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Pakistan: Has the army learned its lesson?

by Ayaz Amir, 16 November 2013

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The News International, 15 November 2013

Islamabad diary

Is the army happy now? When you play with fire and ride the dragon’s back it’s too much to hope that once you try to get down the fire will not scorch you. For 30 years the army has played at ‘jihad’ and held in a tight embrace elements like the Jamaat-e-Islami, considering them as knights of the faith, ghazis of Islam. Now these same elements have bitten the hand that has fed them for so long.

Nations can disagree with the wars they fight. There was opposition in the United States to the Vietnam War. There was fierce opposition both in the US and the UK to the invasion of Iraq. In Pakistan there is a better appraisal of what the army did in East Pakistan in 1970-71. But no nation with any notion of self-respect or honour insults its soldiers, the way the Jamaat chief has done, and the way that other mufti of the faith, Fazlur Rehman, has done by calling the Taliban dead the righteous dead and insulting the memory of our fallen soldiers by implying that they died on the wrong side of righteousness.

This is a society steeped in religiosity. People here take the concept of shahadat (martyrdom) very seriously. Our army, for the most part, is a peasant army, its strength drawn from northern Punjab and the Pakthtun belt. When our soldiers, officers and men, go into battle they are sustained by the conviction that they are fighting not only for Pakistan but for Islam. When they fall in battle they say, their families say, it is the will of God, fortitude and fatalism going hand in hand…that what will be, will be, it’s all written in the stars.

So for anyone to question their martyrdom, as Munawar Hasan of the Jamaat has done, and for anyone to bestow the title of martyr on their enemies is the greatest insult of all. This is the Jamaat and it’s getting away with it. Just imagine if such a thing had slipped from the mouth of a PPP leader. The Jamaat would have been on the warpath. Since it is the Jamaat, one of our custodians of holiness, the reaction, while strong in some quarters, has not been as intense as it would have been if a ‘secular’ leader had uttered the offending words.

Look also at the crocodile tears of the ruling party, the PML-N, silent for several days after Munawar Hasan’s outburst, not a squeak from its side, and waking up from its meaningful stupor only after the army’s information wing, ISPR, came out with its statement taking the Jamaat amir to task. Only then did PM Nawaz Sharif remember that the fallen dead of the army were the nation’s ‘benefactors’. Thori der kar dee mehrban aate aate.

How well-controlled on this occasion is the anger of our trading classes, a mighty political force in today’s Islamic Republic. No streamers have gone up in Lahore denouncing the Jamaat chief.

If we are not a sick society already we are fast turning into one. If a person can be shot by his own official bodyguard on the false charge of blasphemy – Salmaan Taseer uttered not a blasphemous word – and if his killer can be called a hero of Islam, and if lawyers garland that hero and religious parties hold huge demonstrations in his support, then someone coming from outer space and witnessing what we do would be hard put to testify to our sanity.

But for the army to ponder is this: that much as it may be upset by the anti-shahadat babbling of the Jamaat chief, the peculiar atmosphere prevailing in Pakistan, the winds not just of intolerance but sheer stupidity blowing across the national landscape, have much to do with the army’s own policies and preoccupations. The maulvis and assorted holy fathers were nothing. They were just instruments in the army’s hands. The army showed the way, mapped out the geography of ‘jihad’, and the holy fathers, under army tutelage, became the nuisance that we now see them to be.

Mustafa Kemal at the head of the Turkish army swept away the cobwebs of the past, smashed old superstitions, and created a new nation. Pakistan’s secular elites, led by the army, created new superstitions and instead of taking Pakistan into the future, pushed it back, into the hole in which we now find ourselves.

The holy fathers played second fiddle to the army and the secular elites. And now, to no one’s surprise except ours, the holy fathers, and assorted Munawar Hasans, are in the ideological vanguard and the ruling elites, too scared to take a stand on anything worth fighting for, tremble and quake before the trumpet blasts of the holy right. If this is how they are against paper tigers how do we expect them to perform against the real stuff, the Taliban?

So the question is not whether their holy nuisances, lords of the pulpit and the loudspeaker – the latter once considered an invention of the devil, now first in their list of weapons – will change their stripes. Who cares about that? The question is whether the army is capable of discarding the so-lovingly nurtured shibboleths of the past and changing its thinking.

Before Pakistan can emerge from the mists of obscurantist thinking, before it can put the demons of intolerance and sheer stupidity to rest, it is the army which has to change its spots. If it can’t do that we are doomed. The Republic’s sword-arm is the army. Let there be no doubt about that. Therefore, before Pakistan’s reformation – whether it takes a Luther to bring it about or an Ataturk – the army must reform itself.

The task is not easy. Look even at the ISPR statement. While castigating Munawar Hasan it praises the Jamaat’s founder, Maulana Maudoodi, for “his services to Islam”. What services to Islam? Is this the army’s knowledge of Pakistan’s history? Mauduooi opposed the creation of Pakistan and denounced Jinnah. There is an extensive literature on the subject but let just one quote from Maudoodi’s ‘Muslims and the Present Political Turmoil’ suffice: “Pity! From League’s Quaid-e-Azam down to the lower cadres there is not a single person who has an Islamic outlook and whose perspective on matters is Islamic.”

Al-Qaeda’s ideology has been influenced by Maududi’s writings. The seeds of intolerance and bigotry in the country created by Jinnah were sown by Maudoodi and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Indeed, the Jamaat was the inventor of danda-bardar – lathi-bearing – Islam. The Taliban have gone a crucial step further and become the Janissaries of Kalashnikov-Islam. It’s a difference of degree, not substance. And the army had a hand in these transformations. Not surprisingly, Gen Zia was a fervent admirer of the Maulana and his brand of Islam. And for Pakistan’s passage into the dark ages we know how much we owe Gen Zia. If, oblivious of all this, the ISPR can still bring itself to idolise Maudoodi’s services to Islam then perhaps the time may have come to abandon all hope.

This martyrdom debate has been a good thing. It has helped clarify some matters, unless of course we have lost the ability to think clearly and are past the point of no return. The physician should have a clearer idea of the demons he helped create. But can the physician now heal himself? This is the most important question of all.

Tailpiece: And I had almost forgotten about Mullah Naseeruddin Haqqani. Now what explanation will we give regarding his presence in Islamabad? The skeletons in our cupboards.


The above article from The News International is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use