A New Breed of Soldiers

A New Breed of Soldiers

There is a new breed of soldiers in Pakistan. They wear suits to work. Immaculate suits with not-too-loud ties and perfect knots. On rainy days, they even wear overcoats. Leather jackets and stubbles are not tolerated, and neither is dissent. Blazers and cufflinks make more than random appearances among such ranks. Sunglasses decrease as ages increase. Mostly, these serious warriors dress for serious business.


On Fridays, some of these soldiers wear pristinely pressed shallus. These are coupled with form-fitting waistcoats (shallus alone don’t stand a chance as a choice of uniform for this special batch of patrician troops). On such occasions, these soldiers could look the part of the assailants in the political death-match that is Pakistan’s prime-time television talk-show circuit. Given the information they have access to, one can even assume that they would win such broadcast debates. But these soldiers are not into debating, nor even much talking. As officers and gentlemen, they tend to listen more.


Some of these soldiers are hip. No Urdu vulgarities are ever mouthed, unless it’s a one-on-one encounter; yet not all of them invoke Inshallahs and Mashallahs in their diction. They compliment measuredly, but genuinely. Niceties are exchanged only at the beginning of the conference. There are no diversions when the talking begins.


In meetings, they sit cross-legged and at ease, Masters of the Universe in their leather and wood adorned reception rooms. Most of them don’t smoke, but allow and even encourage tobacconists. They read the New York Times and the Washington Post, but several of them think Newsweek and Time are a waste of, well…time. They don’t like the BBC. Or Bruce Reidel. But they don’t mind Bill Keller. Or Daniel Markey.


When tea is served, these soldiers follow peculiar rules. Some of them are mindful enough to not bother inquiring one’s choice: black tea, or green? Both cups arrive simultaneously for their guests, who can then choose impressionably. The soldiers then crack a joke, sympathetic towards their guests’ confusion, and call it a part of their ‘contingency planning hospitality.’ It’s a good joke, and compels one to laugh.


Tea drinking is an interesting tradition among these soldiers. The ranking officer usually nurses his cup and saucer delicately. He sips his tea as he mulls, but his subordinates down their drinks suddenly and invisibly. While he paces though his brew at the right temperature, his juniors wait for their cups to cool and then gulp the beverage down in one, flawless motion. Their chain of command doesn’t tolerate leisure or pleasure. They’re supposed to be listening, not sipping.


These soldiers have several worldviews. But in a huddle with several soldiers, only the worldview of one soldier – the ranking officer in that meeting – comes forth. The lesser soldiers make it a point to carry notepads on which they scribble ideas generated by the ranking soldier, and don’t talk unless they are referred to. Few of them react independently, and when they do, it’s usually as laughter at the pleasantries generated by either the guest or the host, i e the ranking soldier. Social initiatives or interruptions are not to be expected from these second-tier combatants. Even head-nods are rare. After all, poker faces lead to promotions.


Lately, these soldiers haven’t been mentioning India much. They’re not talking shop about Kashmir. They’re not saying anything on nuclear weapons or Siachen or even the MFN status. No, their minds are filled with other, inwardly focused and home-grown problems, where assets and rockets are difficult to deploy. These soldiers are thinking about the NROs and the Memogates, the Balochistans and the Salalas, the media and the judges. Babar Awan and Asma Jahangir are taking up more of their time than Bal Thackeray or Omar Abdullah. Thus, caution is the new coup. Their India-centrism, as their liberal detractors like to call it, has assumed other, more introspective dimensions.


Yet, America figures in prominently. These soldiers seem to think the Americans don’t listen enough, nor like to give much away. They also assume the Americans have made up their minds about India, and grunt c’est la vie at that development. But they sound like they can still convince the Americans about Afghanistan. They know they don’t have much to bargain except one, simple angle: The Americans will leave, the Afghans will stay, and they themselves will keep soldiering on.


