Geopolitics

Islam in Service of Pakistan Military
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Dec , 2017

“Pakistan has two – wedge approach to dealing with terrorism. On one hand, yes, they do not like terrorism, or attacks from terrorism in their country. But at the same time, they do not mind using terrorism as leverage to deal with Afghanistan and to deal with in India.”
- Leon Panetta,  former Director CIA

The latest protest by nearly 5000 protestors demonstrating fanatic fidelity to Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, essentially a Barelvi outfit, at the junction on the road between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and the role therein of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment has ominous portents for Pakistan, Indian subcontinent, rather the global jihadi discourse. The radicalization of the Barelvi school, celebrated for its spiritual moorings is a phenomenon sweeping across Pakistan. Its marriage with the Pakistan Army, has killed most hopes of any course correction by Pakistan from the unrelenting fundamentalist and jihadi path that it has been hurtling on. Khadim Hussain Rizvi,  the leader of  Tehreek Labaik, is the latest  addition to the  Pakistan Military’s jihadi arsenal. It now straddles both the Deobandi and the Barelvi world.

After 20 days of dithering, the Abbasi government deployed 8000 policemen, but such a large force of policemen proved unequal to the challenge. Consequently, the civil dispensation of Pakistan was compelled to bid for the army to intervene. The Army refused on the plea that it could not apply force against its own people, it rather offered to mediate between the government and the protestors. It is another matter that the same Army without any compunction, and in concert with the Air Force, has in the last ten years been killing its Pushtuns in several operations i.e Operation: Rab-i-Haq(2007,2008,2009) in Swat Valley; Sirab-i-Mustaqueem  in Khyber in 2008; Sherdil in Bajaur, 2008; Black Thunderstorm, in Buner, in 2009; Berkhana in Mohmmand in 2010; Operation Rah-i-Nizzat in Southern Waziristan in2009; Zarb-e-Ajbin North Waziristan in 2014; and Radd-ul-Fassad in 2017.

The main reason however is to promote radicalization amongst the Barelvis of Pakistan, who constitute nearly 60 percent of the population. It seems that the Deobandi population base is proving to be insufficient for the supply of jihadis…

As per the deal brokered between the military, represented by one Major General of ISI, and the government, the law minister of Pakistan Zahid Hameed resigned. A judge of Islamabad High Court was constrained to issue a statement, questioning the law under which the military assumed the mediator’s role.

It is not unusual for the Pakistan military to create or use security predicament of its own civilian government to ensure that Pakistan remains essentially a military enterprise. It may be recalled that a discredited Pakistan military after defeat and dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 war did not take much time to bounce back into its previous unassailable position. This opportunity was provided by the onset of a major insurgency in Balochistan.

After the 1971-War debacle, Bhutto tried to purge the army of politics and subordinate it as an instrument of the state. He even established a 18,000 strong Federal Security Force (FSF) for providing assistance to the civil administration. This force was not placed under the army. The Army was not too happy with this move, but was in no position to protest after its loss of face in war just a year ago. Fatefully for the military establishment of Pakistan, when all the instruments failed to answer the challenge of insurgency in Balochistan in 1973, Bhutto had no option but to ask the army to intervene. The army sensing an opportunity for the kill, initially demurred, and only agreed once Bhutto capitulated to all its demands, which reinstated the primal position of the army in the affairs of the state. The Army finally deployed 80,000 troops to fight insurgency in Balochistan between 1973 and 1977. But that was an era when the emphasis was on conventional war and not jihadi proxy war. Nevertheless, one message was clear that what mattered to the Pakistan military was not the territorial integrity of the country but its exclusive claim on Pakistan as its fiefdom, with or without Balochis.

