Original Articles

Time to change: ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah’–by Shiraz Paracha

India centric mindset of the Pakistan military is one of the root causes of Pakistan’s problems. From generals to soldiers most men in the armed forces are paranoid about India and some have racist tendencies, too.

This mindset has developed over the past six decades but is also rooted into the Hindu-Muslim history. Muslims came to the Indian Subcontinent as invaders from the Middle East and Central Asia. Arab invaders did not establish their rule in India but Afghan and Central Asian Muslim conquerors did by founding dynasties that ruled India for nearly 700 years.

Throughout their rule over the vast Indian Subcontinent Muslims had been a minority but their impact on the Indian history and culture has been paramount. Muslim influence changed India in many ways creating new and unique identities as well as frictions. Muslim kept their distinctive identity and did not assimilate in the local culture and thus changed India forever.

The Pakistan military is a victim of nostalgia where it still sees ‘Hindu India’ as a Muslim colony. A section of Pakistani intellectuals, historians and military leaders do not trust Hindus. To them Hindus were collaborators, who had sided with the British and brought down the Muslim rule in India. This fear of Hindu deception is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s obsession with security.

Throughout its history India was invaded by foreign forces. As opposed to their aggressive and violent attackers, Indian Hindus had been mostly pacifist. Some Pakistani military officers interpret the passive Indian character as a sign of Hindu cowardice.

Interestingly, the armed forces of both India and Pakistan are organized along the lines of the British armed forces but some generals in Pakistan behave as heirs to the Central Asian conquerors and view the Indian army as a bunch of inferior warriors. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Pakistan has named its nuclear warheads after Muslim invaders from Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Modern India, however, is no longer a pacifist state. Indians are proud and confident people who see their country as an emerging world power. Perhaps due to the newly found confidence some Indian politicians and a section of the Indian media and intelligentsia ridicule Pakistan.

Rightwing Hindu nationalist parties blame Muslims for the division of their motherland implying that Pakistan is an illegitimate state. The Indian media portray Pakistan as a troubled country that harbors terrorism. The attitude of hard-line right-wingers in India is one cause of strong anti-Indian sentiments in the Pakistani armed forces.

Besides historical and cultural tensions, there are strategic factors that have forced Pakistan to maintain a strong anti-India position.

Pakistan’s agro-based economy depends on an extensive irrigation system that was built during the British Raj. Irrigation canals in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh are fed by rivers that originate in the Himalayan Mountains in the north.

The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan is also a dispute over who controls the rivers’ flow. Mouths of several rivers are located in the Kashmir region and continuing Indian control of Kashmir means Pakistan stays vulnerable.

There are other strategically important locations along the border and gaining control of those positions has caused India-Pakistan conflicts in the past. In 1983, India had occupied Siachen Glacier and in 1999 the Pakistan military had tried to occupy some strategic posts in the Kargil district of Kashmir.   

A major change in the thinking of the Pakistan armed forces occurred during the 1980s. This was the systematic Islamization of the Pakistan armed forces under the leadership of General Zia-ul-Haq. 

Militaries around the world use religion to motivate soldiers. In the U.S proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, U.S military planners encouraged the idea that people of the Book (Muslims and Christians) should fight together against Communist infidels. The United States facilitated the violent and bloody Jihad in every way and brought highly charged mercenaries to Afghanistan from all over the world to wage a holy war against the Soviet troops.

It was that time when the Pakistan Army adopted a new motto: Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah’ (Faith, Piety and Fight in the path of God). And with that a modern army made Jihad its official mission.

Zia-ul-Haq institutionalized religion in the armed forces of Pakistan. His focus, however, was on appearance, dress code and rituals. As military men in Pakistan competed in growing beards and offering prayers during work hours, Indian troops established bases at Siachen Glacier after which General Zia had famously said that at Siachen not a patch of grass grows.

During the 1980s, practice of religious rituals became common in the Pakistani military so was corruption and incompetence. Some commanders were accused of being involved in criminal activities including drug trafficking and arms sales. Generals turned into wheelers and dealers and receiving kickbacks in military deals touched new heights.

Despite being involved in the ‘Afghan Jihad’ and personal businesses military minds in Pakistan maintained hostility towards India as it provided justification of keeping a large and unaccountable military.    

Even after the death of General Zia-ul-Haq in an air crash in August 1988, the military did not change its disastrous course. Some generals came up with concepts of ‘strategic depth’ and exporting militancy.  Despite opposition from Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto the military continued interfering in Afghanistan and trained Kashmiri militants.

