Time to change: ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah’–by Shiraz Paracha

India centric mindset of the Pakistan military is one of the root causes of Pakistan’s problems. From generals to soldiers most men in the armed forces are paranoid about India and some have racist tendencies, too.

This mindset has developed over the past six decades but is also rooted into the Hindu-Muslim history. Muslims came to the Indian Subcontinent as invaders from the Middle East and Central Asia. Arab invaders did not establish their rule in India but Afghan and Central Asian Muslim conquerors did by founding dynasties that ruled India for nearly 700 years.

Throughout their rule over the vast Indian Subcontinent Muslims had been a minority but their impact on the Indian history and culture has been paramount. Muslim influence changed India in many ways creating new and unique identities as well as frictions. Muslim kept their distinctive identity and did not assimilate in the local culture and thus changed India forever.

The Pakistan military is a victim of nostalgia where it still sees ‘Hindu India’ as a Muslim colony. A section of Pakistani intellectuals, historians and military leaders do not trust Hindus. To them Hindus were collaborators, who had sided with the British and brought down the Muslim rule in India. This fear of Hindu deception is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s obsession with security.

Throughout its history India was invaded by foreign forces. As opposed to their aggressive and violent attackers, Indian Hindus had been mostly pacifist. Some Pakistani military officers interpret the passive Indian character as a sign of Hindu cowardice.

Interestingly, the armed forces of both India and Pakistan are organized along the lines of the British armed forces but some generals in Pakistan behave as heirs to the Central Asian conquerors and view the Indian army as a bunch of inferior warriors. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Pakistan has named its nuclear warheads after Muslim invaders from Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Modern India, however, is no longer a pacifist state. Indians are proud and confident people who see their country as an emerging world power. Perhaps due to the newly found confidence some Indian politicians and a section of the Indian media and intelligentsia ridicule Pakistan.

Rightwing Hindu nationalist parties blame Muslims for the division of their motherland implying that Pakistan is an illegitimate state. The Indian media portray Pakistan as a troubled country that harbors terrorism. The attitude of hard-line right-wingers in India is one cause of strong anti-Indian sentiments in the Pakistani armed forces.

Besides historical and cultural tensions, there are strategic factors that have forced Pakistan to maintain a strong anti-India position.

Pakistan’s agro-based economy depends on an extensive irrigation system that was built during the British Raj. Irrigation canals in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh are fed by rivers that originate in the Himalayan Mountains in the north.

The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan is also a dispute over who controls the rivers’ flow. Mouths of several rivers are located in the Kashmir region and continuing Indian control of Kashmir means Pakistan stays vulnerable.

There are other strategically important locations along the border and gaining control of those positions has caused India-Pakistan conflicts in the past. In 1983, India had occupied Siachen Glacier and in 1999 the Pakistan military had tried to occupy some strategic posts in the Kargil district of Kashmir.   

A major change in the thinking of the Pakistan armed forces occurred during the 1980s. This was the systematic Islamization of the Pakistan armed forces under the leadership of General Zia-ul-Haq. 

Militaries around the world use religion to motivate soldiers. In the U.S proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, U.S military planners encouraged the idea that people of the Book (Muslims and Christians) should fight together against Communist infidels. The United States facilitated the violent and bloody Jihad in every way and brought highly charged mercenaries to Afghanistan from all over the world to wage a holy war against the Soviet troops.

It was that time when the Pakistan Army adopted a new motto: Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah’ (Faith, Piety and Fight in the path of God). And with that a modern army made Jihad its official mission.

Zia-ul-Haq institutionalized religion in the armed forces of Pakistan. His focus, however, was on appearance, dress code and rituals. As military men in Pakistan competed in growing beards and offering prayers during work hours, Indian troops established bases at Siachen Glacier after which General Zia had famously said that at Siachen not a patch of grass grows.

During the 1980s, practice of religious rituals became common in the Pakistani military so was corruption and incompetence. Some commanders were accused of being involved in criminal activities including drug trafficking and arms sales. Generals turned into wheelers and dealers and receiving kickbacks in military deals touched new heights.

Despite being involved in the ‘Afghan Jihad’ and personal businesses military minds in Pakistan maintained hostility towards India as it provided justification of keeping a large and unaccountable military.    

Even after the death of General Zia-ul-Haq in an air crash in August 1988, the military did not change its disastrous course. Some generals came up with concepts of ‘strategic depth’ and exporting militancy.  Despite opposition from Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto the military continued interfering in Afghanistan and trained Kashmiri militants.

Generals such as Mirza Aslam Bag and Hamid Gul argued that after the fall of the Soviet Union all enemies of Islam could be defeated. The experience of the last 21 years, however, proves that exporting and using militancy as a foreign policy tool has failed miserably. Such policies have backfired causing death and destructions in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Some young officers of the Pakistan armed forces are genuinely embarrassed by the growing criticism of the armed forces. One major general of the Pakistan Army asked me recently, “We want to build a soft image of Pakistan”.

I responded to the soft-spoken and cultured gentleman by saying: “Please, replace ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah’ as your motto. A change of motto would be a symbol of a wider change of mind and perception. (To be continued).

Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. He can be reached at: shiraz_paracha@hotmail.com



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