From the late 1970s onwards the armed forces of Pakistan were systematically ‘Islamised’, especially by the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq
Historians have hinted at Zia’s approbation of Islamic scholar and founder of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi, as the main inspiration behind his Islamization manoeuvres.
It is correct that Zia was an avid admirer of Maududi’s writings on political Islam, but it was not exactly on Maududi’s thesis that Zia initiated the Islamisation process in the country’s armed forces.
It was the theories of a relatively obscure figure upon which Zia mostly planned his ‘Islamic reformation of the Pakistan Army.’
His name was Brigadier-General S K. Malik. In 1975 at the height of Z A. Bhutto’s left-leaning populist regime, Malik quietly published a book called ‘The Quranic Concept of War.’
Malik had begun writing the book in 1974 as a reaction to the Pakistan military’s defeat against its Indian counterpart in 1971.
When he discussed his project with Zia (who was then a Major-General), the latter was highly impressed by Malik’s thesis. He encouraged him to publish his ideas in the form of a book.
One is not sure whether Bhutto (an avid reader) ever got to read Malik’s book, I have a feeling that he didn’t because Malik’s theory was squarely against any liberal or metaphorical interpretation of the Quran, especially of the verses that deal with the concept of jihad.
To Zia, such thinking was necessary to infuse a more prominent faith-based streak in the armed forces that he believed had been softened because the institution was steeped in the ideals of ‘Modernist Islam,’ and was too secular and ‘westernised’ in its social and political outlook. en.natashaescort.com
Various economic and political factors contributed to the July 1977 military coup that Zia pulled off against the Bhutto regime. Zia rode in on a wave of protests by political parties that had been expressing urban middle-class frustrations and the interests of the trader and wealthy industrial classes that had been directly affected by Bhutto’s (admittedly chaotic) socialist manoeuvres.
These classes had agreed to let the religious parties take the lead. And when in July 1977 Zia toppled Bhutto, he adopted the religious tenor of the anti-Bhutto protests.
In the second year of his dictatorship in 1979, Zia sanctioned the mainstream publication of Malik’s book and volunteered to write the book’s foreword, using its thesis to ‘Islamise’ the Pakistani army and by turning jihad into a national policy of the government and the military.
He then popularised the book among Afghan, Pakistani and Arab mujahideen who had all gathered on the Pakistan side of the Pak-Afghan border to lead guerrilla raids into Afghanistan against the Soviet forces.
He also made sure that the book was made available to all Pakistanis and thus, Urdu translations of the book were made widely available in bookstores.
By 1986, the book had also been translated into Arabic and Persian.
According to author and counter-terrorism expert, Patrick Poole, ‘General Zia embraced Malik’s expansive understanding of jihad as a duty extending to soldiers, as well as individual citizens.’
Zia accepted Malik’s rede?nition of defensive jihad to include the removal of any obstacles and resistance to the spread of Islam. According to Malik, even passive resistance to the advance of Islam is legitimate grounds for attack.
Malik in his book suggests that war should dictate policy and not the other way round. Meaning that war or jihad should work as a pre-emptive tool against anti-Islam forces. It didn’t matter whether these (perceived enemies of faith) were hostile or not. According to Malik, Islam permits this.
It is this aspect of the book that is most popular with violent Islamist groups today who are said to have become avid students of Malik’s thesis, more than the Pakistani armed forces.
Malik completely rejects any allegorical or metaphorical understanding of the Quran, nor attempts to study it in a more contextual manner. He simply intellectualises the literalist reading of the Muslim scriptures in light of a standing army of an Islamic country that should always be ready to wage war (in the name of jihad) against hostile and passive, real or imagined enemies of the faith.
Malik then goes on to advocate that every Muslim citizen of an Islamic country should think like a ‘holy warrior.’
Thus, many experts believe that Zia used Malik’s thesis to also justify the alliances he made with violent sectarian and Islamist forces that sprang up during his regime.
Malik retired from the military to concentrate on becoming a scholar. Perturbed by the criticism the armed forces were being subjected to after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle he set out to answer the military’s critics but ended up constructing an entirely reactive and extreme response.
He first came up with his thesis in 1975 in a world in which Islamists, jihadists and religious extremists were still obscure characters that could only be found on the far fringes of society and politics.
Thus, he was largely delivering a cathartic outburst for a defeated army as a man deeply disturbed and depressed by what had taken place in 1971.
He didn’t seem to be a very ambitious man and never became a prominent member of Zia’s government or cabinet. He remained in the background.
My research did suggest that he was a moderate Muslim. But by 1975 he had become highly religious and sombre.
Such a private and unambitious character could not have been writing a highly volatile book consciously aiming to radicalise the military and the civilians and then foreseeing the emergence of sectarian and Islamist violence on a global scale. But that’s exactly what happened.
His was a reactive and angry tirade against what he thought were the premier enemies of his beloved armed forces. He went literal, rigid and myopic in his study of religious texts because to him the military’s supposedly lax and liberal approach towards faith had made it weak.
I do wonder though, what he would’ve thought about his work today in which quotes from his book regularly appear in ‘jihadi literature’ that not only advocates but boasts of committing terrible violence on civilian and military targets alike and then justifies it as something sanctioned by the scriptures?
Would he have been elated, or distraught by the ways his reactive discourse was first used by a manipulative military dictator to justify his illegitimate hold over power as a ‘soldier of Islam,’ and then cherry-picked by violent militants and their apologists to rationalise nihilist violence as something sanctioned by faith?