JI’s playbook and civilian supremacy

Published: November 12, 2013
The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

One would think, given the quality (or lack thereof) of debate in Pakistan, that everything is either black or white, but nothing could be further from the truth. The deliberately simplistic approaches of ideologues and partisans aside, the social and political life in this country presents us with deep ironies and some of the toughest questions related to the nature of the state, the social-constitutional contract that informs it and its relation to society, the place of religion in it, the impact of that on state and society, how the state is situated in relation to other states and the nature of the global security architecture.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, each of these questions has spawned a huge corpus of literature in political science and sociology. Consider just one issue.

Recently, after a drone strike took out Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, the Jamaat-e Islami Amir, Syed Munawwar Hassan, called Mehsud a martyr. The storm that followed pulled the military into the debate. The Inter-Services Public Relations directorate released a note expressing the military’s deep disappointment over Hassan’s statement.

Hassan and the JI, instead of recanting the statement after this rap on the knuckles, doubled down and said the military’s response amounts to political interference. Not only does the Jamaat stand by his statement, Hassan has also chosen to write a letter to Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif. The ball is now in the military’s court.

Let’s pull back a little and look at this from another perspective. A political party says something the military doesn’t like. The military reacts. The party turns around and tells the military to take a hike. Shear the exchange of its context and see whether we like it or not. For the longest of times, this country’s principal contradiction, to use Mao’s phrase, was the civil-military divide. The army could dictate terms, including of what narrative would dominate, and it could make that stick. Now we have a situation in which a political party can cock a snook at the army without much fear of reprisal.

That is a good development. The principal contradiction seems, for various reasons, to be resolving itself in favour of the civilians.

A deeper irony cannot be missed: the narrative Hassan is using to mock the army is the narrative the state created, developed and honed over many decades and thrust down the throat of this society.

Those of us who have always dreamed of the civil-military conflict resolving itself in favour of the civilians should thank Hassan for standing up to the military, even as the PM went to the Army General Headquarters to pay homage to fallen soldiers. In this formulation, Hassan stands for change, the PM for a status quo that is collapsing but has not collapsed yet.

Those holding an absolutist ideological position on civil-military relations would agree. There will also be time to gloat over the irony mentioned above: good, the army’s chestnuts are in fire now, serves them right.

But there is more than one problem with this absolutism.

The first relates to the JI’s perfidy. It rejects the state by throwing its stock with the leader of a franchise, or call it network, that rejected the state and waged war on it. When the military stands up for the state because the government is too lily-livered to stand up to the Jamaat, the latter turns around and informs us that it is not the military’s business to interfere in politics, a concept as modern as the state they reject for — you guessed it — being a modern nation-state.

Since we invoked Mao’s principal contradiction, let it be placed on record that the concept is not static. The nature of the principal contradiction changes according to the context. This is what Mao wrote in his August 1937 essay, “On Contradiction”:

“… in [a] capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions … are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction.

“In a semi-colonial country such as China, the relationship between the principal contradiction and the non-principal contradictions presents a complicated picture.

“When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes … can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position.”

The question is simple: do we want to take a dogmatic position on civil-military relations and allow Hassan to play his game in the name of the principal contradiction, or should we consider that at this point, the principal contradiction has temporarily shifted, that it is now between those who want to tear asunder the state and those who want to secure it against this assault?

Would it be useful to say that what is happening today is the expression of our follies of yesterday? On my television programme, many politicians, from different parties, take this position. Recently, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has been most vociferous apropos of this line of reasoning.

The principal contradiction today is about conflicting positions on the nature of state and the role of religion in it. The immediate outcome is the question of how the state must operate in the current global architecture. Should we act the way al Qaeda and the Taliban want us to, by waging jihad against the world? Or should we, like China and others, stay within the system and develop our strengths?

Hassan and his ilk would want us to go for a frontal, ‘faith-based’ assault. The realist approach would recommend the latter course.

As for taking positions, despair thyself of simplistic absolutism.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • observer
    Nov 12, 2013 - 11:10PM

    For the longest of times, this country’s principal contradiction, to use Mao’s phrase, was the civil-military divide.

    That was a long time ago.

    Over the last decade or so, it has been the ‘Pious’ v/s ‘Not so Pious’ divide. Just witness the way Gen Musharraf is being hauled over the coals over the Lal Masjid episode, by the ‘Civilians’ at that. Has the Army been able to lift a finger. No, of course not . Not at the cost of appearing any less pious than the ‘Civilians’ in question.

