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DAWN - Opinion; December 8, 2001

December 08, 2001


The Afghanistan boomerang

By Ahmed Sadik

AS far as Pakistan is concerned its presence in Afghanistan is now virtually a story of the past. All these years, possibly dating from 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we as a people and a country had to make an enormous investment in terms of men, money and time in Afghanistan. All of it appears to have gone up in smoke during the events of the last two months or so i.e. since September 11.

We have, of late, been clamouring for a broad-based government for that hapless country in the hope that some of the moderate elements from amongst the erstwhile Taliban and the others will be able to gradually make their way into the seats of government in Kabul and echo our concerns about the security of the region. It is hard indeed to have spent such a long time in another country in such a strong position and then after twenty years of sweat and toil over there to find oneself booted out. and to add insult to injury also be reduced to the proforma role of a coalition partner without much of a voice in the unfolding events affecting us in the present as well as for the future.

Not very long ago Pakistan was holding sway over 90 per cent of Afghanistan. Our perception during the last two decades or so was that Afghanistan was earmarked to be our western strategic depth and that effective control over it or enjoying some sort of genuine friendship with it was essential for the purpose of avoiding a two-front military situation which we have been trying to pre-empt since Pakistan’s inception. The Taliban were thus manufactured, adopted and exported to Afghanistan as part of a joint concerted policy. The US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were indeed together in these efforts.

This was an understandable and appropriate methodology at that time of promoting penetration and cannot really be objected to just because we and, in fact, the whole world were overtaken by the surprise effects generated by the happenings of September 11. 1 am not in the least objecting to all these pragmatic steps which had to be resorted to in the pursuit of a national policy. But the question arises as to how much did we consult our people in the formulation of our erstwhile Afghan policy.

If I may take the liberty of saying, our Afghan policy unfortunately had only one dimension to it and that was the combat dimension. We, in fact, treated Afghanistan somewhat like an accidental colony. All that we showed interest in was to keep it in some form of surrogate occupation through the Taliban by exporting and encouraging them through a few fundamentalist organizations and through them injected more and bigger doses of sectarian Islam into Afghanistan. Instead of extending the Pakistani patterns of administration to the Afghan provinces we were busy giving in to the obscurantist forces in Pakistan in places like Malakand and Bajaur and even Swat.

Nobody will believe it that for a long time in the NWFP there was a chief secretary who claimed to be one of the founders of the Taliban movement in that province. If only we had taken a page out of British policy in the subcontinent we should have helped to set up political agencies or settled district administrations and local councils in at least the Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan and thus provide the rudiments of modern government in that country.

Instead despite our surrogate occupation of Afghanistan and the economies of the two countries having virtually integrated with the rupee and the Afghani freely convertible and Afghan LCs providing the mainstay of imports which mainly ended up in the bara markets up and down the length and breadth of Pakistan, we were unable to proceed beyond having a veiled sort of para-military paramountcy.

With the Americans turning their backs on Afghanistan after the Soviet Red Army pulled out of that country, Pakistan enjoyed at least 10 clear years of an unimpeded free-run in Afghanistan. But instead of Afghanistan getting any closer to being a beneficiary of Pakistan’s legal and constitutional systems, we allowed the process of Talibanization of Afghanistan to gather momentum over there and effectively cross over into Pakistan which in effect has led us to the present crisis that we are facing.

We have not only been summarily ejected from Afghanistan but also find ourselves ostensibly as a coalition partner only in name and also enjoy the dubious privilege of not being taken into confidence on most major matters. It was part of our official media’s position that Pakistan has somehow managed to prevail upon the US and the other coalition partners that the Northern Alliance would not be encouraged to fill up the vacuum that may arise with the demise of the Taliban.

And yet it was obvious to even the most inexperienced of observers that US defence secretary Rumsfeld’s series of visits to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics and of course to Moscow were not without the intention of using the Northern Alliance as the roller-coaster for demolishing the Taliban and with it possibly whatever influence Pakistan had created for itself in Afghanistan. Even Britain, the staunchest US ally, has been having problems in acquiring for itself a self-respecting operational foothold in Afghanistan. So Pakistan may well be prepared for being faced with any number of surprises as the ‘War on Terrorism’ progresses.

The reason for such forebodings is not just because of misfounded neuroticisms. Dealing with superpowers in indeed never easy as we have all experienced in the years gone by. Dealing with middle level powers like India next door is also quite difficult. Then there is Iran next door where we had a fund of goodwill ‘ab initio’ but we threw it away as we got more and more involved in a sectarian version of Islam inside Pakistan. When there were two superpowers we made the serious error of putting all our eggs in one basket much to our long-term detriment. By the time we woke up to the overriding need for pragmatism and for hedging our bets in an awfully complicated and not so straight forward world, it was too late and enormous damage had already been done and we had also lost half our country for a song.

