Opinion » Lead

Updated: June 25, 2012 08:35 IST

Trying to join twain that cannot meet

Praveen Swami
Comment (14)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

Even as the world watches the unfolding political crisis in Pakistan, a portentous ideological struggle is playing out in its army

Late in 2009, Pakistan’s army chief laid out his vision for the nation’s future to an audience of policemen in Peshawar. “Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam by our forefathers,” General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said, “and each one of us should work for strengthening the country and should make a commitment towards achieving the goal of turning the country into a true Islamic state.” This April, Gen. Kayani had a different message for the nation. “We believe in democracy and its institutions,” he said in a speech delivered at a ceremony to commemorate Pakistan’s fallen soldiers. “Pakistan’s prosperity, progress and independence depend on democracy.”

Even as the world watches events precipitated by the judicial fiat which evicted Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani from office, a portentous power struggle is playing out in the army.

Gen. Kayani has led the army into a surreal game of political football, the team seeking to score in both goals. Ever since 2008, the General has worked to strengthen the despotic ideological state to which his army has a decades-old commitment. Less enthusiastically, perhaps, he has also embraced the new democratic order, hoping it will heal Pakistan’s internal fissures and its relationship with the world.

Choice of consequence

It is unclear, though, how much longer Gen. Kayani can keep the game up. Pakistan’s military has become ideologically divided as never before. The team has to choose which side it wishes to play for: and that choice will have enormous consequences for the country and the region.

Gen. Kayani’s Peshawar speech was made at a time of crisis for Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf, his predecessor, had chosen to back the United States after 9/11 led to a rupture between the army and its historic partners, the jihadists. Faced with a war it did not consider its own, the army became divided. Gen. Kayani moved to rebuild bridges with jihadist groups, signing peace deals with jihadists and appropriating Islamist slogans. But all the while, he allowed the U.S. to pursue covert counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan.

Things didn’t quite work to plan: instead of the fighting winding down, large swathes of territory west of the Indus have been ceded to jihadists and thousands of Pakistani troops killed in combat.

In May 2011, following the raid which claimed Osama bin Laden’s life, Gen. Kayani and other senior officers were barracked by officers angry at the continuing alliance with the U.S. — the source, as many saw it, of their problems. Brigadier Ali Khan, a senior officer who led protests against bin Laden’s killing, is now being tried for links to an alleged plot to bomb the Pakistan army’s headquarters; dozens of serving military personnel have been linked to successful terrorist attacks.

Following a November 2011 NATO airstrike that claimed the lives of 26 Pakistani soldiers, matters came to a head. The powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate warned Gen. Kayani that the failure to retaliate could breed rebellion. Pakistan shut down the land routes that allowed NATO to supply troops in Afghanistan — confident that the U.S. would soon apologise. It proved a bad calculation.

Pakistan’s army leadership has since been seeking to defuse the crisis. The U.S. facilities at the Shahbaz airbase near Jacobabad are still functional; so are on-ground espionage networks needed to plant the electronic chips that guide drone-fired missiles to their targets. In his April speech, notably, Gen. Kayani said he “believes that others should respect our sovereignty, honour and dignity”. He left the door open to the civilian government to reopen NATO’s logistical routes, saying “the army would work in accordance with whatever policy is made”.

Asif Ali Zardari, however, has lobbed the ball back in the army’s court, fearing the electoral costs of being seen as buckling under western pressure — just as the army fears internal tensions if it is seen as caving in.

Even if a way out of this impasse is found, the larger ideological problem within the Pakistan army will have to be resolved by the commanders who succeed Gen. Kayani when he retires in November next year.

Lieutenant-General Tariq Khan, commander of the key Mangla-based 1 corps, leads the pack. Gen. Khan has long been seen as an advocate of a better relationship with the U.S. He participated in the 1991 Iraq war, and was Pakistan’s representative at the U.S. central command in 2004-2005. Later, he commanded an infantry division that hit hard at jihadists in South Waziristan — registering success, but also generating a terrorist backlash.

