God's soldiers: Pakistan army's ideology

Little-studied internal Pakistan army debates help understand just what the institution wants for itself and for the country it rules.

October 07, 2011 12:33 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:08 pm IST

Pervez Musharraf described the 2002 Green Book, the volume recording the deliberations of Brigadier Zia and his brother officers, as a “valuable document for posterity.”

Pervez Musharraf described the 2002 Green Book, the volume recording the deliberations of Brigadier Zia and his brother officers, as a “valuable document for posterity.”

In the autumn of 2002, at the end of a murderous 10-month stand-off with India provoked by the Jaish-e-Muhammad's attack on the Parliament House in New Delhi, a small group of mid-level Pakistan army officers set about debating its lessons.

The overarching strategic lesson of the 2001-2002 crisis, wrote Brigadier Muhammad Zia, was clear: the West had come to the determination that “a nuclear (and Muslim) Pakistan has to be kept in control, lest it leads the Islamic world towards the formation of a new and powerful economic and military bloc in competition with or antagonistic to the western alliance.”

He then outlined Pakistan's strategic response. “India is highly volatile on its internal front due to numerous vulnerabilities which, if agitated, accordingly could yield results out of proportion to the efforts put in.” Pointing to Kashmir, the northeast and Punjab, he suggested these faultlines could be employed as an “offensive option against India.”

General Pervez Musharraf, military ruler, described the 2002 Green Book , the volume recording the deliberations of Brigadier Zia and his brother officers, as a “valuable document for posterity.”

It is: Pakistan's continued tactical patronage of jihadist groups operating against Afghanistan, India and the West is derived from the system of ideas outlined in the Green Books , records of the Pakistan Army's internal deliberations. The ideas underpin the chain of events which have taken Pakistan ever closer to the abyss since the late 1970s.

Last month, Admiral Mike Mullen, outgoing Chairman of the United States' Joint Chiefs of Staff, submitted a written testimony asserting that “extremist organisations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as U.S. soldiers.” He alleged that the Haqqani network, the most powerful of the Taliban's constituent forces, was in fact “a strategic arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).”

Nothing he said was startling as experts, journalists and the U.S. intelligence community have known as much for years.

Ever since 9/11, the U.S. has hoped that the right forms of engagement and incentives will persuade Pakistan's army to change course. The Green Books cast light on why this strategy has failed and will continue to fail.

Pakistan and the jihadist project

Six years ago, in a book published just before he became his country's ambassador to the U.S., politician-scholar Husain Haqqani recorded that the Pakistan Army's jihadist project was “not just the inadvertent outcome of decisions by some governments.” Instead, he argued, the Pakistani state's use of Islam “gradually evolved into a strategic commitment to jihadi ideology.” The Green Books explain just what this strategic commitment entails.

The historical genesis of the Pakistan Army's jihadist project is well known. Following colonial military thinkers like Francis Tuker, who headed the British India's eastern command at the time of independence, Pakistan's strategic community believed that India would collapse under the weight of its ethnic-religious strains.

From 1947-1948, Pakistan's intelligence services thus conducted what Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described as an “informal war”— a campaign of aid to secessionist insurgencies, in which clerics and religious ideology often had a key role.

Pakistan's political élite also came to increasingly rely on the clerical class for legitimacy.

In 1956, the country's first constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic republic — a notion unknown to classical theology — and mandated that no laws repugnant to the Koran and Hadith be passed.

Later, General Ayub Khan excised the prefix “Islamic” from Pakistan's name, but nonetheless appointed a council of clerics to guide the state. His successor, the hard-drinking General Yahya Khan, allied with Islamists in Bangladesh and Kashmir. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in turn, bowed to clerical pressure, pushed forward with anti-minorities measures and declared Islam the state religion.

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq oversaw the full bloom of this process: influenced by the ideas of Islamist ideologue Abul Ala Mawdudi, and inspired by the triumph of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, he set about rebuilding the state and the army with jihadist ideology at their core. The new model army Gen. Zia-ul-Haq built was principally concerned not with defending the state's frontiers against its adversaries, but with reinventing Pakistan itself.