    A deeper irony cannot be missed: the narrative Hassan is using to mock the army is the narrative the state created, developed and honed over many decades and thrust down the throat of this society.

    Was the Zia regime, ‘State’, in the strict sense of the term? Did it have ‘Legitimacy’? Or was it a Junta that had usurped the ‘State’ and subverted it to reach where it has reached?

    Resolving this is essential to understanding the present predicament.

    Should we act the way Al Qaeda and the Taliban want us to, by waging jihad against the world?

    Ah! The ‘J’ question.
    Have a look at the Motto of the Pakistan Army one of these days. Did Al Qaeda/ TTP combine dictate this? Or is there more than what meets the eye?


  • Arifq
    Nov 13, 2013 - 12:13AM

    JI did not agree with the creation of Pakistan as a nation state and continue to propagate the same ideology, pan Islamism. Over the decades, JI leaders have adapted to times and played second fiddle to our military establishment may it be in East Pakistan as AL Badr and Al Shams; 1977 against Bhutto or the eighties fighting Zia ul Haq/Charlie Wilson war. Every passing decade JI has systematically occupied more political space dominating political, religious and social narrative that bought them closer and closer to their ultimate objective, dismemberment of these nation states and establishing a Pan Islamic state ruled by Munawar Hassan/Morsi/Hakeemulla Mehsud or Ayman Al Zawahiri. There are no contradictions Ejaz Sahib, JI/Munawar Hassan have a very clear idea what they want or who is their friend and enemy.


  • Falcon
    Nov 13, 2013 - 12:24AM

    Ejaz Sahab-
    I sometimes feel that you have a knack for over-complicating the simplest of things. You could have explained the issue as well without making elaborate academic references to Mao’s writings. The problem in this situation is not the religious connotation but the fact that JI chose to re-define state’s enemies and friends using a very absurd logic. I am all for civil-military balance, but that does not mean losing sense of right vs. wrong. If I were a soldier, I were ask a simple question: if the person slitting throats on the streets is better in your eyes than me, then why should I sacrifice my life for you?


  • shiraz
    Nov 13, 2013 - 12:41AM

    We need a system where both sides of the spectrum are dealt with sternly..a.k.a China.


  • Observing the observer
    Nov 13, 2013 - 1:05AM

    @observer: Hey observer, you have some nice observations there but, what’s your point?


  • Arindom
    Nov 13, 2013 - 1:29AM

    The army has thrown a few titbits at the civilians who are now elated – like keeping quiet on Musharraf’s plight, not being aggressive on JI statements, etc. But they hold the key of the main powers that matter – like complete hold over Defence, Foreign and Nuclear Policies! Not to speak of Anti-Terrorism Policy! Can any Pakistani PM dare visit any secret nuclear installation today?


  • gp65
    Nov 13, 2013 - 2:05AM

    A very well written OpEd to which @observer’s comment adds a great deal of nuance.Recommend

  • lalai
    Nov 13, 2013 - 2:20AM

    The Jammat-Army rift indicates a breakup in the long standing Mullah-Military alliance. Our media never has the will or capacity to tell us about the what-why and how of this breakup.


  • Babloo
    Nov 13, 2013 - 2:47AM

    The main contradiction is that a country , which is barely holding together , wants to expand into India and Afghanistan.


  • TKhan
    Nov 13, 2013 - 2:56AM

    I sent a very similar comment but perhaps it was considered less politically correct. Indeed, I found the author trying to use a particularly complicated way of expressing his viewpoint instead of saying things more simply. Apparently, the moderator found it offensive for the author.


  • Pmahmud
    Nov 13, 2013 - 3:39AM

    @Arifq:I think you are on right track in pointing out the motivation and timing of JI outburst. They see what is going on in Egypt and Bangladesh and sense great danger. The sister parties in those countries have been decimated by establishments and declared illegal. They think that playing by democratic rules and constitution has not protected them. Their decision to break with army has less to do with TTP but perception that Americans are out to get them.
    Now ball is in establishment court, as to how they handle this situation.


  • Atif
    Nov 13, 2013 - 12:03PM

    Well put, Mr. Haider. I have always appreciated your style of writing and the way you build an argument — even when I do not agree with your conclusions.


