The military brass who have begun to embrace the jihadis may have other interests in mind, as well. For instance, Pakistan’s military has been in power, or directing those in power from its headquarters, since the late 1950s. The military brass has traditionally come from landholding families and upper-income groups. In the earlier days, the officers functioned as a close-knit group and had no direct rapport with the majority of the Pakistani population. More recently, the Islamisation of the military has brought those in the higher echelons of power closer to the less privileged section of the society. In other words, the jihadis have helped establish a direct channel between the military brass and a significant section of Pakistan’s population.
“¦tons of money had come in from Saudi Arabia with a distinct motive to spread the most orthodox form of Sunni Islam””Wahhabism, the state religion of Saudi Arabia””and thus secure a permanent stake within the Pakistani military.
The Islamisation process began in the late 1970s, gaining momentum in the 1980s after the now-defunct Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979. It is widely known by now that the West and Saudi Arabia, among other Arabian nations, put their military and financial muscle together to defeat the “Godless” Bolsheviks. Thousands of hard-core criminals and Islamic zealots from Arabia, Maghreb, Africa and Britain were brought in to serve in Afghanistan. They were armed and trained with the help of the Pakistani military. It was a free-for-all time. Anyone who wanted to fight the Soviets was welcome.
It was during that period that Islamisation of the lower- and middle-level cadre within the military became Pakistan’s unspoken state policy. Because the world learns about Pakistan from what the Western media chooses to print and from the Pakistani English-language media, which is controlled by English-speaking locals who deliberately skirt the issue, the Islamisation process within the Pakistani military was never widely discussed. At the time, of course, it was against the Western nations’ interest to expose such a phenomenon since both London and Washington, two major promoters of Pakistan in the 1980s against the Soviet Union and its sympathisers, were busy using the Pakistani military to deliver a death blow to the communists. According to London and Washington, the primary goal during the Cold War days was to topple the “evil Soviet empire” and raising doubt about the religion, caste or creed of or respect for the rule of law among those who picked up weapons in support of the West was out of the question. In fact, Washington considered all who were actively engaged in bringing down the Soviet Union as “liberators” and had no interest in disturbing them or judging their other acts.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and currently a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, described the White House’s dealings with Pakistani heads of state in those days in his latest book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad. ”. . . Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis to keep his friends in Pakistan’s army in power, a strategy that ultimately failed,” Riedel writes. “Ronald Reagan entertained Zia-ul-Haq even as Zia was giving succour to the Arab jihadists who would become al-Qaeda. George W. Bush allowed Pervez Musharraf to give the Afghan Taliban a sanctuary from which to kill American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.”
“¦although Pakistan came into being in 1947 as the most populous Muslim nation on the planet, “the debate over its national identity has neither been conducted democratically nor concluded.
At the same time, it is likely that some Pakistanis were aware of the Islamisation process. However, Pakistan’s English-medium newspapers and their editors, who stayed in a state of denial for decades and have just begun to emerge as critics of Islamisation, perhaps considered what was going on at the time to be merely a passing phase. Perhaps they believed that the United States and Britain, whom they saw as two of the strongest pillars of democracy in the world and hell-bent against theocratic states, would eventually put a stop to the Islamist takeover of the Pakistani military.
Meanwhile, tons of money had come in from Saudi Arabia with a distinct motive to spread the most orthodox form of Sunni Islam—Wahhabism, the state religion of Saudi Arabia—and thus secure a permanent stake within the Pakistani military. Again, wittingly or unwittingly, the West turned a blind eye to this development and doggedly pursued its principal goal, the devolution of the Soviet Union. Naturally, very few observers outside of Pakistan could get an in-depth understanding of this slow but steady process.
The Thin Veneer of Islam
Following the birth of Pakistan in 1947, the Pakistani army, like the nation itself, had only a thin veneer of Islamic identity. As Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington, DC, points out in his article “Pakistan’s Army: Fighting the Wars Within,” although Pakistan came into being in 1947 as the most populous Muslim nation on the planet, “the debate over its national identity has neither been conducted democratically nor concluded. It has also yet to craft a stable political system that establishes the supremacy of the civil over the military, as envisioned by its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam. Although the Muslim way of life was a motive behind the call for Pakistan, its early political leadership did not give it an Islamic blueprint for its political development or goals. The reason for this was that the movement for Pakistan was less an Islamic movement and more a movement by Indian Muslims to seek greater social and economic opportunity for themselves.”
