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In the Shadows of Anarchy and “Jihad”

MBI Munshi

Apr 8, 2007
United Kingdom
In the Shadows of Anarchy and “Jihad”: Pakistan in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Taj Hashmi


Since Pakistan has been pivotal in the rise and growth of the “Jihad” and Taliban movement, and is still the decisive factor in determining the course of the ongoing Islamist anarchy and proxy wars across the region, a discussion of the Taliban and Islamist movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan is in order. This essay is going to raise the question if Pakistan will remain ungovernable for an indefinite period posing an existential threat to itself; if it is also going to destabilize the entire region by promoting (or condoning) “jihadi” activities and proxy wars in neighboring Afghanistan and India; and last but not least, if the country is a potential threat to the region through nuclear proliferation. Last but not least, it is time to address the question if Islamist militants are likely to take over the country, controlling its armed forces and nuclear weapons in the coming years. I am not going to give detailed history of the Islamist movements in the country. However, I am going to give a very brief history of the Taliban and other Islamist movements before addressing the problem if “global jihad” is a problematic assumption, especially in relation to the ongoing transnational conflicts in South Asia.

The Legacy of the 19th Century “Jihad” and its Aftermath in Pakistan:

The so-called Indian “Wahhabis”, bear the legacy of their predecessors who in the early 1820s started an anti-British movement to liberate India and re-establish Muslim rule in the entire Subcontinent. Their leader Sayyid Ahmad Brelvi (1786-1831) was a charismatic figure that believed in Islamic reforms, revival and restoration of Muslim rule in India in accordance with the teaching of his mentor Shah Abdul Aziz (1745-1823). Shah Aziz, a radical Sufi from Delhi considered British India Dar ul-Harb (House of War) and justified taking up arms (waging jihad) against the British and the rising Sikh power in northwestern India. What is Pakistan today had witnessed itinerant mullahs and mujahedeen from Bengal, Bihar and northern India during the 1820s and 1870s, who tried to mobilize support from local Muslims for their “jihad” against the Sikh rulers of northwestern India, Kashmir and southeastern Afghanistan. Islamist militants wanted to establish their “caliphate” in northwestern India before overpowering the British to re-establish their cherished Muslim rule in India. However, the mujahedeen, with lukewarm support and hostility from Pashtun tribes, lost series of battles, got their “caliph” Sayyid Ahmed Brelvi killed (1831) by Sikh troops and were finally defeated by the British. The Indian “Wahhabi” movement, for some similarities with Arabian Wahhabism, such as its opposition to showing reverence to dead saints, got the epithet of “Indian Wahhabism” from British rulers and then from others. Despite its major dissimilarities with Arabian Wahhabi ideology and methods, the adherents of the movement are still known as “Wahhabis” among scholars and laymen across the board.

Soon after the abortive First Liberation War of India in 1857-58 – which was, to some extent a “Wahhabi” inspired rebellion mainly by Muslims – some “Wahhabi” leaders continued preaching the dogma of violent “jihad” or total war against the British till the late 19th century in what is northwestern Pakistan, southeastern Afghanistan and northern Bangladesh today. Incidentally, these sub regions still today provide the bulk of al Qaeda and Taliban supporters in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, after the establishment of the famous Deoband Madrassah in 1867 by some “Wahhabi” clerics at Deoband in northern India, the bulk of “Wahhabi” supporters started favoring peaceful dissemination of Islamic orthodoxy and Hindu-Muslim solidarity against British Imperialism. They also remained ardent Indian Nationalists, followed Mahatma Gandhi and his bid for united and free India, against Mohammed Ali Jinnah-led movement for the establishment of Pakistan as a “Muslim Homeland” for Indian Muslims (which was a myth as almost half of the Indian Muslims remained in Hindu-Majority sub regions of India after the communal partition of 1947). It is noteworthy that, the main stream of South Asian “Wahhabis” are still in India, which since late 19th century espouse Hindu-Muslim unity. Their successors in India also condemn al Qaeda, Taliban and any form of terrorism in the name of Islam as un-Islamic.

However, a small section of Deoband clerics under the leadership of a North Indian Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani (1886-1949) supported Jinnah’s “Two-Nation-Theory” for a separate Muslim homeland of Pakistan. Soon after the Partition of 1947, Usmani moved to Pakistan, which he considered the “New Medina”, likening it with the state Prophet Muhammad had established in Medina after migrating from Mecca in 622. Usmani also believed that the “New Medina” or Pakistan would eventually annex the Hind-majority India as part of his Caliphate. As one historian explains, “Usmani bridged the gap between the aspirations of the Muslim masses and the vision of the westernized Muslim League leadership”; and his “Islamic Pakistan”, where Muslim clerics would play an important role, would be achieved gradually. My own research also reveals that during the 1940s, the Muslim ashraf-ulama-jotedar (elite-cleric-rich peasant) triumvirate influenced East Bengali Muslim masses to support the Pakistan movement, eventually turning East Bengal into East Pakistan (which in 1971 emerged as Bangladesh).

Usmani led the breakaway faction of the Party of Indian Islamic (“Wahhabi”) Scholars or the Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), called the Jamait-i-Ulama-Islam (JUI) or the Party of Islamic Scholars. Thanks to the “Islam-loving” first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s (1947-1951) inviting Islamic clerics into the Constitution-making process as members of the “Objective Resolution” Committee in 1949 (after the death of the secular Governor-General Jinnah in 1948) JUI along with some other Islamic parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) played an important role in “Islamizing” the first Constitution of Pakistan. The Constitution (adopted in 1956) gave a new name to the country: The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Thanks to the vehement opposition from conservative clerics and their supporters in both the wings of the country, West and East Pakistan, Pakistan’s first military ruler Field Marshal Ayub Khan was forced to re-insert “Islamic” as the prefix to the “Republic of Pakistan”, as it appears in the new Constitution of 1962.

The Jamaat-i-Islami Factor in Pakistan

What is Muslim Brotherhood to the Arab World, the Jamaat-i-Islami is to South Asia, in regard to the rise, growth and metamorphoses of Islamism. It is difficult to understand political Islam in Pakistan – both the violent and non-violent versions of Islamist extremism – without understanding the ideology and the ideologue (Maulana Maududi) of the Jamaat-i-Islami. Maulana Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), an Indian-born madrassah-educated journalist, author and political thinker was the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami or Party of Islam. It came into being in 1941 in British India. Maududi started the organization with a view to promoting Islamic values and practices in the light of his way of interpreting the Quran and hadis. He was a maverick; his ideas being quite radical and different from the mainstream Sunni ulama or clerics in the Indian Subcontinent. Interestingly, like most leading Muslim clerics in British India, he was opposed to the concept of Pakistan, as he did not believe that Mohamed Ali Jinnah, a secular Shiite Muslim, along with his “Anglo-Mohamedan” associates, would establish an “Islamic State”. Maududi knew it well that Jinnah and his associates strove for a “Muslim” not “Islamic” Pakistan in Muslim-majority territories to be carved out of British India. Although he decided to stay back in India after the Partition of 1947, with no signs of abatement in the Great Punjab Killing (which started immediately before the Partition), as a Muslim he no longer felt safe in the Indian Punjab and migrated to Pakistan. Afterwards, till his death in 1979, he worked for establishing an “Islamic State” in Pakistan. In early1950s Pakistan went through mass agitations and anti-Ahmadiyya rioting in the Punjab, especially in Lahore. Maududi is said to have incited Pakistani Muslims in support of his demand that the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community (also known as Qadianis) be declared a “non-Muslim” minority because of their alleged disbelief in Prophet Muhammad being the last prophet of God. The 1953 rioting in the Pakistani Punjab was followed by mass arrests of agent provocateurs; leading among them was the JI chief, Maududi. The court found him guilty and condemned him to death for inciting anti-Ahmadiyya rioting, but later got clemency.

We find ideological similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), especially the way Maududi and Qutb drew a line between Islam and jahiliyya (or the “ignorant” West) is difficult to tell apart. Like Qutb, Maududi also strove for God’s sovereignty, but he came up with a new theory of democracy. It was “theo-democracy” or a theocracy run in a democratic manner, quite an oxymoronic concept indeed. He also wanted to establish a caliphate that would run the Islamic system of government. In Maududi’s “theo-democratic” caliphate, minority non-Muslims would remain zimmis or protected people with inferior rights. Interestingly, he was willing to accept inferior rights or zimmi status of minority Muslims in Hindu-majority India. He also believed that Islam was not just another religion about faith and rituals but a movement, a comprehensive code of ethics, government manual and guidance about running life from cradle to grave. He was quite ambivalent about the concept of jihad. On the one hand, he did not consider jihad to be a holy war, and on the other, he considered the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war a jihad per excellence to establish God’s order for Pakistan. Like the MB, JI also believes that Muslims and Islam transcend national boundaries. Considering jihad to be “the best of all prayers”, Maududi believed that his “theo-democratic” transnational caliphate was only attainable through “global jihad”. His “theo-democratic” caliphate would be capitalistic with welfare and social justice. It is noteworthy that as the MB influenced the JI, the latter also influenced the former in many ways. They are, in many ways, different as well. While Maududi admired fascism, Banna had admiration for socialism, and wanted social justice for the poor. Again, despite being influenced by the MB, the FIS in Algeria is not transnational; it has been primarily an Algerian nationalist movement for “Islamo-nationalism”.

While the MB in Egypt, since its inception, had been either proscribed or marginalized politically till the end of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the JI outfits in Pakistan and Bangladesh have been politically influential, and on several occasions, were parts of the government. As Muslim clerics in Pakistan – as custodians of Shariah law –had the privilege of registering their opinion in the Constitution making process in the 1950s, the JI played an important role in incorporating “Islamic Principles” in the Constitution of the “Islamic Republic”. After General Zia ul-Haq staged a military coup and formally took over the administration of Pakistan, the country implemented Shariah almost in every sphere of life and administration in the country during his rule, 1977-1988. Zia was believed to be an ardent follower of the Jamaat-i-Islami. Since he did not believe in democracy, political parties, secularism, and equal rights for women and minorities, the JI had its heydays in Pakistan. Even after Zia’s death, Pakistan did not revert to what had existed in Pakistan in the realms of politics and composite culture of the people. The JI played an important role in the rapid Islamization process of the polity, and in legitimizing radical and violent Islamism in the country as many Islamist extremists have had JI connections. As many radical Islamist militants – including top al Qaeda leaders in the Arab World – had MB connections in the past; similarly, alienated and more radical JI members organized or joined radical Islamist terror outfits in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Some JMB and HUJI (two Islamist terror outfits in Bangladesh) have had JI connections in the past. However, as some JMB and HUJI members revealed after their arrests during 1999 and 2006 that they had left the JI as they felt the JI had been opposed to “violent jihad”.

This, however, does not mean that the JI in Pakistan and Bangladesh have become democratic-minded by giving up violence or radical means to capture state power. The acting JI chief, Abbasuddin Khan, told this writer in 1991 that his party did not rule out the “other options” (besides democratic means) to come to power in Bangladesh. It may be mentioned that in 1971, the JI in erstwhile East Pakistan collaborated with the Pakistani occupation army during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, to protect the integrity of “Islamic” Pakistan. Many JI leaders and followers are believed to have committed “war crimes” and allegedly their “storm troopers” actively took part in killing several secular and leftist Bengali intellectuals and professionals having soft corner for Bangladesh. Several JI leaders in Bangladesh are in jail, facing “war crime” charges at a tribunal since 2009. In view of the above discussion on the MB and JI, we may conclude that despite their democratic rhetoric and apparent transformation into democratic organizations, these Islamist outfits believe in millennial Islamic movement to establish their cherished global caliphate or God’s Kingdom, which would be anything but democracy. Islamists of all shades of opinion vie for establishing totalitarian states with unequal rights and opportunities for women and minorities – ethnic, religious, and sectarian. Last but not least, there is no reason to believe that MB, FIS, Jamaat-i-Islami, LeT, Jemaah Islmiyya and any other Islamist organization that espouses Shariah as divine law are amenable to Western democracy. Their lip service to democracy and apparent acquiescence to secular law reflect their pragmatism, not the state of their transformation into liberal democratic organizations.

The not-so-hidden fascist ideology of the JI is reflected in the following assertions by Maududi, the founder, who like Sayyid Qutb of the Brotherhood believed in a totalitarian “Islamic State”, which would eventually devour the sovereignty of all neighboring states run by non-Muslims or not in accordance with Shariah. Maududi spelled this out without any ambiguity:

Muslim groups will not be content with the establishment of an Islamic state in one area alone. Depending on their resources, they should try to expand in all directions. On one hand, they will spread their ideology and on the other they will invite people of all nations to accept their creed, for salvation lies only in it. If their Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non-Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place.

He also believed that:

Jews and Christians ...should be forced to pay Jizya [poll tax] in order to put an end to their independence and supremacy so that they should not remain rulers and sovereigns in the land. These powers should be wrested from them by the followers of the true Faith, who should assume the sovereignty and lead others towards the Right Way. That is why the Islamic state offers them protection, if they agree to live as Zimmis by paying Jizya, but it cannot allow that they should remain supreme rulers in any place and establish wrong ways and establish them on others. As this state of things inevitably produces chaos and disorder, it is the duty of the true Muslims to exert their utmost to bring an end to their wicked rule and bring them under a righteous order.
As with fascism, Islamist extremist parties mostly flourish in countries under autocracy and corruption with mass unemployment and poverty. These parties strive for the “Islamist secularization of society” by raising socio-economic rather than Islamic issues as the biggest problems confronting the Muslim World. Interestingly, unlike the MB, Wahhabis and their ilk, Islamist parties in Turkey seem to be more secular than religious. Under secular-educated leadership, they are quite comfortable with traditional Turkish culture, music, food and festivals. Again, Islamist parties do not necessarily flourish under poverty. Some of them grow in affluent societies drawing well-to-do people within their folds. Al Qaeda is a glaring example in this regard. However, it is difficult to draw a line between Islamist parties that are “designed” and those who have emerged by “default” due to bad governance and poverty. While al-Qaeda and its ilk are in the “designed” category, ideologically motivated to oppose democracy, human rights and equal rights for women and minorities; pragmatic Islamists like the MB and JI fall in the latter category with ideological orientation as well. They apparently call for democracy and some rights for women and minorities, but oppose the freedom of expression and secular law and institutions. It is noteworthy that America has been trying to make friends with the MB and its offshoots, only because they take part in elections and condemn terrorism. America also prefers the Jamaat-i-Islami to Islamist militancy, although the latter is a derivative of the former by default.

Maududi, who had opposed the creation of Pakistan, after migrating to Pakistan, became an ardent champion of converting his adopted home into an “Islamic State”. He was instrumental in stirring up the anti-Ahmadiyya campaign, demanding the members of the tiny community (who consider themselves “Muslim”) be declared non-Muslim for their belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) to be the Messiah and a prophet. This campaign resulted in bloody rioting and killing of Ahmadiyyas in the Punjab province of Pakistan in 1953. The court found Maududi guilty for stirring up communal violence and condemned him to death. However, due to the appeal for clemency by the Saudi Government, Pakistan government not only commuted the death sentence but also acquitted him from all charges. The rest is history. Afterwards, Islamist parties never looked back in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the JUI had established a network of qaumi (national) madrassahs throughout the country, with private donations from within and outside Pakistan. These madrassahs later became the incubators of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and similar Islamist groups in Bangladesh.

