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Professional Military Education

A Cross-Cultural Survey


Edited By Duraid Jalili and Hubert Annen

This book brings together non-Western viewpoints on military pedagogy and professional military education (PME). In doing so, it seeks to provide a counterbalance to the predominantly European and North American bias found within the research field, as well as generating new insights on Latin American, African and Asian pedagogical commentaries and critiques. The collection contains essays from PME researchers and practitioners across fourteen countries, on subjects including large-scale educational reform, civil-military and academic influences on military pedagogy, internationalisation, cross-cultural collaboration, and interoperability within military education.

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Re-Evaluating the Strategic Contexts for Professional Military Education in the 21st Century1

Major General (Ret.) Dr. Noel Khokhar

Re-Evaluating the Strategic Contexts for Professional Military Education in the 21st Century1

Abstract: This chapter demonstrates how military education at the strategic, operational and tactical levels in Pakistan has been radically influenced by the events of 9/11, the resulting invasion of Afghanistan and the formation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan terrorist organization in 2005. It highlights the importance of combining active in-theatre training with specialised technical training, enhancing jointness across services, and creating a culture that recognises and incentivises the achievements of high performing students. In doing so, it provides a useful case study of a large-scale educational reform process, undertaken in response to a rapidly shifting and fluid strategic context. It also demonstrates the increasing strategic need for innovative, agile, and operationally adaptable soldiers, with emotional intelligence, technological literacy and cross-cultural skills.

Keywords: PME, military education, Pakistan Armed Forces, terrorism, interoperability, Taliban, Pakistan Military Academy


The strategic context of any individual state may be analysed from a variety of different perspectives, including political, economic, social, geographical, and environmental. In addition to these broader contexts, the formulation of any integrated national security strategy requires an assessment of four key elements: the evolving security situation, current and potential trends that are likely to affect the country and shape its future, an understanding of the methods by which the country’s leadership can shape events through the application of national power (and the potential risks ←23 | 24→and benefits of these actions), and an awareness of allies and adversaries who can either assist or impede this overall security strategy.

In order to understand the contemporary educational strategies of the Pakistan Armed Forces, therefore, it is necessary to review the political and security environment that has informed Pakistan’s strategic security context over the last few decades. In 1991, the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union ushered in a new world order, defined by the pre-eminence of the United States and the West. In its aftermath it was expected that an era of peace and stability would ensue. However, these hopes were soon quashed by the phenomenon of terrorism which, since the infamous 9/11 attacks in 2001, has persisted as the dominant threat to global peace and stability.

The contemporary manifestation of terrorism initially encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq has evolved and multiplied in many ways and has been most prominently evidenced in recent years in the rise of the Islamic State (also known as Daesh). In its heyday, the terrorist acts perpetrated by Daesh represented one of the most significant threats facing both the stability of the region and the inter-state relations of major global powers involved in the conflict. Although Daesh’s stated goal is to resurrect a Caliphate with emirates around it, organisations such as Al-Qaeda, Daesh and Boko Haram have created a new world order of sorts, by mobilising social media alongside other methods to inspire lone wolf terrorists to destabilise their adversaries abroad.

Over a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the contemporary strategic context is also characterised by a range of other trends. The first of these is the economic and politico-military power shift occurring from the West to the East. The continued rise of China and other Asian countries including India is producing new complexities, power alignments, and arenas in which both regional and global interests are conflicting, competing and colluding. It could be said that we are living in an era of power redistribution, albeit accompanied with manifold nuances (highlighted by the complex network of by-proxy influences in the contemporary conflicts within Syria and Iraq).

Connected with this power shift is the ongoing proliferation of globalisation at varying paces across different regions, impacting the political, economic and social dimensions. Similarly, developments in ←24 | 25→communication and information technologies continue to revolutionise the social, economic and security sectors. These ‘progressive’ global trends have catalysed a range of destabilising effects and security challenges, including climate change, cyber terrorism, pandemics, and increasing economic inequality that are directly affecting contemporary terrorism, international instability and unprecedented global migration flows.

Thus, in two and a half decades the strategic context informing professional military education has altered from a Cold War setting focussed on a large-scale external military threat to a politically fluid and asymmetrical scenario in which ongoing socio-economic, technological and environmental security challenges are punctuated (and often overshadowed) by non-state actors seeking to deploy terrorism as an instrument for political gains. This terrorism pervades both the internal and external security of nation-states and has transformed the character of conflict in many ways, including generating new forms of warfare. As we shall now consider, this broader global strategic context has both affected and effected the security challenges faced by Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks and, thus, has required a significant strategic reorientation of the Pakistan Armed Forces.

