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The current struggle against Islamist radicalism has lacked direction and strategic leadership. It has also lacked a clear defining historical narrative. The current phenomenon has many different theories and perspectives which are often pulled and pushed depending on whose telling the story. However, if we are to put the 9/11 attacks as the basis for defining what has being happening over the last couple of decades I would like to offer a theory of my own- the Jamaat-i-Islami movement helped to plan this global jihad.
Jamaat wants Pakistan. They would like it to become the central state for projecting and consolidating Islamist power in the Muslim world. The party continues to push for a revolution in Pakistan along with the help of Hamid Gul and Gen. (R) Mirza Aslam Beg. Ever since senior Jamaat leaders travelled to Sudan in the early 1990s to attend strategy sessions on halting the decline of Islamism they have managed to effectively train and control an international insurgency. They are getting closer to pushing Pakistan to the brink of civil war. Osama bin Laden has been a figurehead for Pakistans Islamist revolutionaries.
At first, the phenomenon of global terrorism became a pan-Islamic struggle to topple regimes and push them back into the Dark Ages, then it became a regional struggle or excuse for regimes to tackle internal opponents. Al-Qaeda then became a CIA created myth to advance imperialist interests. Al-Qaeda writers and academics such as Jason Burke, Rohan Gunaratna, Peter Bergen, Lawrence Wright and Steve Coll have all weighed in with books which have been lauded for their accuracy in explaining the current phenomenon of radical Islamist terrorism, however they fail in explaining al-Qaeda and its affiliates’ strategic intentions and links to supposedly moderate Islamist movements. However, when analysing the work of Youssef Bodansky, Ahmed Rashid and Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama Bin Laden unit at the CIA, we start to look at a more complex picture, but it is more accurate. They link political Islam to al-Qaeda and through looking at the organisations development it is easy to see why.
The scholars and journalist of al-Qaeda studies do very little to highlight the links between action, political and philosophical sides of the current jihad. Steve Coll’s Pulitzer Prize winning Ghost Wars does make numerous mentions of Jamaat, but downplays its significance in current developments. It even starts muddling Jamaat’s name at certain points becoming an affiliate of the Arabian based Muslim Brotherhood. The organisations are very close, but it’s not accurate. Burke and Gunaratna both mention Jamaat vaguely, but not in the context of supporting militancy or jihad. Yet, they are widely seen as leading al-Qaeda experts. Peter Bergen doesn’t even focus on Jamaat yet CNN pays his wages because he once acted the producer on interviews with Osama bin Laden and has wrote a couple of books on the subject.
I’ve had the fortune to have helped research the financial institutions which have made up the bulk of al-Qaeda and Islamist funding and have made conclusions which have often been ignored by academics and writers. Not because I’ve distorted facts, but because I’ve told the truth. I have had the privilege of being able to see who’s funding what. It’s led me to have a completely unique narrative. While the US was adventuring in Middle East. I had made the connection that there was a parallel strategy to the wild-eyed jihadi violence coming from the Taliban and other militant groups. The parallel strategy was for more sophisticated Islamists to overthrow governments. The wild-eyed jihadis, mainly from the Deobandi/Salafist school, could do the work for them. They would form the bulk of the insurgencies. These wild groups have created chaos: assassinating political leaders, attacking different religious sects and undermining people’s confidence in the Pakistani state. But, supposedly moderate Islamists, such as Jamaat, have been pulling the strings from the beginning.
Since the 1990s the majority of Islamic scholars and commentators from John Esposito to Oliver Roy had come to the conclusion that Islamist politics were a spent force. The Islamists had failed to revolutionize their societies and when they had turned to the ballot box they had also failed to register success. However, they had failed to acknowledge Islamists dependence on Jihad and militancy for pushing their agenda. Islamist also knowing they had failed opted for jihad. Jihad, whether we like it or not, helps mobilise and energise their followers- it helps recruit. It’s basic asymmetrical warfare. They attack, we respond (poorly) and they get to reap the benefits politically. Jamaat has a network of charities so they even get to help rebuild the homes we’ve destroyed and feed the people we’ve helped to displace.
Frederic Grare, Wilson John and Youssef Bodansky are perhaps the only scholars who have studied Jamaat’s links to militancy for projecting force throughout Central Asia in depth. They have both documented that before Osama had training camps in Afghanistan it was Jamaat which was mobilising for an international jihad. They had helped train Uzbeks, Tajiks, Uighurs, Chechens, Europeans, Sudanese, Yemenis and Arabs in training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rusul Sayyaf. It was only when the Taliban took power of large parts of Afghanistan in 1995 when they were they sidelined.
When Osama bin Laden fled from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996 he took over Jamaat’s camps a year later on the invitation of Pakistan’s ISI. This is often seen as a split between the radicals and moderates, but it shouldn’t be. Jamaat’s leaders and associates, such as Hekmatyar, were meeting with bin Laden’s fledging organisation in Sudan from as early as 1991. They’d fallen out with the Taliban not Osama. In early January 2001, however the relationship between Jamaat and the Taliban was resolved when they both attended a conference in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan’s Islamist groups agreed to unify and declared a jihad on the United States and its allies.
