Share this Post
Islamization of the Pakistan Army is of significant concern to the National Security of the United States. Success in the United States’ campaign against global terrorism rests in large part with the fate of Pakistan. Many actors are at work within its borders to turn that nation and its army decisively against the United States and its interests in the region. Understanding these forces will allow American decision and policy makers to identify risks to the status quo and help mitigate threatening outcomes of Pakistan’s internal struggles. This essay first defines the history of those risks and the significance behind them.
Islamization of the Pakistan Army has been occurring in some form since its birth in 1947. The nation was founded on the unity of a common religion. This religious identity was ingrained in the Army as a way of distinguishing itself from its Hindu counterpart. Officials accomplished this in superficial ways initially.
In its early years, the Pakistan Army was very proud of its ability separate religion from the conduct of its internal business. Initially, the Pakistan Army’s actions were characteristic of a capable conventional military force, focused on preservation of the nation. The promotion of officers was based solely on their leadership ability and understanding of the art of war.
Military organization and structure was left unaffected through the first 30 years of its existence, despite the Army’s reliance on Islamists and Militant Islam to affect both foreign and domestic issues. Since then the institution has gone through change, at times significant change, which began to alter the way the Army operated. More important, this change has affected the mindset of the officers and soldiers of the organization.
Shortly following the creation of the state, the Pakistan Army realized that they were the disadvantaged force when engaging in direct conventional conflict with the massive Indian Army. Starting with the First Indo-Pakistan War in 1947, the Pakistan Army used Militant Islamists as a weapon against the Indian military. The Army used Islamist rhetoric to mobilize Pashtun tribesmen from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and urged clerics to issue fatwas ordering their clans into Kashmir. This was the beginning of the perpetual patron-client relationship between the Pakistan Army and Militant Islamists.
The Army, much through its own devices, was the only stable and reliable official body within Pakistan. This sense of acting as the nation’s saving grace conditioned the officer corps to preserve that status. General Ayub Khan, the first native Army Chief of Staff and eventual military head of state after a coup in 1958, used Islamic rhetoric freely. He used it to undermine the two prominent parties in East and West Pakistan, the Awani League and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who he saw as a threat to the domestic authority of the Army. During The Second Indo-Pakistan War in 1965, the military used Islam-charged language to solidify the nation behind the liberation effort of Kashmir.
General Yahya Khan, Ayub Khan’s successor, maintained the policy of using Islam as a means to affect internal issues in favor of consolidating national power under the Army. Aside from continuing secretly to support Islamist movements against the populist parties, Gen. Yahya Khan unleashed Deobandi mujahedeen against his own citizens in East Pakistan. He and his generals cited the conflict as a jihad against liberal forces whose aim it was to divide the country. The result of Pakistan’s slaughter of its own people was Indian interference on behalf of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.
As seen by the example of these two generals, Islamic discourse was used to maintain power and more important, as an attempt to maintain the integrity of the nation. One of the Army’s brigadier generals had noted that the Army’s leading officers often sounded like ‘high priests rather than soldiers’ as they urged their men and society to strive for the ‘security, solidarity, integrity of the country and its ideology’. The constant bombardment of this monologue slowly started to seep into the soldiers and society’s psyche. This coupled with the sense of desperation that followed the unproductive 1965 war and the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, caused the Army and mainstream politicians to focus on Islam as the way to solve the nation’s problems.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the PPP led the nation as it moved to discover its new identity after the East-West split. He coined the term ‘Islamic Socialism’, and used Islamic principles to confront the challenges of his time. Bhutto tried to align the nation closer to its contemporaries in the Middle East, inviting clerics to visit Pakistan and hosting the Organization of Islamic Conference in 1974. His ultimate appeasement of the Islamist bodies in Pakistan was the enactment of a constitutional amendment declaring the moderate Ahmadi faith of the Qadiani people as non-Muslim. Despite his attempts to assuage conservative forces pitted against him, Bhutto fell by the same means as the first president of Pakistan, at the hands of his generals.
