In the past, the more enlightened of us could comfort ourselves with the thought that poverty and social repression produce malcontents and terrorists. Unfulfilled aspirations of statehood were also considered as contributing factors. Even then, though, this was not entirely true. While the rank and file of guerrilla movements might come from economically or socially deprived sections of the society they rebelled against, their leaders and financiers were invariably educated, well-off citizens, if not of the same society, then of some other.
Things are very different today. Especially after the attacks in London, where it seems “Paki is a dirty word” once more, and memories of the race riots seem fresh once more, the perpetrators of the attacks were educated British citizens, who “completed”‘ their schooling by betraying the society that fulfilled their aspirations rather than reforming/changing the one that failed them.
The blanket assumption that terrorists are trained or at least influenced by the madarsas or Islamic schools of Pakistan and elsewhere, though valid in part, is misleading as it masks some realities. As William Dalrymple points out in his recent column in The Guardian,
there is an important and fundamental distinction to be made between most madrasa graduates – who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication – and the sort of middle-class, politically literate, global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaida operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular scientific or technical backgrounds and very few actually turn out to be madrasa graduates.
At the same time, it may be informative to look at various aspects of modern Islamic terrorism, before exploring possible solutions.
Intelligence services, and the cognoscenti, have long known the term Al Qaeda is pretty much a misnomer today, and has been for a while. After the “terrorist summit” of 1998 in the Phillipines, where the Islamic International Front was formed, knitting together as disparate groups as the Egyptian Brotherhood, the Islamic Jihad, the Uzbek nationalists, and at least five Pakistan-based terrorist organizations, the base of Al-Qaeda was replaced with a loosely knit confederacy of sinister groups. The key members are known to be:
- The Al Qaeda, and its military wing, the 055 Brigade
- The Jamatul Jihad of Egypt led by Dr al-Zawahiri, and other Egyptian groups
- The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan led by Jumma Namangani
- The Hizb-e-Islami Turkistan, also led by Namangani
- The Abu Sayyaf group of the Southern Philippines
- A few Chechen groups operating out of Pakistan and the Chechnya region
- An organisation of the Uighurs of Xinjiang in China
- The Harkat-ul Mujahideen of Pakistan
- The Lashkar-e-Tayiba of Pakistan
- The Sipah-e-Sahaba of Pakistan, an extremist Sunni organisation which has been campaigning for the proclamation of Pakistan as a Sunni State, and their militant wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
- The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Pakistan
- The Taliban : Originally talibs, or students from the madrasas, and then Afghanistan
These organizations have separate, distinct objectives and interests. The Al Qaeda claims to fight for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and for the withdrawal of the US and British troops from Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian groups want Islamic rule in Egypt and tighter control in the region. The Harkat and Lashkar want the merger of J&K with Pakistan and, subsequently, the “liberation” of Muslims in other parts of India. The Sipah-e-Sahaba wants a Sunni State in Pakistan and the declaration of the Shias as non-Muslims. The Uzbek group wants an Islamic State and the Turkistan group wants an Islamic Federation of all Central Asian republics and Xinjiang. The Uighurs want independence from China. The Chechens have been fighting for independence from Russia. The Indonesian groups, led by Hambali want an Islamic Caliphate stretching from Southeast Asia to Iran.
The military operations in Afghanistan broke up the Arab Muslim base, the Al Qaeda, and since 2003, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba have been coordinating most efforts. It is to be noted that at least five of the organizations have Pakistani bases and sources of support. Also, after the Afghanistan war, these groups retreated to Pakistan where they regrouped, before making their way in small groups to Iraq in late-2003, under the guise of Haj pilgrims.
The Iraqi movement is nominally headed by Ahmad Fadil Al-Khalailah, better known as Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who saw action against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and later organized against King Hussein of Jordan. He has been affiliated with the Jamaat al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad. which has a strong European presence, and has helped at least 70 British Muslims travel to Iraq since last year. It is not known to be a member of the IIF.