It is interesting that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan entered the 20th century with agendas that even remotely looked Islamic. As we know, Islamist takeover of Afghanistan was by default, Pakistan’s Islamization has been by design. From 1949 onward, liberal educated, mostly non-practicing Muslim, civil and military rulers of Pakistan espoused political Islam. Although Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the founding father, spelled out in August 1947 in unambiguous terms that Muslims would cease to be Muslims and Hindus would cease to be Hindus in the political sense of the expressions in the State of Pakistan; yet this speech did not mean anything to the bulk of the Pakistani Muslims (who were not aware of the speech either) under the spell of the pro-Pakistan ulama (clerics) and Muslim leaders. Accordingly, to most Pakistani Muslims, Islam and Pakistan have been inseparable entities.

The story of Pakistan’s cultural and political Islamization will remain incomplete without referring to the Muslim separatism of northwest Indian Muslims that began in the 1870s side by side with the Indian “Wahhabi” clerics’ Deoband Madrassah-based restorative movement for Islamic orthodoxy. Leaders and followers of the Muslim separatist movement, also known as pro-British Muslim “Loyalists”, followed the political philosophy of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1818-1898) who promoted “Islamic Modernism” and Muslim-West collaboration, not Islamic dogmatism. He advised Indian Muslims to take advantage of British rule by cooperating with the British, learning English and reviving the lost glory of Islam through European knowledge and civilization. In 1875 he established the Anglo-Oriental Mohamedan College at Aligarh in North India, which became the cradle of “Islamic Modernism” and Muslim separatism, which later led to the creation of Pakistan. The followers of Aligarh Movement were / are also known as “Anglo-Mohamedans” or anglicized liberal Muslims.

The Deoband clerics and their followers, on the other hand, wanted not only the restoration of the lost glory and political power of Indian Muslims through Islamic orthodoxy, but they also favored a joint Hindu-Muslim united movement against British rule in India. A section of Indian “Wahhabi” clerics held even more extreme views. The La-mazhabis or “People of the Hadis”, are still active throughout the South Asian Subcontinent. Some of the radical, militant and terrorist groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan and the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islam - Bangladesh (HUJI-B) or the Movement for Jihad - Bangladesh and the Jamaat ul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) or the Party of Mujahedeen Bangladesh are offshoots of the Ahl-e-Hadis branch of Indian “Wahhabism”. Pakistan government proscribed the LeT in 2002 and the HUJI-B and JMB were practically eliminated in Bangladesh in 2007 after its top leaders had been arrested and condemned to death for sponsoring countrywide terrorist attacks in Bangladesh since 1999.

I just briefly mentioned Deoband and Aligarh to identify the two different sources of South Asian Muslim identity. Irrespective of their stands on British rule, both the schools promoted Muslim identity and pride in the lost glory of the Muslims in India and beyond, one through non-cooperation and the other through cooperation with British rule. Thus the cultural and political Islamization of Pakistani (Indian and Bangladeshi) Muslims began long before the Partition of India in 1947. There has been a resurgence of neo-Islamism in Pakistan since the separation of East Pakistan in 1971. As names of places have been “Islamized” / Arabized, so are Pakistan’s nuclear missiles. Thus Lyallpur has become Faisalabad (named after King Faisal of Saudi Arabia); Lahore Stadium is known as Qaddafi Stadium; Port Qasim near Karachi bears the name of Muhammad bin Qasim, the first Arab to invade Sind in 711; its long-range ballistic missile Ghauri bears the name of Muhammad bin Ghauri who in 1192 captured Delhi by defeating a Hindu king, signaling the beginning of 700-year-long Muslim rule in India. Pakistanis are scornful of liberal / secular Muslim rulers, especially Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire. Pakistani Muslims’ identity crisis is well reflected in their extra-territorial loyalty to the predominantly Muslim-majority countries in the Arab World, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Many of them proudly demonstrate their alien origins (to prove they are not descendants of native Hindus) by using surnames like Hejazi, Yemeni, Gilani, Hashmi, Ispahani, Gardezi, Baghdadi, Ghauri, Madani, Qureshi, Syed, Khurasani and scores of similar names associated with Arab, Turkish, Iranian or Afghan places or aristocratic families of conquerors, saints and Sufis. Many Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims are not that different from their Pakistani counterparts with regard to their extra-territorial identity.

The polity of Pakistan is again sharply polarized between the rich and powerful English-educated elite and the not-so-rich and powerful “vernacular elite”. Thanks to General Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization and vernacularization programs, the English-educated elite’s monopoly in government jobs, including the armed forces, has eroded; and Islamic ethos, including the prohibition on alcohol, has been pervasive throughout the country. The Islamization process has also influenced the education system. At the very elementary schools students learn Urdu alphabet through Islamic and “jihadist” symbols. Thus Alif (the first letter) for Allah; Bey for Bandooq or gun; and Jim for jihad is what five/six-year-olds learn at school. Under the rabid state-sponsored Islamization process, governments and regimes seem to be in competition with each other to prove their “love for Islam”.

Since its creation, Pakistan went through eleven years of undemocratic civilian rule, followed by its first military takeover in 1958. Ayub Khan’s military regime maintained a balance between secularism and Islam. His government modified certain provisions of Shariah, especially by according better rights to women. However, due to the concerted opposition of mullahs and conservative Muslims, Ayub Khan had to yield to their pressure. As he had to re-insert the prefix “Islamic” before the “Republic of Pakistan”, so was he not in a position to defend his adviser on Shariah, the famous Islamic scholar Fazlur Rahman, who had to resign as the Director of the Central Institute of Islamic Research in the face of bitter opposition from the mullah and leave the country. Pakistan is in perpetual crisis of governance since 1951. Consequently, people at large have lost faith in politicians. Paradoxically, the four rounds of military rule for more than 33 years from 1958 to 2008 ensured better governance and more infrastructure development. While the first two military rulers did not promote Islamism for legitimacy, Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) assiduously promoted Islamism and Musharraf (1999-2008) exploited Islamism to neutralize politicians in the northwestern sub region.

Not long after Ayub Khan’s departure in 1969, in 1971 Pakistan “lost” East Pakistan (more than a thousand miles away across India), which became Bangladesh, in the name of secular Bengali Nationalism. The separation of Bangladesh made Pakistani rulers nervous about further disintegration of the country on ethno national lines. Consequently Pakistan’s “secular-socialist” Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928-1979) started the rapid Islamization of the country, so much so that to appease and neutralize Islamist parties, in 1974 his government declared the tiny Ahmadiyya community (also known as the Qadiyani) as a “non-Muslim” minority. Pakistan’s third military dictator General Zia ul-Haq, who himself was possibly a member of the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party, soon after taking over the country in 1977 adopted a thorough Islamization process, affecting almost every sphere of government and society.

By implementing the Islamist agenda of the JI, Zia declared elections and political parties “un-Islamic”; he established Shariah courts making Shariah supersede the British Common Law. He introduced the provisions of death penalty for adultery; public lashing for drinking; chopping off of a hand for stealing; pardoning of a murderer by a next of kin of the victim (she/he may demand a blood money for the pardon); two women’s testimony in courts became equivalent to the testimony by one man; and under “blasphemy law” anyone is liable to death penalty for blaspheming Islam or its Prophet. He publicly re-iterated that Pakistan was like Israel, arguing that if one took Zionism out of Israel it would crumble; similarly, Pakistan without would cease to exist without Islam as its state ideology. Last but not least, thanks to Zia’s Islamization, no rape victim can get justice unless she produces four “eye-witnesses” in support of her allegation. Her inability to prove rape also makes her liable to punishment for committing adultery. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 came as a windfall for “Islam-loving” and hardcore Islamists in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Exposure to the Afghan “Jihad”:

Although always turbulent and infested with bad governance, corruption and poverty, Pakistan has been in the lime light since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the invasion, Pakistan remained a “frontline state” for a decade until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Meanwhile, Pakistan emerged as the “most important country” for America and its allies who used the country to fight their proxy war against the Soviet Union. As we know, for Muslims in the region and everywhere in the world, the war against the communist invaders from the north was also their “jihad” against “Godless Communism” and for the liberation of Afghanistan. We also know that during the resistance against the Soviet Union, in Washington, “jihad” and “mujahedeen” were terms of endearment; in fact, President Carter’s Security Adviser Zibegniew Brzezinski was the one who in early 1980 first formally declared his “jihad’ against Soviet Union at Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan. This is also not unknown to us that thanks to the erstwhile allies’ turn coat behavior not long after the “jihad”, both “jihad” and “mujahedeen” became the most repugnant expressions in the West.

While the Taliban takeover and the consequential violations of human rights in Afghanistan were shocking to the West, the Taliban’s harboring of al Qaeda leaders was the proverbial last straw for America. Following 9/11 attacks, for Washington Afghanistan replaced Pakistan as the “most important country” for the wrong reasons. However, soon after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, thanks to Pakistan-based Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) and other Islamist terror groups’ activities, mainly across the border in Afghanistan and India and even Europe and America, Pakistan re-emerged as the “most important country” for America, for all the wrong reasons. The bogey of Islamist takeover of Pakistan and / or the possible acquisition of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by extremist elements have further alarmed America. The ISI’s running an “invisible government”, which is more powerful than the one run by civilians, and its alleged promotion of Islamist terror groups to bleed India, Afghanistan and even American and NATO troops within and outside Pakistan have been very important issues for America, India and the weak and not-so-popular Afghan government under American tutelage.

Taliban is the plural of talib or a madrassah student, in the common parlance of northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan a few million Afghans fled the country and took refuge in Pakistan. Afghan refugee children – predominantly Pashtun – who went to madrassahs in Pakistan – later formed the core of the Taliban militia. However, as later discovered after the fall of Kabul at the hands of US-led NATO troops in November 2001, many Pakistani, Chechen, Arab, Uzbek, Tajik and Muslims from different parts of the world had been active fighters of the Taliban militia who ran the Kabul-based regime during 1996 and 2001. Mullah Omar (b.1959), said to be the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was the Amirul Momeneen (Leader of the Faithful), caliph or head of the Taliban-run state of Afghanistan. Omar started his career as a “mujahid” against the Russian occupation army, was also a madrassah teacher in Pakistan, defeated Afghan warlords at Qandahar in 1994 and finally captured Kabul, with direct Pakistani political and military support. He had links with anti-Indian Kashmiri insurgent groups, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Harkat ul Ansar, and most importantly Pakistan’s ISI.

As Omar is shrouded with mystery so are the circumstances leading to the rise of the Taliban, their regional and international connections and last but not least, their relationship with al Qaeda. Thus it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion if the Taliban is purely a proto-Wahhabi political movement; or an Islamist insurgent group not a terrorist outfit; or a transnational terrorist group backed by Iran, as General McChrystal imagined. Then again, we find this unfounded allegation’s rebuttal in Wikileaks documents. I mention these contradictory reports on the Taliban as examples of what politically motivated statements and American generals’ “strategic communications” (in the parlance of American military) are all about. They could be simply propaganda materials, not to be taken seriously by anybody. We need to address the Taliban, al Qaeda, LeT and the so-called “jihad” issues, said to have been “brewing” in the “AfPak” sub region and “emanating” from there with / or without Pakistan Government’s knowledge and “connivance”. We just cannot rely on government and media reports, sensational books, and irresponsible statements by garrulous people, say the likes of General McChrystal. Many pot-9/11 writings, interviews and “eye-witness accounts” on the Taliban, al Qaeda and various facets of the “global jihad” smack of conspiracy theories and / or gimmicks and propaganda materials or reflective of the authors’ prejudice and ignorance. The YouTube is full of such gimmicks and conspiracy theories on 9/11, al Qaeda, Taliban and other sensational subjects.

What is most enigmatic about the Taliban is that bands of devout, angry and dedicated Pashtun madrassah students (having little exposure to military hardware such as tanks and artillery) are said to be the mainstay of this militia. We also find out in media about their fighting skill outmaneuvering Afghan army and sometimes NATO forces. Some Pakistani military officers, who had engaged Taliban fighters in northwestern Pakistan, told me Taliban fighters seemed to be as well trained as American Marines. We have reasons to believe that the Taliban are not just a ragtag militia of madrassah students. Mere spontaneity, religious zeal and fanaticism were not good enough to defeat the well-armed Northern Alliance fighters, as the Taliban did in 1996 to capture Kabul, and later most of Afghanistan. Last but not least, despite notes of optimism by NATO commanders, the war against the Taliban is far from over as nobody has yet defeated the Taliban decisively; and there seems to be no military solution to the problem. The ambivalence about what to do with the Taliban (since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001) among American and Afghan policymakers is unbelievable. After failing to contain, let alone defeat them, the US-backed Afghan regime started thinking aloud about a dialogue with the Taliban. Quite embarrassingly for the Karzai Government, it had already talked with an imposter who claimed to be a Taliban representative in 2010. It seems the Taliban has become so formidable and the Afghan government so nervous about its inability to defeat them that in July 2012 President Karzai asked the fugitive Mullah Omar to run for the Afghan presidency. We have reasons to agree with Ahmed Rashid that the “end game” in Afghanistan requires support from six neighbors: Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who have since long been interfering in Afghanistan. He has aptly pointed out how Pakistan’s “double game” of helping the Taliban as well as Americans, and its proxy war against India in Afghanistan has been the biggest obstacle to a durable peace in Afghanistan. Most importantly, more than two decades after the end of the “Afghan Jihad” in 1989, one wonders as to how the Taliban still manages to get young recruits who are equally good if not better than NATO and ISAF troops. Tom Friedman’s observation is very pertinent in this regard. He said (to paraphrase): “Americans’ training Afghans to fight is like someone training Brazilians to play soccer…. Who are training the Taliban? They even don’t have maps and don’t know how to use one…. America needs nation-building at home, spending another trillion dollars in Afghanistan won’t work…. American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan may be compared with an unemployed couple’s adopting a child.”

As to “Who are training the Taliban” is an important question, so is “Who are the Taliban”. Contrary to the popular assumption, the Taliban are not “Taliban”, in the literal sense of the expression, not any longer in the third decade of the post-Soviet Afghanistan. Most of them are very well trained professional soldiers, engaged in an insurgency against the American-sponsored Afghan government. We should not consider all Taliban as mere Islamist terrorists. Then there are Taliban soldiers in the payroll of drug lords, engaged in protecting poppy fields and the processing and trafficking of narcotics across the Afghan border. They may be classified as narcoterrorists, or narcojihadists as they have links with the Taliban ideologues that want to re-establish their “lost caliphate” in and around Afghanistan. Taliban are also fighting Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan against India, and since the sharp deterioration of US-Pakistan relations in late 2011, against America. Despite Taliban’s close links with al Qaeda, we should not portray the militia merely as an offshoot of the latter. Taliban originated under the aegis of Pakistani / South Asian “Wahhabism”, which is quite different from its Saudi namesake and have had totally different history, philosophy and objectives.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny both al Qaeda and South Asian “Wahhabi” influence on Taliban leaders and fighters. It is a unique hybrid Islamist outfit, a cross between al Qaeda and South Asian “Wahhabi” ideologies. Former Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami members, who have been disillusioned with the MB’s and JI’s “aversion to violence”, favor the Taliban. While the Saudi Wahhabis belong to the Hanbali School (sect or mazhab) of Sunni Jurisprudence and have been traditionally pro-Western, South Asian “Wahhabism” (originated in the early 19th century in British India) has always been anti-Western and anti-imperialist, and its adherents either follow the more liberal Hanafi mazhab of Sunni Muslims or do not belong to any sect or mazhab, and are known as La-mazhabis or people without any mazhab or simply as Ahl-e-Hadis or People of the Hadis. They are very fanatical, puritanical and some of them even espouse the cause of global caliphate through violence.