The bane of Pakistan is the military’s dependence on jihadis for warfare and politics. Juggling various jihadi groups has been a formidable proposition with intense blowback component. dis…

The military in Pakistan pursues the same narrative, the difference being that the state has moved much beyond conventional war towards a war with jihadi underpinnings and jihadi instrumentality. Minus these jihadis outfits, virtually a parallel army, the Pakistan Army cannot exert operational influence beyond its borders in India and Afghanistan. The nature of this proxy war demands an overwhelming role of the ISI and in ensuring steady supplies of jihadis.  In turn, this supply presupposes a high degree of radicalization in the country. The army pandered to Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah not without reason. Of course it was indeed a part of the game that the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan plays with its own government from time to time. The main reason however is to promote radicalization amongst the Barelvis of Pakistan, who constitute nearly 60 percent of the population. It seems that the Deobandi population base is proving to be insufficient for the supply of jihadis.

The trigger for this protest by Tehreek Labaik, which blocked a busy motorway for more than three weeks, was prompted by a minor change in language in the oath administered to members of parliament. The Members of Parliament instead of confirming that Mohammad was the last prophet by declaring: “I solemnly swear”, would, as per the changed format, had to declare “I believe”. Thus the whole controversy was between ‘I swear’ and ‘I believe’. To the audience in most parts of the world this may seem uncontroversial and even innocuous, but in Pakistan,it became an issue of blasphemy, even after the government panicked and offered the specious reason of’’ clerical error.’’ The protestors portrayed it as a concession to four million Ahamadis in Pakistan, who hold the Quran and the Prophet in unquestionable reverence but do not subscribe to the finality of the Prophet.

In fact, the present Army Chief Gen Bajwa, himself came under attack by the radicals in Pakistan for his remote association with Ahmadiyyas from his wife’s side. What an irony!!!

In the Indian Subcontinent, as opposed to the fundamentalist Deobandis, the Barelvis are considered to represent the moderate and syncretic face of Islam, especially because of their belief in Pirs and Mazars. Nevertheless, in the last few years intolerance is seen to be making deeper in-roads in their belief system. The Barelvis are now spearheading violent and unforgiving crusade against actual, potential and imagined blasphemers of Islam. Most of their hapless targets fall into the latter category. Mumtaz Qadir, the assassin of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, continues to be the poster boy of Barelvis even after his death. Salman Taseer had not indulged in any blasphemous act but his mere transgression was that he questioned the draconian blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

In August 2017, the Barelvis did not spare the Ahmadis even on Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The Barelvi clerics unleashed a mob in an Ahmadiyya Mosque, close to Islamabad forcing thousands worshipers to flee. Though the National Action Plan (NAP), initiated after the massacre in Army Public School, Peshawar in December 2014, envisaged a comprehensive crackdown on extremist groups across the country, in actuality the action has been taken only against those groups which are anti-Pakistan like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASJW). The NAP had clearly identified Punjab as the epicenter of Islamic extremism, nevertheless the military has prevailed in ensuring that Punjab based jihadi groups continue to flourish and provide jihadis for operations against India. Some of these groups like LeT and JeM now boast off training facilities patterned on the line of a military academy. The training facility of JeM in Bhawalpur is spread over seven acres and has swimming pool and horses for training of jihadis. These groups are of Deobandi orientation and are now increasingly under the global scanner. It is this compulsion, apart from neutralizing the mainstream political parties like PML (N), that has possibly compelled the Pakistani military to have vested interest in the radicalization of the Barelvis.

The bane of Pakistan is the military’s dependence on jihadis for warfare and politics. Juggling various jihadi groups has been a formidable proposition with intense blowback component. The blowback is on account of the fact that the jihadis are trained as per the precepts of Quran, which does not confine the jihadi mission to one particular territory. The Jihadis, steeped in Sunni Islam treat Shias as heretics, thus enemies.  Since, the jihadi attack inside Army Public School on Dec 2014 in which 144 children were massacred , there have been seven attacks suffered by Pakistan, exacting nearly50 lives or more. Of these, five are purely motivated by religious intolerance or hatred. These  are: 30 Jan2015 –Sikarpur Imambargah- 61 Shias killed; 15 May 2015—52 Ismaili Shias killed in community bus; 27 March 2016—74 killed, mostly Christians in Gulshan Park in Lahore; 12 Nov 2016—52 devotees killed in Baloch shrine; and 88 killed in Lal Shah Baz Qalandar in Sehwan. This December began on a bloody note in Pakistan when burqa clad Pakistan Taliban terrorists killed nine students and injured 32 others in Agricultural University hostel in Peshawar even as the city was recovering from  2014 massacre in Army Public School. Helicopters were used for tracking and eliminating the terrorists.