The Western governments have mistakenly strengthened the puppet masters of these groups by building up their leadership into iconic figures. Similar mistakes were made by Indira Gandhi in India with Bhindranwale in Punjab and the LTTE leader Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka. Post-World War II, the covert coordination of intelligence agencies that proved effective against earlier terrorist movements, lost ground in the 1980s, allowing these non-state actors to gain prominence as self-proclaimed representatives of their societies. Political interests allowed them to flourish, and an inability to keep the focus on their state sponsors has let them gain much ground in these communities.
In one example of this, the continuing inability of the West to bring Pakistan’s failed house to order reminds one of similar support of General Pinochet, and others that led to much grief. While General Musharraf has much more intelligence and many of his counter-terrorist actions have borne fruit, his earlier support for the same groups and failure to root out terrorist sympathisers and supporters from his own army and governments is troubling at the very least. Pakistan has faced much terrorism itself, and he was the target of numerous personal assassination attempts. More needs to be done, as we shall see.
Locations and Bases:
The IIF has various concentrations in Pakistan, apart from the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) that house the remaining Taliban, the Uzbeks and Chechens, the larger groups have been based in Karachi and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Various seminaries and madrasas such as the Tablighi Jamaat in Raiwind, the Muridke madrasas and the Binori madrasa are center-point. A few were recently cracked down on by Gen. Musharraf post the London attacks.
The key group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), originated from the Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad (Center for Religious Learning and Social Welfare). It was established by Hafiz Saeed and Zafar Iqbal of the Engineering University, Lahore, and Abdullah Azzam of the International Islamic University, Islamabad, in 1987. They operate close to a 100 madrasas in the town of Muridke outside Lahore. The sleeper cells busted by the FBI in Maryland and Virginia were run by the LeT. They renamed themselves to the Jamaat ul-Dawa to circumvent bans, but this is only cosmetic. They are linked with the Snakehead syndicate, as well as supplying fighters to Iraq. There are indications that at least one of the 7/7 London bombers visited a Muridke madarsa (PBS report). They are autonomous and coordinate the IIF.
The Jaish-e-Mohammed have links with the Binori madrasa complex in Karachi. This is allegedly where Osama bin Laden was treated for splinter injuries after Tora Bora. This is a hardline Deobandi group, originator of most of the policies of pan-Islamic terrorism. The chief imam, or mufti, of the Binori madrasa was Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai. He was killed by unknown assailants on May 30. He was second only to the chief Mufti of Pakistan. He was the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and issued nearly 2000 fatwas, mostly against the US, India and Israel. as the mentor and godfather of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its militant wing the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. He was designated patron-in-chief of the Jaish and was a member of the shura of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam.
External to Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islamiya are based out of Indonesia, and reportedly Bangladesh. The Jamaat-Ul-Fuqra operate out of the US and Carribean, and are dedicated to cleansing Islam through violence. They have acquired various rural compounds across the US, sheltering various cadres and elements. Their head, Sheikh Mubarak Gilani is now in Pakistani custody.
The list could go on, but it should be clear that pan-Islamic terrorism is much more than an Arab Muslim movement.
The global war, it has already been found, is not a single-focus war, with pure military objectives. It requires covert action, psy-war approaches and social engineering, similar to the multi-lateral, international “alliance of civilizations” that arose post-World War II, and which was fostered by the global terror of the War itself. As B Raman, erstwhile counter-terrorism head of RAW (India), put it, in a prescient column in 2001,
In the 1950′s and the 1960′s, when a large number of democracies in the Western as well as the non-aligned worlds were faced with armed Communist insurgencies sponsored by Moscow and Beijing, all the affected countries fought this menace jointly through a mix of overt and covert actions in a discreet, non-spectacular manner. That is the model to be emulated after updating it, where necessary.
These thoughts seem to be coming true, as evidenced by Tony Blair’s statement on meeting with the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, that,
We discussed the proposal that the Spanish prime minister has made for what he calls an alliance of civilisations, which is the idea that we join together, our countries with Muslim countries – Turkey is particularly involved in this – to form a coalition of civilised people from whatever race or religion to combat the barbarity of terrorism.
Worth reading: Al Jazeera’s piece “The World Faces One Threat” and the Times of London‘s “War on Words”, as well as “Pakistani is a bad word in Britain” by TVR Shenoy, that quotes Harry Potter, saying, “‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we really are, far more than our abilities.’
Next up: a SWOT Analysis of pan-Islamic Terrorism, and solution options.