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Pakistan’s Army and piety

Dexter Filkins, in his recent article for the New Yorker, makes a rare foray into accusing the US of complicity in the disappearance of Pakistani journalists, in this case of Saleem Shahzad:

Given the brief time that passed between Shahzad’s death and Kashmiri’s, a question inevitably arose: Did the Americans find Kashmiri on their own? Or did they benefit from information obtained by the I.S.I. during its detention of Shahzad? If so, Shahzad’s death would be not just a terrible example of Pakistani state brutality; it would be a terrible example of the collateral damage sustained in America’s war on terror.

If the C.I.A. killed Kashmiri using information extracted from Shahzad, it would not be the first time that the agency had made use of a brutal interrogation. In 2002, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an Al Qaeda operative held by the Egyptian government, made statements, under torture, suggesting links between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden; this information was used to help justify the invasion of Iraq.


The evidence is fragmentary, but it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Pakistani intelligence agents gave the C.I.A. at least some of the information that pinpointed Kashmiri. Likewise, it seems possible that at least some of that information may have come from Shahzad, either during his lethal interrogation or from data taken from his cell phone. In the past, the I.S.I. and the C.I.A. have coöperated extensively on the U.S. drone program.

He also points at the fragility of the US’ intelligence on drone targets, looking at the practice of shoot-first-ask-later:

In the case of Kashmiri, the American official initially told me that he had been killed in a signature strike. “We did the strike, and we found out later that it was him,” the official said. When I pressed him, though, he said, “We sort of thought he would be there.” He declined to elaborate.

Filkins’ criticism of Shahzad’s journalism is based on his closeness to the militants – and although he is not accusing him of empathizing with them (Although Shahzad didn’t support the militants’ aims, his feelings for them ran deep.), he does explain this empathy by trying to find the conservative in Shahzad. To note his affilitation with JI and his use of language makes sense, but Filkin’s proof for ‘conservatism’ is flimsy.

Shahzad was socially conservative: he didn’t drink, and friends and colleagues describe him as pious. But they say that he didn’t support Islamist violence.

The fact that you don’t drink and believe in god already calls for the assertion that one does not support Islamist violence?

On the other side Filkins makes use of the ‘conventional wisdom’ that the Pakistan army and much more so the ISI is espcecially prone to Islamism. Christine Fair, who is continuously working on questioning this ‘conventional wisdom’ in the case of Pakistan – Shahzad said to Filkins, Independent reporting for the alternative media best suits my temperament as it encourages me to seek the truth beyond ‘conventional wisdom.’– , has looked at that in a recent paper, which she abstracted for the FP magzine. The title in the FP magazine suggests that the ‘conventional wisdom’ needs to be refuted (‘Is Pakistan’s Army as Islamist as We Think? New data suggest it may be even more liberal than Pakistani society as a whole.’), while in reality Fair is emphasizing the perhaps in the article and is rather calling for more research than presenting definite results.

She admits herself, that equating an overrepresentation of Pathuns in the army with a heightened prospect for radical Islamism can hardly be based on facts – she should not have elaborated on it (However, if this is true, …).

She is very cautious in deducing from the fact that the army is recruiting rather from liberal areas (I am not entirely convinced by her definition of liberal and conservative areas either) that the army may actually be less conservative then the average population (Our findings, however, suggest the Pakistani Army, at least until 2002, was no more likely to recruit from conservative areas of the country, suggesting in turn that perhaps — perhaps — there is less radicalization than is commonly assumed.). I would argue, that this finding only points at the fact that the army is recruiting from better educated backgrounds which probably correlate more with more liberal areas. If the army staff is indeed more radical than the average population, it becomes so in the time beginning with selection for an army college, during continued exposure to a young solely male crowd and radicals at these colleges and later in the barracks or the respective offices. Whether coming from a liberal or conservative background has little implication for the person’s later ideological outlook – molding in the army is in most cases a lot stronger than ideological roots to a community. If the army is just as radical (or as not radical) as the average population, this may equally just be due to the fact, that the ideological zeal of the army towards religion is far overestimated. Fair is definitely right in asking for more research in this direction.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.

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September 2011


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