  • True Karachiwala
    Nov 13, 2013 - 12:50PM


    I agree with all your comment. Mr.Ijaz unncessarily makes issues remain issues. Army is what it has been all through out history of Pakistan. Here army only demanded a recant from JI.

    Here Mr.Ijaz also forgot to mention one important point. Now army has changed its doctrine of defence.They look inward to defend and stabilize the country, that is why it to a great extent identifies jihadis etc as number one threat to national security. While on the other hand JI is still in Soviet invasion scenario. Where it thinks that USA would also face same result as Russia did, after that Talibaan, Secterian killers and JI itself will try to topple the present government structure and install their version of governance.
    The whole idea and struggle of religious and right wing parties revolves around it.


  • Ali
    Nov 13, 2013 - 1:34PM

    — you guessed it — being a modern nation-state.


  • Ishtiaq
    Nov 13, 2013 - 1:36PM

    I think the core issue brought out in this article is the ‘nature of the state and the role of religion in it’. All our problems stem from this issue and until we address it, many more Munawar Hassans will emerge to mock the very fibre of the state and the society we call Pakistan.


  • Immad
    Nov 13, 2013 - 3:44PM

    You have outdone yourself, Mr Ejaz. Brilliant!


  • Observing the observer who's observing the observer
    Nov 13, 2013 - 6:27PM

    @Observing the observer:

    Seriously? If you don’t get it, don’t bother reading it, Jack.


  • ahmed ali
    Nov 13, 2013 - 8:32PM

    J.I once mouth piece for the military during 1980″s Afghan so called jihad and Kashmir even ignored when Khalid sheikh was discovered in the house of J.I worker house the ideology of J.I is similar to Egypt muslim brotherhood ,now the mullah military nexus crumbling ….or it may be J.I feeling that it is being divorced and army marring PTIRecommend

  • nasrullah
    Nov 13, 2013 - 8:56PM

    Okay nice take…but…Recommend

  • Babloo
    Nov 13, 2013 - 11:47PM

    Taliban is demanding a state , in the name of their Islam, just as Mr Jinnah and Muslim Leaque demanded a state in the name of their Islam.
    What’s wrong with that ?Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Nov 14, 2013 - 12:15AM

    The man from the JI, the political wing of the Islamic outfit has seen the light in the horizon. It has a very large followers of conservative ranks in the army. It is time that the Government act as a secular apparatus to run the affairs in a democracy and let the religious elite sock it out among themselves about the 7th century sharia and the 21st century shariat. The army should return to their comfortable barracks and forget about the narrative of their brass of becoming a martyr upon death. It was wrong to give them the hope of becoming martyrs on the line of control and it is equaly wrong to imagine that in the mountains of the Talibaan territory martyrdom awaits them. Instead they should be told that once they die they are going to stay dead for a very long time.

    Rex Minor


  • Nov 14, 2013 - 1:28AM

    As outrageous and treasonous as the extremist JI’s comments were, revealing a toxic religious nationalist mindset, I would hope this doesn’t totally distract us from some other questions, which I look forward to being addressed in a future article (with less unnecessary complicated song and dance), such as Mehsud’s farmhouse being 1 KM away from a Pak base, in what is considered Haqqani country. Speaking of Haqqani, also addressing the recent Islamabad assassination, revelation of their nice residence in the capital, easily travelling back and forth form Pak to the Gulf for fundraisers and finally the body being easily whisked away for quick burial in the North without a word on any sort of investigation or inquiry.


  • Uza Syed
    Nov 14, 2013 - 2:23PM

    Yaar Ejaz Sahib, no matter how much I dislike you for your ‘elitists’ attitudes, but I must give it to you. You elaborated well the kind of internal conflicts & contradictions that seems to be doing us in, as a nation and Pakistan as a civilized country. By the way, you have got smart ‘Research Assistants’ they do good job, hopefully you pay them well both in terms of money and respect (they deserve). Do you really believe that such serious issues can be taken care through writings in a language few of us really are suitably equipped to read and comprehend ? I sincerely hope that they are doing some good.


  • Rex Minor
    Nov 14, 2013 - 5:48PM

    The Talibans are not demanding a state, since they have one! However, if they are not left in peace, they are capable of overrunning the entire country of Pakistan.

    Rex Minor


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