Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect and the Politics of  Sacrifice in Pakistan Army by Maria Rashid

 By Namita Barthwal

Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect and the Politics of  Sacrifice in Pakistan Army by Maria Rashid

New Delhi, Bloomsbury India, 2023 (First Published in 2020),267 pp.,  ₹699/- (Paperback), ISBN 978-93-56407-00-8

In International Relations, there is a good amount of literature available on Why does the Pakistan’s Army dominate the State of Pakistan? There are arguments that geopolitical and domestic circumstances allow Pakistan’s Army to take up the political space which has led to serious Civil-Military imbalance in the country. However, there has been no authentic answer to how Pakistan’s Army has acquired political space for such a long time. The book written by Dr Maria Rashid, in this sense, is a seminal work because it deals with a less answered question of How does the Pakistani Army dominate the State of Pakistan?  The book is an outcome of the author’s PhD thesis at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and is based on interviews and field work that discusses programmes, policies and techniques that have been assiduously employed by the Pakistani Army to impose its ideological hegemony on Pakistan whereby the nation has been in perpetual allegiance to the Pakistani Armed Forces. Most of her research revolves around Chakwal district of Punjab, Pakistan, which has been the traditional ground for the Army since the times of British Raj.

The book is the study of relationships that are crafted within militarism. The relationship Pakistan’s Army has with its soldiers and their families, which acts as a conduit for the Army to communicate with larger citizenry . The author  states that commemorative events, like Martyr’s day known as Youm-e-Shuhada (YeS), which the Pakistani Army celebrates every year on April 30th, are an important instrument in enforcing its ideological hegemony amongst the people of Pakistan. The author highlights that the event of YeS, which is managed by the Inter-Service Public Relations, is heavily choreographed to engineer such feelings. Dr Rashid analyses the commemorative events in detail to see how the Pakistani Army creates the narrative where it projects itself as the final defender of Pakistan’s ideological as well as physical frontiers.

In analysing the meta-narrative, the author finds that the basic theme that runs through such events like YeS is the concept of Rista (Relationship). According to Dr Rashid, this relationship operates at two levels: first, the relationship between the Armed Forces and soldiers and their families, and second, between the Pakistan’s Army and the Nation. The relationship between people and the Pakistani military is a recurrent theme in these national commemorations. The author argues that there is a constant reinforcement and theaterisation of Rista between the Pakistani Army and the Nation.  For instance, the slogan for the 2011 YeS ceremony was “One Force, One Family, One Nation ”.

The author highlights that the YeS event is managed in a professional manner where there is an aspect of management of grief. The Martyr’s family are tutored by the military, sometimes the local clerics were considered to manage the grieving family, that their testimonies must celebrate martyrdom in order to create authentic reverence of the larger citizenry towards the Pakistan’s Army. The families are expected to grief but not loudly and only to a certain extent as according to the Pakistani Army it can be seen as a sign of weakness. In the book, Dr Maria Rashid writes that every attempt is made to manage the funeral of the soldiers in order to serve the narrative rightly.  An elaborative SoP has been decided from who will inform the family of the soldier’s martyrdom to how the funeral to be carried out. Instead of the family, the Pakistan Army believes and ensures that the audience must grieve, sympathise with the family of the martyr and start feeling grateful to the soldiers for their sacrifice. Another highlight in these commemorative events that Dr Rashid discusses in the book is the role of mothers of the martyrs. In her field work, the author observed that mothers are kept in the forefront in commemorative events.

A critical theme of this book is how the Pakistani Army treats its War Wounded Persons (WWPs). The WWPs makes the Pakistani Army uncomfortable because they pose a challenge to the narrative that the Army seeks to project, which is that of a robust and assertive Army dedicated  to protect and defend the citizens of Pakistan. It is a paternalistic concept that the Army follows, who projects the image of the defender but when one sees a WWP,  a sense of pity comes into the mind.  A WWP instead appears as someone who needs care and looking after. Hence, there is a basic level of discomfort that the Pakistani Army feels towards projecting WWPs to Pakistani people. Therefore, the Army does not allow their  representation. According to the book, from 2014 WWPs have completely disappeared from the YeS ceremony, though earlier they were, at least, part of the audience. According to Maria Rashid, the Military focuses too much on bodies that are to be chiselled, fine-tuned and made masculine which can be demonstrated to the citizenry. The Pakistani Army does, however, take care of WWP by giving them adequate compensation and re-employment.