Caution urged

Last year, when a civil-military crisis erupted in the wake of an ISI campaign targeting former Pakistani diplomat Hussain Haqqani, Gen. Khan and 30 corps commander Lieutenant-General Raheel Sharif urged caution — counselling that precipitating a coup would hurt the army.

Gen. Khan’s vision, though, isn’t uncontested. His key rival is his course-mate, ISI chief Lieutenant-General Zaheer-ul-Islam. Following the Haqqani showdown, President Zardari’s government denied former ISI chief Shuja Pasha — suspected by India of having authorised the 26/11 attacks — an extension. Mr. Pasha had hailed jihadist leaders Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah as “true patriots” for offering to fight India.

His successor, Muhammad Zaheer-ul-Islam, has made no similar public pronouncements, but there are signs his thinking isn’t far different. The ISI’s media and political divisions have been revitalised. Its Kashmir operations division, led by Zaheer-ul-Islam appointee Major-General Isfandiyar Ali Khan Pataudi, is also going through a thorough-going reorganisation. India’s intelligence services fear the organisation could resume more aggressive support for jihadist groups in coming months.

General Zia’s state

History offers some insight into which of these two tendencies might win. Indians — and not a few Pakistanis —harbour the illusion that Pakistan is a secular state besieged by religious extremists. In fact, the Pakistani state’s secularism disintegrated in 1973, a year scholar Ali Eteraz has described as the country’s “Iran moment”. The Constitution brought into force that year decreed that “sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone.” The state was, among other things, enjoined to promote “observance of the Islamic moral standards”.

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s military ruler from 1977 to 1988, built the state this Constitution enjoined, placing the army at its core. He left no manifesto, but commended to his officers Brigadier S.K. Malik’s The Quranic Conception of War, noting its contribution to the “understanding that we jointly seek as citizens of an Islamic state”.

The new Islamic state, Brigadier Malik argued, was obligated to engage in jihad; indeed, jihad was its raison d’etre, to be waged until an ultimate triumph. “The term jihad,” he wrote, “so often confused with military strategy is, in fact, the near-equivalent of total or grand strategy or policy in-execution.” Thus, jihad “aims at attaining the overall mission assigned to the Islamic state”.

“Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies”, Brigadier Malik said of this mission, “is not only a means, it is the end in itself. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him”.

Put another way, Zia’s Islamic state was an entity designed for perpetual conflict — a conflict that would ensure the primacy of its praetorian guard.


This vision proved durable. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto chose not to roll back the religious legislation; in 1998, her successor, Nawaz Sharif, even considered legislation that would have declared him the amir ul-momineen, or commander of the faithful — a title used by ancient caliphs, and the Taliban’s commander, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

In the army, too, Zia’s ideas long survived his demise — shaping official discourse all the way to Gen. Kayani. Brigadier Saifi Ahmad Naqvi, writing in Pakistan army’s official Green Book in 1994, argued that “the existence and survival of Pakistan depend upon complete implementation of Islamic ideology in true sense”. That ideology, others went on to claim, precluded an alliance with the West. In 2008, Brigadier Waqar Hassan Khan even claimed the Taliban his comrades were fighting were “a bogey created by RAW, Mossad, and probably the U.S.”

From the work of scholars like C. Christine Fair, we know this: Pakistan’s officer corps is increasingly drawn not from the traditional elite, but from the same social classes behind the country’s resurgent religious right. Though modernist in its embrace of private sector education, women’s literacy and technology, the new middle class which makes up the backbone of the army is also profoundly authoritarian and anti-democratic in its politics — using Islam as a language to assert claims to political power, and build the social alliances needed to deliver it.

Little President Zardari’s government has done so far has given reason to hope democratic parties have either the will or vision to resist the rising tides of chauvinism and authoritarianism that now threaten to overwhelm it. The fate of Pakistan’s army will, more likely than not, mirror that of Pakistan’s civil society and politics.

