While the international Jihadi brigades were regrouping in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the 1980s, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate was staffed by religiosity-enthused personnel who were the direct handlers of the Afghan Jihad and no different in their thinking from the international Jihadis. When they launched the forward strategy in the Central Asian regions of the Soviet Union to orchestrate the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan in 1986, the centrifugal force was again this saying of the Prophet Muhammad, with the strategy underscored that Afghanistan was to be the main battlefield and Pakistan’s tribal areas the strategic backyard of the Muslim resistance. From there the theatre of war was to branch out into Central Asia, India, and Bangladesh. The ISI moulded the whole theatre of war and oriented volunteer groups accordingly. The organisation known as Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami came into existence with the help of the Pakistani military apparatus. Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami was the first Pakistani Jihadi organisation, and was formed in 1984. It hailed from the Deobandi school of thought. It used to recruit youths for the Jihad against the Soviets. The premier Islamic party of the country, Jamaat-e-Islami, was already very active in the recruitment of Pakistani volunteers and sending them for the Jihad. Actually, the raising of human resources was not an issue for the Jihad against the Soviets, as there was already a very powerful indigenous Afghan resistance movement which did not really require any external fighters to assist it. The real motivation behind the formation of Harkat-ul Jihad- i-Islami was to draw out the boundaries of the theatres of war—beyond Afghanistan—in the Central Asian Republics and in India. It was pure coincidence that after 9/11, first the Pakistani military establishment’s ‘strategic depth’ pattern in Afghanistan and then the whole Jihadi network which the Pakistani intelligence apparatus had set up through the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami slipped from the ISI’s hands and fell into the lap of Al-Qaeda. From then on Al-Qaeda used both the Afghan theatre and the Jihadi network to define the boundaries of the theatres of war according to its own perspective and strategic direction.
The network of Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami had emerged from Deobandi Islamic seminaries. Its commanders were educated in different Deobandi schools, which were also their main recruitment grounds. The Deobandi school of thought has always been the most influential political, religious, and Sufi school of South and the Central Asia. Although the Darul Uloom Deoband (an Islamic school) was founded in 1879 by Maulana Qasim Nanoonthvi in the district of Saharanpur Uttar Pradesh (India), it was actually a deep-rooted religious, Sufi, and political legacy of Central Asian Naqhsbandi Sufi order adopted by various South Asian Muslim reformists. These included Mujadid Alf Sani (1564-1624), Shah Waliullah 1703-1762), and Shah Waliullah's grandson, Shah Ismail (1779-1831). Sheikh Ahmed Sarhendi, better known as Mujadid Alf Sani—which means a reformist for next ten centuries-inspired strict monotheist Islamic values against the Mughal emperor Akbar’s secular order of Din-e-Ilahi, to force the Mughal dynasty to revert back to the Islamic system. The hardline Sunni orthodox Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb Alamgir, is said to be the byproduct of Sarhendi’s teachings. Similarly, with the rise of the Hindu Marathas and the decline of the Mughal Empire, Shah Waliullah appeared on the horizon. Shah Waliullah, a Naqshbandi Sufi like Sarhendi, continued the legacy of Sheikh Ahmad and through his writings, pointed out the faultlines in the social, political, educational, economic, and spiritual orders which had caused of the decline of Muslim rule in India. Shah Waliullah’s influence ran through the whole region from Central Asia to South Asia, and that is why when he wrote a very detailed letter to Ahmad Shah Abdali (a warlord from Kandahar) asking him to give up his life of ease and fight against the Maratha dynasty, Abdali invaded India and ransacked the Maratha dynasty.