The Aftermath of the Afghan “Jihad”

After Zia, General Musharraf’s cynical promotion of ultra-orthodox and radical Islamist coalition called the Muttahida Majlis e Amal (MMA) or the United Council of Action in 2002 (two years after his military takeover of Pakistan) played the most regressive role by further emboldening radical Islamists, who are no longer willing to play the second fiddle in Pakistan’s politics. It is noteworthy that the MMA was a coalition of Sunni and Shiite clerics. Interestingly, despite his promotion of “Enlightened Moderation” or liberal Islam, Musharraf conceded most to Islamist obscurantist forces, not out of conviction but sheer political opportunism.

Since two former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) had been Musharraf’s main political adversaries, he restricted their political activities by implicating them in corruption charges made them incapable of running for office. Musharraf simply ensured the MMA victory in the provincial elections. The MMA formed government in the northwestern provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and captured second highest number of seats in Sind and Baluchistan legislatures. It also captured 58 out of 342 seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan. MMA candidates gave inflammatory speeches through loud speakers (others were not allowed loud speakers) in favor of introducing Shariah at public rallies. MMA leaders put a 15-Point Program, which included the revival of fear of God, affection to Prophet Muhammad and service to people to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state to ensure justice to people and eradicate corruption; to ensure bread, clothes, shelter, education, jobs and marriage expenses to all citizens. Last but least, the MMA urged Pakistanis to fight Western imperialism and support all suppressed people in the world, especially Kashmiris, Palestinians, Afghans, and Chechens.

Soon after forming the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, MMA leaders publicly denounced democracy and General Musharraf for his support of the US-led “War on Terror” in Afghanistan. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 further angered the MMA and other Islamists in Pakistan. Musharraf became their worst enemy as a “quisling” and agent of Imperialism. Within three years of MMA’s forming the government in Khyber Pashtunkhwa in 2002, due to internal differences among leaders of the coalition, the MMA was out of power in 2005. Since the MMA was a coalition of Shias and Sunnis, “Wahhabis” and “Barelvis” (followers of Sufis Islam), extremist Ahl-e-Hadis and transnational Islamists belonging to the Jamaat-i-Islami and promoters of Taliban and al Qaeda militants, its disintegration further intensified sectarian conflicts between Shias and Sunnis, “Wahhabis” / Ahl-e-Hadis and Barelvis, Jamaat-i-Islami and “Wahhabis”. Since then, bomb attacks on mosques and gunning down of innocent Shia and Sunni worshippers in different parts of Pakistan became the norm.

Not long after, Islamists attempted on Musharraf’s life and started vitriolic campaigns against his government singling it out as pro-American and anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistan. In July 2007 some radical clerics and their students amassed weapons in the famous Red Mosque of Islamabad. Their vigilantism against prostitution, drinking and massage parlors in the neighborhood of the mosque (female students of a madrassah took leading role in attacks on massage parlors and beauty salons) in the heart of Pakistan’s capital city was quite embarrassing for the government. Within days Musharraf ordered military action against the Red Mosque radicals, which resulted in scores of deaths. This angered Islamists throughout the country and beyond. Even Ayman al Zawahiri issued an order to his followers to wage further attacks on Pakistan government. Not long after the Red Mosque episode, Pakistani Taliban (TTP) started a reign of terror in parts of Waziristan and Swat. Many Western analysts and even Secretary Hillary Clinton raised alarms about the “impending Taliban takeover” of Islamabad.

Thanks to the systematic and almost non-stop Islamization program Islamist fascists like the Jamaat-i-Islami and its ilk and umpteen number of “Islam-loving” and terror outfits committed to “Islamize” the polity gained enough power and influence in Pakistan to introduce the draconian Shariah law and start the systematic “cleansing process” by organizing selective and indiscriminate killing of Christians, Shiites, Ahmadiyyas and other Muslims for their “deviant” beliefs and alleged anti-Pakistani activities. While the Federal Government formally declared the tiny Ahmadiyya community “non-Muslim” in 1974, Shiite Pakistanis have been facing the brunt of attacks by Sunni fanatics. It is ironic that while Jinnah, the founding father, was a Shia Muslim, his top lieutenants included Ismaili Aga Khan, Shiite Mirza Ispahani and Ahmadiyya Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan. In view of the killing of Shia pilgrims by Sunni fanatics in June 2012 in Balochistan, Haider Nizamani has aptly argued: “If Muhammad Ali Jinnah happened to be on the Quetta-bound bus of Shia pilgrims on June 28, the self-proclaimed custodians of Islam would have killed him, along with 13 others. They would do so because Jinnah was a Shia and that would have been reason enough.” What is alarming is that contrary to the popular assumption and media reports, the organizers and perpetrators of the ongoing pogroms are not “crazy and deranged Muslims”. As Nizamani has pointed out: “Religious militants are a product of socialization, common in public and private religious education, where the emphasis is on certain denominational affiliation to override all other associations and treat other groups as potential enemies of Islam. Militants may be few in numbers but they are not a crazy lot.” As mullahs consider “lesser Muslims” as “lesser Pakistanis”, Sunni fanatics have no qualms about killing Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and other Muslims to cleanse the polity of Pakistan. Islamism is so well-entrenched in the country that the average Pakistani Muslim does not know if there is another Islamic or secular alternative to what he / she believes or practices in the name of Islam. Many mullahs believe polio vaccine as yet another Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslim children. The AFP reported from Waziristan in June 2012 that a warlord had imposed a ban on polio vaccination campaign among his people. Parts of northwestern Pakistan have been very volatile due to the Pakistani Taliban-led insurgencies and terrorism since 2007.

Explaining Pakistan is possibly as difficult as explaining the proverbial elephant by the six blind men. As we have our own opinions, biases and prejudices against the state of affairs in Pakistan, so are there so many diverse views on the country by Pakistani and foreign experts, analysts and politicians. We may, however, infer that there are elements of truth and lies in most appraisals of the country’s past, present and future in relation to the Pakistan-based Islamist threat in local, regional and global perspectives. We may summarize the situation by highlighting some salient features of the problem:

1. The six decade-long state-sponsored Islamization program has culturally and politically Islamized the polity of Pakistan;

2. Despite Pakistani government’s denial, al Qaeda, Taliban, LeT and several other Islamist terror outfits have had strong presence in the country, with or without the knowledge and support of the Government;

3. The Pakistani military, especially the ISI (Pakistan’s military intelligence), virtually runs the Government and civilian governments since the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1977) play the second fiddle while the military remains unaccountable in all matters and it virtually runs an “invisible government” beyond the control of Islamabad;

4. The military and especially the ISI have had close links with several Islamist outfits, especially the Haqqani Group of Taliban and the LeT, who from time to time bleed neighboring Afghanistan and India, respectively, and the Pakistani military since 9/11 has been playing a double game by promoting Islamists and supporting America’s war efforts in Afghanistan, simultaneously;

5. Balochistan is in a state of rebellion, Sind, especially Karachi, is in ferment, and people in the northwestern districts adjoining Afghanistan are sympathetic to Taliban, al Qaeda and whoever promise to implement strict Shariah code;

6. The average Pakistani Sunni Muslim has strong prejudice against Ahmadiyyas, Shias, Ismailis, Christians and Hindus and she/he also have strong reservations about the bonafide of the West / America, and India as friends of Pakistan;

7. The war against the Taliban is not over and Afghanistan is not likely to be in peace after the NATO withdrawal in 2014;

8. India, Pakistan and their allies will be engaged in long-drawn proxy wars in Afghanistan;

9. US-Pakistan relationship is “tumultuous roller-coaster relationship”;

10. Pakistan has a tremendous identity crisis, the average Pakistani Muslim is not sure if she/he is a Muslim first or Pakistani or Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi or whatever is her/his ethno-linguistic identity is;

11. Non-Muslim Pakistanis feel intimidated, discriminated against and are simply marginalized subjects in an “Islamic State”;

12. Pakistani military has vested commercial interests and does not want peace with India;

13. Most Pakistani Taliban (TTP) members are from the Punjab and represent educated urban marginalized classes, not madrassah students, and are more dangerous than rural-based uneducated Islamist militants;

14. Pakistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, less than two million people pay any income tax;

15. Since the military controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the A.Q. Khan episode was an eyewash, he could not have played the major role in the alleged nuclear proliferation scandal;
16. As Ahmed Rashid reveals, 70,000 people work in Pakistan’s nuclear industry, anyone of them could be susceptible to extremism, hence Pakistan’s bombs are not in “safe custody”;

17. Last but not least, the Obama administration failed to formulate a cohesive Indo-Pak-Afghan policy as it could not convince Pakistan that strong Indian presence in Afghanistan was benign, not a security threat to Pakistan, which has been instrumental in Pakistan’s support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In hindsight, one can blame Pakistan for umpteen numbers of reasons for the prevalent chaos in and around the country, which includes promotion of Islamism, terrorism, insurgencies, and transnational conflicts, proxy wars and last but not least, violations of human rights of minorities and women. I have discussed the growing threat of transnational crime and terrorism – which supplement and complement the so-called “global jihad” in Chapter 6 –across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, with special reference to Islamism, narco-jihad and narco-terrorism. Then again, one cannot only blame Pakistan for the prevalent bad governance, lack of democracy and the preponderance of the military and Islamist militancy in the country. America not only supported (and promoted to a large extent) all the military dictators and undemocratic regimes in Pakistan since the 1950s, but it also was responsible for the promotion of Islamist parties and militant mujahedeen, even before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s own words:

According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahedeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

It is noteworthy that the day the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Brzezinski wrote to Carter: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War”. He was also candid about having no regrets whatsoever for arming Islamist militants who later emerged as the Taliban and terrorists as he thought the collapse of the Soviet Union was more important for the US than the rise of the Taliban. Pakistani ruling elites promoted political Islam and legitimized mullahs as the custodians of Islam. Pakistan was programmed to be Islamized soon after the death of Jinnah, the secular founding father of Pakistan, in 1948.
Of late the Military – which claims to be the “most patriotic element” and behaves as the most “well-organized political party” of Pakistan – has been unhappy with America for several reasons. It feels humiliated and violated by America’s unauthorized drone/aerial attacks on Pakistan that kill civilians and soldiers. The killing of Bin was the last straw. What is most worrisome about Pakistan is the unpredictability of its leaders. The way its politicians and generals forced East Pakistanis opt out of Pakistan to create Bangladesh by terrorizing, killing and humiliating Bengalis in the name of “national integration of Pakistan” in 1971 is an example in this regard. In view of the tradition of Pakistani leaders’ thoughtless behavior, one believes they can go to any extent, including waging another war against India or even proliferating nuclear weapons, in the name of “saving Pakistan” or “preserving the glory of Islam”. Thus Pakistan remains the most unpredictable and dangerous nation in the entire Muslim World.

The situation in Afghanistan is far from normal. One may attribute the spectacular rise in terrorist attacks on NATO-ISAF-Afghan troops and civilians in Afghanistan following the Abbottabad Operation (that killed bin Laden) to Pakistan’s ISI. In one year since the death of Osama bin Laden, 367 US troops got killed in Afghanistan. As per Obama-Karzai understanding, the bulk of US and allied troops would leave Afghanistan in 2014, and only “some U.S. forces will remain in a post-war Afghanistan as military advisers”, but we do not know how many US troops will stay there and for how long. While Afghan military and police are least dependable, Pakistan is most likely to emerge as the biggest beneficiary of Western troop withdrawal. Unless India stops playing its old game of destabilizing Pakistan’s turbulent Balochistan and tribal areas in the northwest through Afghanistan, India and Pakistan would continue their proxy wars in Afghanistan, Balochistan, FATA and Indian-occupied Kashmir. More Mumbai (2008) type attacks on Indian cities by Pakistan-based Islamist-narcojihadist outfits in the coming years cannot be ruled out either. Thus, it is imperative that as America prepares to exit Afghanistan it should not be only focusing on security, overlooking the political elements of the transition. Some analysts rightly believe that: “To leave behind a stable government in 2014 Washington needs to push harder for electoral reforms, negotiations with the Taliban, and a regional settlement involving Pakistan”.

Last but not least, Afghanistan’s stability in the post-occupation period will depend on who controls Islamabad. The powerful Military-Islamist Complex in Pakistan (which appears to be a parallel to the American Military-Industrial Complex), in its quest for the “strategic depth” in Afghanistan is likely to install a Taliban government in Afghanistan. A Taliban leader has aptly described the Taliban reliance on Pakistan in the following manner: “Pakistan is as important to us as the shoulder one needs to fire his rifle”. A captured Taliban leader in 2008 quite philosophically told his American captors about the Taliban’s post-occupation strategy in Afghanistan: “You may have the watches, but we have the time”. Some analysts suggest political reintegration of the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami into a coalition government in Afghanistan in order to isolate the most radical groups. Ahmed Rashid, an authority on the Taliban and Afghanistan, believes that the Obama administration by giving mixed signals to Pakistan and Afghanistan has miserably failed in convincing Pakistan not to support the Taliban and LeT fighters.

The inability of more than 15,000 NATO, British and US Marine troops in defeating a handful of Taliban fighters in Helmand is unbelievable. Helmand is considered the “drug capital” of the world and the Taliban profit enormously from the Helmand-based heroin trade. A handful of IED-armed Taliban fighters have remained a formidable adversary for the NATO and ISAF. In 2010 alone, Taliban fighters planted a staggering 14,661 IEDs to kill some 268 US troops and injured another 3,360. As I have indicated in Chapter 6, the transnational crime-drug-Islamist nexus in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and beyond is posing the biggest security threat to countries and regions beyond South Asia (including America), so is the surge in the number of Taliban fighters is emerging as a new threat to the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Based on his personal interaction with Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil, the former Taliban foreign minister, Ahmed Rashid reveals that the “New Taliban” are “more radical and more enthusiastic to fight” than the old ones. It appears that neither military nor diplomatic victory for America is forthcoming in Afghanistan, while Pakistan is being alienated too.

Now, should we assume that Afghanistan per se is the home to “global jihad” or are there other contributing factors to turn the country into the so-called “graveyard of invaders”? Contrary to the popular assumption, especially due to the Taliban rule (1996-2001), unlike Pakistanis Afghans never promoted Islam as their identity. During the peak of the Indian “Wahhabi” movement in the 1820s-1850s in northwestern India (northwestern Pakistan today), Afghans avoided supporting the anti-Sikh and anti-British “Mujahedeen” from North India and Bengal. Most Pashtuns were dead against Islamist Puritanism, reforms and militancy throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan and British Indian borderline espoused secular / socialist Pashtun nationalism under Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the “Frontier Gandhi” (1890-1988), even after the accession of the Pashtun areas to Pakistan in 1947. One must not lose sight of the fact that many Afghans supported communist-oriented parties, who eventually came to power in 1978.

Unlike Pakistan, Afghanistan’s exposure to Islamism was not by design but by default. The Soviet invasion (1979) and American and Pakistani joint-sponsorship of the “jihad” against “Godless Communism” ultimately paved the way for the rise of Islamist extremist forces in Afghanistan. Today, the fate of the Afghan Taliban depends on what happens to Pakistan’s Afghan Policy. If the Pakistani government decides to distance itself from Afghanistan by giving up its irrational demand for a “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, the Taliban would fizzle out in no time. Whatever cultural Islamization of the population has taken place since the beginning of the “jihad” in the 1980s can be neutralized through good governance and mass education. However, this would require India to alleviate Pakistan’s fear of getting encircled by India from the south as well as the north. America can play a very important role by engaging Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China as an honest broker. This, however, is least likely to happen in the foreseeable future. Consequently Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain the epicenter of the “global jihad” for an indefinite period.