Through an observation, the author highlights the control of Pakistan’s Army over the flow of information.  She mentions that when she was doing research in  the hospitals of Pakistan, she was denied permission to meet WWPs, for which, ISPR’s clearances  are necessary. If their request is approved, military personnel accompany them during these interviews, but before their work is  telecast or published it has to be sent to the ISPR for whetting.

A critical aspect that has been discussed in the book is compensation to martyrs’ families and WWPs. The Pakistani army has a liberal compensation policy, when compared with the policy on ‘War on Terror’ (WoT), in which compensations are also given to common people and to those who are serving other instruments of the State such as police and civil servants. The compensation given to people outside Pakistan’s Army is given  publicity and openly discussed whereas within  the Army the concept of compensation  never gets discussed. It is not brought into the public domain and considered irrelevant. Dr Rashid argues that this has been done deliberately because of the fact that any attempt to discuss compensation policy is looked upon as making the sacrifice transactional which will go against the narrative of Pakistan Army as a defender and eventually affect the perpetual allegiances of the Pakistanis. The author further highlights that the Pakistani Army is very conscious that any disputes in compensation policies must be dealt with discretion by its own agencies. The soldiers and their families are also discouraged to discuss compensation policy in public or to approach civil courts to fight compensation related problems.

An interesting aspect that this book puts light on is the instrumentalisation of Islam in the Pakistani Army which is quite different from Islamism per se.  General Zia Ul Haq is credited for Islamisation of the armed forces to project nationalism that is defined by the Pakistani Army. Under his leadership, Islam started being taught in the education corps. He instituted the recruitment of Khateeb, the cleric in the Pakistan Army. However, the Islamic courses which include awareness and motivation courses that basically deal with Islam are not taught and prepared by Khateeb, instead by Junior Commissioned Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers. Khateeb’s role is limited to a motivator to enthuse the soldier. The author has also shared an incident when a Khateeb tried to differ on the term Jihad  used by Pakistan’s Army to which he was rebuked by an Infantry General.

The author also discusses that the concept of Shaheed was challenged during the fight against Taliban. During her coursework she met many people who were upset with General Parvez Musharraf’s collaboration with the US on the ‘War on Terror’ as they thought the Pakistani Army had fought against the real defenders of Islam. But interestingly when the author asked them what they would call soldiers died in a battle with Taliban they resolved the dilemma by stating that soldiers who died fighting with the traditional enemies, i.e., India are Asal Shaheed (real martyrs) and the soldiers who died fighting against Taliban are Watan Ka Shaheed (martyrs for the nation). This distinction highlights that there is a hierarchy amongst martyrs as well.

The book constantly emphasised that the Pakistani army is professional and follows a strict methodology in the recruitment procedure and in making a soldier. According to Dr Rashid, in Pakistan Army’s training institute the familial attachments are taught to be replaced by masculinity. Soldiers are indoctrinated to start loving their units, platoons and battalions. In due course, the Army becomes the soldiers’ new family. They are also trained to project themselves as the protectors of the nation but deep down there is a contradiction, as when these soldiers were asked the reason for joining the Armed Forces, two common answers that Dr Rashid received were poverty and job security.

In conclusion, Dr Rashid presents highly original literature on Pakistan’s Army by shedding light on the military’s internal mechanisms. The book  is a study of the complex ideological processes that fuel and sustain the appeal of the Pakistan’s Army in the general public of Pakistan, namely how the hegemonic power of the Army diffuses through the lives and deaths of people and is made visible and notable within the national landscape.  The author has used Foucauldian notions of governmentality, to foreground “affect as a technology of rule” where  statecraft is invested in governing both the polity and the affective selves of the subjects involved. It contends that the Pakistani military’s ability to access political space depends in part on its ability to produce certain kinds of political and affective subjects such as Yasmin, the mother of a martyr and the sentimental audience of YeS.