Commodore Tariq Majid laid out a road map for this new model army in the 1991 Green Book . He wrote: “the Islamic state, apart from the standing forces, keeps a volunteer force of the people and employs the other lot of able-bodied manpower to strengthen the other elements of the military system during wartime.” His “volunteer force of the people” would, in time, evolve into the ISI-backed jihadist networks Pakistan now sponsors.

Brigadier Saifi Ahmad Naqvi, writing in the 1994 Green Book , provided doctrinal flesh to this project. He began on the premise that “Pakistan is an ideological state, based on the ideology of Islam.” Therefore, “the existence and survival of Pakistan depend upon complete implementation of Islamic ideology in true sense. If the ideology is not preserved then the very existence of Pakistan becomes doubtful.” This, in his view, made the Army “responsible for the defence of the country, to safeguard [its] integrity [and] territorial boundaries, and the ideological frontiers to which the country owes its existence.”

Brigadier Muneer Mahmood explained, in 2002, why Pakistan needed to patronise jihadist groups. Pakistan was being cast as the “torch-bearer of the Muslim ummah [nation] by the biased western media and Jewish lobby.” In time, it was “likely to be the target of these forces.” Even though the prospect of a “conventional war between India and Pakistan appears remote, the environment [therefore] looks ripe for a LIC [low-intensity conflict] confrontation.”

Even as Pakistan became increasingly mired in counter-insurgency operations in the northwest after 2002, elements within its officer corps harboured substantial misgivings about the project. In 2008, for example, Brigadier Waqar Hassan Khan argued in the Green Book that “the superpower's entry into [the] Middle-East and West Asia [sic] was not possible without a Pearl Harbour; 9/11 was either created or supported to be labelled as the second Pearl Harbour.”

“Now,” he asserted, “it has come in the open that people have been missing the jungle for a tree ; the so-called Pakistani Taliban was a bogey created by RAW, MOSSAD, and probably the U.S.-led coalition to keep the Durand Line on fire and destabilise Pakistan internally to achieve the ultimate objective of undermining the only nuclear Islamic state on this earth.”

Major-General Muhammad Ahsan Mehmood, then-Director General of Weapons and Equipment, wrote a companion-essay explaining why Pakistan ought not to aid the U.S.' anti-jihadist campaign.

Pakistan's counter-insurgency commitments, he insisted, raised an “issue of legitimacy.” “If a section of society,” he wrote, “is not convinced about the moral standing of the task and a general perception on the similar lines also exists among the masses, it seriously erodes the performance of the military, which gets affected by the societal pressures. Military operations inside one's own country make it fundamental that the troops feel just and fair with regards to the operations being undertaken and popular support of the masses exists. Unless it happens, no amount of training, motivation and technology differential will deliver.”

Pakistan's army simply could not, this line of argument suggested, engage in a war against jihadist militia it had fathered without undermining the foundations of its own legitimacy.

Less than six months before Admiral Mullen's dramatic testimony, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certified that Pakistan had demonstrated a “sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups.” Pakistan, she wrote, had ceased support to “extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against the United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

Islamabad had also helped, Ms Clinton wrote, in “preventing al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries.”

Her empirically ill-founded declaration enabled the U.S. administration to continue funnelling aid to Pakistan, even as its army paid proxies to kill American troops.

Notwithstanding the furore provoked by Admiral Mullen's testimony, little is likely to change: in Washington, D.C., continued engagement is seen as the least-awful of a basket of bad choices.

Insanity, Albert Einstein is believed to have said, consisted of doing the same things again and again, but expecting different results. The Pakistan army's jihadist commitment is not merely a tactical tool to project influence or win legitimacy: it is, instead, the paradigm through which the institution comprehends the world and seeks to shape it. The jihadists the U.S. hopes to bribe and cajole the Pakistan army to abandon are in fact soldiers of the nation the institution seeks to build — a dystopia that dollars, ironically enough, will continue to underwrite.

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