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Once and Always a Colonial Army


The propensity to serve its imperial masters is deep rooted, one could even say it is genetic, in the Pakistan Army. This essential nature of our armed forces goes back to its foundation as a colonial army under the British with the old Indian Army serving as cannon fodder in the various imperial wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. Recall the inglorious role of our own regiments in Iraq and Arabia in the early years of the 20th century. This tradition was continued with the complete alignment with US policies, during the Cold War, of our military and political leaders. Our Army is ready to do the dirty work whenever it is called upon, like for example against the PLO in Jordan in 1970. One must stress that this deep sickness is not just of the military but it pervades our English-speaking ruling political class.

These thoughts occurred to me, from afar, looking at the horrible pictures of blindfolded white-bearded old men, in chappals (sandals), being pushed and dragged into Army jeeps in South Waziristan, with captions like “captured terrorists” “Al-Qaeda suspects”. Women and children are killed in indiscriminate bombing, our own kith and kin being killed by our so-called defenders who excuse themselves by talking about collateral damage. Helicopter gunships are being used to bomb villages just as the Russians did in Afghanistan, the Israelis do in Palestine and the US in Iraq.

Are these the models that our so-called glorious Army follows in killing its own people? We are very quick at learning the worst aspects of behaviour from our masters. We know that the United States is violating all international norms and is behaving like the barbaric country it is. Do we have to descend to the same level of barbarity? Do we have to be as uncivilised as them? Does not the Army feel disgusted with the way they are treating prisoners, their own countrymen, violating all rules of treatment of prisoners of war? Why is there not a wave of disgust and horror in Pakistan about this? But maybe I should not be surprised. I should not expect better from our Army as it has always been a brutal colonial army whose real purpose of existence has been to suppress its own people. Have they ever defended us? How many lost wars?

Language in the Army and elsewhere in our society always apes the language of the masters. I myself am writing this in the language of the masters. The master’s language can be used as a subversive instrument but not by our ruling classes, especially the Army which is still, after nearly 60 years of independence, full of the expressions of the old Indian Army. .Just go to their officer’s messes. The same with our civil servants who continue to use the jargon of the colonial era.

Now we are also quickly picking up the language of our new masters. “High value targets, collateral damage, terrorists, Al-Qaeda elements, bad guys.” It makes me sick. Continuing on the same theme it is disgusting to see our young people aping the worst current language and dress of the United States. If this is globalisation, God help us.

What evidence has been presented that there were foreign fighters in South Waziristan? Does not the government realise that it is playing with fire, with the awful spectre of civil war by sending in the Army into the traditional tribal areas that do not brook interference? Does not the government understand the Pakhtoon code of hospitality? Traditionally they do not hand over guests. Heavy-handedness will not resolve this. What was required was a more subtle approach. Yes these are backward regions and they need opening up and development but what has the Federal Government done in all these years to bring schools, hospitals and economic development to these remote poor regions? The answer is nothing and you cannot bring modernity or development by force of arms, just like you cannot bring democracy to Iraq by invading the country.

That Pakistan has become a neo-colony of the US is evident to everybody. We do not have sovereignty. Because of the bankrupt policies of our rulers (mind you not the mullahs) we have sold it for a mess of pottage. How can we consider ourselves independent when we have the FBI roaming freely inside the country, arresting people with the help of our forces and sending them illegally without due process to Guantanamo as well as to gulags in Afghanistan and Diego Garcia, where they are tortured? Recently revealed CENTCOM documents reveal that Pasni was used as a major naval and US Marine base in the illegal attack against Afghanistan. We still have bases inside Pakistan and in exchange for not prosecuting A.Q. Khan we have given the US Army the right to operate inside Pakistan. Are we or are we not an occupied country with limited sovereignty?

Who is responsible for this mess? It is very fashionable and easy to blame the religious elements for the malaise of the country. But this is disingenuous, as it is a coalition of the civil services and the Army who have been in power during the major part of the history of the country. It was the Army and our political class which was responsible for our involvement in Afghanistan on the side of the United States which left us the legacy of drugs, the Kalashnikov culture, Al-Qaeda, terrorism, etc. and which left us so bankrupt, economically, culturally and politically that we could not resist pressure from the United States after September 11 and we joined the so-called war against terror, which is another name of the US attempt at global domination. Our leaders bask in the glory of being photographed with murderers like Bush, Wolfowitz and Powell and are proud of being declared a “major non-NATO ally” just so that they can have new toys like Cobra helicopters for their Army which they can then use to bomb their own people.

What has happened to the consciousness of our people? There is not much condemnation inside Pakistan against the assassination of Sheikh Yassin by the Israelis. Our newspapers carry mild editorials and even the National Assembly dare not pass a strong resolution of condemnation. Where is the so-called “civil society” protesting on the streets, writing, etc. against the violation of our sovereignty? Where are the protests of human rights groups about the prisoners taken in Wana? Are they being interrogated, tortured, by US special agents in Peshawar? Why are there not protests against US occupation of Iraq, against the presence of US troops in Pakistan? Why are these and other issues like Waziristan and Israel left in the hands of the religious parties? The so-called liberal forces in Pakistan have no chance if they do not take up these issues that touch the very core of our independence. Otherwise the people of Pakistan will quite rightly consider us as stooges of imperialism.

FAHEEM HUSSAIN is a Pakistani physicist. He can be reached at:


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