Al Qaeda: Is it on the Run or Coming Back to Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Al Qaeda has been the most known, feared, hated and enigmatic terror outfit in the world. Although some scholars and laymen soon after 9/11 questioned if al Qaeda and its enigmatic leader Osama bin Laden had been behind the attacks or they had the capabilities to execute the carnage (some still raise these questions), there is hardly any doubt about al Qaeda masterminding and executing the attacks. Again, some scholars believe that al Qaeda is not an organization but a movement or “franchise”; some believe that the outfit has already run out of steam; while others insist that we are at the stage of (in popular American parlance): “You ain’t seen nothing yet” moment of history. Ehsan Ahrari considers it a franchise; Peter Bergen believes that after 2001 the terror outfit has been reorganized into “al Qaeda 2.0”, which is a decentralized movement rather than a centralized organization, with abysmally poor support from global Muslims; former CIA analyst Mark Sageman believes that al Qaeda is no longer the main threat to the West, more immediate threat comes from marginalized Muslim immigrants and citizens in the West. Retired US Marine officer Bruce Hoffman believes that al Qaeda’s networks are intact and still poses a big threat to America. Many analysts believe that al Qaeda’s inability to attack America since 9/11 proves its inability to undertake any major attacks on Western interests.
There are some other misunderstandings about al Qaeda. While many consider Bin Laden to be the founder and Saudi Wahhabism as its inspiration. As discussed earlier, al Qaeda is an offshoot of the MB and Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian Islamic scholar and mentor of Bin Laden, was its founder. He was disillusioned with the Palestinian leadership who emphasized on politics and nationalism rather than on Islam. Qutb’s writings on total war had influenced Azzam. After teaching at a Saudi university for a few years, in early 1980s he joined the Afghan “jihad” against the Soviet Union. He worked together with bin Laden and established al Qaeda with direct Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) support. In 1988, Saudi money, American arms and Pakistani training and logistics helped the formation of this “stateless army” of Sunni militants who wanted to establish global caliphate transcending Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ISI had another motive behind arming and training al Qaeda fighters; it was to fight India, mainly in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Soon after the formation of al Qaeda, Azzam had strong differences with the ISI, which had been backing several other mujahedeen groups in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Azzam asked some top al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden and al Zawahiri to support him to open a united front against Pakistan, which they declined. Soon in late 1989 Azzam got killed in a bomb blast, which some believe were planted by bin Laden and his associates.

From the inner struggles and cleavages within al Qaeda’s top leadership from the very beginning, it appears that it has been primarily a political not Islamic organization in content and nature. After Azzam’s death, we have not seen any cleric at the helm of al Qaeda affairs. Senior and middle ranking leaders of this Islamist terror outfit have been mostly “techno-clerics”, not Islamic clerics or mullahs, sheikhs, or imams. The organization has mostly been over-rated since it August 1998 simultaneous bombing of US embassies in Daressalam and Nairobi in Africa. Nine-Eleven attacks heightened al Qaeda’s stature as the most powerful terror outfit in the world. By 2004, experts believed that the organization had as many as 18.000 fighters worldwide. However, the way al Qaeda almost fizzled out in and around Afghanistan not long after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and as it appeared from bin Laden’s private documents, captured by US troops who killed him May 2011, the organization was practically finished by 2007 and had been in serious financial crisis and shortage of fighters. After 2001, al Qaeda leaders were in hiding, waging a “virtual war” through video and Internet. Having its own media network, al Sahab (The Cloud), presumably based in Pakistan, bin Laden and al Zawahiri used to circulate their messages, full of sound and fury, through videotapes and Internet for America and its allies. Interestingly, days before the 2004 Presidential Election -- which gave George W. Bush his second term – bin Laden issued an ominous warning to America through a videotaped speech, shown on US media. After the killing of bin Laden, it appears (apparently though) that al Qaeda had practically died out a few years earlier than bin Laden’s death in 2011. Due to the cataclysmic 9/11, which the average Muslims abhorred as Satanic acts in the name of Islam, al Qaeda had very little to almost non-existent support and sympathy among global Muslims.

As we look back, we see al Qaeda and the Mujahedeen not as self-sustaining organizations. America, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had been their main promoters. As CIA and the State Department had no qualms about promoting anti-communist autocrats – Franco, Pinochet, Reza Shah, Salazar, Marcos, Suharto, Zia ul-Haq and others – they were also enthusiastic about promoting ultra-rightist terror outfits like the Contra, al Qaeda and the Mujahedeen. The Taliban came out of several Pashtun Mujahedeen groups. It is noteworthy that America considered the Saudi version of Islam an asset during the Cold War, and Washington still has a soft corner for Saudi Wahhabism, which since World War I has been a traditional ally of the West. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the main catalyst in furthering Washington’s interest in radical Islam and the Mujahedeen. Reagan once compared the Mujahedeen with America’s “Founding Fathers” for their service to the cause of freedom.

However, soon after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, US rejoiced and left war-torn Afghanistan to itself, infested with more than thirty Mujahedeen factions divided on ethnic, sectarian and ideological lines; among them, al Qaeda being the most deadly, organized and politically motivated transnational terror outfit emerged as the Number One. Meanwhile, bin laden’s reputation grew tremendously after the Russian and American withdrawal from Afghanistan. In view of the rise of al Qaeda, the Taliban and the various Mujahedeen groups in Afghanistan, northwestern Pakistan and Central Asia, we think America played both an active and passive role in their creation. But for its generous financial and military support, there would not have been any significant resistance against the Soviet Union, let alone any al Qaeda or Taliban. Similarly, without America’s abrupt leaving the armed gangs of unemployed Mujahedeen to themselves, there would not have been any chaos or civil war in Afghanistan, which paved the way for the Taliban takeover in 1996. After the Soviet and American withdrawal in 1989, al Qaeda singled out Israel, America and the secular regimes in the Muslim World as the main enemies of Islam. Pakistan’s ISI, which runs a parallel government in the country, added India as another very important enemy of Islam, for its occupation of Muslim-majority Kashmir. Meanwhile, American oil companies had forged ties with several Islamist outfits in Afghanistan and adjoining sub-region in hopes of building an oil pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan. American benign neglect in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged Afghanistan, to a large extent led to the rise of al Qaeda, bin Laden and the Taliban.

Ayman al Zawahiri, a radical Egyptian medical doctor, who was once arrested for his role in the assassination of President Sadat, is a co-founder of al Qaeda. He is said to be the main organizer of the organization, which was led by the charismatic bin Laden. As per al Zawahiri’s advice, bin Laden organized al Qaeda as an umbrella organization to accommodate different ethnic groups within its fold. Thus Arab, Bangladeshi, Chechen, Chinese Uyghur, Pashtun, Baluch, Punjabi, Indian, Burmese, Indonesian, Filipino, Somali, Kenyan, and even American and European Muslim militants joined al Qaeda. Most of the recruits came from the former bands of the Mujahedeen. Zawahiri wanted Afghanistan and then Pakistan to become the core of the Caliphate or al Qaeda’s Global Islamic Empire. Bin Laden also wanted to forge ties with Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in Lebanon. Al Qaeda wanted to fight not only the West and Israel, but also Saudi Arabia, especially because of its allowing US troops in the kingdom.

Zawahiri’s Egyptian connection was an asset for al Qaeda as he had connections with Egypt’s once powerful Islamist group Gamaah al Islamiyya or the Islamic Group (IG). The IG, which was responsible for the assassination of Sadat, disintegrated in 1997. In 1991, Zawahiri broke with IG as he did not approve of killing Christians and tourists in Egypt and in 1996 formed the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). After the Taliban takeover, he went of Afghanistan. Bin Laden after his expulsion from Sudan in the wake of the US Embassy Bombings, in 1998 went to Afghanistan. They began a new chapter in the name of a global Jihad under the aegis of al Qaeda in Afghanistan under the Taliban administration of semi-literate Mullah Umar, another veteran of the Afghan “jihad”. Zawahiri was instrumental in the 1998 merger of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad with al Qaeda. Soon, in September 2001 al Qaeda performed the least predictable and possibly the most catastrophic terrorist act in history.

