation or abuse of authority produces penal consequences irrespective of whether the usurper is a civilian or khaki. This clawback of civilian authority is not only desirable but also mandated by rule of law and must, therefore, be supported and strengthened. Even the functioning of our reconstituted Supreme Court betrays a feeling that the reluctance in holding khakis accountable for their acts and omissions pervades our corridors of justice as well. But to be fair, this cloud does have a sliver lining.

    While the Supreme Court has still not fixed for hearing the ISI case that was filed by Air Marshal Asghar Khan a decade-and-a-half ago, a recent ruling suggests that the apex court will not always look the other way when abuse of authority implicates khakis.

    In a consequential ruling announced by the Supreme Court in the Makro-Habib case on December 18, 2009, the apex court declared invalid the lease of a playground in Karachi awarded by General Musharraf to the Army Welfare Trust. While the court ruled that the land in question already stood transferred to the Karachi Development Authority and could therefore not be leased to the AWT by General Musharraf on behalf of the federal government, it held that even if the land had still belonged to the ministry of defence, the manner in which it was transferred amounted to abuse of authority and would have rendered such a transfer invalid.

    The court was appalled by the fact that a prime piece of public land (earmarked as a playground for the benefit of disadvantaged sections of the society) could be summarily transferred to the AWT for a period of 90 years at the annual rent of Rs6,070, which in turn rented it out to a private commercial enterprise, the Makro-Habib store, for a 30-year period at the annual rent of Rs17.5 million.

    In this propitious ruling, the Supreme Court has postulated a doctrine of collective rights of the people of Pakistan. The court has highlighted that public property collectively belongs to the people and cannot be hastily disposed of at ‘peppercorn rent’ on the whims of dictator. It has held that the right of citizens to access public places under Article 26 of the Constitution cannot be fettered in a discriminatory manner. It has further held that a lease such as the one granted to AWT and later to Makro-Habib could amount to breach of Article 9 (illegal deprivation of liberty) and Article 24 (protection of property rights).

    The court has highlighted that Article 3 requires the state to “ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work,” as reiterated by Article 38(a), that the state shall promote the social and economic well-being of the people “by preventing concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest.”

    And to this end it has reminded state functionaries that even a laudable objective such as welfare of servicemen must be achieved through “permissible means and not at the expense of state exchequer and public at large”, and that state functionaries “are fiduciaries, ultimately responsible to their paymasters, that is, the people of Pakistan.” Our honorable parliamentarians must bear in mind the principles underlying the Makro-Habib ruling as they consider further entrenching the monopoly of khakis in the business of real estate through promulgation of the Islamabad Defence Housing Authority Act.


  • Watching the watchmen —Sikander Amani

    Kayani has publicly and repeatedly stated that the Pakistan Army supports the country’s democratic institutions. On the other hand, it appears to still hold enough clout to dictate its wishes to the government. Civilian oversight is still weak and largely ineffective

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? asked Juvenal, the Roman satirist. Who will watch the watchmen? What institutional mechanisms can we set up to ensure that the one institution that has a quasi-monopoly of force — the army — does not use it to overpower the rule of law and elected civilians? The recent coup d’état in Niger is a classic: some selfless and “non-partisan” officers magnanimously take power in order to save the nation from the clutches of corrupt and inept politicians, promise (in the solemnest terms and with the straightest face) elections in a very near future, find some delightfully antiphrastic title such as “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy” (that is the Nigerian one), organise some hilariously flawed referendum to legitimise their rule, proceed to kill a few treacherous politicians, repress idiot dissidents and quell most civil liberties, which are but a Western imperialist concept anyway. Sounds familiar? Yep. Pakistan has had its fair share of such self-sacrificing saviours. The American comedian George Carlin once joked that “military intelligence is an oxymoron”. Oh, what blasphemous words. The military is endowed with divine intelligence, which makes them far superior to us plebeian civilian masses and our elected representatives, dumb believers in democracy, human rights and in right rather than might.

