The military-clergy camaraderie

Print edition : April 25, 2003

General Ayub Khan - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Excerpts from the ICG report, Pakistan: The Mullahs and the Military.

UNDER Pakistan's first military ruler, General Mohammad Ayub Khan (1958-69), the military vowed to build a modern, pro-Western Islamic state that would serve as a bulwark against Soviet communism. Religious parties and scholars also saw communism as the main threat to Islam. The military and the mullahs regarded Pakistanis who professed communism, socialism or secularism as their common enemy.

The alliance between Ayub and the clergy was, however, strained by Ayub's liberal religious view. A code of Muslim Family Law, drawn up by religious scholars of his choice, for instance, provided legal protection to women's matrimonial rights and is still an object of criticism by the ulema.

Another general, Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, who fought a war against East Pakistan's secession following the country's first national elections in 1970, succeeded Ayub. The religious lobby, led by the Jamaat-e-Islami's youth wings, actively joined the war alongside Pakistani troops fighting their secular Bengali opponents. The war resulted in Bangladesh's independence, after India intervened.

That military-mullah alliance expanded and gained strength during the next period of martial law. There was a complete convergence of interests between the religious Right and Pakistan's third military ruler, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88), who joined hands with the religious parties even prior to overthrowing an elected government. Their protest movement created the conditions for his coup d'etat.

General Yahya Khan-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The military and the mullahs had a common domestic enemy - the secular mainstream parties. Zia's personal proclivities also matched those of his religious partners. Rigid interpretations of Islamic injunctions and jurisprudence were introduced during Zia's 11 years, and the Deobandi ulema and the Jamaat-e-Islami intelligentsia guided his brand of Islamisation.

These religious conservatives were also the military's partners in the Afghan jehad. The regional and international climate of the 1980s favoured Zia's orthodox Islamisation, and the alliance with the West served the military's institutional interests. As a frontline ally of the U.S. in the Soviet-Afghan war, the military benefited from billions of dollars in military and economic assistance, while Zia promoted militant versions of Islam to fight the jehad and counter his secular democratic foes. Not surprisingly, Islamic movements and parties were also major beneficiaries. Jehad became the central point of existence for a true Islamic state and society. Madrassas mushroomed, and religious parties used militancy for political gain. The growth in Islamic movements has continued ever since.

Unlike Zia, Pakistan's fourth military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has had to pursue a two-track policy to gain international and domestic legitimacy. In the interests of self-preservation and to promote the army's institutional interests, he abandoned the Taliban. With Pakistan once again a frontline ally and benefiting politically and economically, his administration is actively assisting the U.S. against Islamic militants in Afghanistan and, ostensibly, against their Pakistani allies.

This change in priorities has strained but not severed the military's links with its religious allies. While his government moves against non-Pakistani Islamic militants, Musharraf has given in to the agenda of the religious parties at home. Although he denounces Islamic militancy, his administration handles domestic extremists with kid gloves.

The official dossier of cooperation in the war on terrorism is long. Arrests of suspected Al Qaeda members have become routine. Pakistani authorities, assisted by the American FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], have captured more than 500 persons, mostly of Arab origin, who are now in U.S. custody. Some fringe elements within Pakistan's jehadi organisations have also been targeted, and, in many instances, either captured or killed. The government has banned many sectarian organisations and Pakistan-based Kashmiri jehadi groups. It now decrees that "jehad cannot be waged by individuals or independent groups; it is a decision of the Islamic state. Jehad without state sanction and participation is fasad (chaos, disorder)".

General Zia-ul-Haq.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

As justification, the government has appealed to narrow national interests. Musharraf has repeatedly stressed that Pakistan's very survival required a change in its Afghan policy and cooperation with the U.S., after September 11, 2001. "There has been a change of reality," Musharraf said, "so we have reformulated our policy... Pakistan is following a policy which is in our national interest". `Pakistan First' was the official slogan of Musharraf's presidential referendum and is now (that of) the Jamali government.

With the MMA's political resurgence, however, a renewed alliance between Pakistani jehadis and their Afghan counterparts cannot be ruled out. After the MMA took power in the NWFP, there has been a marked increase in attacks on U.S. troops and their Afghan allies by insurgents, who then flee back into the Pakistani Pashtun tribal areas. Expressing dissatisfaction with the Pakistani military's performance in curbing such attacks, U.S. officials have threatened hot pursuit into Pakistan. While it is nearly impossible to assess the extent of MMA support for this resumed cross-border activity, there is little doubt that its anti-U.S. and jehadi slogans have emboldened religious parties such as the JUI [Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam] to aid fellow Muslims and Pashtuns in Afghanistan. But while these attacks undermine peace in Afghanistan's Pashtun-dominated eastern and southern provinces, they do not constitute an MMA rebellion against the Pakistan military's pro-U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Neither the MMA nor any other religious group can or desires to confront the military. Nor do they feel the need since the Musharraf administration has simultaneously appeased the clergy, hoping to use them against its domestic opponents. Although Musharraf rules through decrees and ordinances, with virtually absolute authority, he has done next to nothing to restrain or reform the religious sector.

The economic clout of the religious parties remains considerable. They continue to collect funds in the name of madrassas, mosques, welfare projects and jehad. Despite promises, the Musharraf government has yet to introduce a law on financial oversight of religious institutions. Religious fiefs continue to operate without any regulatory framework, and reforms of madrassas were stillborn.

The government has reversed even minor steps, such as procedural changes in the blasphemy laws. It has also failed to come up with legal provisions to institutionalise an ad hoc ban on jehadi organisations, currently enforced through executive orders. It has yet to curb activities of banned groups, whose literature circulates unchecked and who routinely hold jehad conferences.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor