Kulturkampf in Pakistan

Pakistan army is engaged in a battle with the jehadis to control the cultural mindspace.

The Pakistan Army is in trouble and it is under simultaneous attack on several fronts. The blistering pace of India’s military modernisation is leaving it in the dust. The feudal Pakistani politicians want to cut it down to size. The people of Pakistan are upset over its lack of accountability. And the Pakistani jihadi community wants righteous vengeance.

In order to retain the ability to confront India and America, the Pakistan Army must engage jihadi groups. However every handshake with the jihadis betrays Pakistan Army’s incompetence. The jihadis appear heroes who can do what the Pakistan Army cannot.


After being betrayed by the Pakistan army during the Lal Masjid siege, the jihadis went to war with them. Eventually they declared the Pakistani Army soldiers (who participated in anti-jihadi operations) as kafirs. The Army in turn, declared the jihadis to be anti-Pakistan forces in league with the unholy trinity of the Indian R&AW, American CIA and Israeli Mossad.

The jihadis already had a media campaign. The internet was already filled with speeches by pro-jihad preachers, martyrdom videos and shots of kaffirs being beheaded. This was part of an older fundraising infrastructure set up for the Afghan and Kashmir jihads. Maulana Rafiuddin Usmani, the Mufti-e-Azam Pakistan struck the first blow in a speech in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid siege. In his speech he refused to unequivocally (delete) condemn the Ghazi brothers and their actions. This was quickly followed by a verbal assault on Gen. Musharraf by Syed Adnan Kakakhel, a mureed at Jamia Binoria. These pieces alone put the jihadis ahead of the Pakistan Army in the public debate.

The Army had its fan club, but now it needed to reach a broader audience. It launched a number of TV serials that provided a glimpse into the personal lives of the soldiers who participated in the war against the Jihadis. The Army produced its own martyrdom videos, eulogies of dead soldiers, and interviews with their parents. Central to the Pakistani Army effort on the internet was a group of people led by Syed Zaiduzzaman Hamid that organised itself into an entity known as Pakistan Ka Khuda Hafiz and began to post flattering portraits of the army’s efforts against the jihadis. In the face of the jihadi visions of Islamic nationalism, the Zaid Hamid crowd flashed an equally virulent brand of Pakistani hyper-nationalism that backed the Army. If the jihadis demonised India, America and Israel – Zaid Hamid went two steps further and demonised the entire world. His efforts symbolised the desperation of the Army.

As this grand ideological war progressed an unlikely battle developed for control over the muzak. The jihadis had long used a monophonic acapella form called the nasheed to promote their ideas. The nasheeds were in Urdu, and were easy enough for anyone to sing along to. These could be played in the background and it would go unnoticed that they were urging one to do terrible things. The most influential and chilling nasheed to come from Pakistan was “Koi talash karna chahe” (Even if someone wanted to search). It was released by a Lashkar-e-Taiba media entity called NiceKiller80 in November 2008. The words go as follows:

Koi talash karna chahe,

(Even if someone wanted to search (for me))

Toh talash kar sake na,

(Their search would fail)

Chun chun key mere tukde,

(Finding only bits and pieces)

Poori laash kar sake na

(They would not be able to reassemble me (my corpse))

The nasheed would have been ignored, if it hadn’t been for a steady stream of mentally handicapped children who were performing suicide bombings. As its circulation in Pakistan quickly approached that of the Qom nasheed, it was clear to everyone that left unchecked this nasheed alone would legitimise the jihadi campaign of suicide bombing in Pakistani minds.

It was at this point that a number of Qaumi Tarane (National Songs) began to appear in the Pakistani media. Though they were not quite as catchy as the Talash nasheed, Zaid Hamid’s friends dutifully added these songs to videos eulogising the Pakistan Army. The songs had little impact. Overt criticism of Zaid Hamid on the web grew. The Army needed a really good song otherwise it would lose the battle for the muzak, and jihadi thoughts would seize the minds of the young and restless in small town Pakistan.

The first relief on this front came from a wildly popular Punjabi song, Udeekan, sung by Jawad Kahlown and Shahzaman Alam. The music video bears the unmistakable mark of Kamran Yar Kami’s genius. In the video Jawad and Shahzaman drive around a deserted road in a Ford Mustang from the 70s. The message sent is simple: Pakistanis are searching for a lost love on the deserted highway of fate. And Pakistan is cool – you see no Jihadis or suicide bombers or IEDs here – just a peasant on the side of the road wearing sombrero and strumming a guitar. The wonderful music that springs from his guitar, where is the music coming from you ask? It is coming from the great land of Pakistan itself.

Those that care to know would recognise that this has all been done before – first in post WWII Europe by the CIA and later less successfully by Arya Mehr’s men in late 70s. Will it now work in Pakistan?

Photo: Olly Farrell