Following the 9/11 attacks, in November 2001, the US retaliated against Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime for harboring top al Qaeda leaders. However, instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan by eliminating al Qaeda completely, America turned its attention to Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. The American-led invasion of Iraq gave some respite to al Qaeda elements to reorganize themselves in Afghanistan, Pakistani and elsewhere. However, despite al Qaeda’s successful infiltration into war-torn Iraq, where it resorted to terrorism, by mainly indiscriminate killing of Iraqi Shiites for a couple of years, soon it alienated Muslims everywhere and ran out of financial support.

Having diverse interests and ideologies Islamist terrorists sometimes threaten countries beyond the Muslim World. As terrorists and transnational crime syndicates collaborate with each other, various Islamist, ethno-nationalist, Marxist, anarchist and narco-terrorist groups having common enemies in America and its allies have already come closer to each other. Menacingly to America’s long-term security, various Latin American terrorists, narco-terrorist and well-armed insurgent groups, including the FARC, have forged ties with al Qaeda. The al Qaeda-FARC “drug alliance” has been an ominous development, within and beyond the Americas. Narcoterrorism and narcojihad along with state-sponsored proxy wars through non-state actors are fast replacing the traditional suicide bomber.

Somalia used to be the most volatile, al Qaeda-infested country in the world up to early 2011. Yemen has been another safe haven for al Qaeda. The America-born radical engineer-turned-cleric Anwar Awlaki, also known as the “Bin Laden of the Internet”, used to be the main organizer of al Qaeda till his death in a US drone attack in September 2011 in Yemen. However, Awalaki’s death weakened the al Qaeda’s support base in the country, nevertheless, it is still quite active in the region. There were several suicide attacks in Yemen in early 2012. Al Qaeda claimed the killing of a Yemeni general in one such attack in June 2012.

By late 2011, al Qaeda had started operating in West Africa, in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Algeria. By mid-2012, al Qaeda’s main sanctuary in West Africa was in northern Mali where it helped the secessionist Tuareg tribesmen in establishing their independent “Islamic State of Azawad”. More than 250,000 square miles of West African territory, “including the legendary city of Timbaktu – risks turning into an outland much like the remote areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen where terrorists linked to al-Qaeda seek safety from U.S. and other efforts to hunt them down, according to European diplomats, academic experts and reports from the region”. It appears that al Qaeda is well entrenched in the “Islamic State ” of northern Mali, which is bigger than France in landmass. It has been under strict Shariah law since its unilateral declaration of independence from Mali. Tuareg fighters, who served Qaddafi till his last days as mercenaries, along with some other Salafist and secular groups having the common enemy in the government of Mali, have been the mainstay of al Qaeda in Islamic West Africa or Maghreb (AQIM). As some analysts believe, while Mali is emerging as the “New Libya”, another fractured state and failed state; al Qaeda’s gaining ground in West Africa is turning the entire sub region into another Afghanistan, a conflict zone between the AQIM and America and a battlefield for the proxy war of hegemony between China and the United States in the coming years.

According to a senior European diplomat, the “Islamic State” in northern Mali provided for the first time a territorial base for al-Qaeda in the AQIM. He discussed the situation on the condition of anonymity with Washington Post. “Every week that goes by is important because it gives AQIM more time to implant itself,” he said. Al Qaeda’s resilience, ability to fish in troubled water by exploiting ethno-national conflicts, its adaptability, and above all, its transnational network easily outwit and bypass government intelligence and security systems. As Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou reported in June 2012, “jihadi” fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan were training members of Islamist groups in northern Mali. One is not sure if the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will be able to overpower the “Islamic State of Azawad”, well armed with the leftover of Qaddafi’s arsenal, on their own. Again, a secular group of separatists / freedom fighters under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have forged ties with Ansar Eddine, a local franchise of al Qaeda, which has money and international connections. The MNLA has agreed to an “Islamic State” against the will of many of its followers. However, there is no reason to panic as this landlocked huge territory of northern Mali with 1.3 million people cannot sustain long after Mali stabilizes following the March 2012 military rebellion in the south. An al Qaeda-run government in northern Mali or independent Azawad is not going to get any Western support. In view of the contradictory and exaggerated accounts of the rise of Islamist militancy in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Yemen one is not sure if an Islamist takeover of these countries is on cards. Without undermining the growing Islamist threat in parts of Africa and Arab World, we need to understand the secular aspects of violent crime and insurgencies or “revolts from the margins” on class, ethnic and sectarian lines.

Then again, like war-torn and / or fractured Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Dagestan, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan al Qaeda can destabilize the entire Maghreb and adjoining areas from Azawad. Al Qaeda has widespread networks from the north and northwest to the southwest, central, and eastern regions of Africa and the Middle East, which Bin Laden and al Zawahiri systematized in the 1990s. Al Qaeda paid more attention to Africa than Afghanistan, especially to the Islamic West Africa, to turn the continent into its safe haven, even before the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. As planned by Zawahiri, al Qaeda infiltrated into various West European countries from Africa. Al Qaeda took full advantage of the crackdown on Islamist parties by the military-backed Algerian government in the 1990s. It forged ties with Algerian radical Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Despite GSPC’s “limited appeal” among Algerian Muslims, there is no authentic figure about its strength in the subregion. America’s Africa Command (Africom, formed in 2008) has intensified its military operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates from northwest Africa to central and eastern Africa. US drone attacks in Somalia and Yemen have not been able to eliminate al Qaeda bases, rather by killing innocent civilians along with a handful of al Qaeda leaders have alienated people from America. Islamism has found a new sanctuary in various sub regions of Africa, and thanks to the prevalent bad governance, Islamists’ adaptability and mobility, there are no signs of al Qaeda losing ground in Africa in the near future. Last but not least,

In sum, al Qaeda or any terrorist outfit does not need thousands of fighters to destabilize a super power like the United States. Terrorism is all about asymmetric warfare; which mostly favors terrorists to the detriment of counterterrorist / counterinsurgent measures by governments everywhere. We may cite the example of Chechnya. Al Qaeda-backed Chechen separatists in this tiny patch of land with 1.3 million people not only killed several thousand civilians in schools, theatres, sidewalks and market places in Chechnya and Russia since 2000, but by 2010 they also killed 15,000 Russian troops. Russia lost more troops in Chechnya in ten years than what they had lost in Afghanistan during the decade-long Afghan “jihad”.

We are not sure if al Qaeda is only alive across the African continent or it has more than a dormant presence in Asia, Europe and America. As American analysts and experts tend to overestimate or underestimate actual or perceived threats to their country, we can hardly rely on their appraisal if al Qaeda is a spent force or it has the potential to stage more mega attacks on America. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, President Bush declared America’s victory in the “War on Terror”; and we know, how gross was that overestimation. Thus, we have every reason to be skeptical about what Obama proclaimed after the death of Osama bin Laden: “We have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat”. We believe that al Qaeda in not on the “brink of defeat”. Its “fingerprints are increasingly evident” in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Maghreb, Somalia, Nigeria and Egypt. After bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda conducted more than 200 attacks in Iraq alone and killed more than a thousand Iraqis. Ahmed Rashid’s thinks that far from being dead, the post-Laden al Qaeda is “now a far looser and more amorphous terror network”. It has branches in “every European country” and has “penetrated Muslim communities in the United States” as well.

In view of the above, it is too early to assume that al Qaeda has withdrawn from the Pak-Afghan sub region or has no plans to return to its most hospitable sanctuary up to the killing of bin Laden. The way Pakistan’s military, judiciary and politicians have been playing the partisan and divisive games in the most vindictive manner since the departure of Musharraf, one is not sure if the country will overpower Islamist militants and the centrifugal forces by establishing good governance and democracy in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, American military interventions in Pakistan since 9/11, especially the killing of bin Laden without the knowledge and permission of the Pakistani government, and the controversial drone attacks that regularly kill innocent Pakistani civilians have further destabilized the country, to the detriment of good governance and to the benefit of Islamist militants, anarchists, separatists and other radical elements in the already fractured and unstable Pakistan.

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