Nawaz, who was once with the New York Times and Pakistan Television’s news and current affairs division, continues, “The Pakistan Army, the largely Muslim rump of the British Indian Army, too, was saddled at birth with this paradoxical identity: the symbols of Islam but the substance of a colonial force, quite distant from the body politic of the fledgling state. It adopted, for instance, the number 786 for the identification of its General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. In Islamic numerology, 786 represents the Arabic Bismillah IrRahman IrRahim, the invocation that Muslims intone at the start of any action or venture of note. This numerical code was emblazoned on all gate posts and vehicles, as a reminder that this was the army of a Muslim country. And for its badge, it chose two crossed swords holding up an Islamic rising crescent and a five-pointed star against a green background.
Many of the Islamisation problems that Pakistan is encountering now grew out of the actions taken and alliances made by General Zia.
“But the Islamic identity was at that stage only in name. The senior echelons of the Pakistan Army at its birth were still British officers who had opted to stay on, and they were succeeded by their native clones, men who saw the army as a unique institution, separate and apart from the rest of civil society and authority. This schism between the cantonment and the city pervaded the army’s thought processes and seemed to guide as well as bedevil the military’s relationship with the civilian sector in Pakistan.”
There is no evidence that Shuja Nawaz’s observations are anything but accurate. When, then, did the Islamisation of the Pakistani army begin in earnest? According to Stephen P. Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution, though Pakistan’s military shifted in an explicitly Islamic direction under Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, the army actually began Islamising under Bhutto. “Zulfikar himself ordered alcohol removed from the mess,” Cohen says, “and one of the reasons that he picked Zia as the army’s chief of staff may have been that Zia was seen as a pious general.” It is also to be noted that in the preamble to Pakistan’s 1973 constitution, it was clearly stated that Islam would underwrite the law of the land. This was nothing less than a mandate for the state to instrumentalise Islam. This mandate was confirmed in Article 227, which categorically stated that all legislation would conform to Islamic injunctions. However, the actual infiltration of devout Islamists into the lower rungs of the armed forces began following the 1977 coup led by the Pakistani chief of armed services General Zia ul-Haq against the elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The arrival of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq at the helm of Pakistan as the chief martial law administrator (CMLA) was a watershed. A devout orthodox Muslim who belonged to a nonwealthy family, Zia set about quickly to exploit his religious piety to bring about a change within the military. Many of the Islamisation problems that Pakistan is encountering now grew out of the actions taken and alliances made by General Zia.
There is evidence that in the pre-Zia days, the Pakistani military did not have a smooth and seamless relationship with Pakistan’s Islamic parties. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross points out in his article “Fixing Our Pakistan Problem” (Journal for International Security Affairs, 7 July 2008) that General Mohammad Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military ruler, displayed hostility toward the religious parties. Ayub Khan wrote in his diary in 1967 that “[t]he mullah regards the educated Muslims as his deadliest enemy and the rival for power,” adding that “we have got to take on all those [mullahs] who are political mischief-makers.”
Zia devoted particular attention to changing the culture of Pakistans military.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became prime minister in 1973 following the separation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan, inherited a military that had failed to keep Pakistan in one piece. Bhutto, who believed he was insulated from a military coup, seized the moment and broadened the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) branch by creating an internal wing. An ambitious politician, Bhutto was keen on bolstering his own political power, and his personal leadership had a paranoid strain. Gartenstein-Ross says Bhutto wanted the ISI to conduct surveillance on friends and foes alike and the agency kept dossiers on a range of figures. Ironically, the internal wing that Bhutto helped create later played a role in the military coup that toppled him from power in July 1977.
The Rise of Zia ul-Haq
That coup brought to power General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who quickly pushed Pakistani society, and the military, in a more religious direction. Zia’s devout Deobandi background and religious zeal translated into the adoption of overtly Muslim public policy positions, as well as the government’s imposition of Islamic norms and customs—changes that began immediately after the coup.
In his article, Gartenstein-Ross cites one observer who noted in early 1979 that a “general Islamic tone pervades everything.” According to this observer, “a state enterprise advertises for a manager ‘who should be a God-fearing and practicing Muslim.’ Floggings were common. Television was greatly changed — to the accompaniment of public protest in the letters-to-the-editor column of the newspapers. Total closure of eating and drinking places between sun-up and sunset marked Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and no tea was served in business establishments or offices, private or public. . . . On December 2 [of 1978] (the first of Musharram, the beginning of the Hijri year 1399) came the long-promised announcement of the first steps toward Islamisation of the laws on theft, drinking, adultery, and the protection of freedom of belief.” Zia’s government created Sharia courts to determine the religious legitimacy of all laws and invalidate those deemed improper. The government simultaneously tried to create an “Islamic economy” that was free of interest.