The Army seized power once again on the premise that it is best suited to lead the nation. Bhutto’s Army Chief of Staff, General Zia-ul Haq, led a military coup against his president after inciting Islamist parties to undermine Bhutto’s popularity. Seizing power, he set out upon his plan to establish a true Islamic system of government. Like senior Army officers before him, Zia used Islam to affect issues outside the military. However, he also implemented fundamental changes in the Army by introducing Islam into several aspects of the way it operated. This was the first time that Islam had official capacity in the military.
General Zia’s first move as the army chief was to change Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s original Army motto from ‘Unity, Faith, and Discipline’ to ‘Faith, Piety, and Jihad for the sake of Allah’. This move along with the declaration that he, the top Army official and leader of the nation, was a ‘soldier of Islam’, established the mindset that the Army was to embody. It was a further step in the changing of the mentality of soldiers in the military.
Zia introduced two functional changes in the Army that had a profound impact. He incorporated religious evaluation into the performance reports of officers at every level. Zia also opened the doors of the military academies and training centers to Deobandi proselytizing groups. These actions allowed the introduction of radically conservative ideology into the Army’s culture and provided a method upon how to evaluate the acceptance and practice of these ideals.
In addition to the changes affecting the atmosphere in the military, soldiers were recruited from a society that was simultaneously being impregnated with Deobandi madrassas that sprung up on virtually every street corner. Widespread Islamist sentiment was being fueled by the Afghan-Soviet war. American and Saudi funding coupled with homegrown support for the mujahedeen seated Islamic ideals further into the minds of Pakistanis, citizens, and soldiers alike.
Following Zia-ul Haq’s death after his 11 years of rule was a period of chaos. The effects of the toxic combination of weapons, narcotics, and poor economic state drew the Islamists and their advocacy for Sharia Law into favor with the public. The Army chose to deal with the abundance of jihadis by projecting these entities outward to stabilize war-torn Afghanistan and destabilize Indian Kashmir. The common Pakistani and soldier saw these fighters and their ideology as protector of the state, and more important, of Islam.
General Musharraf’s coup in the autumn of 1999 was in response to the decade of chaos and prevented a vote that would have implemented Sharia Law into Pakistani society. The coup also put a temporary hold on the Islamization of Pakistan and its Army. He championed the phrase ‘enlightened moderation’ and began several reforms to roll back the effects of the previous 20 years. Musharraf’s government outlawed several militant groups, began a madrassa registry, and purposed reformed curriculum for Islamic education. These measures initially had effect, but the government failed to see much of it through. The NATO invasion of Afghanistan and Musharraf’s support for the United States’ war against the Taliban caused an ever-widening schism between the government, the Pakistani people, and the Army. Finally, Musharraf’s government became so unpopular that he was forced to step down in 2007. Where the nation ended up was far from where its founding father had intended.
Over the 65-year history of the nation, the vision that Muhammad Ali Jinnah had for the nation of Indian Muslims has evaporated. He advocated for a tolerant democracy that promoted diversity and debate in its society. Events that followed partition slowly smothered the chances of Jinnah’s vision surviving. The nation has existed in a constant state of crisis since birth. Those outside a narrowing view of Islam have been marginalized, and in some cases targeted. Mistrust is pervasive in society, and growing conservatism is subduing the mainstream. The Army is not immune to these events.
Modern recruiting strategy has exposed the Army to these woes of society. The Pakistan military has been purposefully recruiting from a more diverse group over the past 10 years. In 2001, a 10-year targeted recruitment policy was put into place that sought to bring the demographics of the officer corps into line with that of society. This effort, coupled with an already existing affirmative action program on admittance to the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, is exposing the Army to a much broader range of society coming from areas outside the Punjab province. This is another avenue that welcomes further introduction of Militant Islamist Ideology into the Army.