That may well be all in the past. But what should be a reasonable expectancy for the future after the war is over and the Bonn Conference has given birth to a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Will we have acquired a durable relevance to be able to muddle through the ‘We on Terrorism’ crisis and obtain enough largess from the western world and the other developed economies to be able to break into the category of the middle-income group of countries.

We are being told, of course, that we have by adopting a policy of cooperation with the dominant world forces (described as the coalition) been able to safeguard our core interests. Our core interests have been aptly described by the Chief Executive as our nuclear assets and the Kashmir cause. But in the process of saving our skins during the present Afghanistan crisis we have probably incurred the hostility at worst and suspicion at least of the Pakhtuns of Afghanistan and possibly of the NWFP and Balochistan. This would certainly not be a strength-giving factor for the state of Pakistan which happens to be a federation and not a unitary state.

President Bush has been making any number of promises both directly as well as indirectly through his underlings who have been visiting Pakistan whereby he has been agreeing with suggestions made by our Chief Executive and then subsequently not delivering on them. All this quite obviously does not bode very well for putting in place a new and healthy Pakistan-US relationship for the future.

The Indians in comparison may have been a little disappointed initially because of the coalition having placed greater emphasis on seeking Pakistan’s cooperation due to the demands of combat logistics which Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan situated on the periphery of Afghanistan could only have provided. But in the long run the Vision Document signed with India by President Clinton still holds good since President Bush has not repudiated it and therefore that document continues to be the cornerstone of long-term American policy in the South Asian region.

All this adds up to a very jumbled-up and scary sort of scenario for Pakistan. I am quite sure that the Government of Pakistan is fully aware of the pluses and the minuses of our having adopted the sort of Afghan policy posture that we did in the wake of September 11. Yes we may have been on a Hobson’s choice situation but that does not help us in any way to be able to duck the boomerang effects of a post-Taliban Afghanistan that may be still in the pipeline for this region. The very big danger is that the adverse fallout effects of what has happened in Afghanistan to the Taliban (most of whom happen to be ethnically Pakhtuns) is likely to create serious governance problems for us in both the NWFP and Balochistan.

But before that effectively begins to happen the more imminent danger is that the Indians may succeed in making major headway in their efforts to establish a nexus before the international community between the situation of the Afghanistan Taliban and the Kashmir freedom-fighters/mujahideen. This naturally one hopes is an eventuality that has been taken care of well in advance because otherwise we are likely to find ourselves in very serious trouble notwithstanding all the help we may have rendered to the international coalition against terrorism.

Our best hope therefore in the circumstances is that the ex-communists of northern Afghanistan and the ex-Taliban of southern and eastern Afghanistan and the moderate royalists of Kabul headed by the former King settle down to a peaceful coexistence in their country and engage in productive interaction with all the neighbours of Afghanistan. This is indeed a time for powerful prayers for peace to descend into our region.

Benazir’s splastic politics: LETTER FROM NEW DELHI

By Kuldip Nayar

MAKING a splash is not difficult. Benazir Bhutto did that at New Delhi. In the otherwise placid pool of power politics, the meeting between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was also like a pebble which created some ripples. But a splash or the movements it makes are fleeting. It subsides after a while.

This is exactly what has happened after the departure of Benazir Bhutto. Except for curiosity in some quarters to know why she came or why the Vajpayee government blessed her visit, the rest is a non-event. Noises she made were music to Indian ears. For example, they loved her suggestion for the normalization of relations between New Delhi and Islamabad without letting Kashmir to obfuscate the relationship. But it is well known that she sent her foreign minister, after the VP Singh government assumed power, to New Delhi with an ultimatum of war if it did not settle Kashmir. (The then foreign minister IK Gujral confirms this.)

A splash or political ripples take time to analyse. Conjectures take over. This explains why the Sonia Gandhi- Mulayam Singh dinner meeting still persists as a talking point. It is an open secret that if the two had joined hands three years ago, when Sonia Gandhi wrongly claimed the support of 272 members in the 545-member Lok Sabha, the Congress could have formed the government. Her reported refusal to include the non-Congress parties in the government had let the opportunity slip from her hands. The “misunderstanding” between the two, an insider tells me, has now “disappeared.”

People wonder if another attempt is in the offing to dislodge the Vajpayee government. There is always such a possibility if the opposition can work out the arithmetic. At present, the number is stuck at 202, falling short by more than 70 members to make a majority. That the Samata Party of George Fernandes will “join at the right time” or that the Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu will be “willing to become the prime minister” or that some BJP members “will cross the floor” is mere wishful thinking.

