A recent editorial in Dawn appropriately wondered about this year’s speech by COAS General Parvez Kayani at the annual passing out parade at the Pakistan Military Academy.
The moment contents of his speech became news, some conservative media personnel and columnists could be seen puffing their chests with happy hot air and excitedly wagging their fingers at their more liberal counterparts, reminding them how the COAS had gone on to declare that Pakistan was made in the name of Islam and that ‘no one can take Islam out of Pakistan’.
Much has been written and discussed about exactly what constitutes this ‘ideology’. Liberal scholars, intellectuals, historians and those on the left have for long argued that things like the ‘Pakistan Ideology’ are post-Jinnah concoctions molded by conservative historians, religious parties and the military-establishment to maintain and sustain their undemocratic influence over a diverse ethnic and sectarian polity.
Those on the right, of course, disagree. They continue to insist that Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, used the Pakistan Movement as a roadmap to a destination where Muslims of different languages, cultures and sectarian persuasions would gel together as a monolithic state and nation and be ruled by the dictates of the Quran and the Sunnah.
This has not happened. And it can’t. It’s a fairy tale scenario peddled as history and an ideology that in spite of creating fissure after fissure between sects, ethnicities and between the military-establishment and political parties, is still being unabashedly flaunted.
So much so, that the fissures that it has caused have now gradually created an extreme expression of madness that uses terror and bloodshed to enact a so-called Islamic State.
But more pressing should be the concern about the state of mind of the soldiers who are on the frontlines of a vicious battle against those expressing this extremism in the most brutal manner.
In his last year’s speech at the PMA, the COAS clearly emphasised that the existential threat to Pakistan was largely internal. This year, however, it became external again. Where do such sudden shifts leave the soldiers?
A friend of mine (a former journalist and now a filmmaker) once told me a revealing little tale. To film a documentary, he had travelled up north into a tense battle zone where the Pakistan Army was fighting a bloody war against the extremists. This was during the military operation in Swat in 2009.
There he met a soldier who startled him by saying: “Sir, since you seem to be an educated man and someone I can trust, let me tell you that all these men (extremists) are our own people”.
He then added: “We are told so many things about whom we are fighting. But we know who these people are. These are the people we have known for years, but now they have turned against us”.
The soldier was not saying anything new. Because barring the usual set of so-called patriots who are ever-willing to lie through their teeth just because they believe that certain fibs serve the country’s interests, by now most Pakistanis (at least outside the Punjab) know that the vicious enemy, the people of Pakistan and its army are up against are very much a product of our own naive follies and misplaced arrogance.
Nevertheless, when one hears this coming from a soldier on the frontlines, one is not sure how to react.
Whether one should rejoice or should we see this as a warning?
The debacles faced by the US army in Vietnam and by the Soviet forces in Afghanistan should be taken as examples to be learnt from.
It is easier to raise an army on certain myths about one’s foreign enemies and on an exaggerated sense of patriotism. But the post-World War II scenario in this regard is studded with examples in which, in a long drawn-out armed conflict, there does come a time when armies facing guerrilla warfare begin to lose touch with all the ideological hoopla that they were fed during training.
There are numerous accounts of how whole battalions of American marines and Soviet fighters ended up rebelling against their own superiors because after facing bloodshed and madness on the battlefield they completely lost contact with what they were told by their politicians and generals. All that indoctrination began to melt away and they found themselves awkwardly exposed to a set of truths that they were conditioned to actually repress.
These are the kind of truths that a soldier, especially if he is being readied to take on a ruthless bunch of insurgents, should be briefed about up front.
As one saw in Vietnam and Afghanistan, all that mythical talk about how the soldiers were fighting for a higher cause simply began to melt away and the soldiers were not only left stranded with a rude reality, but they had no clue how to address it. It is a bit unsettling to know that the Pakistan army is preparing its men for the conflict against armed extremists by using rhetoric it originally devised for a possible war against an external enemy.
But it is their own countrymen that the soldiers are facing on the battlefield and/or legions of fanatics who believe that they are the ones serving God, even if that means blowing up women and children.
The enemy in this context is not the saffron-clad battalions on mechanical elephants fitted with nuclear warheads. The enemy is very much from amongst us.
Telling the soldiers the whole truth is better. This should mean organising a re-orientation program with a view to ready them to fight an enemy that is not dropping from the sky or rolling in from across the border, but emerging from our very own mountains and cities. The threat remains very much internal, dear General.