Foreign Policy magazine published an article concerning Islamic influence in the Pakistani army. While the main points may be controversial, the background section provides some useful historical context. It is excerpted below without comment.
Islam’s Long History in the Pakistani Army
The Pakistani Army has long relied on Islam within the institution. The faith has long served — with varying degrees of success — as a unifying force to supersede ethnic, sectarian, and communal fissures that have long cut through Pakistan’s polity. During the tenure of Pakistan’s second military leader, Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, the Army assumed a new role of defending not only Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty but also Pakistan’s “ideological frontiers.” To defend Pakistan is to defend Islam.
Islam has also served to motivate the Army to fight an enemy that has always been conventionally superior: India. The Army cultivates deep respect for the military value of jihad, which is evident in its professional literature. The Army uses Islam to bolster its will to fight by debasing the enemy. During the 1971 civil war, Yahya Khan motivated his soldiers by declaring the Mukti Bahini (the Bengali guerrillas) to be a kafir army against which the Pakistani Army was waging a legitimate jihad. Brig. Javed Hassan (who retired a major general), while a faculty member at the Command and Staff College in Quetta, authored a study titled India: A Study in Profile. It is required reading at Pakistan’s National Defense University. Hassan argues that India is “less warlike” than Pakistan and attributes India’s military failures to its Hindu characteristics.
Pakistan’s Army likely needs such motivation against a larger, existential nemesis because — though it has started every war with India — it has never won any of them.
With little hope of defeating India on the battlefield, Pakistan has pursued an asymmetric form of warfare consisting of guerrilla and terrorist attacks under the security of its creeping nuclear umbrella. The Pakistani Army and the intelligence agency it controls (the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI) have long instrumentalized Islam to prosecute Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and India, using a bevy of Sunni Islamist militant groups and other means to keep the country’s enemies off balance.
Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who seized Pakistan’s government in a coup in 1977 and ruled until his mysterious death in a plane crash in 1988, was most notorious in efforts to Islamize the Army. He permitted religious groups to distribute their materials to the rank and file and officers alike. Under Zia, Islamic training was introduced in the curriculum of the Command and Staff College, which provides important training for promising officers of the captain or major rank. South Asia scholar Stephen P. Cohen found long ago that the Army’s professional journals contained numerous essays that studied the question of Islamization of the military and the degree to which the Pakistani Army should achieve greater adherence to Islamic principles. Pakistani military analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi has noted that Zia’s orthodoxy changed recruitment and retentions patterns by ensuring that piety was a part of an officer’s evaluation.
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