Thus, these warriors sit confident, amused by the Americans talking to the front-office of the Taliban in Qatar, for they know that business is always conducted by the back-office, at least in every business that matters. They also sound like they know how Afghanistan’s back-office works, and where it could be. But no addresses are mentioned, only general directions.


As for Afghanistan, these soldiers have a special place in their hearts for that poor country. There is a sense of entitlement that is similar to one which comes, perhaps, with a class and tradition-breaching marriage, for these soldiers assume, perhaps semi-justifiably, that they ‘took the Afghans in’ and ‘opened up this country for them’. Like the horse-riding aristocrat who falls in love with ravaged village girl, weds her honourably and then helps her exact revenge from her violators, only to be abandoned by her as she weds an even richer suitor, they feel they have been betrayed by the Afghans.


So, they have adopted the nothing-but-business practicality of a jilted ex-lover, and want to clean house accordingly. They don’t want the Afghans to be engulfed in a self-immolating ethnic war, but then, they know that may be the only way the Afghans shall learn their lesson. So they’re at ease with Mulla Omar’s recent appeals to the Pakistani Taliban to stop fighting the state here and unite with him for the jihad there. However, they’re magnanimous enough to admit that even though Omar’s call to arms is good for Pakistan in the short-run, its bad news for the region in the long run. Thus, they advise, it would be wise for the Americans to be friends, not voyeurs: listen to our conversations less, and our counsel more.


The writer is a Harvard Shorenstein Fellow, an Asia Society Global Young Leader, and investigates for print/broadcast/social media. e-mail: [email protected]

  • Sarsayam

    The glamorous uniforms, interest in real estate, myopic visions, haughty faces and stiff necks are some other features of this new breed of Paki soldiers. How I wish to see the end of all cantonments and removal of all brass from the uniforms.

    • Jamal

      If u will see that madam then u will also hear the enemies of ur country knocking at ur door..please dnt come running for shelter to these stiff necks..u ve absolutely no idea what we soldiers do for pakistan..please dnt believe in media propaganda..our one day at siachen and wazirastan is equal to ur complete life’s struggle..believe me i ve been there and I knw it..when bullets speak then these journalists dnt come to face them..we are the ones..corrupt people are everywhere..please dnt nullify the sacrifices of the rest because of a few rotten eggs..

      • Muhammed

        Yes…. very true… these soldiers TAKE a lot of sacrifices from Pakistanis, they eat on tax paid moneys, they take lands and plots and when enemy knocks at our doors, they surrender like 1971, Kargil and in 2001………. BUT they are fully trained to kill Muslims like they did in Dhaka, Karachi, Lal Masjid and Tribal Areas………. their sacrifices are uncountable.

      • Kashif

        I agree with Jamal and appreciate the efforts he has pointed out.

      • Bhai_Mian

        What media propaganda you are talking about. You seem to me like a child with IQ in single digit

        Was Dhaka fall and capture of 90,000 Brave soldiers media propaganda?
        Failure to stop drone attacks, GHQ attacks, NATO attacks : are these media propaganda too?

        Only few of them are honest and upright. Most of them are corrupt with only interest in DHA , Plots and promotions.


    Working shoulder to shoulder with North Korea and China!

  • Ali Alamzeb

    Waj, that’s a great article and it’s pinpoint accuracy. Keep writing. I miss your show dude :-(

  • Shuah

    Wajahat needs to be grown up.

  • Aman Maq

    There’s nothing with a well dressed and behaved man whether it be among the new breed of soldiers or your regular business men or students for that matter.

  • http://twitter.com/munib munib

    can you clearly identify whom this article refers to ?

  • Wajahat S. Khan

    Hey, Thanks guys! Great feedback!!
    @Aman: I don’t understand what you’re saying, unfortunately.
    @Shuah: Sorry, but I try!
    @Ali: Thanks mate. Glad you liked the show. Watch out as new one is coming.
    @Nasah: Hmmm….
    @Sarsayam: Everybody has a right to their opinion, as should you!
    @Jamal: Let her have her say, mate. It’s a free country, for now!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/احمدسنام-بن-محمد/542703384 احمدسنام بن محمد

    wajahat!! im sure u got paid good to write anti-Army..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/احمدسنام-بن-محمد/542703384 احمدسنام بن محمد

    wajahat!! i am sure u really got paid good to write this anti-Army shit..