Prof. Khurshid Ahmed, a senior Jamaat leader, sits on Pakistan’s influential Senate Committee on Defence and Defence Production. He attended the Popular Arab and Islamic Congree (PAIC) in Khartoum, Sudan which aim was to unify the actions of the International Islamist movements to wage war against the West. Jamaat were in a strong position because of their worldwide recruitment network and training facilities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They could also send fighters into Kashmir for direct training. PAIC was widely believed to have been funded by Bin Laden while was staying in Sudan as a guest of Dr. Hasan Turabi.
French academics have led the way in understanding Islamism and its revolutionary aspects. Oliver Roy, Gilles Kepel and Frederic Grare have studied the Islamist movement’s development from their colonial birth to their boom during the 1970s when they were the beneficiaries of Saudi petro-dollars due to the economic sanctions placed against the West for its support of Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. They have also documented how Islamist were used by foreign powers as a tool to put down opposition parties throughout the Muslim world during the Cold War. Mark Curtis’ new book Secret Affairs documents the British establishment’s flirtation and cooperation with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-i-Islami, the two engines of radical Islamism.
The strange thing is that these two radical movements have been spun into being ‘moderate’ Muslims compared to the wild-eyed salafists. A moderate fundamentalist? It’s like comparing thugs from the SS and SA to the more sophisticated gentary who controlled the upper echelons of the Nazi party. They’re all bad. Just because you are more likely to be able to discuss the finer points of Western philosophy and art with the latter doesn’t mean they are more moderate than the thugs and footsoldiers. If anything it’s more perverse that highly educated men could begin to intellectualise hatred and genocide.
The moderate tags have stuck because while being open revolutionaries they decided that perpetual confrontation and jihad is a poor tactic for building up a movement that can eventually overthrow a state during the latter half of the 20th Century. Their moderation isn’t philosophical- it’s practical and expedient. It’s a tactic. Prof. Khurshid Ahmed’s translation of Mawdudi’s Jihad in Islam shows that jihadi Islamists must not put all their revolutionary eggs in one basket. It is also one of the pillars of Jamaat’s philosophy. They can’t overthrow a state if the state’s security apparatus is jailing and killing them. If Jamaat has enough military strength then it is fine to violently overthrow governments. This is the mythical split between moderate Islamists and the radical philosophy of Qutb.
Qutb was simply a poor strategist. Jihad against a powerful state is like Don Quixote attacking windmills. It’s not practical or pragmatic. This is what makes the alliance between Jamaat and Salafists so dangerous. Jamaat’s hands off approach shows that when it comes to conspiracy and plausible deniability the radical party is up there with the best. Syed Saleem Shahzad has recently uncovered how Jamaat’s student fronts have been training with al-Qaeda in North Waziristan. Jamaat leaders have also been calling for a ‘glorious Islamic Revolution,’ in Pakistan. The signs that they are breaking free from the cloak of moderation are too clear.
In 1997, Khurshid Ahmed wrote a paper on how Pakistan should support Jihad as part of its strategic defence. The paper called for the building up of Islamist forces for protection of the state. The question we must ask now is has he double crossed his own government? Is the mobilisation of jihad meant for Jamaat’s revolution and not for state security?
The main failure of the academics has been projecting democratic principles into their analysis when explaining Islamists participation in elections. Majority rules in more advanced democracies, most countries with Islamist parties aren’t anywhere near that level. They simply don’t have strong institutions or histories of stabile democracy. Minority rule has been the dominant driving force behind statecraft in developing countries. It boils down to whoever has the most leverage to create force and violence is in power- Hobbesian statecraft. That, unfortunately, is the rule which is the basis of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s political culture.
Another major flaw in our understanding of the development of Osama Bin Laden is that is portrayed that he was not a US agent or worked closely with elements of the CIA. The first round of theories about the al-Qaeda leader pushed that although he was actively engaged in the anti-Soviet Jihad he had no contact with US intelligence. Former CIA officers such as Frank Anderson and Milt Bearden have testified as much. They even blamed Saudi intelligence for bringing him into Pakistan. But, Osama was very close to the Jamaat-i-Islami party which was being used as a recruitment station for the Mujahideen. In Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars he talks about how the party and its institutions were intimately connected to Osama and the Arab fighters. So were the CIA and other western agencies. Mark Curtis’ Secret Affairs also show how British intelligence were directly funding Jamaat leaders. It’s academic in the scheme of things.
The differentiation between global jihadis and regional jihad had become US policy during the latter Bush years. They did this so they could could trim off anti-US terrorists while allowing the rest to go back to business attacking targets which were of closer proximity. The final phase of this half-baked strategy was to demystify global jihad and portray Osama as some type of maniac trying to hijack the semi-legitimate struggles of others in the Muslim world. It failed because since the Sudan conferences in the early 1990s, Islamists came up with a clear and comprehensive strategy. Pakistan will become the base for a genuine Islamist revolution. The reality of Russian, Chinese, Indian and Iranian interference to protect their strategic interests also meant this selfish US strategy was doomed from the beginning. People seem to forget that Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has been working closely to tackle terrorism in Central Asia, sometimes alongside the US and ISAF, but nobody seemed to have informed the Bush administration.
At the dawn of the new millennium the Islamists were battered. They had made little progress politically. Pakistan’s people had rejected Jamaat. The party had failed to capitalise on their time in government during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq. Their only saving grace was that the Pakistani armed forces had adopted Jihad to create irregular forces, such as Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, to battle its enemies. Jamaat was a major part of the defence infrastructure. Islamists had tried attacking US targets, they succeeded on many occasions, but with little response. Islamists needed a strategic event…
[to be continued……..]