Things can work out in an atmosphere when power dictates politics, not principles. There are many loose ends to be tied up. One is not yet even sure whether the Congress will agree to a non-Congressman leading the new government. But one significant development is the resolution by the Congress that coalition politics will be the way of governance in India for many years to come.

What makes sense is that the Congress and the Samajwadi Party will pick up the thread after the state elections in UP next year. Again, much depends on whether the two are in a position to push out the BJP from the government after the polls. The Congress looks like improving its position. The Samajwadi Party, initially favourite, is losing ground because of too much emphasis on Yadav, Mulayam Singh’s own caste.

The Muslim vote, nearly 13 per cent, on which the party depends, may go to the candidate who can defeat the BJP. It will not matter much whether the Samajwadi Party has fielded him or her. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) can tilt the balance. It is the only party which can transfer its votes. And its understanding with the BJP is not a secret any more.

Had the BJP been confident, it would not have brought in the Ram temple at this late stage. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh’s hint to include the temple in the state BJP election manifesto is to counter the statements made by the prime minister and the home minister that the construction of the temple was dependent either on the court verdict or on the agreement between Hindu and Muslim communities.

UP, already polarized religion-wise or caste-wise to almost the last village, may explode if the controversy over the temple is revived. But then the BJP wants to polarize the vote for its advantage. The BJP’s anxiety to retain UP at any cost is understandable. At present it has only 5 out of 29 states against 11 of the Congress. The loss of UP makes no difference to the number in the Lok Sabha. But some constituents in the ruling National Democratic Alliance may begin to wonder whether it is wise for them to stay with the declining BJP.

After the UP polls, the Lok Sabha would have less than two years left. New combinations may take shape. And since the Vajpayee government has performed poorly in the economic field — some 4,500 people have committed suicide in Kerala alone after a steep fall in the price of agricultural products — the NDA allies may be keen on exploring fresh possibilities with the Congress in the picture. Even otherwise, some NDA constituents have expressed their unhappiness over globalization, which is the BJP’s talisman.

It is apparent that the BJP wants to change the agenda from economics to terrorism. There is an effort to make a splash to cover up failures. The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) is so authoritarian in content that any dissent can be presented as an act of terrorism. No doubt, national security comes first. But it is no way inconsistent with individual rights. Both are core values in the constitution. The need is to balance the two. But the ordinance is too draconian to allow any room for liberty. The biggest drawback of the ordinance is the machinery to implement it. Once again, it is the police. One does not have to go back to the days of the emergency when the police carried with it blank warrants for arrests to indulge in the worst type of excesses. The misuse of police or the misuse of powers by it is a daily occurrence. It does not need an ordinance to fix up anyone to extort money or to beat up a suspect. The ordinance will be yet another instrument of tyranny in a society where an ordinary person is already a helpless target of state terrorism.

The primary use of POTO will be against the critics of the government. Nationalism is the garb which the communalists will increasingly use. In the process, the BJP may brutalize the state where the essence of democracy, the freedom of speech, may become the biggest casualty. The minorities will become victims of the police-fanatics combine. This is what is happening in Bangladesh.

Against the big splash of POTO, former Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar is trying to make a small splash. He feels that on his coming birthday he will rise from the ashes like the phoenix. His problem is how to stay before the people’s gaze. In politics he is always a bridegroom-in-waiting. He is still in the wilderness because he is a rolling stone which gathers no moss. He may believe he has a role to play but most people seem to have forgotten him. The country is in no way a loser.

Whoever makes a splashy entrance, whether Sharad Pawar, Benazir Bhutto or LK Advani through POTO, he or she has to face the fact that the show does not last long. Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi is aping them by ordering deletions from history books. They are like meteors which streak across the sky and then disappear.

The question that Benazir, Advani, Joshi, Yadav or Pawar will have to ask themselves is: How has their behaviour changed the general character of social, political or intellectual life of the society to which they belong? Even the realisation of the import of such a question is a plus point.

Immigration reform

IN the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 the debate about America’s immigration policy flipped. Overnight, discussion swung from the possibility of more open borders to the urgent need for tighter security.

The regularization agenda embraced earlier this year by Presidents Bush and Vicente Fox of Mexico was shoved to the back burner, while Congress and the administration began considering how to beef up the border patrol, improve scrutiny of visa applicants and keep better track of foreign students in the United States.

When mid-level American and Mexican officials met for talks in Washington last week, it was clear that security remains the top U.S. priority. But this is not an either-or question.

