Pakistan’s army chief confirms India remains biggest threat; puts end to the idle secular-Islam debate.
EDITORIAL | 22 April 2013
“Pakistan’s army chief is a man of few words. And true to his style, he made a few calculated remarks over the weekend that touch on two hotly debated issues in Pakistan and among Pakistan-watchers abroad.
During a speech on the occasion of the graduation of the 127th Long Course of Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, Gen. Kayani sent a direct warning to Indian generals.
For those who don’t remember, on January 11 and January 14, India’s air and army chiefs threatened military action against Pakistan over alleged violations of the ceasefire line in Kashmir. The crisis began a week before when Indian soldiers crossed the line and killed a Pakistani soldier.
It was quite obvious to observers that Pakistan wouldn’t risk an escalation on its eastern front when it is embroiled in the American mess on the Afghan border.
This was not lost on independent-minded Indians. One Indian analyst went as far as accusing the Indian military of creating ‘hype’ inside India over Pakistan. Another Indian commentator accused the Indian army of mutilating bodies of Pakistani soldiers.
At the same time, and a few days before this Indian escalation, a news report from Pakistan appeared to indicate that terrorism emanating from the Afghan border into Pakistan has forced the Pakistani army to no longer consider India as the biggest threat.
It appeared as if the Indian army generals concluded that Pakistan armed forces must be too weak now for them to be forced to make an admission they no longer considered India a threat.
As it turns out, the report from Islamabad about a change in the Pakistani military doctrine was based on some journalist’s overzealous reading into minor doctrinal modifications that led to a misinterpretation. [Background: a booklet published by the military added a chapter dealing with insurgencies on the Afghan border and described it as a major threat to Pakistani security. This was misinterpreted to mean Pakistan no longer saw threat from India.]
Watching Indian generals beat the drums of war across the eastern border, Pakistan remained cautious and refrained from responding in kind. Until this weekend.
“Pakistan is a peace-loving country,” Gen. Kayani told the cadets, senior Pakistani military officers and some defense attaches from several nations attending the ceremony at Kakul. “Our quest for peace is essentially based on a genuine desire to improve our lot and that of our future generations. Let no one see it as a weakness.”
Without naming India, he had a message for the generals across the eastern border. “We have exercised restraint in the face of some very belligerent statements in recent months. Let it suffice to say that Pakistan is fully capable of responding effectively to any threat.”
And if any Indian general was still in doubt over a change in Pakistani preparedness due to internal threats, Kayani ventured out to be more specific in his following words.
“Despite our current focus on internal security,” he said, “we remain fully prepared to defeat an external direct threat.”
The Indian threat is not limited to the provocative statements in January.
The Indian threat is also not limited to permanent [emphasis on permanent], large-scale Indian military deployments in close proximity to our borders.
There’s more. Toward the end of the decade, Indian generals developed a plan to mount quick incursions inside Pakistan and cripple its ability to retaliate. This plan was given the name Cold Start, inspired by Israeli army’s quick strikes into Gaza.
The Indian military was developing this plan even as American officials lectured Islamabad on the need to change its military policy because India posed no threat to Pakistan.
The Indian military has once before demonstrated that it will always seize any opportunity to attack Pakistan even without provocation. This happened in 1971 when Indian army exploited chaotic election in Pakistan, and low military preparedness, to launch an invasion in East Pakistan and help proxies break away the territory into what is now Bangladesh.
Gen. Kayani’s weekend statement has put the military’s India policy into perspective.
It also indicates a new level of confidence inside Pakistan armed forces after a decade of American war in Afghanistan had destabilized Pakistan and put the Pakistani military on the defensive. This is changing now and Pak Military is apparently on the rebound.
Gen. Kayani apparently alluded to this when he said during the same speech: “In our short history, we have overcome many a challenges that would have overwhelmed lesser nations. I am sure we can do it again.”
And then concluded on a positive note, “We are going through difficult times, but so has every other successful nation at some time in their history. Pak Army is fully committed to the cause and as always standing with the nation.”
Gen. Kayani’s other important carefully-worded statement was on Islam’s role in public life in Pakistan.
Here’s what the general said:
“Let me remind you that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never ever be taken out of Pakistan. However, Islam should always remain a unifying force.”
This is a landmark statement. Here’s why.
First, a number of politicians and commentators sympathetic to the PPP-MQM-ANP coalition government that just completed five years tried in recent days to make the coming election controversial through an organized attack in the media on the Ideology of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s existence as an independent nation.
These parties are perceived to be pro-American. The organized attack focused on Islam and called for adopting European-style secularism where religion is simply withdrawn from public life. But what the advocates of this theory forgot is that Europe’s history and its political and social circumstances cannot be replicated and planted in another country far removed from European culture and experiences.
This debate is also dangerous because it wastes a lot of public energy, confuses priorities, and creates unnecessary divisions and suspicions in the society. Pakistan is quite capable of being a modern Muslim nation, just like Turkey, Jordan, Malaysia, Dubai, Egypt, Indonesia and others without the need to wage war against religion and alienate the religious segments of the population.
Gen. Kayani did well by making an emphatic statement about the centrality of Islam in Pakistan. This should serve to calm the nerves of religious Pakistanis who might see an attempt to attack religion in Pakistan and might be radicalized as a result of that.
So this is a message to the advocates of secularism to stop radicalizing religious-minded Pakistanis by waging this unnecessary war of words against religion in the hope of replicating a European example that does not fit here. And it is also a message to religious Pakistanis to relax, to stop seeing a conspiracy in Pakistan to end Islam’s central role in the lives of Pakistanis. It is also a message that all Pakistanis can and should coexist peacefully, those who are religious-minded and those who are not. This is a homeland for all and Pakistanis can and should respect each other.
Second, Kayani’s statement sends another message to religious Pakistanis. The message is simple: Islam unifies its followers and does not divide them. Sadly, Pakistani Islam is divided into sects whose names are not even known in the rest of the Muslim world. That’s how bad the sect-based divisions are in Pakistan. And extremists have flourished in all sects, leading to violent verbal and physical attacks. So, Gen. Kayani is sending a message: Islam in Pakistan should unify Pakistanis, not divide them.”