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A Muslim Mercenary Army of 500,000

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    A Muslim Mercenary Army of 500,000

    The Indo-Pak armies and their mercenary calling

    A Chalomumbai Correspondent

    Major Agha Humayun Amin (Retired) is an ex-tank corps officer and a military writer and correspondent. Author of two books on the Pakistan army, he was earlier the executive editor of Globe Karachi.
    There is nothing worse than to do the right thing for the wrong reason, as the adage says. We may modify it slightly by rephrasing it as doing the right thing, or the supposedly right thing, for the wrong reason.

    The pre-1947 Indian Army was a mercenary unit comprising villagers from the country’s barren areas. They were employed against their own people from 1757. The sepoys (as these mercenaries were called) fought for money just like the Senegalese in French occupied Africa.

    Mercenaries had no religious affiliation

    These mercenaries comprised many nationalities and religions. They killed the Santhals in Bengal and the Martathas; they destroyed Tipu Sultan in 1799; they fought against the freedom fighters of 1857 when a greater part of the Hindustani mercenaries rebelled against the British masters. They fought against the Sikhs, who later on were enlisted as mercenaries.

    They fought against the Afghans in three wars during 1839-42, 1878-80, and in 1919. In addition, they fought in countless expeditions in the Trans-Indus Frontier from 1843 to 1946.

    Internationally, these mercenaries fought against the Muslim Turks in the First Great War, against the Chinese in the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion, and against the Germans in the World Wars I and II: races that had nothing against India. In short, these men fought against anyone for a living.

    Indian opportunism and the exceptions

    Espirit de Corps was a cleverly coined British ploy to galvanise these mercenaries. There were exceptions to the mercenary rule. In 1857, the Bengal Army, some three-fourths of which was Hindustani Hindu led by one fourth Hindustani and Ranghar Muslims mostly from cavalry that rebelled against the British East India Company.

    Unfortunately, India was not a nation, and the British Company found eager mercenaries in the northwest. They were eager to loot Delhi and to get land grants, Jangi Inams, and other carrots the cunning English colonials promised. Opportunism became the rule of Indian society whether it was poets, educationists, lawyers, civil servants, or soldiers.

    The Indians were a defeated people and they thought that the white man was invincible. There were some exceptions when Sher Ali, a tall, muscular Pathan, stabbed the British Viceroy Mayo in the Andaman Islands in 1872. However, most other Indians were far more pragmatic and opportunistic than a Pathan convict in the Andamans.

    Thus, nobody remembers Sher Ali today except the Pashtun Students Federation, where his photograph tops the gallery of heroes. Sher Ali was, however, an exception, and sycophancy and appeasement remained the cardinal life scripts of most Indians.

    Some motivated Pathans of the tribal area minus the more opportunistic people of Mardan Charsadda Swabi Kohat and D I Khan carried at the struggle that had its origins in Sayyid Ahmad Brelvis guerrilla war.

    Trying to wake Indians up

    Then came the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The myth of European superiority was broken. Some audacious men, mostly Bengali Hindus, decided to strike back. A bold man called Rash Behari Bose attacked the British Viceroy Charles Hardinge with a bomb containing gramophone needles and nails even as he was entering Delhi in 1813.

    Unfortunately, Bihari failed. However, terror struck at the heart of the British empire. Their viceroy was attacked not in the far-flung Andamans, but in the newly created imperial capital New Delhi and not by a Wahabi, but by a highly-educated Bengali Hindu.

    Rash Bihari escaped, but the Indian Army did not wake up from the slumber of their mercenary sleep. World War I was yet another testing ground for the Indian Army.

    As one British historian put it, the Punjabi Muslims stood staunch as a rock while there was a question mark over the Pathans. He did not, however, add that these disloyal Pathans were not from settled districts of Mardan or Charsadda Kohat or Peshawar, but from the tribal areas and from DI Khan.

