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Pakistan Table of Contents


The Role of Islam

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced certain Islamic practices, notably prohibition of alcoholic beverages, into the army, and Zia encouraged still more, including the assignment of mullahs (see Glossary) as chaplains, some of whom reportedly go into combat with the troops. Modest mosques have been built in military training areas, Islamic texts are being introduced into training courses, mid-grade officers must take courses and examinations on Islam, and there are serious attempts under way to define an Islamic military doctrine, as distinct from the "Western" doctrines that the Pakistanis have been following.

In the early 1990s, Islamic military doctrine had not replaced more traditional military doctrines, and it probably never will. Military affairs specialist Stephen P. Cohen has, however, highlighted several interesting points that have emerged. For instance, Islam has traditionally been identified with the concept of jihad, a righteous religious "striving" against unbelievers, and Islamic governments have been assiduous in describing whatever wars they fight--even against other Muslims--as jihad. Recent thinking, however, has emphasized that jihad is not a perpetual invitation to wage war against nonbelievers and, indeed, that it need not necessarily entail violence. More specifically, Pakistani writers have rejected as un-Islamic the idea of total war that emerged in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They emphasize the Quranic injunctions to conciliation and persuasion and see force only as a last resort.

Further, these Pakistani theorists see the function of force less as a capability for combat than as something that strikes terror into the hearts of enemies and thus can actually prevent war. There is an obvious parallel here to the idea that the most terrifying of all weapons, nuclear ordnance, can act as a deterrent to war. Many Western military writers have portrayed the era of United States-Soviet mutual deterrence in these terms, and some have even applied this view as a rationale for Pakistani and Indian nuclear capabilities. Pakistani writers find this approach a convenient justification for their nuclear programs, and, indeed, most of the "Islamic" thinking on war still looks more like retroactive rationalizations for strategies already adopted rather than guideposts to new departures. Furthermore, Pakistanis are well aware that air combat tactics or at-sea replenishment techniques are not determined by religion, and the armed forces will continue to look for secular guidance.

At the personnel level, the generation of cosmopolitan officers who were trained in British and United States traditions and consider religion a purely personal matter is passing from the scene. The new generation of officers is less exposed to foreign influences and is, increasingly, a product of a society that has been much more influenced by "orthodox" Islam, in which the primacy of Islam is continually emphasized and accepted.

Relatively few Pakistanis have turned to Islamic fundamentalism, and because of the demands of their profession, Pakistani officers and soldiers seem likely to keep at least one foot in the modernist camp. Senior generals are reportedly concerned about religion looming too large in military affairs, but unless there are major changes in society and politics, the armed forces may increasingly see itself as an Islamic as well as a nationalist force.

Data as of April 1994