More In: Lead | Opinion

So, the critical question is what does India do next, keeping it's interest paramount.
The answer has always been to convince the Indian public to accept reality and stop
living in the illusion that some day India and Pakistan will be one. This is least likely
and most unwanted. Instead we should focus our energies on building a secular India
like never before rather than wait for Pakistan to reform itself. But the Hindu
rightwing will always clamor for a Hindu Pakistan in India as long as an Islamic
Pakistan exists. So, like never before, we should stoutly defend the India that our
founding fathers imagined. God bless our founding fathers.

from:  Jacob
Posted on: Jun 26, 2012 at 20:32 IST

Democracy in Pakistan is a non-existing commodity. Elections are held and positions are filled but the Military call the shots. Every Pakistani General who occupies the high office of Chief of Army staff has a magic potion that will make them victorious against India. The magic potion is a mixture of ISI, the jihadists and the disgruntled elements in India. This pipe dream causes enoromous problems to the elected representatives. They have no clue as to what is a happeneing but are made to carry the can when the manure hits the fan. Ayub Kahn to Kayani the story has been the same. The poor Pakistani guy in the street is led to believe that he is living in a democratic islamic soceity.

from:  mani sandilya
Posted on: Jun 26, 2012 at 12:27 IST

Are we reading the last few years of degenerating Pakistan.The end seems sooner than later and very worrisome. What plan is in place in India how to handle refugees??

from:  Abbas
Posted on: Jun 26, 2012 at 07:31 IST

The "fundamental" versions of world religions supposedly expressing
the essence of be it Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Christian and Islam
motivates their devotees' fanatical thoughts and actions in
terrorising folk who just want to get on with life (who have opted out
of ready-made religions forced on them through birth, to ponder and
seek the meaning of life, or not).
A country like Pakistan, founded solely on religion just like Israel
seeks world dominance just like the United States is currently (it
abides to Christian "fundamentalist"). Religion is a major arsenal
just as human bombs and drones in their war against humanity whatever
their ulterior motives be. Leaders or peoples can lay claim God is on
their side, thus justifying their atrocities.
India must not fall into the hands of its own Hindu fundamentalists.
Secularism ensures all creeds the ability to hold on to their beliefs.
Secularist India and Indians can be the exemplar that the rest of the
world be inspired by and emulate.

from:  rajagopal raman
Posted on: Jun 26, 2012 at 01:51 IST

It is truly a sad state of affairs in Pakistan. The Military,ISI,Jihad,Islam,Democracy etal are all interwoven and Swami has brought this truth to the fore. Ths schism within the Army runs through the entire society. Whenever it is convenient, every Institution uses these religion to better its own position. Bhutto and Sharif were Civilians, who did no worse than Zia or Musharraf. Unfortunately, this is a failed mindset that thrives in a failed state. God help Pakistan

from:  gita
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 23:23 IST

Excellant &enlightening article by Praveen Swami.Pakistan's self imposed fanatic&islamic policies are cancerous to both itself&the INFIDELS.Fortunately the ones going to be consumed by its IDEOLOGY is
PAKISTAN itself.21st century has taught the whole world the importance&the necessity to be SECULAR&not FANATICAL.Even the arabs where islam was born are adopting to secular democratic all inclusive governance as evidenced by the latest EGYPTIAN election than this pakistani radical jihadist version.If the Paki army does not reorganise&revamp itsef it is bound to get ostracised globally leading to its rapid decline&decay.Just like communism as an ideology on the wane so will the islamism too.Thanks for this good article I enjoyed it thoroughly.

from:  bala srinivasan
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 23:00 IST

Very well researched article except for one major notable omission, that is role of so called local population and their elected representatives. Even the democratically leaders of Pakistan starting from Liaqat, Suhrawardy were guilty of using Islamic communalism. Army just carried the tradition forward. Pakistanis couldn't have been so radicalised if the process lacked support amongst the masses.

from:  Dvijay
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 17:13 IST

Democracy and Martial Law are two different things and cannot mingle to
the one. General Kayani talks of democracy as the means of a prosperous
Pakistan while brigadier Malik sees terror as the attainment.'Islam' is
being seen as the chauvinism for, the war and the prospectus of peace
is being seen as a whole which is unattainable.

from:  Sujeet Kumar
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 15:56 IST

The problem of India–Pakistan relationship is that the Indian so-called Liberal Leftist Establishment only expects India to accede to Pakistan’s wishes.
A demand by the WKK Brigade which is trumpeting for India-Pakistan Visa Free regime refuses to appreciate that Firstly every year of the 100,000 Pakistani Visa Visitors to India around 10,000 do not go back to Pakistan. Secondly with the present “Protective” Visa Regime we have Thousands of Pakistanis Illegal immigrants in India of whom Hundreds, if not Thousands, will be “Pakistani Sleepers” in India.