    The rebels

    Some Indian military men were ashamed of their degrading mercenary status and rebelled against the British. Notable among these were the Hindustani Muslim Ranghars of the 5th Light Infantry, who for some time captured Singapore; the Afridis of various Frontier Force Units, notably the indomitable Mir Mast Afridi; and some Mahsuds from the Mahsud Companies of the 129 and 130 Baluchis. Lastly, there were the Pathan Squadrons of Curetons 15 Lancers (the Punjabi Muslim Squadrons remaining pragmatically loyal).

    All these men died, but all men are mortal. Is it death that our rulers are afraid of or is it a billion dollar package that will give them immortality? Is collaboration at the rate of few billion dollars the golden lesson they are leaving for posterity? A pragmatic lesson one must say.

    An important development

    One important development took place during World War I. The Sikh Ghadrites, a group of Punjabis, some Hindus, and mostly Sikhs, did manage to subvert the Indian Army from their mercenary calling. They did not succeed, but many soldiers of scribes unit 23 Cavalry were court-martialed and executed for conspiracy against the British Empire.

    On the whole, the Indian Army remained staunch even when martial law was imposed in Punjab in 1919, Gujranwala was bombed, many civilians flogged or made to crawl in the public, and many hundreds of civilians were killed by the army.

    The only inspiring incident of the Indian Army not being a mercenary force occurred in the 1930s, when the Garhwali Hindu soldiers of a unit of the Royal Garhwal Rifles refused to fire on the Pathan Muslim Redshirts demonstrating against the British.

    The Indian Army remained largely loyal in WW II, minus the Indian National Army in Burma. By and large, Indian independence had no connection with the Indian Army, who remained loyal mercenaries to the end to their British masters.

    Indian army reduced to its place, but not in Pak

    Nehru reduced the army to its correct place -- a servile instrument of civilian policy. In Pakistan, because the Muslim League, there was a party of soldiers with a mercenary past, and with nothing to do with the political struggle to free India, they were able to usurp power.

    Since they were leaders of a mercenary army rather than a national army, they made the US their godfather, making professions of being its vanguard, whether it was the protection of Anglo-Iranian Oil Fields or supporting Anglo-French claims over the Suez Canal. In the process of this abject appeasement, they managed an aid package from the US.

    This was sufficient to make the Pakistan Army a sophisticated army but insufficient to win a war against India, not because of material reasons, but because of poor higher leadership and strategic and operational ineptness. All throughout this period, the common Pakistani was anti-US anti-West, pro-Arab, and pro-Muslim.

    However, the common man was only a servile tool, democracy having been destroyed by 1958. The army remained a mercenary army with little national participation. It fought the 1965 War well, albeit at a battalion level, since beyond the battalion level, the more senior ranks were ones who had been programmed by the pre-1947 British to be company commanders at best.

    A watershed in Pak history

    The 1965 War proved to be a watershed in Pakistani history, since it made clear the fact that the army was not a national army, since it was without participation from the country’s east wing. General Yahya Khan, the new C-in-C, realised this, but it was too late.

    The result was a civil war followed by defeat in a conventional war and the break up of Pakistan into two states. Few lessons were learnt, and soon, the country’s first post-1946 democratically elected government was dismissed amidst allegations of superpower involvement. The army came with a 90-day promise to hold elections, which were never held.

    The gap between the people and the army grew, and the situation was saved only by the fact that the Zia military junta found a new master, more correctly a new paymaster, in the USA once the USSR invaded Afghanistan. For next nine years, Pakistan fought the USA’s war against communism, only to be conveniently discarded like a syringe with a decade long life.

    A syringe used to inject poison into the Red Army, and then thrown into the incinerator of history. Within three years of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the USA was all keen to declare Pakistan a terrorist state; the Americans have short memories. Something like an impromptu encounter with a lass in a bar, followed by an expression of eternal love and everything forgotten the next day after the desired objective is achieved.

