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‘Spiritual combat power’

July 11, 2018

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A NEW category of officers has been introduced in the Pakistan Navy. According to an official statement issued on the occasion of a ceremony held in Karachi on Saturday at the Pakistan Naval Academy PNS Rahbar, the 54 graduating cadets of the short service commission course included, for the first time, 32 religious and motivation officers. Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi who leads the naval force, and was the chief guest at the event — at which, apart from the cadets, 45 Pakistani and 43 midshipmen from friendly countries were among the graduates — stated that the step had been taken in order to enhance the men’s ‘spiritual combat power’.

That unfortunately was the extent of elaboration about this rather unorthodox measure, and one hopes that more details will be forthcoming. However, given the navy chief in his speech also emphasised the importance of eradicating terrorism from Pakistan and the military’s determination to do so, it would be reasonable to assume that this is an effort to neutralise or pre-empt any radical tendencies within the personnel. Pakistan’s history illustrates the dire consequences of allowing religious extremism to seep unchecked into the body politic. During Gen Zia’s time, for instance, mullahs with obscurantist leanings were brought in to interact with the soldiers and military units were required to take non-combatant clerics with them to the front line. The indoctrination that resulted from such a short-sighted approach also spilled over into other sections of the military, and the navy has first-hand experience of this. In September 2014, there occurred a failed attempt by no less than a group of serving naval officers to hijack a frigate from the Karachi dockyard for terrorism purposes — in what turned out to be Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s first major attack. Now that the armed forces leadership has openly declared its intention to root out extremist violence, deradicalisation efforts must take place at every level. Only constant vigilance can prevent a return to the mayhem of not too long ago.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018