Pakistan’s Strategic Security Context

Since its inception as a nation-state, Pakistan has focussed on the external threat from India as the primary threat to its nationhood. This strategic emphasis is rooted in the unresolved Kashmir issue and has resulted in three wars and a few near-wars. Now, over 70 years since its independence from India, the two countries remain locked in a no-war-no-peace situation. This scenario has been cemented by the nuclearizing of the subcontinent, commencing with India’s first successful nuclear bomb test on 18 May 1974. This external threat continues to define the response metrics of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Professional military education is accordingly structured to meet the dictates of full spectrum deterrence against a nuclear-capable adversary.

In addition to this primary threat, since 1960 the Pakistan Armed Forces have routinely deployed troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations across the world, necessitating an additional focus on training and education for such operations. These training programmes are not ←25 | 26→inconsequential. For example, from January 2008 to December 2017, Pakistan customarily contributed the largest number of personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, at an average of 8,969 military and police personnel per month, generally exceeding other consistently significant contributors such as India and Bangladesh (United Nations Peacekeeping, n.d.).

Although these enduring historical contexts still inform Pakistan’s military educational priorities, the events of 9/11 and the consequent decision by NATO (led by the United States) to invade Afghanistan significantly altered Pakistan’s overarching strategic priorities. The most important part of this shift occurred in 2003 when the United States reoriented its focus towards Iraq to enforce regime change, yet remained unable to extract its forces due to the continued destabilising effects of terrorism orchestrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. This diversion of its original mission led to the birth of a terrorist organisation in 2005 known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which declared war on both the nation and the military forces of Pakistan. This resulted in a range of terrorist operations mainly within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (see Fig. 1.1) and the Swat District in North-West Pakistan.

This altered strategic context necessitated that, whilst continuing to maintain safeguards against the nation’s conventional threats, the Pakistan Armed Forces had to develop and deploy new anti-terrorist capabilities. This resulted in a range of sub-conventional operations by the Pakistan Army starting in mid-2007. To correctly account for the broad number and range of terrorist, civilian and government organisations involved in the conflict, and the intensity of persisting competing interests, a graduated and calibrated approach was essential for this series of operations. As shown in Tab. 1.1, the first major operation was undertaken against a group of terrorists who were using the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad and its affiliated seminaries as a base of operations.

Tab. 1.1: Key anti-terrorist operations by the Pakistan Armed Forces (2007–2014).





July 2007


Terrorists based in environs of Lal Masjid


Oct 2007/Feb 2008/Jan–June 2009

Rah-e-Haq, I, II, III

Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM)

Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla Districts

June–July 2008



Khyber Agency

Aug 2008–Feb 2009


Faqir Muhammad, ex TTP

Bajaur Agency

June–Dec 2009


Hakimullah Mehsud, Head of TTP

South Waziristan

Nov 2009

Rah-e-Nijat (Brekhna)

Mixed Terrorist Groups

Mohmand Agency

June 2014–Apr 2016


Mixed Terrorist Groups

North Waziristan

Three successive operations were then required to remove the terrorist infrastructure from the Swat District. This repetition was mainly due to the lack of a significant presence from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghanistan National Front (ANF) in the adjoining Nuristan province of Afghanistan. This allowed the terrorist groups to seek refuge in Afghanistan and then return to the Swat District once military operations had concluded. Indeed, until his death in June 2018, ←26 | 27→Maulana Fazlullah, the then head of the TTP, continued to operate largely from Nuristan, in Afghanistan. The Swat District, however, returned to a state of relative normalcy during this period.

The next step was to clear terrorists from the FATA. In order to achieve this, the army first cleared the Khyber Agency within the FATA and then shifted its focus to South Waziristan (the hub of the TTP’s operations). ←27 | 28→A two-year campaign was then undertaken to clear North Waziristan, commencing in June 2014 and leading to the removal of terrorist factions from the region. Following a resurgence of terrorist activities in North Waziristan this was followed by Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad in February 2017. In addition to these operations, the military provided ongoing assistance to the civil government in removing terrorists from the major urban centre of Karachi and elsewhere by pursuing a policy of zero-tolerance for terrorism-related violence.