“¦some of the changes to the organisational culture of Pakistans military pushed by Zia were put into practice on the battlefield. The ISI would grow exponentially during this period, and important relationships between Pakistani officials and Islamic militants would develop.
Zia devoted particular attention to changing the culture of Pakistan’s military. His reforms went beyond Bhutto’s nascent changes in three major ways. First, military training came to include Islamic teachings. For example, officers were required to read S. K. Malik’s The Quranic Concept of War and a Directorate of Religious Instruction was created to oversee the Islamic education of the officer corps. Second, religious criteria were incorporated into the promotion requirements for officers and into their promotion exams. Many skilled officers with secular outlooks were passed over for promotion, while officers with conservative religious outlooks reached top levels of command. Third, Zia reinforced these policies by mandating formal obedience to Islamic rules within the military. He required not only that soldiers attend Friday congregational prayers at regimental mosques but also that the fighting units bring mullahs with them to the front lines.
At the same time that Zia was implementing these policies, the demographics of Pakistan’s officer corps were naturally shifting. The first generation of officers came from the country’s social elites, frequently educated in English-language schools, while the rank and file of the new junior officers came from Pakistan’s poorer northern districts. Journalist Zahid Hussain, in his book Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam (Columbia University Press, 2007) notes that “[t]he spirit of liberalism, common in the ‘old’ army, was practically unknown to them. They were products of a social class that, by its very nature, was conservative and easily influenced by Islamic fundamentalism.”
Gartenstein-Ross said that Zia’s policies, coupled with the demographic shift in the junior officer corps, moved the military toward a more religious and more fundamentalist, direction. This new direction was also aided by external circumstances. Soon after Zia came to power, the Soviet Union, ostensibly threatened by Islamic rebels in its own underbelly, invaded Afghanistan. This invasion would prove fateful for the Soviet Union and a bonanza for the Islamists within the Pakistani army. In addition to imposing great costs on the Soviet Union, that in the view of some analysts contributed directly to its collapse, the invasion spurred the U.S. and Pakistan to support anti-Soviet mujahideen. Thus, some of the changes to the organisational culture of Pakistan’s military pushed by Zia were put into practice on the battlefield. The ISI would grow exponentially during this period, and important relationships between Pakistani officials and Islamic militants would develop.
The 1971 defeat had a heavy impact on the soldiers and officers, and it continued to resonate within the militarys educational and training institutions for many years afterwards.
But Umer Farooq, in his article “Islam in the Garrison” in the 16 August 2011 edition of Dawn, argues that to designate Zia as the only one responsible for putting the military on the path of Islamisation would be too simplistic. “There were other forces influencing the military and shaping the minds of its troops. Analysts point out, for instance, that several army officers posted to the Arab states around the Persian Gulf in 1970s and 1980s came back heavily influenced by an orthodox interpretation of Islam. They invariably rose to occupy prominent positions in the military hierarchy under Zia. Many more officers came under religious influence as they worked directly with the Islamic-inspired mujahideen fighting in Afghanistan against Soviet-backed communists. Analysts say that Afghan jihad became a source of inspiration for young army officers who saw it as a victory of Islam against an infidel superpower. Along with the 1979 revolution in Iran, which was led by religious leaders, these developments deepened religious influence among the Pakistan army’s officer corps.
“This coincided with another shift,” Farooq argues, citing Saeed Shafqat, an eminent analyst of civil-military relations in Pakistan. The urban middle classes replaced the so-called martial races of Punjab in the officer corps after the defeat in the 1971 war. By the mid-1980s, urban middle classes were dominating the army. The 1971 defeat had a heavy impact on the soldiers and officers, and it continued to resonate within the military’s educational and training institutions for many years afterwards. “The belief that we were defeated in the war because we were not good Muslims was widespread,” says Shafqat. “Islam started to dominate the training and educational activities in the military after 1971,” he adds.
“All this led to an upsurge in religious activities within the army,” writes Farooq. Individual officers were used to organise zikr meetings, and Zia’s immediate successor as army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, continued these policies according to Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based historian of civil-military relations in Pakistan. When General Asif Nawaz Janjua took over as the chief of army staff (COAS) in 1991, he tried to put an end to the official sponsorship of religious activities in garrisons. “He introduced changes in the functioning of the army. He spoke about reviving professionalism in the army,” says Rizvi. But those who followed Janjua made no serious attempt to revive professionalism.