The Military’s Ideology

By Ayesha Siddiqa

The country’s ruling elite and the military have traditionally used a particular aspect of religion to gain strategic dividends. —File Photo

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.

ayesha.ibd@gmail.com

22 Comments

Filed under Army, Pakistan, Religion

22 responses to “The Military’s Ideology

  1. Hayyer

    I wish Ms. Siddiqa had done some evaluation of the book in her review. I read the book some months ago almost as soon as it was published. I believe he is in bad odour with the home authorities because of it, a bit probably like Ms. Siddiqa herself.
    It would have been fascinating to know how credible Arif Jamal’s rather damning conclusions are.

  2. Hossp

    “Indeed, if one is searching for the correct term, it would be pragmatic-nationalist.”

    Pragmatic-nationalist! come on now Ayesha. The correct term would be preserve-institution’s interests.

    Consider the Pak army a corporation which would do anything to preserve its place and profit in the market place. You seems to have forgotten what you wrote in your own book. Corporations are pretty nationalistic when it comes to preserving their markets and territories for profit making and throttling competition. Pak army does exactly the same thing. It takes hits sometimes but when it sees the opportunity, it grabs it to redeem its market preeminence.

    It is all about business and I hope the Pakistani intellectual and politicians start dealing with the Pakistan army like they would deal with any rogue business.

    If people like you started calling the army Pragmatic-nationalist, the nationalists like you would be just classified as naive-nationalists.

  3. Junaid

    @Hossp

    Ditto

    Pak army is a rogue corporation which flexes its muscles every now and then to protect its interests.

    Some one needs to deal with it.

  4. karun

    Bang! Bang!

  5. PMA

    Hayyer (October 10, 2009 at 3:36 am):

    Hayyer: I say this with all sincerity. You have in depth knowledge and understanding of history and current affairs in Pakistan, perhaps more than many Pakistanis themselves. You are a regular commenter here at PTH. Would you please write organised articles on specific subjects related to Pakistan and post them here at this web site. I think we will all gain from your scholarship. Also, what about my request regarding Prince of Wales College, Jammu? Thanks. With regards. PMA.

  6. Bloody Civilian

    Pragmatic-nationalist! come on now Ayesha. The correct term would be preserve-institution’s interests

    being a preeminent scholar in the subject, she knows how to separate symptom from disease. whereas, even those who have read her book, sometimes get fooled in to thinking that the symptom is the disease.

  7. Hayyer

    Thank you PMA for the kind words and the invitation. It is not modesty but honesty that makes me deny scholarship; the number of books I have read on Pakistan will barely cross into double figures. There is only a handful of bookshops in Delhi that have books from or on Pakistan and I usually get mine on my visits abroad. To write articles on Pakistan for a largely Pakistani readership would expose more than presumption.
    I feel tempted sometimes to write on matters of common interest but I am not certain that what I may say will enlighten rather than ignite.
    The Prince of Wales College is now called the Science College. After 1947 there was a mania for removing names connected to our former masters. Only in Kolkata do they persist stubbornly in retaining memories of empire.
    Would you kindly refresh my mind on your request?
    Thanks and regards.

  8. PMA

    Hayyer (October 12, 2009 at 9:40 pm):

    Even though my father was junior to Shaikh Abdullah by several years, the Prince of Wales College was the place where ‘The Shaikh’ polished his student politics skills. According to him Shaikh Abdullah was always at the campus stirring up agitations against Maharaja Hari Singh. From my father, who graduated from Prince of Wales College, I heard many anicdotes about Kashmir politics, Maharaja, Malika Pukhraj, Shaikh Abdullah, Kashmiri maids, Tawi and on and on. He had a youthful romance with Kashmir, even when he was an old man well in his years. When I hear you tell us about Kashmir, I often think of my father and of his stories that became more romantic as he grew older. Sometimes I think that I should write his memoiars….may be ‘Dreams of My Father’. Well, you seem to know much about Kashmir. I still think that you should write about Kashmir, even if it is not political correct from Indian perstective.