With a strict Visa Regime we have had the 26/11 Pakistani Terrorist Attack, as well as many others attacks, and as such I shudder to think the ease with which the Pakistani Based – although the Pakistani Government states them to be “Non-State Actors” – in my opinion Official Pakistan Government Sponsored, Terrorists will wreak havoc in India.

Readers will note that it is only the Indian Secular, Leftist, Liberal, WKK Brigade, Opinion Makers, Commentators etc. etc. that advocates India’s Joint-Management with Pakistan of the Rivers in Kashmir, handing over Kashmir to Pakistan, withdrawing from Siachin, accepting Pakistan’s view on Sir Creek etc. etc. On the other hand Readers will note that there is no such accommodation recommended by any Pakistani for Pakistan to accommodate India.

Aman Ki Asha is actually “Pakistan Ki Asha Aur India Ki Nirasha”

from:  Naresh
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 15:41 IST

A crystal clear analysis from Praveen Swami on the symptomatic malaise Pakistan is suffering from. The fundamental root of the problem lies in the country's geo strategic curse "due to its location and the willingness of its elite to play geopolitical games," to quote Prof. T. V. Paul, Director of the McGill University Centre for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS). Pakistan's civil society is overwhelmed by the power of the privileged of status-quo loving elites both civil and military. The country will continue to present a nightmare of disintegrating society unless it somehow transforms itself for pragmatic elites combining with tolerant civil society, a very unlike eventuality in the near future.

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 12:49 IST

Brilliant article that exposes the problem of pakistan. It can only exist (though for how long is a moot point) as an islamic ideological state which is designed to serve its narrow power elite centred on the military. As the contradictions of its raison d'etre become increasingly acute, the phenomena of islam is raised to cement the widening cracks. But it will not work. The sad fact is that pakistan is on the wrong side of history with no valid basis to exist - islam and allah included.

from:  Sohail Zahid
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 12:46 IST

One of things that makes me uneasy that an article which is so condensed in detail create an opinion in beginners who go through it. What if a fact cited is incorrect? For example , in this editorial it has been cited that The Constitution brought into force that year 1973 decreed that "sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone." The state was, among other things, enjoined to promote "observance of the Islamic moral standards". That fact is there were changes that reinforced the notion of islamic state but the changes cited here can actually be seen in 1956 constitution preamble also. Here, the author has tried to rest the beginning of an islamic state in 1973 on this base. Now the question is as I cannot really deep dive into every part of a piece of wonderfully written editorial from a highly respected source nor do I want to, but the unease that such discoveries put in , make me feel how thinly guided our collective opinion as a public can be.

from:  manan
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 12:32 IST

In all probability, the Pakistani Army will ultimately take over the country. There does not seem to be any acceptable alternative. Gen Ashfaq Kayani might become President, following the path of an earlier precedent first begun by Ayub Khan. India's steadfast refusal to implement measures from the counter-terrorism doctrine due to vote bank considerations has made it very easy for Pakistani terrorists to carry out their successful strikes with impunity over the past 25 years.

from:  JK Dutt
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 11:09 IST

Pakistan and India are so different. Indian army is very patient and a good follower of centre.

from:  abhinaw
Posted on: Jun 25, 2012 at 02:50 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

Private projects coming up in urbans lands on the outskirts of Hyderabad as the Union Government passed the Land Acquisition and Resettlement Bill 2013 on Thursday in the Lok Sabha. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Land, development and democracy

India cannot continue with a pattern of industry that yields so few jobs but has such a large ecological footprint. Neither can it be excited by the urban nightmares that its cities are today. The land law debate must be the occasion to talk about these key national agendas »