As I sit here on September 6th, observing Pakistan’s Defense Day 2023, it’s not just an occasion to reminisce and celebrate our nation’s resilience. It’s also an opportune time for introspection, a chance to acknowledge that while external threats are a tangible reality, the gravest danger often simmers within our borders. Our understanding of national defense has evolved over the years, shifting from conventional warfare with guns and bullets to a multifaceted battle for the hearts and minds of our people.
The gravest danger often simmers within our borders
Pakistan, a nation founded on profound ideological principles, hinges on national unity as the linchpin of its security. Throughout our storied history, our rich ethno-cultural and ethno-religious diversity has been exploited by both internal and external forces. From nationalist movements dating back to 1954 to the ethno-religious tensions that emerged in the 1970s, we’ve navigated a complex web of internal challenges. Economic disparities, political instability, and the looming specter of climate insecurity have all contributed to this volatile mix.
Amidst these multifaceted challenges, the role of economic revival stands as a keystone for resilience against internal implosion. A robust economy not only enhances the standard of living for citizens but also reduces the susceptibility of vulnerable populations to radicalization and extremist ideologies. It provides a sense of hope and opportunity, which is vital in countering the allure of extremist narratives that often thrive in environments of economic despair.
Although, in moments of crisis, such as the 1965 war, the devastating Kashmir earthquake of 2005, or the catastrophic floods of 2010, we’ve witnessed the admirable unity of our people. We’ve come together to confront even the most daunting challenges. However, once the immediate crisis subsides, the underlying internal divisions resurface, threatening the very core of our nation’s stability.
The contemporary landscape of warfare has transformed dramatically, transitioning from conventional battlefields to encompass ideological, psychological, and emotional spheres.
Historically, institutions like Pakistan’s National Cadet Corps (NCC) and Civil Defense played pivotal roles in grooming and training our youth for national defense. Sadly, the dissolution of the NCC in 2002 created a void, leaving us without an entity to guide and prepare our youth for the intricate challenges of the 21st century.
In tandem with this, the proliferation of private militias has contributed to the rise of gun culture, while within a society marked by inflation, political turmoil, and deep-seated ethnic and religious fault lines, criminal activities and civil unrest have become all too common. Fear has been weaponized as a political tool.
The advent of social media has further complicated matters. It has rendered our younger generation more susceptible to manipulation. Recent attempts on social media to undermine Pakistani identity and sow discord by exploiting regional subnationalism are deeply concerning. It’s imperative that we engage our youth, a significant demographic, channeling their energies toward preserving our shared national identity, ‘Pakistaniat.’
The recent youth movements, such as those that emerged following the dismissal of the Imran Khan government, demonstrate their potential for mobilization. However, their energy must be channeled in the right direction. We’ve seen in the past, during the War on Terror, how groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) gained traction among disenchanted youth.
In this challenging landscape, we must heed the wisdom of ‘A’idh bin ‘Amro al-Muzani (RAA), who narrated The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)’s words: “اَلْإِسْلَامِ يَعْلُو, وَلَا يُعْلَى” – “Islam is always superior and should never be surpassed.” We have a sacred duty to safeguard our nation’s identity and ideals, particularly when ‘Pakistaniat’ is under threat from external elements exploiting religious and ideological fault lines.
In this context, the role of the Ullema becomes even more significant, especially with ideologies like Takfiriat infiltrating our society through groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISK-P). Defense in the 21st century demands not only military strength but also the fortification of our national unity, economic resilience, and identity against internal divisions. Unchecked, these divisions could become a potent tool for adversaries seeking to undermine Pakistan’s defense and sovereignty. As we commemorate Defense Day, let’s remember that true defense begins from within, with our unity, shared purpose, and a strong and resilient economy acting as pillars of our national strength.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.