As shown in Fig. 1.2, in regaining control of the territory that was contested by the TTP, Pakistan suffered significantly. In terms of the human cost, from the years 2000–2017 inclusive, over 60,000 people were killed, including 22,191 civilians, 33,901 terrorists/insurgents, and 6,887 security force personnel, encompassing officers from all ranks (South Asia Terrorism Portal, n.d.).

The country has also paid a heavy economic cost. As noted in figures published by Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance, between 2001 and 2016, “the direct and indirect cost incurred by Pakistan due to incidents of terrorism amounted to USD $118.31 billion” (Ministry of Finance, 2016, p.290). Moreover, in ensuring a comprehensive and holistic counter-terrorism ←28 | 29→response, Pakistan as a nation has seen significant shifts in government policy. Most notably, in January 2015, the Government of Pakistan established a National Action Plan, which included amongst its policies the renewal of capital punishment for terrorism offences, creation of special military courts, registration and regulation of religious seminaries, and the freezing of all funding sources for terrorist organisations (Ministry of Information, 2014). As this chapter shall now explore, in order to best support this evolving combat strategy and wider strategic context, over the past decade, the Pakistan Armed Forces have undergone a significant reorientation of their professional military education system.

Reforming Military Education

As a form of warfare, terrorism seeks to exploit perceived deprivations, cleavages and hostile undercurrents within society, and to instigate pseudo-nationalism, ethnic rivalries and religious sentiments to increase its support base and perpetuate its goals. In order to defeat such activities, it is necessary to provide senior officers with a broad understanding of the processes and the socio-cultural contexts that can help terrorism to ←29 | 30→flourish. Moreover, it is vital to ensure greater mutual understanding and cohesion between these senior officers and civilian leaders in wider society.

To achieve this, the Pakistan Armed Forces reoriented the programmes available at their National Defense University (NDU). This included making significant adjustments to the five-week-long National Security Workshop and its National Media Workshop, which provide executive-level forums for parliamentarians, senior military officers, media representatives, government institutions, academics and prominent members of the civil society to learn and debate candidly about the complex religious, economic, cultural, political and military factors influencing Pakistan’s strategic context and to formulate appropriate strategies for national security. In addition to changes to executive level inter-agency courses, the Command and Staff College course was redesigned to allocate more time for the planning and conduct of sub-conventional operations, alongside its core training on conventional conflict.

The curriculum of the Pakistan Military Academy (which delivers junior officer education for the Pakistan Army) was also broadened to provide increased education on Pakistani society and culture, with a focus on promoting skills in civil-military engagement. Upon their commission and prior to joining their units, young officers within these academies were made to undertake five weeks of rigorous training to hone firing skills, tactics and counter-terrorism techniques with a focus on operations at the unit-level. To ensure that these newly trained units and sub-units were actively employed in sub-conventional operations a number of steps were taken. Most importantly, the training was divided into two phases.

The first phase was designed to occur directly after the officer selection process. During this phase, the unit is sent on three weeks of active defensive security operations within Pakistan, in locations that contain an existing or potential terrorist threat (including within the FATA and Swat District). For the second phase, the unit is then relocated to one of seven counter-terrorism training centres, which provides five weeks of joint training on offensive sub-conventional operations for members of the civil armed forces, police and special forces. This includes the National Counter-terrorism Centre (NCTC), which, as of September 2016, had successfully trained 231,000 soldiers from the armed forces and 3,483 officers and personnel of the police and civil armed forces (Associated Press, ←30 | 31→2016). Continuity between these two phases of training was achieved from day one, by developing and implementing a centralised and coordinated syllabus, as well as instituting a policy requiring Army Headquarters to undertake a one-week review process at the end of the training cycle.

Outside of the progress made by the Pakistan Army, similar programmes were developed within the other services. For example, alongside the ongoing specialised counter-terrorism training undertaken by the Special Services Group (Navy) (SSG(N)), the Pakistan Navy implemented an extensive training regime. This included participation in anti-piracy and anti-terrorism combined task forces in the Gulf and Indian Oceans, and attendance from over 400 officers at the NCTC course (Pakistan Army, 2015). The Pakistan Air Force has also actively participated in a number of counter-terrorism operations, including Al Mizan in 2004, Tri Star in 2008 and Zarb-e-Azb. In line with this increased contribution, it sought to enhance the capacity for Pakistan and its allies to undertake “air operations against non-state actors” by developing the Airpower Centre of Excellence (Aman, 2016, 00:08:29).