Shah Waliullah’s teachings were carried forward by his son Shah Abdul Aziz and grandson, Shah Ismail, the ideologue of the pioneering Jihadi movement in South Asia in the beginning of the 19th century. This influence of the Shah Wali Ullahi family thus laid the foundation of the Darul Uloom Deoband. The Darul Uloom Deoband was a trustee of Shah Waliullah and his family's legacy and promoted madrassas (schools of Islamic learning) across the whole of South Asia. It also promoted the different Sufi orders of Qadri, Chushti, Suharwardi, and Naqshabandi. The majority of Sufi Khaneka in the extended South and Central Asian region are affiliated with the Deoband School of thought. Last but not the least, this school of thought was the flag bearer of all the Jihadi movements from the19th century onwards, such as the Syed Ahmed Brelvi, the Faraizi movement, and the Reshmi Romal movement (the twentieth-century silk handkerchief movement), leading into the 21st century Taliban movement. The Darul Uloom Deoband launched the movement of religious education through a trained faculty, and promotes a network of Islamic seminaries from the Northern Caucasus and Central Asia to Bengal and Myanmar. The political map of the whole region changed in the twentieth century as the Caucasus and Central Asian areas were occupied by the former Soviet Union, while some areas were captured by communist China, both of which banned religious education. However, the migrant Central Asian Muslims in northern Afghanistan, including Badakshah, Balkh, Maza-e-Shareef, and Takhar, retained their old religious linkages. The Darul Uloom Deoband school of thought was the major academic influence under which scattered Central Asian religious and Sufi orders were united. It also trained Muslim academics in India and sent Muslim scholars back to Afghanistan, where they built large and small madrassas to revive old religious values, Sufism, and politics.
After the partition of British India, several leading religious scholars of the Darul Uloom Deoband came to Pakistan and established Islamic seminaries there, such as the Jamiatul-Uloomul Islamia in Binori Town, the Darul Uloom in Karachi, and the Jamia Ashrafia in Lahore. The International Islamic University founded in the late 1970s in Islamabad was also influenced by the Deobandi school of thought. These religious schools became centers of learning for the whole region, and Muslims of Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkoman origin who had fled the Soviet Union because of its religious restrictions, as well as Muslims from the Chinese province of Xinjiang, and from Myanmar and Bangladesh, migrated to the Islamic republic of Pakistan. Some of them sent their children to the Islamic seminaries of the Deobandi schools where they were provided with free board and lodging, food, clothing, and education. Pakistan's intelligence apparatus tapped this network to extend its reach from Central Asia to Bangladesh through the formation of the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami of Pakistan. They then tapped these schools as the major source of recruiting Central Asians to pitch them into proxy wars against the Soviet Union in the Central Asian Republics and the Caucasus. The Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami simultaneously recruited Pakistanis, Kashmiris, and Bengalis (Bangladeshis) trained in Afghanistan for ‘bleed India’ operations after the Soviets had been defeated. However, they soon became too big to be controlled by Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus. Meanwhile, a network of Muslim students from Central Asia was being trained for guerrilla operations around the world. These students were first sent to training camps of organizations which had Tajik and Uzbek roots, then transferred to Afghanistan for further training in the camps of Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan led by Gulbaddin Hikmatyar, and Jamaat-e-Islami led by Afghanistan's Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Masoud. These two major Mujahideen organisations had a sizeable number of commanders in northern Afghanistan, where a number of students from Pakistani seminaries were also being prepared by them to mount an insurgency against the Soviets in Central Asia. Both the Hizb and the Jamaat were ideologically close to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. They had not only read the revolutionary teachings of Syed Qutb and Hasan Al-Banna but were also under the influence of ultra-radical Arab fighters, as most of these Arabs had fought against the Soviets under the banner of the two Afghan organisations. Muslim Central Asian fighters were earlier orientated to Deobandi Sufi religious values. Their subsequent inclusion in Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizb-e-Islami's training camps, and their interaction with Arab militant camps, familiarized them with Muslim Brotherhood literature. Those connections actually laid down Al-Qaeda's roots in Central Asia.