The United States and Mexico can and should collaborate on security, including coordinating intelligence so that foreign travelers of concern to U.S. officials can be identified if they turn up in Mexico. More extensive pre-clearance of regular travellers or cargo could help ease security delays at the border.

But there is a security aspect as well to tackling the broader problems of illegal migration. Although the flow across the border has slowed since Sept. 11, and more Mexicans here are seeking to return home than at this time a year ago, an estimated 3 million Mexicans still are living illegally in the United States, and when the economy recovers, the lure of jobs in the north will return.

Finding ways to bring longtime illegal residents into the sunshine and direct the flow of workers into legal channels would be another step toward getting a better handle on who is here and who is crossing the border. It should free at least some investigative capacity for focusing on those who threaten the United States, rather than those seeking to share in its prosperity. Tackling these issues made sense before Sept. 11. It still does today. —The Washington Post

Radical Salafism: Osama’s ideology

By Bernard Haykel

RADICAL Salafism is the ideology of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Its particular worldview can be understood by looking at the roots of this ideology in Islamic intellectual history and by realizing that its teachings have been marginal to and opposed by mainstream Islamic thought.

Muslims in the modern period are either Sunni (90%) or Shi’ia (10%). The distinction pertains to a dispute over the spiritual and political leadership of the Muslim community after the death of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In matters of politics, two principles are strongly identified with the Sunnis: 1) they are loath to declare fellow Muslims infidels, a practice called takfir; 2) they prohibit war against Muslim rulers, however tyrannical these may be, so long as Islam remains the religion of state and Islamic law is enforced. Sunnis argue that adherence to these two principles is crucial in order to maintain social order and to avoid warfare amongst Muslims which might lead to the demise of Islam itself.

Osama bin Laden and his followers are Sunni Muslims of the Salafi branch. Salafism is a minoritarian tendency within Islam that dates back to the 9th century — under the name of Ahl al-Hadith — and whose central features were crystallized in the teachings of a 14th century Islamic scholar, Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Ibn Taymiyya’s importance lies in that he was willing to hereticize fellow Muslims who did not share his views and, more important, he declared permissible war against Muslims rulers who did not apply the Shari’a (he advocated war against the Mongols who had declared themselves to be Muslims but did not apply Islamic law).

Salafism’s hallmark is a call to modern Muslims to revert to the pure Islam of the Prophet Mohammad’s generation and the two generations that followed his. Muslims of this early period are referred to as al-Salaf al-Salih (the pious forefathers) whence the name Salafi. Salafism’s message is utopian, its adherents seeking to transform completely the Muslim community and to ensure that Islam, as a system of belief and governance, should eventually dominate the globe [Osama bin Laden quote?].

Salafis are not against technological progress nor its fruits; they do, however, abhor all innovations in belief and practice that are not anchored in their conception of the pristine Islamic age. They refer to such reprehensible innovations as bida, a term of deligitimation in Islamic law or the Shari’a.

According to the Salafis, Muslims can only be certain that they are not practising reprehensible innovations if they adhere to a strictly literal interpretation of the sources of revelation, and those are the Qur’an and the Sunna (the Sunna is the practice of Prophet Mohammad and can be found exclusively in the canonical collections of accounts of his sayings and doings (hadith)). Salafis claim to be the only Muslims capable of providing this literal interpretation; all other Muslims would therefore be — to a lesser or greater extent — deviant innovators.

Another salient feature of Salafism is an obsession with God’s oneness while condemning all forms of polytheism (shirk) and unbelief (kufr). Certain Sufi practices (Sufis are mystics of Islam), such as visiting the graves of great Sufi masters, are condemned by the Salafis as diminishing true belief in Allah. The world, according to the Salafis, is unequivocally divided between the domains of belief (iman) and unbelief, and it is incumbent on Muslims to be certain that they remain in the domain of belief.

This they can do only if they are Salafis. Nothing less than eternal salvation is at stake. The Salafi worldview is rigid and Manichaean. In its radical form Salafism leads to the practice of takfir. This is exactly what Osama bin Laden did in his November 4 statement: Muslims who are not with him are, by definition, infidels.

The mantle of Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings was most famously taken up by a movement in central Arabia in the 18th century. Known to its enemies as the Wahabi movement, whose adherents called themselves the Muwahhidun (The believers in the oneness of God). The Wahabis had a powerful reformist message and were able to galvanize the tribes of central Arabia into a powerful military force that allowed them to conquer much of the territory of present-day Saudi Arabia for a short period.

So great was their zeal to focus all the belief and religious practices of fellow Muslims on God alone, that the Wahabis destroyed in 1805 tombs in Madina, including a failed attempt at destroying the cupola over the tomb of Prophet Muhammad.