Alongside these service-specific activities, the armed forces as a whole sought to enhance interoperability in sub-conventional operations, as evidenced by their increased participation in bi- and multi-lateral joint exercises with foreign militaries and, in January 2017, the appointment of former Chief of Army Staff, General (Ret.) Raheel Sharif as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Military Alliance, an intergovernmental counter-terrorist alliance of 41 Muslim countries. As well as enhancing counter-terrorism training at the strategic and tactical levels, the armed forces have sought to increase the number of soldiers they have with the specialist skills required for operational success. A key example of this can be seen in the creation of the Counter IED, Explosives and Munitions School in Risalpur, established in 2012 to help train specialist personnel in the identification and neutralisation of IEDs. This remains a key focus area for the military, in line with the continued humanitarian impact of IEDs in Pakistan. From 2001 to 2016, for example, Pakistan as a nation suffered 4,724 deaths from 4,063 IED attacks (Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, 2016).

In addition to explosive ordinance disposal, the military has placed renewed emphasis on marksmanship and physical agility. The prioritisation ←31 | 32→of sharp shooting skills creates a direct tactical advantage, particularly in view of the peculiar terrain in the FATA and along the Western borders. To optimise efficiency, a marksman unit was created that was capable of assisting other units as well as undertaking independent operations to target terrorist leaders. In line with the difficult terrain along the Western borders, increased fitness for all ranks was also prioritised. Finally, to ameliorate the previous physical standard of its soldiers, the Pakistan Army instituted a Physical Agility and Combat Efficiency System (PACES).

The PACES programme led to significant improvements in physical fitness. In 2014, as a means of incentivising and recognising the achievements of the highest performing participants, the army encouraged certain soldiers to attempt to break Guinness World Records in physical activities. This led to a range of new world records, including the record for ‘most push-ups in 24 hours’ achieved by Captain Muhammad Arbab (Arbab, 2014). In addition to this, the army also created its own PACES Competition, to motivate and celebrate physical competition amongst its soldiers. As of 2017 the PACES Competition has become an international event, welcoming soldiers from any foreign military to compete (Pakistan Army, 2017).

Wider Application of Lessons Learned

The methods employed by the Pakistan Government and its armed forces in preparing and educating its soldiers, civilian leaders, media representatives and wider civilian population for a comprehensive counter-terrorism response may be defined as a success in their effective removal of key terrorist organisations, ongoing decrease in terrorist attacks (especially IEDs) and continued deradicalisation of previously marginalised communities. Yet, it should be considered how far these strategies can be applied to the strategic contexts of other nations and regions. Although the implementation of operational methodologies may differ, it could be argued that there exist certain prerequisites for any successful counter-terrorism operation that can be derived from the Pakistan model.

Firstly, the terrorist agenda is constructed around political objectives, which they seek to achieve by exploiting fault lines and positioning alternative socio-political, economic and religious narratives. To combat this ←32 | 33→threat, a nation must stand united, display a strong resolve and reject the terrorist agenda. This includes demonstrating support for the armed forces. Political will, leadership, resolve and popular support are essential ingredients of any counter-terrorist strategy. Although certain terrorist factions may seek to employ the rationale of religion to increase their support base, the Pakistan case-study reveals that the vast majority of people both reject these radical philosophies and manage to avoid a mentality that associates Islam with terrorism as well as violence.

Secondly, terrorism creates a new form of conflict in which there are no front lines and no legal conventions for the conduct of warfare. Terrorists operate in and amongst the people and compete with the government for influence over the people and for control of space. This form of conflict alters the operational environment, making uncertainty pervasive. Heightened complexity, competitiveness and hybrid threats can materialise at any time, and often at the most uncertain time. This new form of conflict requires that today’s soldier be innovative, agile and operationally adaptable. They should understand local dialects and have language proficiency skills. Since soldiers must frequently engage and negotiate with the general population, the profession requires individual acumen, a high degree of emotional intelligence, technological literacy and the ability to work with diverse forces effectively. All of this must be imparted by contemporary military education programmes, alongside the basic warfighting requirements that a soldier be physically fit, mentally hardened and capable of withstanding the trauma resulting from terrorist attacks.


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1 This chapter is adapted from a keynote presentation delivered by the author, at a “Professional Military Education Working Group” hosted by the Centre for Military Education Outreach (King’s College London), held on the 10–11th December 2015 at the Joint Services Command and Staff College (Shrivenham, U.K.).