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Does Religion Form the Core of the Pakistani Identity and Is It Reconcilable With Democracy

By Khaled Ahmed

February 18, 2017

Writing in the Lahore-based The Nation on January 13, ex-army chief Mirza Aslam Beg vouchsafed the following wisdom: “Unfortunately democracy [in Pakistan] has been preferred over the principles of Quran and Sunnah. No government in the past or the present one, nor the conglomeration of over two dozen religious parties, ever made any serious attempt to fortify our ideological identity. We have failed to give our children their Muslim identity, because our education system is devoid of teachings of the principles of Quran and Sunnah.” General Zia, father of the new military mind, had laid down the law in 1979: “Our present political edifice is based on the secular democratic system of the West, which has no place in Islam. In Pakistan neither anarchy nor Westernism will work. This country was created in the name of Islam and in Islam there is no provision for Western-type elections.’’

General Hamid Gul was a star soldier who got to command two of Pakistan’s top strike formations besides heading the Military Intelligence (MI) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). True to his faith rather than “a state not based on Islam”, he was unbothered by conscience when he reached out to the Haqqani Network and worked for a Taliban utopia in Pakistan. He bravely confessed having rigged the 1990 election as ISI chief to oust the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) from government. General Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi tried to stage an Islamic coup in 1995 because Pakistan was “not based on Quran and Sunnah”. Gul found instant traction with the madrasa leaders, who in turn agreed with al Qaeda chief Aiman al-Zawahiri’s treatise proving how Pakistan was not an Islamic state despite the constitution and a supra-constitutional Shariah court.

Another general favouring a Quran-and-Sunnah state was General Shahid Aziz who wrote a “confessional” book, Yeh Khamoshi Kahan Tak: Ek Sipahi ki Dastan-e-Ishq-o-Junoon (2013), a soldier’s story of “passion” and “madness”, which he thought suited his religious persuasion. He was no mean soldier; he saw action in Kashmir and was trained at the National Defence University before being appointed director, military operations. As major general, he headed the analysis wing of the ISI. He was director-general, military operations (DGMO) and in 1999 planned the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif’s elected government. In 2001, after 9/11, he was chief of the general staff, a post from where most officers ascend to the top job of army chief.

The most interesting nugget in the book is Aziz’s reference to the “eye of Dajjal” (Antichrist) on the dollar bill, symbolising the grand conspiracy set in motion by the Freemasons and many powerful families in league with the American Neocons. He thought whatever was happening in the world was in line with the Jewish conspiracy outlined in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document that surfaced in Europe in the early 20th century to rouse people into a fit of anti-Semitism and resultant Holocaust. By a strange leap of logic, he thinks that the American imperium was following the programme of world domination through a shameless pursuit of sensual pleasure. “Only the Quran stands in the way of this Satanic way of life,” he writes.

General Aziz on world order: “The world order is not running by itself, it is being run according to a secret plan by a powerful secret organisation that has first conquered global banking, followed by the media and entertainment. This plan is being worked out with the help of the United Kingdom, the IMF and the World Bank, the funded think tanks and their intellectuals, big corporations and reputable universities”. And this beauty: “The bombs that kill innocent Pakistanis in bazaars and mosques are planted by friends of America, and this terrorism is done to persuade Pakistan to embrace America more closely, allow the government to pursue pro-America policies and to alienate Pakistan from the Mujahideen. But this trend of support to the killers of Muslims is open rebellion against Allah.”

A 2011 book by Robert Bonney, Pakistani journalist Tahir Malik and Tridivesh Singh Maini, Warriors after War, presented thoughts of Pakistani generals. Major-General Syed Wajahat Husain said: “Jinnah emphasised a liberal, tolerant and outward-looking progressive Pakistan. Hamid Gul is wrong on the 1948 war. Jinnah never wanted it and it was abandoned after Pakistan Army Chief General Gracey and Liaquat agreed with Jinnah to call it off. The 1965 war was our mistake. Extremism and the concept of jihad were never part of the Pakistani Army”. And a bold Brigadier Shaukat Qadir, whose advice to his children was “read Bertrand Russell”, challenged the military’s fundamental tenet of war: “The military is responsible for converting a genuine movement for an independent Kashmir into a jihad — the greatest damage that we could do and did. Both 1965 and 1971 wars were acts of stupidity”.

PS: You don’t become a general talking like that.


Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’