Thinking Aloud: “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War,” Part I

Aug. 14, 2014 by Darius 

Yesterday, I saw Georgetown University professor Christine Fair discuss her new book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.  Fair’s comments were insightful and pulled no punches towards Pakistan’s military establishment.  Because of the length of my notes, I’m going to divide this up over two days: today, I’ll talk about Fair’s research, and tomorrow I’ll share her other observations about Pakistan.

Fair is both an expert on South Asia (including South Asian languages) and has extensive experience with military issues.  She began the research for this book in 2000.  Although she conducted extensive interviews in Pakistan, her research for this book is based primarily on Pakistani military publications.  These publications were meant to be read by Pakistani military personnel, not the general public.  Fair found a number of overriding themes in these publications, which are the subject of today’s post.

  • The Pakistani army does not just defend Pakistan’s geography and territorial integrity. It also considers itself responsible for defending Pakistan’s national ideology and, above all, the two-nation theory, which holds that religion, rather than ethnicity, is the primary identity in South Asia and that therefore Muslims and Hindus cannot live together.  This mission of defending Pakistan’s ideology goes back to the rule of military dictator General Ayub Khan in 1954.
  • Despite the fact that many top army chiefs in Pakistan are drinkers and womanizers, the military is not above “instrumentalizing Islam,” in Fair’s words, to achieve its ends. Former general and president Pervez Musharraf is a case in point.
  • The Pakistani army consistently characterizes India as Hindu to reinforce the perception of a “civilization conflict,” which is too fundamental to ever be resolved politically. Even Bollywood films are seen as a conspiracy to propagate Hindu ideology.  The Pakistani army ensures the spread of this viewpoint in Pakistan, including the army’s role in the alignment of the national educational curriculum, to justify its policy of perpetual confrontation with India.  Again, this policy goes back to Ayub Khan.
  • The Pakistani military believes that the two-nation theory is all-important. After all, without the two-nation theory, Pakistan would just be a sloppy, failed, poorly run version of India.
  • The Pakistani army believes that it must resist India’s rise in South Asia. This perception distorts traditional views of what constitutes victory and defeat.  To the Pakistani army, defeat is acquiescence to India.  Conventional terms of defeat, like casualties and territory loss, are meaningless.  Even military fiascos are preferable to inaction against India.
  • Pakistan sees itself as an insurgent state. For decades, the Pakistani military espoused the need for a “people’s army” to defend Pakistan.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the US trained Pakistanis in counterinsurgency tactics with the goal of Pakistan sending troops to aid the US in its wars.  Ironically, Pakistan chose to learn from the US’s enemies—the insurgents.  The Pakistani military studied the tactics of insurgents in Vietnam and China.  By the 1970s, the concept of a “people’s army” had gone out of vogue so Pakistan’s vocabulary changed to jihad.  Pakistan has been stirring up jihad in Afghanistan since the 1950s.
  • Pakistan saw itself as a nuclear-capable state well before 1990, when the rest of the world did. To the Pakistani military, it didn’t matter what Pakistan’s real nuclear capability was.  It mattered what India thought Pakistan’s nuclear capability might be.  Pakistan’s nuclear program has its roots in 1964, under civilian prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  The US first sanctioned Pakistan for its nuclear program in April 1979.  The USSR invaded Afghanistan a few months later, though, and the sanctions were dropped as US priorities vis-à-vis Pakistan suddenly changed.  (India’s nuclear program, by contrast, began when India was still a British colony.)
  • Currently, the Pakistani military is very heavily drawn from ethnic Punjabis and Pashtuns. It is making a greater effort, though, to include Balochs and Sindhis, even relaxing its own recruiting standards in these regions.  This effort is designed to make Pakistan’s army, which is in effect running the country, appear more representative to the people.  Recruits from Balochistan and Sindh, though, have different worldviews and values than Punjabis and Pashtuns, being more secular, less supportive of jihad, and less supportive of the military’s traditional ideology.  This, in Fair’s view, is one of the few bright spots that suggests, perhaps, one day the Pakistani military may evolve from within – or it may simply succeed in co-opting those elements and communities that at present do not share its worldview.

Fair’s talk was fast-paced and provocative.  Tomorrow I’ll share more of her commentary.

[For the rest, see]

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3 Responses to Thinking Aloud: “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War,” Part I

  1. Naima Shahab says:

    Guarding the ideological frontiers of Pakistan… Why, of course! That sums up almost everything.

  2. Pingback: Thinking Aloud: “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War,” Part II | Not What You Might Think

  3. Pingback: Thinking Aloud: Pakistan’s “Coup-Lite” | Not What You Might Think

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