Of much greater consequence the Army is being asked to attack its own citizens. The tribesmen they are currently at war with inside the FATA are the same heroes that they supported throughout their history. South Asian Muslims regarded these fighters as defenders of Islam and the independence movement long before partition. Many members of the military see this fratricide as appeasement of the American paymasters. Senior Army leaders always have mustered popular support for the Militant Islamists too. Pakistani society is unable to switch its perspective of these age-old champions of the Muslim nation. General officers even have been caught actively promoting Militant Islamist Ideology within their organizations. If it reaches that high, it cannot be unheard of in the mid- and lower ranks.
American drone and Special Operations incursions into Pakistan have pushed the needle further away from moderation and affinity toward the West too. These actions, though fruitful when assessed at the tactical level, have further provoked Islamists to speak out against the United States and Pakistan Army operations perceived to be in support of American interests. Even moderate Pakistanis are outraged by the violation of Pakistani sovereignty. This common sentiment leads to empowerment of the Islamist platform and message.
Several facets of United States National Security are placed at risk by these factors and trends. Of paramount concern is the loss of dialogue with the Pakistan Army. Military relations always have been the consistent line of communication between the United States and Pakistan. Both nations have understood that each benefits from the relationship. However, as Islamist sentiment permeates through the ranks, and as the Army realizes they can get what they need out of their relationship with the Chinese, the door into affecting one of the most volatile regions in the world will close for the United States. This loss of communication will equate to loss of situational awareness regarding the following concerns, which have dramatic second and third order effects.
The largest risk to United States National Security, and global security, is over the disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Islamization of the organization from the top down obviously would be a colossal challenge, and likely create a conundrum similar to the United States and Iran with Pakistan’s added reputation of nuclear weapons technology proliferation. This aside, the more likely and dynamic problem would be if a group of mid-level officers conspired to release or sell warheads to militant groups. The international community has criticized the Army for low standards of protecting their facilities. A more organized and deliberate action resembling the attacks on airbases in Karachi and Kamra, which were suspected to have had insider help, could lead to the compromise of nuclear weapons or material.
Relating to the previous concern is the increased likelihood of another conflict with India. An Islamized Pakistan Army would lose any inhibition from engaging in asymmetric warfare with its neighbor. A drawn out conflict employing terror tactics like the attacks in Mumbai, or attacks on the governing body, similar to those against the parliament, is a war that Pakistan could win against India. This would have destabilizing effects on the most populous region in the world.
An Islamized Pakistan Army would likely undo 13 years of American efforts in Afghanistan as well. Islamabad already has its suspicions about the Karzai government and its intentions. The Pakistan Army, and more particularly the ministry for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has supported militant groups working against ISAF throughout the entire conflict. It is a possibility already that the Army will again support a Taliban takeover of Kabul, this time to remove a perceived US puppet government. More Islamic sentiment in the Army would make this more likely to occur.
Finally one of the most likely turn of events is that once NATO leaves the area, Afghanistan and Pakistan will again become places that jihadis can freely roam. Pakistan has already been labeled as the world’s global breeding ground for jihad. This reputation was earned over the past decade with the advent of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror. However, the ground work for this had been laid over the past three decades.
The CIA, ISI, and the Pakistan Army worked to establish the Afghan support structure in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPP - formerly known as the North West Frontier Province). This structure consisted of weapons distribution, medical support, integration of Afghans refugees in the local community, and the spread of poppy farming like wildfire to raise even more funding. The most potent and lasting form of assistance given was the mass establishment of madrassas whose sole purpose was to raise local support for the war and fighters to enlist for the mujahedeen.
This structure still exists in mass throughout the KPP. It existed happily throughout the ‘90s, festering into a global jihad effort that would achieve notoriety in the 2000s. Despite Musharraf’s efforts to eliminate it, his actions and the NATO war in Afghanistan have caused the sentiment to spread like pandemic influenza. Under the umbrella of an Islamized Army controlling the nation, Militant Islamists will thrive and spread, again achieving the capability to steal the spotlight on the grand stage.
