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Home > India > News > Columnists > Sushant Sareen

Pak army and the jihadi's second coming

June 11, 2008

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Pakistan Army has two kinds of officers: nationalist jihadis and Islamist jihadis," says Arif Jamal, a Pakistani scholar at Harvard University and author of the forthcoming book 'Shadow War: the untold story of Jihad in Kashmir'.

According to him, the nationalist jihadis would like nothing better than to snatch Jammu and Kashmir [Images] from India and see India break up. The Islamist jihadis, on the other hand, hate all infidels. They consider the United States as the bigger enemy and see India as a sideshow which can be taken on after they have vanquished the 'Great Satan'. Arif believes that the Islamists are on the ascendant and will eventually replace the nationalist jihadists.

There are many who will view Arif's analysis of the Pakistan army with a great deal of scepticism. But this they will do at their own peril. Just as every bearded, conservatively dressed, non-drinking, five-time namazi is not a terrorist, similarly every clean-shaven military officer, who speaks English with a clipped accent, dresses up immaculately in Western suits, enjoys his whisky and generally follows a liberal lifestyle isn't necessarily a moderate or a liberal.

And yet, a lot of people think that the army Musharraf left is very different from the army he inherited and that the peace process between India and Pakistan has drastically reduced the hostile perception of India among Pakistan army officers.

Alluring as this thought is, it begs the question that if, despite the peace process, officers of the Indian army are not only deeply suspicious of Pakistan but even hostile, how is it possible that the entire officer corps of the Pakistan army has undergone such a radical transformation.

Although mutual animus among officers of the two armies is entirely understandable, there is a big difference between the two armies. The Indian army is firmly under civilian control and cannot even countenance going against the orders of the government. The Pakistan army, on the other hand, is a law unto itself and can easily sabotage any peace initiative that the civilian government in Pakistan might want to take with India.

Among the most glaring failures of General Pervez Musharraf [Images], who before his transmogrification into an 'enlightened moderate' was a nationalist jihadi (he openly defended the terrorist organization Harkatul Mujahideen, held a brief for the Taliban and supported the jihad in Kashmir), has been his failure to purge the Pakistan army of its jihadist leanings.

Perhaps, General Musharraf failed because the jihadi culture is deeply imbedded in the psyche of Pakistan's army, and increasingly its people. Maybe he failed because there were just too many of them in the army and it wasn't prudent to carry out a cleansing operation without risking a putsch. Also hindering the somewhat half-hearted attempts to rid the army of its jihad ethos was the desire to retain the jihad option for achieving strategic goals in the future.

Finally, after his historic U-turns, first on Afghanistan (which riled the Islamists) and then on Kashmir (which would have rankled with the nationalists), General Musharraf had became deeply unpopular and was probably in no position to push through the ideological reforms in the army to the extent he might have liked.

Let alone the entire rank and file of the army, even Musharraf's close associates remain unreconstructed jihadists, totally impervious to any sort of enlightened moderation, much less enlightened national interest. A recent TV interview of Lt Gen Jamshed Kiyani, a former sidekick and now bitter critic of Musharraf, was quite a revelation into the mind of the Pakistan army.

In the interview Kiyani blasted Musharraf for 'slavish subservience' to the US, but conveniently avoided listing Pakistan's options after 9/11. It appeared as though he was dying to blurt out that Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons was a guarantee against any hostile action by the US. Quite obviously, for Kiyani and his ilk (a large tribe, one daresay) nuclear weapons are weapons of use and not weapons of deterrence.

As long as Musharraf was the army chief, the officer corps kept their anger and resentment in check and followed orders of the army chief, even if sullenly. But as soon as Musharraf stepped down as army chief, the restraints and constraints imposed by the Musharraf dispensation seem to have loosened. As a result, there are disturbing signs that both the nationalist as well as Islamist jihad is back in fashion. It is still not quite clear whether this is happening because the new army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, has allowed it to happen or because he has still not been able to establish his authority in the organisation. Whatever the case, it means that the urge for jihad is alive and kicking.

For the moment, however, serving army officers are making politically and diplomatically correct noises and are not coming out openly in favor of jihad. Instead, the lead has been taken by the ex-servicemen many of who held important positions under Musharraf, and who even after retirement never opened their mouths in public as long as Musharraf was the boss.

But with regime change, they have rediscovered their basic, or should we say baser, instincts. They are targeting General Musharraf not because they want to strengthen democracy but because they want a return to the jihadist policies of the 1980s and 1990s. These ex-servicemen are followers of the 'strategic defiance' school, which aims to use jihad as an instrument of foreign and domestic policy under the protective umbrella of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

The big question is whether the report being made by these spent bullets of the Pakistan army will find resonance in the serving officer corps. There is reason to believe that the jihadists have received encouragement from the ambiguous statements that Gen Kiyani has made on Kashmir and the peace moves he has initiated with the Taliban in the Pashtun belt.

For instance, within days of Asif Zardari's interview to an Indian television channel in which he clearly pointed to a radically different approach to solving the Kashmir issue, Gen Kiyani during a visit to the forward areas along the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir seemed to negate Zardari's comments by reaffirming 'the army's commitment to the Kashmir cause in line with the aspirations of the nation'.

The rising incidents of infiltration, repeated violations of the ceasefire along LoC, the re-emergence of jihadi groups who are once again holding public meetings, the re-opening of the offices of these groups, talk of relaxing the ban on some of the jihadi organisations ostensibly to bring them into the political system, and the sudden re-activation of the propaganda machinery to incite Sikhs, all seem to suggest that tensions with India are going to be ratcheted up. This is something that will certainly please the nationalist jihadi lobby in the army, and will even find support from the Islamist jihadis.

Clearly, if Pakistan is once again reverting to the jihadi adventurism of the closing decades of the 20th century, then it will be making a terrible miscalculation. In the past Pakistan had to contend only with India. But the situation today is vastly different. Any adventurism by Pakistan could easily invite the wrath of the world, especially the West. The question is whether the Pakistan army gives in to its jihadi fervour or whether the instinct for self-preservation acquires primacy.

If it's the latter then there is hope for Pakistan. But if it is the former then catastrophe is unavoidable.


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