Generals such as Mirza Aslam Bag and Hamid Gul argued that after the fall of the Soviet Union all enemies of Islam could be defeated. The experience of the last 21 years, however, proves that exporting and using militancy as a foreign policy tool has failed miserably. Such policies have backfired causing death and destructions in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Some young officers of the Pakistan armed forces are genuinely embarrassed by the growing criticism of the armed forces. One major general of the Pakistan Army asked me recently, “We want to build a soft image of Pakistan”.

I responded to the soft-spoken and cultured gentleman by saying: “Please, replace ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah’ as your motto. A change of motto would be a symbol of a wider change of mind and perception. (To be continued).

Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. He can be reached at: shiraz_paracha@hotmail.com

About the author

Shiraz Paracha

Mr. Paracha has worked as a journalist, with newspapers, television, radio and online companies in Britain, Central Asia and Pakistan. Between 1995 and1996, hosted and presented very popular television programs (Awami Forum and Awami Jirga) in Pakistan. His former employers include the BBC and Press TV among other notable names. Mr. Paracha is also a journalism professor and has taught journalism and communication courses at international universities outside Pakistan.


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  • And what should be the new motto? How can a Muslim Army have a non Muslim or secular motto?What is wrong with the present motto in the light of Islam? Indeed India is our greatest enemy and, therefore, the Army should always remain India centric.

  • @ abu youssef
    the new motto according to LUDP & PPP is:
    jaey bhutto, jaey bhutto, jaey bhutto

  • Excellent and thought provoking piece by Shiraz Paracha. Without doubt our biggest problem is the india centric policy on security and foreign policy. Let us assume if India wants to take over Pakistan, what will it achieve? 180 million population that doesnt want to grow! Have nearly 400 million muslims (combined) who can potentially cause problem to Incredible India motto? The advantages of taking over Pakistan are much less than the the potential problems for India.
    It is not that India is not a guilty party in accentuating the hysteria amongst our military and policy makers. They like to treat Pakistan as “shudars”. Being an agrarian economy, Pakistan needs the necessary waters from the Himalayas to feed our nation. India assumes that any flood water Pakistan gets is more than sufficient for its needs.
    A lot has to change between India and Pakistan for things to get better. India needs to accept Pakistan’s existence and its potential as “hinterland” while Pakistan has to accept India’s superiority in size, number and global image.
    Jihad Fee Sabillillah has only destroyed our social fabric, it is as simple as that.

  • No doubt our military strategy is indian-centric which needs to be changed and focus on solving issues on both sides of the border. No other two nations are alike more than India and Pakistan. If western countries are investing in India and have trade ties with them then why not Pakistan. ‘Ghar ki murgi daal barabar’. We have to accept India is an emerging power and rather than dragging it down we should benefit and learn from indian policies.

    Iman, Taqwa and Jihad fi sabilillah should exactly be a motto suitable for an army of a muslim nation. Pakistan is not a secular country that the army can’t set its target on islamic beliefs. By suggesting to change Pak Army’s motto implys that Islam and religious practices are the root cause of our current situtaion which certainly isn’t true. Greed and un-accountability is the cause. We need to have checks and accountability of this institution, only will it be tamed and not feared.

  • The typical Pakistani mind set mentioned in 4th & 5th para understandable.
    Such notion grows stronger when people don’t have their own identity (that resulted in by erasing their own history for the sake of glorifying their new found faith in Islam). Am sure all such Pakistani military officers have Hindu or Buddhist ancestral roots who then were famous & prosperous and now with Islam they endedup with living in hell on earth. While the history of Swat reflects glory days of their ancestors, the present day mayhem reflects the results of wrong concept opted by subsequent generations.
    Pakistanis glorify personalities such as Gazani Mamood but infact he is nothing but a looter & thug. In India, Muslim rulers are occupiers and built mosques by destroying temples, so much so to the claim of respecting non Islam faiths. Then Hindu leaders indeed cowardice for living under such barbaric align culture and accepting conversions at gun point.
    Am not against Islam or any other but the way through which modern day Pakistanis being brainwashed about their historical background is nothing but travesty. Am of the opinion, any culture that erases the history is nothing but Farce.

  • A really good and balanced article. Fact of the matter is that whenever religion is mixed up with statecraft disaster ensues. History is full of examples. Pakistan and India started off at par. If Pakistan got left behind it is because it gave inordinate importance to religion. Had the various people in power had thoght of prosperity for the country things would have been different. Also Pakistan has allowed itself to be manipulated by the western world. How has helping US in its war against USSR in Afganistan benefitted common Pakistani. Pakistan has been used and abused by the USA and its allies. India on the other hand has been more clever in forging its international partnerships. They have made world powers to invest in the country in infrastructure which is a more long term view and benefits common people. As to the logo of Army ; it can easily be a more professional logo withiut religious overtones. If one is in army reading namaz 5 times perhaps is not important as defending your borders. Doing ones job honestly is enough to please Allah.