Such excesses, including the declaration of fellow Muslims to be infidels whose blood could be shed, horrified the wider Muslim world leading the Ottoman Sultan to send an Egyptian military force and destroy the fledgling Wahabi state. This was accomplished in 1818. The example the Wahabis set, however, left an indelible mark on the world of Islam and the like-minded would look to their experience as a model to be emulated.

King Abd al-Aziz ibn Sa’ud, commonly known as Ibn Sa’ud, the founder of the present Saudi kingdom, based his rule and conquests on Salafi doctrine, and this remains the ideology of Saudi Arabia today. But Ibn Sa’ud realized quickly that embedded in this ideology was the potential for radical extremism and he vanquished militarily his own radicals, otherwise known as the Ikhwan, in 1930.

The radical Salafis raised their heads again in November 1979 when one of their leaders, Juhayman al-Utaybi, led a revolt in Makkah that seized control of the Great Mosque for two weeks. As they had done in 1930, the Saudi authorities attacked al-Utaybi and his followers, killing every last one in a bloody battle in the Makkan sanctuary.

However, it is important to know two features that distinguish the official Salafism of the Saudi kingdom from the teachings of these radical Salafis. The Saudis believe that: 1) war against an Islamic ruler is not permitted, and 2) declaring fellow Muslims to be infidels is also not permitted. For this reason, the Saudi minister of Islamic Affairs stated on October 19, in the aftermath of the WTC attacks, that “obedience to Islamic rulers is obligatory for Muslims.”

A principal reason radical Salafis like Osama bin Laden advocate violence against the Saudi state and the United States relates to the presence of US troops on Saudi soil. By permitting this, Osama says the Saudis are no longer adhering to Islamic law and consequently war against them is permissible. Osama bin Laden bases his claim about the illegality of the presence of US troops on a statement of Prophet Mohammad in which the Prophet says: “Expel the polytheists from the Arabian peninsula.”

Literally understood, the injunction is clear. Non-Salafis, i.e., the vast majority of Muslims, disagree with Osama’s judgment. These non-Salafis counter with another statement of the Prophet in which he says: “Expel the Jews of Hijaz from the peninsula of the Arabs.” The reference to the Jews is to be read as a synecdoche for non-Muslims. Hijaz is a region of Arabia and this second Prophetic statement narrows the more general first statement. In other words, non-Muslims are permitted to reside in Arabia, but not in Hijaz, the region of the twin sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina.

Such differences in abstruse legal opinions, however, do not explain Osama bin Laden’s massive appeal among Muslims today. It is his genius at manipulating images and symbols, as well as his ability to tap into a wellspring of legitimate Muslim and Arab resentment of US foreign policies, that explains his success. Muslims live under the yoke of authoritarian regimes — regimes that have succeeded in destroying the fabric of traditional Muslim education and networks of knowledge and socialization. Most Muslims therefore do not appreciate or understand legal arguments like the one stated above. What Muslims react to enthusiastically is Osama’s role as a leader and symbol of Muslim resistance to domestic and western oppression. This reaction is fuelled by a century of arguments promoted by the Arab regimes that all the problems of the Arab and Muslim worlds are due to foreign intrigue, and are not because of any policies or actions of the Arab and Muslim leaders themselves. This reasoning explains, for example, the eagerness with which so many Arabs and Muslims have accepted the conspiratorial theories that the attacks of September 11 were the work of Jews and Zionists.

Thus far, moderate Sunni Muslims have been reluctant to condemn Osama bin Laden in light of the events of September 11. This is a consequence of the quiescent political culture Sunnis subscribe to: pointing fingers at fellow believers might lead to a state of chaotic disorder they fear most. Moreover, the present conflict involves unbelievers (Christians and Jews), and Muslims prefer not to air their differences in public. Another reason for this conspicuous silence is that moderates feel the evidence incriminating Osama bin Laden in the attacks has not been provided by the US government.

Finally, the fear of violent retaliation by the radical Salafis has kept many silent. Moderate Muslims, many of whom have been and continue to be oppressed by Arab and Muslim governments, do exist and must be encouraged to take centre stage. We can take heart from the fact that most Muslims have not heeded Osama’s call to kill innocent Americans wherever and whenever they find them.

In short, the battle being waged today is at heart an internal Islamic one and may take a very long time to end. It is part of a larger battle about the very nature of Islamic society and politics, and one in which there are many sides (moderate Muslims, state-sponsored Muslims, radical and moderate Salafis, secular nationalists, and Shi’ias).

The writer teaches Islamic law at the New York University.