    The events of September 11, 2001

    Suddenly, in September 2001, precisely on the 11th of September, the US suddenly woke up from a 13-year attack of insomnia and remembered they had a very close friend called Pakistan: a cheap friend led by a machine with a mercenary past. Hence, the latest US-Pak nexus.

    What is the motivation of Pakistan’s military elite to appease the US? They are a bunch of men who came into power in an impromptu manner and suffer from a crisis of legitimacy. Since the end of the Cold War, mercenaries were no longer in demand and Pakistan’s standing army was getting little aid from USA or any potential mercenary masters.

    September 11, 2001 changed everything. Once again, Pakistan’s elite got a chance last received in 1979. Because they had missed one in the 1990-91 Gulf War, this time they are in no mood to miss another. Their mercenary calling has been given a God-given opportunity. Without any deliberation, the military junta gave the US near divine status and offered their mercenary services against a neighbouring Muslim country.

    Rationalisng the stand

    Soon, this stand was rationalized by the military dictator in the name of Pakistan’s best interests; that India would benefit if Pakistan did not go on its knees to appease the Americans; that the Israelis would attack Pakistan; that the USA was lesser of the two evils. Pakistan, the so-called bastion of Islam despite its 500,000-man army and an arsenal of nuclear weapons, is literally crawling in diplomatic language to appease the Americans.

    If this state created in the name of Islam is so vulnerable, then it should be declared the fifty-first state of the US. It may well be a Puerto Rico or Panama with a US military presence. Why all the macho talk about being Momins and soldiers of Allah?

    If a few billion dollars are so important, then what is the difference between Sepoy Khudadad who fought for Rs 18 a month in the 1920s for the King and against his enemies? If this country cannot survive without oil imported for free or on a subsidised rate from a neighbouring country, why waste taxpayers’ money on a foreign ministry that consumes some Rs 28 crore per day. God may have made us poor, but we became beghairat (shameless) by our own choice.

    After 2001, Pakistan will either be condemned to be a country ruled by mercenaries, or it will become a true republic, an Islamic Republic or whatever one may call it.

    Is Pakistan really so weak?

    Are we so weak that one threat from a bully with an average IQ sends our leaders, so-called martial men who wear camouflage commando jackets, a clear and total violation of the army dress code, of the Pakistan army down to their knees? What is the use of a Chinese policy if one ultimatum evaporates all the resolution that our military leaders are supposed to have? It makes one think whether or not the Holy Kaaba is in Mecca or a few thousand miles further West.

    To stab your neighbor in order to gain a few billion is being rationalised as pragmatic foreign policy. Even a courtesan called Hazrat Mahal did not collaborate with the British, fighting the war of Independence in Lucknow. She did not surrender even once Lucknow was recaptured in March 1858 and died in exile in Nepal. Pragmatism would have meant accepting a pension that the British offered her and settling in India. However, this dancing girl was not a mercenary.

    Are Pak leaders glorified coolies

    What has happened? Our rulers have accepted the role of glorified coolies and camp followers of the USA. This country’s rulers had sold their souls in 1954 once the first major treaty with USA was signed. After a great deal of kicking during the period of 1990-1999, they regained some pride.

    The year 2001 has robbed this nation from being a nation of resolute man. We have been auctioned for a few billion dollars. Auctioned because a superpower wants access to the strategic underbelly of Russia and China. Auctioned because of valid strategic reasons.

    Our leaders have not learned anything from Machiavelli, whom they do try or claim to read. The men who collaborate with any superior power or play bargaining games with it are the first targets. Thus, the fate of Liaquat in 1951, the fate of Bhutto in 1979, and that of Zia in 1988. We have everything written on the wall. It is only the lack of perception that makes us blind. Even Russia and China will be the losers.