While the Pakistan Army may manipulate jihadi groups on the issue of finality of a religious figure, its own finality is increasingly under doubt…

The Pakistan military-intelligence establishment is increasingly finding it difficult to reconcile the Sunni Wahabi  brand of global jihad philosophy of the jihadis with the imperatives of the strategic objectives of Pakistan.

The present security philosophy of Pakistan is predicated on two major components, i.e. use of jihadis against external enemies, with the military being spared for internal territorial consolidation and manipulation of politics and governance, to steer its foreign policy, strategic and institutional agenda. The military’s shortsightedness many a times results into taking on those very Islamic warriors, whom Pakistan considers as soldiers of Islam. It is these jihadis, whom the military establishment considers dispensable in deference to the admonishments and threats of powers like the US. One Brig Shaukat Qadir (retired), who heads an influential think tankin Islamabad ,said in an interview to ‘Friday Times’ that the Army Chiefs in Pakistan were too scared to admit that they cooperate with the Americans in droning of such uncomfortable jihadi leaders. Some of the leaders who have been droned are 2004 – Nek Mehsud, 2009 – Baitullah Mehsud, 2011 – Illyas Kashmiri, 2013 – Hakimullah Mehsud, 2014 – Omar Khalid, and 2017 – Saifullah Akhtar. One of the reasons that these leaders were bartered away was because they were Pashtuns.

The moot question that arises from the mediatory role played by the ISI between the government and the Tehreek Labaik is: on whose side is the military?  Undoubtedly, the military is on the side of radicals. In fact, this time it has used the Barelvis to corner the politicians. It can therefore been inferred that the Pakistan military as an institution cannot survive without radicals and without radicalizing Pakistan.

It is clear that it is the Pakistan military which decides who is a Pakistani, who deserves Zarb-e-Azb, who deserves NAP, who deserves to be droned by the US and which jihadi tanzims need to be busted. It also decides which brand of Islam needs to be manipulated and when. By siding with Tehreek Labaik, the Pakistan military has clearly demonstrated that it has no tolerance for those, including Ahmadis, because they do not believe in the finality of Prophet. Well notwithstanding the Nobel Laureate and scientist Abu Salam, and the brilliant first foreign minister of Pakistan Zafarullah Khan, the Pakistan military has been served by Ahmadi stalwarts such as Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry (first Chief of Air Staff), Lt Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, Maj Gen Iftikhar Janjua Shaheed (killed in 1971 war), Lt Gen Abdul Ali Malik and many others. In fact, the present Army Chief Gen Bajwa, himself came under attack by the radicals in Pakistan for his remote association with Ahmadiyyas from his wife’s side. What an irony!!!

While the Pakistan Army may manipulate jihadi groups on the issue of finality of a religious figure, its own finality is increasingly under doubt. Since the two major Islamic ideological groups, i.e. the Deobandis and the Barelvis have their source in India, the radical churning in Pakistan is bound to impact on the Indian subcontinent in all its manifestations.

The finality of Pakistan is growing untenable because an Army Chief with three years tenure,  extensions  notwithstanding, can hardly be expected to be a statesman or nation-builder.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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2 thoughts on “Islam in Service of Pakistan Military

  1. That is such a brilliant insight into the backdoor scene as well as the ramifications of what happened. But the irony is that Pakistan continues to be supported in many ways by the western world and strongly so by China. I wonder as to when the modern world will punish Pakistan for their deeds (or misdeeds)!

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