  9. PMA

    Hayyer (October 12, 2009 at 9:40 pm):

    Even though my father was junior to Shaikh Abdullah by several years, the Prince of Wales College was the place where ‘The Shaikh’ polished his student politics skills. According to him Shaikh Abdullah was always at the campus stirring up agitations against Maharaja Hari Singh. From my father, who graduated from Prince of Wales College, I heard many anecdotes about Kashmir politics, Maharaja, Malika Pukhraj, Shaikh Abdullah, Kashmiri maids, Tawi and on and on. He had a youthful romance with Kashmir, even when he was an old man well in his years. When I hear you tell us about Kashmir, I often think of my father and of his stories that became more romantic as he grew older. Sometimes I think that I should write his memoirs….may be ‘Dreams of My Father’. Well, you seem to know much about Kashmir. I still think that you should write about Kashmir, even if it is not political correct from Indian perspective.

  10. Hayyer

    I would encourage you to write those memoirs. There is a dearth of historical record of those days. All that remains is oral history and that needs recording.
    In the days that your father studied in college very few ethnic Kashmiris settled in Jammu unless they were from Doda or Poonch. Sheikh Abdullah’s base was Kashmir, and though he did foray out into Jammu those occasions were not so common. Travel between Srinagar and Jammu was often a three day journey via Pindi and Sialkot. Few used the Banihal cart road which was closed in the winter anyway.
    Jammu is a very interesting place for Indians. It is largely Hindu but with a significant Muslim population. Though there are Muslim Mohallas towards the east of the city, Muslims and Hindus live cheek and jowl in amity throughout. I don’t think there has been a riot between the two communities since 1947. In the last two decades Kashmiri Muslims have begun to buy accommodation for over-wintering.
    Jammu has a strong musical tradition. Alla Rakha the tabla player was from Samba, just south of Jammu. The santoor player Shiv Kumar Sharma is a Dogra from Jammu. There are others. Kundan Lal Sehgal was from RSpora, a suburb of Jammu and even Jagannath Azad the poet belonged to Jammu Division. He died there but belonged I am told to Kishtwar.
    Perhaps if relations improve you could visit Jammu. It is a sprawling city now.

  11. Bloody Civilian

    even Jagannath Azad the poet belonged to Jammu Division

    you mean he settled there. he belonged to eesakhel.🙂

  12. Hayyer

    That is what I read on PTH. But he lived and died in Jammu after partition, and there were constant references to his Kishtwar connections. Kishtwar is now a district but earlier was the easternmost tehsil of Doda district bordering Himachal Pradesh. I can find out more given time.

  13. PMA

    Hayyer (October 12, 2009 at 11:59 pm):

    Shaikh Abdullah had gone to Prince of Wales College and that is where he started his political career. In my parent’s house hang interesting pictures of the campus life. There is a group picture of ‘Muslim Hostel’ as I was told that Muslim and non-Muslim students stayed and dined in separate quarters. There were only three Muslim students in my father’s class. Most of the jobs went to Hindus, Sikhs and Brits. And that is where Kashmir Muslim Conference comes in; a fertile ground for the aspiring politician and student leader.

  14. Hayyer

    PMA:
    Sheikh Abdullah began his career in Kashmir. As a post graduate in science from AMU he had expected to be appointed a college professor or sent on a doctoral fellowship to the UK. Instead the Maharaja gave him a school teacher’s job. Kashmiri Muslims faced active discrimination from the government of the Maharaja. It was in fact Ahmadiya Muslims from the Punjab who first took up the cause of the discrimination against Kashmiri Muslims. Later Sh. Abdullah’s political enemies tried to impugn him by calling him a secret Ahmadi.
    I am sure he must have visited your father’s college in Jammu. In fact he was once denied admission there and had to move to Islamia college Lahore for his studies.
    The Muslim Conference was set up in 1932 with Sheikh Abdullah as its President and below him Chaudhuri Ghulam Abbas of Jammu. Perhaps they visited Jammu after the party was set up in Srinagar. As I said, it would be of considerable value to have you write those memoirs. There is so much missing about that period in the records.

  15. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Pakistan: The Ideology Of The Army

  16. bonobashi

    @PMA

    I write this with considerable hesitation, and after convincing myself with great difficulty that keeping silent will be wrong.

    It is vital that you should write your memoirs of the old days, as you have heard related, and help to preserve vital details which are important socially, culturally and historically. These are the fine details that lend character and personality to the bald accounts that we have of generations now gone by.