The ISI’s initial target was to tap into the underground Naqshbandi Sufi movements in then Soviet Muslim territories, and these students infiltrated Central Asia through Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, Jamaat-e-Islami Afghanistan, and Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami, with the dual tasks of cultivating the Sufi orders, as well as ordinary Muslims who had continued practicing Islam despite the repressive Soviet political system. Trained in the Afghan Jihadi camps, the Central Asian youths connected with the underground Sufis and prompted them to revolt against the Soviet system for the restoration of Muslim values. Thousands of Holy Qurans were smuggled into the Central Asian Republics, together with the literature of the Muslim Brotherhood. These efforts bore fruit in Central Asia's political arena when the foundations of the Islamic Renaissance Party were laid in Tajikistan in 1990, and then later in Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia. The establishment of the Islamic Renaissance Party was a proxy operation against the Soviet Union, backed by the CIA and perpetuated on the ground by the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies with the help of Afghan Mujahideen and the Pakistani Jihadi organisations. But with the seeds of radical Islam planted, matters began to spin out of the control of these agencies.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and this further emboldened the Islamic Jihadi movements in Central Asia. The Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turks, and Chechens who had participated in the Afghan Jihad went home after the liberation of their territories in September 1991. There was then a US campaign to promote democracy in the Central Asia Republics, but the Jihadis rejected the idea of democracy and established underground Islamic cells aiming to promote Islamic revolution throughout Central Asia. These Islamic cells were ideologically motivated by Muslim Brotherhood teachings and initially supported the ideology of Hizbut Tahrir, a non-militant Islamic revolutionary group which stood for the establishment of a caliphate but through a demonstration of street power rather than armed militancy. But they later turned to Akramia, a breakaway faction of Hizbut Tahrir, which believed in militancy. A sizeable number of Islamic Renaissance Party members also joined the underground Islamic militant movements. During the Tajikistan civil war in the early 1990s, underground cells played a significant role. At the height of hostilities in 1992 most of the people owning allegiance to the Islamic Renaissance Party and other underground Islamic cells fled to Afghanistan. Jamaat-e-Islami Afghanistan's commander Ahmad Shah Masoud brought these Islamic groups into his fold and organized them under the banner of the United Tajik Opposition, which had regrouped in northern Afghanistan. The husband, of the chief of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, Gulbaddin Hikmatyar's niece, Humanyun Jarir, played a major role in sending these volunteers from northern Afghanistan into the Central Asian Republics to fuel the unrest.
Meanwhile, Central Asian Islamic militants needed financial backing, which nobody offered except the Arab camps in Afghanistan. The ideological connection was the persuasion that Osama bin Laden used, and this was strengthened by the financial support he provided to the Uzbek, Chechen, Chinese (eastern Turkestani), and Tajik fighters. As a result, all these factions moved from northern Afghanistan to Kabul and Kandahar under the Pashtun-dominated Taliban government in Afghanistan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, this Central Asian diaspora moved to the Pakistani tribal areas, mostly to North and South Waziristan. Interestingly, except during the initial fight after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Chechen, Uzbek, and Chinese fighters were mostly not used in the Afghan battle. Al-Qaeda deliberately held them in reserve. The ultimate purpose was to eventually send them back to the Farghana Valley (the boundaries of which touch almost all of the Muslim republics of Central Asia, as well as Chechnya and the Chinese province of Xingjian), and from there expand the war to encompass the whole region.
By the early 1980s Jamaat-e-Islami’s Al-Badr camp came under the command of Bakht Zameen Khan, who organised a network of thousands of Pakistani volunteers to fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Their main training camps were established in the Afghan province of Paktia near the Pakistani regions of Parachanar, Khost, and Nangarhar. Initially the ISI used Al-Badr’s camps to train Kashmiri separatists, and the largest indigenous Kashmiri organisation, Hizbul Mujahadeen, was raised in Al-Badr’s Afghanistan camps. However, ISI strategists felt that for the Ghazwa-e-Hind (the promised ‘Battle for India’) there was the need for a structure which stood on more solid foundations. Al-Badr camps were run by the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose men came from a middle-class urban background. They had been educated in secular schools. They were committed to the cause of Jihad, but their commitments were unlikely to be lifelong (no more than five years at best) because of their background, which was part of their being. ISI’s Ghazwa-e-Hind project required networking not only in Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) but in the whole of India—and in India’s neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. There was a need for people who came from simple rural backgrounds with no leanings towards a middle-class ‘upward mobility’ structure. The Harkat-ul Mujahadeen, whose network was governed by the Deobandi school of thought—from Central Asia to Bangladesh—was therefore thought more suitable for the Ghazwa-e-Hind operations.