    Okay, okay, in all fairness, Pakistan figures among the countries that have undergone a democratic transition recently, and the army is officially back in the barracks — for now. It is interesting though to take a look at the quality of this transition, in order to envisage the possibility of its reversal. Three scholars, Cottey, Edmunds and Forster, have established a range of indicators to explain the different stages of progress that states have reached in their civil-military transitions. Unfortunately, how Pakistan fares on all of them is not necessarily conducive to much optimism.

    The first element is historical legacy, i.e. the depth of the military’s entanglement with the authoritarian order that preceded the democratic transition. Pakistan has been ruled by military regimes for about half of its short 63 years existence, and the army remains the most powerful institution in the country. (Aitzaz Ahsan has given a very insightful analysis as to “why Pakistan is not a democracy” in Divided by Democracy.)

    The second parameter is the extent to which military forces support the democratic form of state organisation. Kayani has publicly and repeatedly stated that the Pakistan Army supports the country’s democratic institutions. Cool. On the other hand, it appears to still hold enough clout to dictate its wishes to the government (e.g. in the Mumbai case, where the visit of the ISI director general was abruptly cancelled, allegedly at the behest of the big boss). Civilian oversight is still weak and largely ineffective.

    The third is the quality of civilian governance. Err, no comment on that one.

    The fourth factor is international support for military reform. This point is under contention. Though the international community (read: the only ones who matter, the Americans) has paid lip-service to democracy in Pakistan, they have long supported the Pakistan Army as the only institution truly able to take on al Qaeda, especially under the Bush administration, and until recently they did not demand much in the direction of military reform. Steve Coll convincingly argues that “the Pakistani Army has learned over many years to leverage its grievances, dysfunction, bad choices, and perpetual dangers to extract from the US the financial and military support that it believes it requires”.

    The fifth element is the quality of institutional reform. How solid is the reform process? The good news here is the strengthening of the judiciary in Pakistan, which has historically been subservient to the executive but has shown some indisputable signs of independence in recent years. This bodes well for the future. But otherwise, institutional reform is feeble, or non-existent, and Pakistan still cannot rely on sufficiently strong institutional mechanisms to ward off possible military interference in politics in the future.

    The last element is what the authors call the “military culture”, as either a catalysing or an obstructing factor in the democratic transition. In Pakistan, such military culture is decidedly not in favour of handing the reins back to the civilians. Military business is still thriving; the army has extensive operational and strategic autonomy, and entertains a deep sense of entitlement. More than that, the mindset of military officers remains steeped in a rigid concept of India-centric national security, based on a siege mentality that fuels the increasingly untenable distinction between “good” and “bad” Taliban. Perhaps, after all, the Pakistani army’s problem might be more of epistemic than of political or military nature. It is a remarkable fact that the army’s top brass has steadfastly held on to beliefs and analytical frameworks (India, strategic depth, coddling our buddies the Taliban in order to secure a voice in neighbouring Afghanistan, etc.), in spite of them having so obviously proved to be obsolete — and dangerous for Pakistan’s own national security. Such a phenomenon, called “cognitive dissonance”, was made famous by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, who studied the bizarre fact that doomsday cults seem to thrive at the very moment when their predictions are proved false. And it is a most remarkable feature of the human psyche that we prefer to hold on to our beliefs, even when contradicted repeatedly by facts, even when proved hazardous, rather than modify the theory. We would rather disregard the facts or find some irrational explanation rather than face the reality that the belief is wrong, especially when it is at the core of our identity and self-perception. This cognitive deficiency is blatant in the Pakistan army — it is as if its very being will be jeopardised in case of a new definition of national security and national threats.

    Many commentators have seen the recent wave of arrests of Taliban leaders, and that of Mullah Baradar in particular, as a sign of a deep shift in the mindset of the army, not just with regards to national security, but also to its gradual acceptance of the supremacy of civilian power. Let’s hope so. We have tried the saving-the-nation-white-knight-in-shiny-armour thing and frankly, we have grown tired of it.

    The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at\27\story_27-2-2010_pg3_3