    This so-called attack will stop on the Oxus River or at the Wakhan Strip. It will spread on into Chinese Turkestan (Sinkiang), Tajikistan, Kazakhastan, and to the Urals. If there is a minor Muslim separatist threat in China or Russia today, after a few years, these separatists will be getting Stingers to fight with until Siberia, Central Asia, Azerbaijan,
    and Sinkiang are sattellites of the Western powers.

    The Iranians are secretly rejoicing, but they must not forget that a Sunni Afghanistan is less of a threat than an Afghanistan administered under a US or UN mandate. The Talibans in all probability may be crushed, but Afghan nationalism will survive. Their will be new groups, new Ahmad Shah’s, and new Hikmatyars who will fight a new Holy war against US occupation with Chinese and Russian weapons, such as those from the CIA during 1979-88.

    The Russians must forget how the USA had behaved when they occupied Afghanistan in 1979. 14,000 Russians died, most because of weapons supplied to the Afghan resistance by CIA. The USSR must redress the balance of 1979-88 during 2001-10. Let the invaders come and settle down in Kabul and Kandahar and then send gifts of 100 body bags each day to their home country.

    Can we lease our army as mercenaries?

    Is this country a private security agency that can be hired for a few billion dollars? If that is the case, why not lease our forces to fight as mercenaries as they did before 1947? Never in Pakistani history was collaboration so openly defended and propagated.

    Even Finland, a country far smaller than Pakistan, fought without US or British aid honorably for a certain duration of time. Are the Indians such a threat that we have to compete with them in being timid and shameless? The mercenary calling of our state has once again triumphed.

    The “bastion of Islam” is too weak to withstand one verbal volley of a man who is angry about something that has happened many thousand miles away from this country. To compound things further, we have journalists, thinkers, and so-called experts busy writing articles for Hazoor ka Iqbal Buland Karna.

    Opportunism, which was instilled in us by the British in 1757, has once again triumphed. Two countries were created in the name of religion to date, ie., Israel and Pakistan. Israel has fought for its ideology.

    Ironically, Pakistan has retained its mercenary character.

    Wrong, forever on the throne,

    and truth, forever on the scaffold.

    We Indians program the world

    Hello people,
    This is my first post here,

    It is a very interesting analysis indeed.

    All the more reason for the Pakistani public to strive harder to bring back democracy.

    and here is the link to that above post.

    We Indians program the world

    [This message has been edited by indojunkie (edited July 12, 2002).]


      welcome to gupshup

      "#define QUESTION ((bb) | | !(bb))" — Shakespeare
      I am only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.



        Read some of the similar posts written in past. Anything whether right or wrong, written against Paki army, is not welcome here.



          Thanx 5Abi,

          Farid, this is a discussion forum, I am not trying to flame, defame or post a lame article. If you dont like reading something, "dont". Everyone knows Pakistan's army is good, for the amount of budget the army get it better be. But when I read the posts about the PA, it is painted as an army of supermen capable of doing spectacular actions.

          This article is an extract from a book written by a Pakistani!!

          Patriotism is fine, blind patriotism is ???

          Peace y'all

          [This message has been edited by indojunkie (edited July 12, 2002).]


            Excellent article. I wonder if this brave Pakistani is also a Panjabi? That would be ironic.


              Another Indian Taking pot shots at pakistani integrity you tell us to bring back democracy so i guess india programs the worl the great south East asian democrat yeah right get your facts right son... We are watching you buiolding the ram temple on the grounds of muslim mosques and killing innocent muslims yeah sort your own first before pointing towards others and ohh yeah dont forget you have half the world;s hungry residing in your sad little country .......

              Pakistan Zindabad

              Do the Infantry Proud


                a very intersting subject
                if any body wants to read seriously about this subject then read this book called
                "soldier sahibs"
                yes indeed most of the indian sepoys were merceneries and during the uprising of 1857 the british with the help of native troops which included pathans,sikhs,and punjabi muslims were able to defeat the indian forces of bahadur shah zafar led alliance and when the war was won the troops looted delhi and return to hills with fair ladies