Pakistan flag on soldier's uniform. Photo: iStock
Pakistan's military has staged what many see as a creeping coup. Photo: iStock

A former Pakistan diplomat has described Prime Minister Imran Khan as “a low-level government employee who is there because the army wanted a ‘face.’” Former diplomat Husain Haqqani’s description of the prime minister is another indication of the real power behind the throne in Pakistan – the army.

The prime minister, after all, is not the first “face” to the outside world the Pakistan Army has given its support to. He will not be the last either. As outrage mounts in India over the attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14 which killed more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, Indian policymakers face public pressure to come up with an adequate military response, and quickly, while fending off calls from the United Nations to “engage with Pakistan.”

But the question really is, who should India engage with? Imran Khan, who Haqqani says cannot make any decisions? Few Pakistan prime ministers have been able to ignore the army and chart their own course. And whenever anyone has tried, the army has cracked down ruthlessly.

Army crackdown

For instance, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was deposed in an army coup, jailed for years and eventually hanged through a dubious judicial process which some commentators described as “judicial murder.”

More than a decade later, the army propped up Nawaz Sharif. This was done by undermining the electoral prospects of the late Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister. She was perceived as a threat, given her family’s background.

Much of the alleged rigging of the 1990 general elections was openly admitted by the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General Asad Durrani by filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But according to a Dawn report, the trial in this criminal case was still stuck even after a lapse of more than two decades and the court’s renewed interest.

On the other hand, the army takes care of its own, like allowing General Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in October 1999. He fled the country despite serious criminal charges pending against him. With many such “violations” by the army, it is important to highlight the fact that in order to deal effectively with Pakistan, India needs to understand the nature of the Pakistan army and its underlying operational philosophy and doctrine.

Experts like Hassan Askari Rizvi, professor emeritus at Punjab University, Lahore, and a defense and political analyst, have said that the Pakistan army has always used religion for mobilization and motivation. The official prayer of the Pakistan Army is the one used by Muslim commander Tariq-bin-Ziyad for motivating his fighters to embrace jihad during the conquest of Andalusia, Spain, in AD 711.

Islamic fundamentalists regard this period as the golden era of Islam and the Spanish campaign as the apogee of Islam’s rapid expansion through jihad.

The prayer reads as:

“These Ghazis, these devoted Souls of Your Lordship,

Whom You have blessed with the zeal of Your worship,

The Legions overcome desert and rivers,

And trample mountains to dust with their fervor,

They care not for the world’s pleasures,

The love of the Lord are their treasures,

The mission and aim of the Momin is martyrdom,

Not the booty of war, nor crave for a kingdom”

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, a four-star general who served as the sixth president of Pakistan, declared martial law in 1977. During his time as president, the Pakistan Army’s motto was officially changed from “Ittehad, Yaqeen, Tanzeem” (Unity, Faith, Discipline) to “Imaan, Taqwa, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah” (Faith, Righteous, Holy Warrior).

The official document titled “Motto of Pakistan Army” released by the government, elaborates and explains the meaning of this new motto as “Faith in Allah, Having Piety and Fear of Allah and Establishing Sovereignty of Allah over man all over the world.”

Concepts like “defending national borders,” “upholding the constitution” or “welfare of the people” are conspicuous by their absence.

And while elsewhere there has been considerable debate on what constitutes jihad – whether jihad is fighting against the evil within or infidel without – the official document is remarkable in that it does not leave much confusion regarding what, in its view, constitutes jihad.

Elaborating on jihad, the document says: “The real objective of Islam is to shift the lordship of man over man to the lordship of Allah on the earth and to stake one’s life and everything else to achieve this sacred purpose.” The ideological framework as conceived in this document has very practical consequences.

Though not a complete picture, it does give a good frame of reference. For instance, this motto requires the Pakistan Army to legitimately seek dominance of Islam globally.

As Saroop Ijaz wrote, this also makes participation of religious minorities in the army practically impossible unless they shun their religious beliefs. It also becomes clear that the army sees itself as deriving legitimacy directly from the fact that it is entrusted with “furthering the cause of the Almighty on Earth.”

Then it raises an important philosophical conundrum. How can it subjugate itself to a constitution written by man or to elected politicians deriving power from such a constitution? It is only natural then that such an institution will provide support to other ‘like-minded’ individuals and groups which are waging jihad against other multicultural societies or their own citizens who they consider as not ‘Islamic enough’.

Analysts like C Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert on South Asia, says the Pakistan army sees the whole of India as a ‘civilizational enemy’ to be fought and destroyed.

Some recent developments have emboldened the army.

It sees America’s desire to draw down from Afghanistan due to battle fatigue of 18 years as a vindication of its jihadi ideology that has defeated two superpowers, the USSR and the US, in Afghanistan. It tacitly supported the election of Imran Khan as prime minister and ensured Nawaz Sharif’s marginalization. The army feels it is again free to devote all its energy and resources to jihad against India in Kashmir and beyond.

Such a rigid and absolute worldview does not leave countries like India with much choice, except to at least prepare for the long haul. India has to keep its powder dry and seek a credible deterrence.

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