Wars and Martyrdom | Daanish Mustafa’s Blog

Sep 2013

One of the best favors a military can do to its enemies is to inculcate in its rank and file the desirability of achieving martyrdom. After all, the whole point of armed hostilities is to help your enemies achieve martyrdom, so that they can go meet whichever God they believe in, while your side achieves its objectives on this Earth. So if you are already getting your men eager to die for your country, then you have pretty much achieved a very crucial part of your enemies’ objectives. General George Patton of the U.S. Army was quite right when in his colorful language he declared that no ?&@%+ has ever won a war by dying for his country—your job is to help your enemy die for his country. That being the case then, as the Defense of Pakistan Day comes around, the whole glorification of shahadat or martyrdom is quite perplexing. I mean, what good is a martyr, once he has become a martyr, to his regiment, to the army, to the air force, or to his country?

A martyr cannot operate an artillery piece, a martyr cannot take a machine gun position, a martyr cannot fly a plane, and a martyr certainly cannot capture or hold territory. Fighting men are only good and useful as long as they can stay alive, keep their comrades alive, and fight on. A martyrdom enthusiast is the most dangerous person in a military formation. Not only is an aspiring martyr more likely to take stupid risks, but in his zest to achieve martyrdom the person is more likely to arrange the same for his unwilling comrades.

Modern warfare is more about rationality, anticipation, analytical sharpness, willingness to take reasonable risks, imagination, and ability to acknowledge and learn from mistakes. If one were to ask me the lowest common denominator of military success, I would say that the side with the most accurate and effective artillery wins—air force being a type of long-range artillery. Accuracy of artillery has got nothing to do with jazba-e-shahadat (desire for martyrdom)–in fact quite the opposite. It is about training, discipline, and being able to do your sums in the field as you range the target and aim the gun, quicker than your enemy. And in the air force, to my mind, if anybody even breathes of martyrdom, she or he should be thrown out of the service. After all, the taxpayers did not pay for the F16s to fly martyr to some harem in the hereafter. They paid for them to be operated by professional pilots who are adept at sending the enemy upstairs.

I am no expert on military matters, just a military history enthusiast. And being a pacifist, I am no fan of glory in war. But I am fascinated by the human intellect and endeavor that manifests itself in war. The biggest victory to my mind is to avoid war altogether and achieve one’s objectives without violence. But that said, and given the perverse streak of aggression and acquisitiveness in human affairs, violence and militaries as purveyors of that violence is a feature of our existence that we cannot wish away.

Countries such as ours are often pitted against enemies with vastly superior forces at their disposal. That being the case, one has to fall back upon the old maxim that superior force is always defeated by superior thinking. Can we then safely claim that our military thinkers are superior to their counterparts in other countries? As late Dr. Eqbal Ahmed, an expert in guerrilla warfare (besides being a brilliant intellect) used to say: Victory in war is contingent upon your ability to out-organize your enemy. Organization and imaginative leadership is the ultimate force multiplier.

If the ultimate military project is to out-organize the enemy, and to train an imaginative military leadership, then surely the focus must be on building world-class military training institutions. Training institutions which are not just about rote learning or regurgitating old lessons, but rather about freedom of dissent, creativity and original knowledge generation. Having emotional hotheads thumping holy texts or wrapping themselves in the flag may have been the thing for yesterday’s militaries. Today’s militaries need cool heads and thoughtful leadership. Maybe it is military intellect and leadership that should be sought and celebrated on the Defense of Pakistan Day, and not just martyrdom.

Daanish Mustafa is a Reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. He spends his time contesting the despotism of the reader over the message of the Author.

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