Mullah and military

GETTING mad at Munawar Hasan for attempting to subvert the resolve of our soldiers to fight the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan by challenging the moral legitimacy of their mission is one thing. Learning lessons from the Jamaat-i-Islami’s hostile response to Hakeemullah’s death and taking corrective action is quite another.

If the text of the ISPR statement criticising Hasan and the JI’s reaction to it is anything to go by, what we are witnessing is not a break-up but an estrangement between lovers with a shared desire to woo the other back.

As a matter of principle, the ISPR had no business seeking an apology from a political party, even one as vile as the JI. Issuing a release putting on record the angst felt by families of martyrs and soldiers putting their lives at stake to defend us from the barbarians in our midst, and a restatement of continuing resolve to defend the country from national security threats within the framework of the Constitution would have been enough.

The JI deserved to be condemned and asked to apologise. But that demand should have come from political parties and civil society.

Condemnation of the JI has been significant. Our people have the good sense not to undermine the valiant sacrifices of our soldiers merely because our generals have continued to bungle. It was not our soldiers or a majority of our officers who decided that Pakistan would join the ‘good’ Afghan jihad alongside the Americans in the 1980s. It was not these soldiers and officers who decided that Pakistan would run with the hare and hunt with the hounds faced with the ‘bad’ jihad post 9/11.

It was not these soldiers and officers who decided that the army would employ non-state actors deliberately indoctrinated with violent religious ideology to pursue ill-conceived national security objectives.

It was not these soldiers and officers who forged the military-mullah alliance and decided to get into bed with the JI and other religious parties to manufacture bigoted and irresponsible notions of national interest and use morality derived from religious diktat as an alternative to legitimacy flowing from the law and the Constitution.

But highlighting the sacrifices of soldiers to distract attention from the toxic choices made by politically ambitious self-serving generals who sowed and cultivated the seeds of confusion that we now find in full blossom is not a sustainable strategy. The correction that we yearn for today cannot come about without unambiguous admission by the khaki leadership of the wrong choices made in the past and the resolve to undo them.

The mullah-military alliance is cemented by each partner’s belief in its ability to control the other. The content of ISPR’s release and the JI’s reaction suggests that such belief has survived Munawar Hasan’s vitriol. In celebrating Maudoodi’s ‘sacrifices’, the khakis seem to be signalling to JI leaders and followers that the current emir might have deviated from the path of the founder. And in reiterating historical support for the army (with references to 1971), the JI is suggesting that it is eager to stand with the army, but the latter must return to fighting only righteous wars.

Has our khaki leadership been woken up by the JI or is it in snooze mode? The JI and its jihadi cousins have not changed. The world has and so have our national security needs.

When the military first employed the mullah through state patronage it didn’t realise that as the national army continued its transition towards an ideological army, control and initiative would steadily shift from the military to the mullah. Today, the military labelling the JI as a traitor is of no consequence to the JI.

But the JI denouncing the army for becoming a mercenary force in service of infidels carries the potential of causing sedition within army ranks. When faced with the prospect of death every believer derives strength from God, whether in a tumbling aeroplane or in a war zone. In a country comprising 97pc Muslims, the army’s battle cry would always be ‘Allah-o-Akbar’. But what does our army primarily fight for — the cause of Islam or the cause of Pakistan?

When the two mean the same things, there is no confusion. But when self-appointed guardians of faith define the cause of Islam in a way that conflicts with what rational citizens would see as the cause of Pakistan (or even Islam), as presently in the face of the existential threat posed by the TTP, where does the army stand?

The idea that khakis can out-manoeuvre the JI and more violent takfiris such as Al Qaeda and the TTP in a battle over control of the ideological narrative is not only fanciful but a manifestation of the arrogance that itself qualifies as a national security threat.

Let’s make this not about blame but correction. The army’s self-perception must be that of a national army and not an ideological one that is vulnerable to internal discord caused by proclamations issued by our bigoted brigade.

The alliance between our national security apparatus and jihadis or non-state actors, however described, must end, and verifiably so. If we wish to put out of business those within Pakistan who have assumed the right to distinguish good Muslims from bad, the military must first get out of the business of distinguishing good jihadis from bad.

Fighting and talking are not either-or solutions. We must talk to those who can accept Pakistan as a Muslim state as opposed to a jihadi state. We will have to fight those committed to killing or getting killed in order to annex Pakistan as the next goal in their global jihad.

We need a jirga to calm our wild west. But it must not be with the TTP but the representatives of all tribes in Fata to agree on steps to empower our tribal citizens and redefine their responsibilities towards Pakistan and the world within the framework of our Constitution and the nation-state system.

We can do without JI, but Pakistan needs a strong national army. A clean break-up is often better than a bitter consumptive relationship between partners with divergent worldviews.