The ISI almost simultaneously opened theatres of war in Central Asian regions and in J & K in the late 1980s, when various newly organised Kashmiri organizations including Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami and Hizbul Mujahadeen confronted Indian security forces in J & K. Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami applied the same strategy in India as it had earlier applied in Central Asia. India was a far easier place to lay down networks. Initially the Qadri Sufi order was used as a cover for ISI activities. One of the top Sufi clerics in Pakistan, Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, cooperated with the ISI on that front, and soon an underground network was laid in India with the help of Sufis, especially in Hyderabad. While Kashmiri militants escalated hostilities, the Indian underground network was asked to keep a very low profile. The network was to enhance its activities on the recruitment front only. Soon the Ghazwa-e-Hind project had reached Uttar Pradesh, where its target was youths being educated in secular schools. By the late 1990s, Aligarh University became a hotbed of underground militant intrigues, but there was not as yet any plan for the launch of real Jihadi activities in India. Meanwhile, Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami had firmly established itself in Bangladesh through networks of Deobandi Islamic seminaries. The purpose, however, was not to disturb the social and political structure of the country, but to facilitate the future Ghazwa-e-Hind project for a steady supply line of Muslim fighters from Bangladesh once Jihadi activities had begun in India. The timeframe was closely linked with the hype on the Kashmiri separatist movement.
After the death in a C-130 aircraft crash of Gen Zia-ul-Haq in August 1988 and the formation of a new government led by the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, the era of Jihadist Generals such as Lt Gen Hamid Gul in Pakistani military headquarters came towards an end, and strategies such as Ghazwa-e-Hind transformed into ‘bleed India’ projects became more of a purely functional proxy operation rather than a deep-rooted Jihadi perception. Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami was still the favoured network, but in the late 1990s the Pakistani establishment suddenly stopped pushing Ghazwa-e-Hind. Instead it dreamed of the creation of a greater Pakistan stretching from Afghanistan (from a strategic depth angle) to Bangladesh. The Central Asian module of the military establishment was shelved in the late 1990s. This was the time when theJihadi elements started looking in another direction, although still cooperating with the Pakistani military establishment. A hardline Deobandi Taliban rule in Afghanistan was the great morale booster for Jihadis reared by Pakistan’s military establishment. But the Jihadis were also closely monitoring newly emerging equations. The events of 9/1 1 changed the world, as well as the Jihadi mindset. The ISI’s forward strategyin the 1980s against the Soviet Union (and against India) was ready to deliver the desired national goals on the regional strategic front when 9/11 happened in 2001. But, by that time so many events had taken place that it was Al-Qaeda which benefited from the harvest.