    My father left his account of his relations with his British colleagues as members of the Indian Police till the very last moment; he is unable in the interval of the last three months to continue to write his next book, on four close friends and another man slightly more distant, the four being bureaucrats, three going to Pakistan ultimately, the less than friend more than acquaintance person becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan at one stage. This is a shame; it promised to be a lively account, since one of the five frequented the 300 Club and that club could never be a dull place.

    Please, Sir, write, and keep writing. Your shorter pieces should have shown you that there is a ready readership, and you can have no hesitation in venturing forth into book length.

  17. bonobashi

    I am referring of course primarily to what has been recounted to you by elders of another generation.

  18. PMA

    Hayyer (October 13, 2009 at 2:10 am):

    Hayyer: My information is slightly different than yours. Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah started his college and student politics career from The Prince of Wales College, Jammu, an affiliate college of University of The Punjab, Lahore. Since he was born in 1905, he must have done so in the early nineteen twenties. At that time all of the college faculty was either Hindu, Sikh or Brit with very few Muslim students. The Shaikh and his friends started to agitate and demand greater Muslim presence on the campus. For that he was considered as a ‘trouble maker’ by the authorities. He was either forced to leave the campus or left on his own is not clear. But he left Jammu and went to Islamia College, Lahore; a hot bed of Muslim Nationalism and politics at that time. (It is the same college where later in 1940 Lahore Resolution was passed.) The Shaikh graduated from the Islamia College, both in academic and political terms and went on to The Anglo-Oriental Muhammadan College in Aligarh from where he received his M.Sc. Physics in 1930. At that time he was 25 years old. In 1930 he returned to Jammu & Kashmir and plunged into mainstream politics. His first political arrest came in 1931. The lessons of student politics he learned at Lahore and Aligarh he applied at the college campuses in Jammu and Srinagar. My father was a student at The Prince of Wales College and resident of The Muslim Hostel in the early nineteen thirties for four years. He had vivid recollection of Shaikh Abdullah and his colleagues regularly visiting Muslim Hostel to recruit for Kashmir Muslim Conference, an organization dedicated to the rights of oppressed Muslims of Kashmir. It is ironic that almost a century later, oppressed Muslims of Kashmir are still fighting for their political rights.

  19. PMA

    bonobashi (October 13, 2009 at 11:15 am):

    Writing, particularly serious writing is an exercise of discipline. It could be time consuming, a commodity in short supply for a working professional man like myself. Good writing also needs good reading and research, something very different than blogging. But thanks any way. My hope is that Hayyer….what is this word ‘hayyer’ any way?…..will write about Kashmir one day.

  20. bonobashi

    @PMA

    It goes without saying that we all realise that you will bring to writing a major work the same meticulous and unsparing discipline that you bring to even minor mail messages. That is precisely what whets our appetite.

    We also know that it is impossible to change your mind once you have decided on a course of action, so I will not irritate you by pressing you further. But I will say that I am sure I speak for many in regretting your decision, and in hoping that at an appropriate moment you will change your mind.

    I think Hayyer (the etymology is unknown and the man is an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a paradox) refrains from writing for rather similar reasons as you (I know I do): that serious writing requires serious research and proper citations, which are all time-consuming and which are ruled out in his present condition. Here too his ground knowledge of Kashmir has always been superior, although he appears to have stumbled over the matter of the Prince of Wales College and Sheikh Abdullah’s history of liberation politics.

    Here too a considerable body of opinion will await a change of mind with hope and expectation.

  21. Hayyer

    PMA:
    I am at present in New York and cannot consult my copy of Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography ‘Aatish e Chinar’ but am rechecking with other sources. I am in the happy position of having access to his family sources also as well as to an almost faded generation with memories of the time before 1947.
    Till now what I have read and heard from the main protagonists of the era is of the movement starting in Srinagar. With your input I shall have to do an extensive recheck. If your father’s memory is accurate then a lot of stuff needs rewriting.
    It is late night in India now but by tomorrow I should be able to get back to you on this particular subject.

  22. Hayyer

    Bonobashi:
    I am glad that there is something that escapes even your encyclopaedic knowledge of Indian names.