The continued Islamization of the Pakistan Army has many potential outcomes that would impact the National Security Interests of the United States negatively. There is a strong history of it proceeding over the past six decades. It has roots that reach as far back as the movement for independence from the Great Britain and partition from India. As the time moves closer to American withdrawal of military forces in Afghanistan, the United States must continue to maintain a watchful eye in Pakistan. Understanding developments within the nation will enable American policy to mitigate the impact on US-Pakistan relations. Ultimately, if relations deteriorate quickly, the United States must be able to prepare for the fallout. Comprehending the risks is half of readiness.
 Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Sword, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, xxx.
 Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Sword, (New York: Oxford University Press), 2008, 20.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 116.
 Hassan Abbas, Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism, (New Delhi: Pentagon Press), 2005, 53.
 Ibid, 116.
 Tariq Ali, The Duel:Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, (New York: Scribner), 2008, 81.
 Federal Research Division, Pakistan: A Country Study, (Washington DC: Library of Congress), 1995, 57-8.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 118.
 Yasmeen Niaz Mohiuddin, Pakistan: A Global Studies Handbook, (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO), 2007, 175.
 Ayesha Jalal, "The Past as Present" In Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, ed. Maleeha Lodhi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 14.
 Rafi Raza, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Pakistan 1967-1977, (Karachi: Oxford University Press), 1997, 185.
 R.G. Sawhney, Zia's Pakistan. (New Delhi: ABC Publishing House), 1985, 6.
 Federal Research Division, Pakistan: A Country Study, (Washington DC: Library of Congress), 1995, 65.
 Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords, (New York: Oxford University Press), 2008, 384.
 Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, The Politics of Pakistan: The Baloch, Sindi and Mohajir Ethnic Movements, (London: Routledge), 2012, 35.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 121.
 Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 385.
 Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 48.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 123-4.
 Ibid, 128.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 125.
 Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords, (New York: Oxford University Press), 2008, 561.
 Amaud de Borchgrave, "Paranoidistan" The Washington Times, February 2, 2010.
 Ayesha Jalal, "The Past as Present" In Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, ed. Maleeha Lodhi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 9.
 Christine Fair and Shuja Nawaz, "The Changing Pakistan Army Officer Corps," The Journal of Strategic Studies 34.1, (2011): 79.
 Christine Fair and Shuja Nawaz, "The Changing Pakistan Army Officer Corps," The Journal of Strategic Studies 34.1, (2011): 63.
 Ibid, 65.
 Sana Haroon, Frontier of Faith, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2007, 165, 175.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 128.
 Sheree Sardar, "Pakistan military court jails officers for extremist ties," Reuters Africa, August 3, 2012.
 Ayesha Jalal, "The Past as Present" In Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, ed. Maleeha Lodhi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 9.
 Business Monitor International, Security Overview - Pakistan - Q3 2012, Foreign Security Assessment, (London: BMI Ltd.), 2012.
 Business Monitor International, Armed Forces Overview - Pakistan - Q3 2012, Foreign Military Assessment, (London: BMI Ltd.), 2012.
 Fareed Khan, "Pakistani Military Quashes Taliban Attack on Karachi Naval Base," The Washington Post, May 23, 2011.
 Robert Burns, "Mullen: Pakistan, Corruption Mar Afghan Gains," The Navy Times, September 22, 2011.
 Salim Mansur, "Pakistan a Breeding Ground for Islamism," Toronto Sun, May 8, 2010.
 Sana Haroon, Frontier of Faith, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2007, 201-3.
 Ayesha Jalal, "The Past as Present" In Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, ed. Maleeha Lodhi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 15.
 Sana Haroon, Frontier of Faith, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2007, 208-13.
 Ziad Haider, "Ideologically Adrift" In Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State', by Maleeha Lohdi, (New York: Columbia University Press), 2011, 126-7.