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Old Wednesday, May 11, 2005
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Default Mulla, the Military's Genie Now Out of its Master's Control

Mulla, the Military's Genie Now Out of its Master's Control

By I A Rehman

LAHORE, April 16: One of the reasons that people have difficulty in
comprehending General Pervez Musharraf's rhetoric about promoting
'enlightened moderation' and combating religious extremism is the fact
that the military and the mullah in Pakistan have become extremely
close allies, with each drawing sustenance from the other.

The bonds that unite them are rooted in their shared interests: both
reject democracy except for using the electoral process to capture
power or to legitimize usurpation of authority; both have nearly
always displayed a lack of understanding of the federal principle;
both repudiate women's claims to equality with men; and both have
difficulty in conceding patriotic conduct to non-Muslim citizens.

This understanding between the two sides has evolved over a long
period. All military formations derive strength from one dogma or
another. However one may define the role of the military in the
affairs of a community, the most essential fact is that anyone who
joins the military knows that he is in the business of killing or
getting killed. Neither prospect can be entertained with equanimity
without a strong belief in the military's mission. This belief may be
derived from nationalist ambitions or political ideology but the
strongest motivation usually comes from religious belief.

The armed forces of Pakistan inherited a considerable number of values
from the British, but they had to look for a new motivation. The
belief that drove South Asian natives to risk their lives for causes
assigned to the British Indian army had several components. Acceptance
of the white man's right to civilize the savage created the basis of
loyalty which could cut across even religious affiliations, as became
evident when our soldiers did not hesitate to fight against the
keepers of holy places during the First World War.

Moreover, membership of the military forces brought privileges not
available to their compatriots. For instance, servicemen were counted
among notables and ex-servicemen had the right to vote even if they
did not fulfil educational or financial criteria for eligibility. The
last Unionist premier of the Punjab sought independent status for his
province as a reward for the services rendered by soldiers and drew up
a five-year plan largely to meet the economic needs of demobilized
troops. The British were careful to avoid interfering with the
religious sensibilities of Indian soldiers and put greater store by
the ethnic, caste, or linguistic bonds for bringing together soldiers
subscribing to different religious codes.

One doesn't have to catalogue the extraordinary privileges the armed
forces have enjoyed in Pakistan, and the privileges multiply year
after year. However, in the post-independence period, the military had
problems defining its belief. The nationalist sentiment was in its
infancy and the defence of the new state against threats from India
was never considered sufficient motivation to lay down one's life
because commitment to the homeland could not grow without a long
experience of a mutually beneficial relationship.

There was an element of revanchist thinking born out of the forced
adoption of the exploits of Arab and Turkish armies in various
theatres of Muslim soldiery in India. These memories nearly always
evoked religious emotion because most of the Muslim commanders
operating in South Asia invoked divine sanction, even when the enemy
also displayed an Islamic banner. Religion easily became the battle
cry of the armed forces in Pakistan. Even Ayub Khan, considered in
many quarters as a secular commander, fell back on the religious
slogan when the 1965 conflict with India began. The literature and
music related to the conflicts the Pakistan army has faced are
saturated with religiosity.

Pakistan's decision early in its life to join the western camp in its
aggressive confrontation with the socialist bloc, tended to strengthen
the pro-religion trends in the armed forces. In the beginning it was
considered enough to protect the armed forces against exposure to
progressive (condemned as leftist) ideas and disallow the entry of
books and other publications containing such material in the military
establishments but later on it was considered necessary to strengthen
the religious bias among both officers and men by circulating texts by
religious writers or publishing anti-socialist literature through a
state-run book club.

Persistent indoctrination apart, the drift of the armed forces towards
a religious ideology has been helped by two important factors. First,
the policy of reducing, and in some cases blocking the entry of
non-Muslims into the officer ranks has made for a more rigid and
intolerant outlook on human beings in general.

Secondly, the replacement of rural-based peasant stock in the officer
ranks of armed forces by lower middle class and middle class urbanites
gave the conservative elements of society a dominant role in the
services. Unlike their rural predecessors, who pursued mundane
material interests, these urban recruits brought to the services the
religious opportunism of their class.

Ayub Khan is often credited with allowing the mess-culture evolved
under the British to continue. This is only partly true. A more
important fact is that his policy of suppressing democratic political
activity created a big opening for the clerics to encroach upon
political space.

Consequently, at the end of Ayub's dictatorship, the religious parties
could lay claim to power on their own strength, but no political
party, with the possible exception of the Awami League and National
Awami Party, could do the same without inscribing some form of
commitment to religion in its manifesto in a manner not done
previously. However, it was General Zia-ul-Haq who raised the
conservative clerics to the position of real contenders for power.

The steps taken by him to cement the military-cleric alliance included:

- Grant of generous facilities for the opening of religious
seminaries, while restricting the growth of institutions of
traditional education.

- Creation of space for clerics in the legislatures, the bureaucracy
and the judiciary.

- Evolving a clumsy theory about the armed forces being defenders of
the country's ideological frontiers.

- Making promotion to senior ranks in armed forces subject to one's
demonstration of qualities the Martial Law Chief considered essential
in a holy warrior. The condition remained in force for almost a decade
and produced officers who saw no harm in the Talibanization of Pakistan.

- And, above all, General Zia nearly completed the state's
transformation from an imperfect democracy in the western mould into a
theocratic state.

What the military did to raise the political clout of the conservative
forces during 1999-2002 is history in the making. The most dangerous
thing about the military's alliance with conservative, quasi-religious
elements, from the point of view of the people of Pakistan, is that
while the military has played a dominant role in strengthening the
latter, in the long run it may not be the principal beneficiary of the

The military is unlikely to succeed in converting the cleric while its
defenses against the latter are so weak. The example of the genie
becoming independent of the hands that enabled it to come out of the
bottle fits the situation that Pakistan faces today so well that it
seems the fable was authored exclusively for Pakistan.

- Courtesy Newsline, Karachi

The writer is a well known Pakistani journalist and Human Rights
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