    Indeed Terra Cotta soldiers frozen in time guarding the cereal empire.

  • Nadir Ehsan

    Wajahat, I’ve never been to Harvard and I don’t know what Shorenstein means, and the “Fellow” certainly hides the apparent non-racist fallacious norms to include white-like-thinking non-whites. I pity the the terracotta soldiers who laid their lives so that “Fellows” like you could live a happy and evangelically liberal life to slight their dead deeds. Have you ever cared – and honestly cared – to ask the children of those who died for people like you as to how they feel when they lost a terracotta father. Apparently not!

  • Adnan Wasim

    What ever you have written is truth but it appeals me. ISI is the world No.1 Agency defending Pakistan from very clever and sharp enemies. And i think they know how to control taliban and that’s what they are doing. In a country like Pakistan where people costs there vote for 100 rupees, we really need a team of intelligent, professional and selfless people like our army. I am Proud of them. You wrote anit-army but actually its pro-army for the one who thinks.

    • Bhai_Mian

      ISI is the world No.1 Agency defending Pakistan from very clever and sharp enemies”

      Ha Ha Ha ..Good Joke . Made me laugh like hell.

      The achievements of this so called No1 agency in the last 10 years include
      1. Failure to detect CIA agents like Raymond Davis before he killed three Pakistanis.
      2. Failure to punish Raymond Davis who went back to US
      3. Failure to detect OBL living next door to PMA Kakul in Abbottabad.
      4. Failure to break or disrupt the network of suicide bombers in Pakistan till now.
      5. Failure to prevent and detect attack on GHQ
      6. Illegally abducting , killing , torturing Pakistanis and then selling them to the US for 5000 US dollars. And the list goes on

      There is a very long list of achievement ( failures) of this useless and incompetent agency.

  • Zia

    u seem to have been a part of the army and kicked out ( rightly so) or your a son of an army officer…if so don’t disrespect what your father has done

  • Sajidali

    I do agree with wajahat that these so called highly experienced well wisher think tnaks broke country in two by their discusting attitude,sold the country’s rivers because they knows future, ruined afghanistan by playing a ‘money making match’ since last thirty years , gave the gifts of sucide bombers to the public, place the country on ‘renowned terrorist list’ in the world.still they are active to do more … because they are more sincere, honest, custodian and well wisher

  • Jay Malik

    I got tired of reading the narrative description of their mannerism as was built up by the writer. At the end, he got to the point that Pak Army is Not India centric and rather play cool and wait n watch game and hoping that the outcome of Afghan war will be in their favor. I think they should even be less Afghan/US centric as well and start really focussing on making the internal watchdog agencies stronger such as FIA, police, CID etc. There is a much bigger danger posed to us by tax evading fuedals, politicians, govt officials etc than any outside threat. Army can play its part in waging a real jihad by helping other state institutions of thinking more independently and patriotically as they do. Just today, looking at the picture of Zardari patting Qader Gilani made me sick to my core. I couldn’t watch one such crooked person bucking up another notorious son of this corrupt society. Is there someone with some balls watching who can make an example out of these lawless movie villain like characters playing so openly on our national stage and f…ing with our collective sense of decency????? I was hoping it was going to be some Strong Army men who don’t have to stage a coupe, just a secret operation of bringing these goons to the book.

  • Shaukat

    Great article!!! Look at the disaster in Siachen. Let Pakistan spend more money on education and less on army. I have had the pleasure of traveling on both sides of the IndoPak border and the life style of a Pakistan army officer is abhorently decadent. And by the way intolerece in Pakistan can’t be matched by any other country in this world.