Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Awaiting the purge

Frequently raised questions in the strategic community these days are: How jehadi is the Pakistani Army? What is the nexus between the milit...

Frequently raised questions in the strategic community these days are: How jehadi is the Pakistani Army? What is the nexus between the military, ISI and jehadi terror groups in Pakistan? These questions have gained greater relevance after the recent attempts on the life of General Pervez Musharraf. Most informed observers in Pakistan believe they were either an inside job or executed with the connivance of Pak Army personnel.

First, let it be clear that soldiers everywhere in the world are generally a religious lot. But these questions pertain to military personnel who are indoctrinated, the religious fundamentalists who believe in using ‘‘jehad’’ to achieve political objectives. They also concern the mindset, military discipline and conduct of soldiers; a regular military force behaving like ‘‘irregulars’’ outside the ambit of international conventions.

At Independence, Indian and Pakistani armed forces were carved out from the same organisation and background known for its valour, military discipline, traditions and ethos. But from its very inception, officers of the Pak Army started transgressing and diluting these traditions by making regular troops work and fight alongside irregulars.

Pakistan used irregulars and terror tactics in its very first operation when its regular army personnel alongwith raiders intruded into Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48. While the government has always claimed that it was not behind these raids and that they were a spontaneous expression of Muslim sentiment following reports of killings of Muslims in J&K, Major General Akbar Khan who organised the initial invasion has revealed different facts in his book Raiders in Kashmir: Story of the Kashmir War 1947-48. He states “…I wrote out a plan under the title ‘Armed Revolt inside Kashmir’. An open interference or aggression by Pakistan was obviously not desirable, it was proposed that our efforts should be concentrated upon strengthening the Kashmiris internally — and to prevent arrival of armed civilian or military assistance from India into Kashmir…” Pakistan followed the same strategy for Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and during the Kargil war in 1999.

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The Islamisation of the Pak Army commenced during General Yahya Khan’s tenure as army chief when he introduced Quran Kwani into his force. Military leaders thereafter started giving Quranic names to their military exercises and quoting from the Quran and Sunnah to urge their troops to fight the Kafir Army (of India). General Zia was the major initiator of Islamic fundamentalism into the army. During his tenure, the ISI started whipping up Islamic passions amongst Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets. They also sought help from Islamic fundamentalist organisations like Jamaat-e-Islami, Tableegh Jamaat, Markaz Dawa-wal-Irshad etc. In the process, the ISI was itself converted. Lieutenant Generals Hamid Gul and Javed Nasir, who headed the ISI during that period, are well known for their fanaticism and proximity to such elements.

The ISI, at the strategic policy and planning level, is officered by regular army officers. There is near total integration between the army and the ISI on crucial matters. Ever since the war between the Soviets and Afghan Mujahideen, the Pak Army with the help of the ISI has been able to gain considerable expertise in planning and conducting integrated operations with jehadi terrorists. Its regular troops and ex-servicemen had been training and fighting alongside jehadis under command and control organisations headed by army officers who would go on deputation to the ISI for a tenure and then return to the army.

During the Kargil war, the Pak Army used a variety of deception measures to depict army regulars as irregulars and Mujahideen in order to maintain the facade that the intruders were “Kashmiri freedom fighters”. But as evidence of the army’s involvement started mounting, Pakistani claims started losing their credibility. By end May 1999, it was clear that almost all intruders belonged to Pak Northern Light Infantry units and other regular troops attached to them, fighting under regular army formation headquarters. On July 16 1999, when Pakistan lamely announced the ‘‘withdrawal’’ of its battered Northern Light Infantry units and attached troops from across the LoC, the fiction of irregulars and Mujahideen lay in tatters.


The Islamisation of army personnel in Pakistan begins when the recruit swears oath on the Shariat. This is followed up by periodic motivation on the basis of Sunni Islam. Troops are frequently subjected to religious tests to raise the level of their religious awareness. They are asked to carry printed pocket cards containing religious instructions.

Most people believe that after 9/11, Musharraf, under pressure from the US, did an about-turn on Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan and consequently Pak Army (and ISI) support to Taliban and other terrorist groups. This is only partially true. Pakistan’s military has continued to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds in order to sustain its proxy war policy in J&K. It has remained soft towards jehadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The military-mullah nexus may have been diluted. But it has not been severed as can be seen from the understanding between the government and MMA over Musharraf’s two hats: as army chief and president.

Will the army in Pakistan move closer to fundamentalism or away from it? That will depend upon its ability to stay away from Pakistani politics, particularly communal politics, and to ban and dismantle all armed jehadi outfits, and purge senior fundamentalist elements within. This is a big challenge before Musharraf and his senior military colleagues. Considering their background, there will be serious doubts about their ability. But there can be no doubts about where the Pak Army will land up, if they don’t succeed.

First published on: 12-01-2004 at 12:00:00 am
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