“He who battles monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster himself, and if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche. The arrest of a serving brigadier and four majors for allegedly having links with banned religious outfit Hizbut Tahrir has been the cause of considerable commotion recently. There are widespread displays of feigned shock at the possibility of linkages between senior army officers and a violence-advocating religious organisation. The expression of horror at this nexus by a person of reasonable comprehension is incredulous. The Islamist tendencies of some in the Pakistan Army have been known and on display for a while now.
The genesis of this religious fervour in the armed forces in general, and the army in particular, is intuitively and easily traced to the Ziaul Haq era and the Afghan war. Admittedly, this is a major contributing factor to the radicalisation of the military, but it is by no means the sole cause. The motto of the Pakistan Army as changed by Ziaul Haq is now, “imaan, taqwa, jihad fi sabilillah” (faith, piety, holy war in the path of Allah). It is interesting to compare this incredibly intense motto with the original unassuming, almost placid, national motto “ittehad, yaqeen aur tanzeem” (unity, faith and discipline). The current motto of the army is blatantly prejudiced and is completely inappropriate as the motto of an army of a nation state. This may seem trivial semantic nitpicking, since who cares about the motto anyway. While that is true for the most part, the primary purpose of slogans and mottos is not to be acted upon, but rather to mould the narrative. And our narrative is quite solidly moulded now. As an example, the implication of the motto is that no non-Muslim is eligible to join the Pakistan Army, or at least join with intellectual honesty since it is theoretically impossible for him or her to live up to or agree with the motto. The Pakistan Army website defines the three components, imaan, taqwa and jihad fi sabilillah, in sufficient detail so as to remove any doubts or aspirations that an infidel may have about joining the army.
The website of Hizbut Tahrir states that its “objective is to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing an Islamic state that executes the systems of Islam”. One can easily mistake this as an excerpt from the Objectives Resolution of the Constitution of Pakistan. Now guess from where the line, “The mission and aim of the momin is martyrdom,” is taken. A reasonable supposition could be the al Qaeda or Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) manifesto. The guess could not be more wrong, since it is from the official website of the Pakistan Army. Hence, the potential succumbing of serving army officers to the propaganda of militant, violent religious-fascist organisations should not be surprising. To put it bluntly, the Pakistan Army has not been commissioned to fight the “holy war in the path of Allah,” but rather to protect the physical frontiers of Pakistan. The army is not being paid a vulgarly large proportion of the budget to pursue the selfish goal of personal salvation, but rather to guard our borders. The phrase “holy war in the path of Allah,” may be a very honourable phrase objectively but its use becomes very tenuous when both sides to a battle are fighting ostensibly in the same path. The academic discussion on precisely what constitutes jihad or not has its place amongst believers, but its place is certainly not the armed forces. The allusion then is that it is a battle over an issue of the interpretation of jihad within the same camp, obscuring the real conflict between civilisation and savagery. My argument is not against personal faith but rather for personal faith, ‘personal’ being the operative word. Furthermore, it is insulting to those of the armed forces who gallantly lay down their lives fighting terrorists and hate-mongers. Our brave soldiers are martyred while fighting a very real, tangible, temporal and existential war, and not in an abstract theological quarrel.
George Bush Jr was widely and rightly censured for making the unbelievably idiotic and hopelessly inexact parallel of the war on terror with the Crusades. Our nation and army are constantly guilty of a similar folly as a collective. It would be slightly unfair to single out the army for this exhibition of prejudice. A provincial chief justice some time ago remarked that only a good Muslim can be a good judge. The primary and, no doubt, unintended result was not a slur at Lord Dennings or Justice Antonin Scalia etc but at the impeccable Justice Rana Bhagwan Das.
Our television anchors and writers are particularly fond of using broad, monolith terms for those outside the fold of Islam. Appealing to Jinnah’s Pakistan may not prove very reassuring. The conflation of religious and national identity begins from Jinnah’s Pakistan, resulting in the fallacy of confusing being a good Muslim with being a good Pakistani. The absurdity extends to negative stereotyping, with the most obvious example being using the word ‘Hindu’ when intending to refer to an ‘Indian’. An example of another semantic battle that is continuing at the moment is the vehemently divergent views on the use of the word maulvi by the president while referring to Nawaz Sharif. The major point of debate is whether the president has desecrated the word maulvi by employing it in an apparently pejorative manner. The specifics of the petty contest are irrelevant; however, the particular term chosen for the inordinate amount of emphasis should be disturbing.
The detailed particulars of the involvement of serving army officers with militant organisations have not been divulged yet, and if past record is anything to go by, probably never will be. However, it is important to realise that every time we use exclusionary, discriminatory religious rhetoric, we are inching towards those very militant terrorists that we seek to fight.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2011.