Earlier, thousands of Farghana Valley fighters of ethnic Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkish origin, along with fighters from the Chinese province of Xinjiang and the Republic of Chechnya, gathered in an Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The diaspora from Central Asia and North Caucasus badly needed money, arms, and training to fuel insurgencies in their home regions. The Taliban provided them with sanctuaries, but it did not have enough money to keep its own movement afloat, leave alone fund insurgencies elsewhere. As a result, dozens of Chechens, Uzbeks, and the Chinese left Afghanistan and settled in Turkey. Turkey provided them with housing and money, and encouraged their struggle, although under the strict vigilance of the state’s intelligence apparatus. That situation was unacceptable to commanders such as Juma Namangani and Tahir Yaldochiv of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hassan Mahsum of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Party (China), who had progressively lost control over their men living in Turkey. But they did not have alternative sources of funding. Al-Qaeda took advantage of this and developed close contact with these groups. It provided them with money and training. Although there is no proof of the organisational attachments of these groups with Al-Qaeda, there is no denying Al Qaeda’s ideological and financial influence over them in the late 1990s. That was the time when the Pakistani Jihadi organisations reared by ISI became a serious threat to India. According to one estimate, between 1980 and 2000 approximately 60,000 Pakistanis and had been trained in different Afghan militant camps, and at the time of 9/11, at least 10,000 Jihadis were active inside J & K (they used to be launched from Pakistan on a rotational basis). These insurgents not only troubled the 400,000 Indian security forces (including Indian Army and police forces) but emboldened the Pakistan Army to orchestrate military adventures like the Kargil Operation in 1999. Militants also dared to hijack IC-814, took it to Kandahar, and then exchanged the passengers with their prisoners who were languishing in Indian jails. The Jihadis also carried out an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi in December 2000 and even planned an attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Simultaneously, the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami was gaining a firm foothold in Bangladesh at the instigation of the ISI to pave the way for the rout of the pro-India elements there. Harkat carried out an assassination attempt on Sheikh Hasina Wajid and many of her supporters in 2000. This brought India under so much pressure that an alliance that supported a coalition with Pakistan won the Bangladeshi elections in 2001. By the year 2001, strategically speaking, Pakistan had become the most influential country from Central Asia to Bangladesh. It was about to translate that for a better bargain with India as well as Iran and the United States when 9/11 occurred. The entire world changed, and so did Pakistan's strategic objectives.
On December 23, 2005, retired Captain Khurram wrote in an e-mail message to me: Dear Dr. Sahib [the Taliban refer to any person who is reasonably familiar with the English language as Dr, so Khurram and his friends used to call me Dr because I was an English-language journalist], Assalam o alaikum. I started reading your articles a couple of months back and concluded that you are probably amongst those very few analysts who have real insight into the Pakistani Jihadi cadres. I read your last article ‘Armed and dangerous: Taliban Gear Up’, and before making any comment. I would now like to introduce myself. In 2001, I was serving as an assault commander of the elite anti-terrorist Zarrar Coy from Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG). 9/11 was a strange volcano. It divided people on strong ideological lines. I was also struck by the Jihadi waves and joined the LeT, whose training in 1998-1999 was revolutionised by a former Zarrar Coy NCO, who on retirement, joined this outfit. His specialised urban assault training proved to be the most important element in the series of fearful LeT Fedayeen attacks on Indian Army installations. The culmination of those attacks came with the deadly attack of the Kalu Chak which brought a furious Indian PM Vajpayee to Jammu beating the war-drum. Shamshad, known as Abu Fahad Ullah, was martyred in 2000, and suddenly there was a lull and stagnancy in the training of the LeT. My brother, a former Army Major, hung up his boots right after 9/11. On his release from service, he joined the LeT. One of my unit officers also followed suit. I joined the outfit soon after, without caring for the consequences. After one year all three of us came out of the LeT, dejected after facing the conspiracies of their leadership. There is enough to say about the extreme hypocrisy, luxuries, and evils of these so called Pakistani Mujahideen leaders, but that isn’t the objective of my e-mail to you. The aim of my writing to you is linked with your article above. Once inside the LeT cadres, I came to know about their tactics, logistics, and black-market activities. Moreover, I learned about the difference in the ideologies and tactics of the different groups, namely Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and the Pakistani Jihadi groups. Terrorism is my favorite topic. The last time I wrote a feature article on this was in The Nation on October 31, 2004. It was about the desperate demonstration of the Chinese hostage rescue. With this background and having studied the tactics of the Tamil Tigers in depth, I would like to make the following comments: You have quoted senior Pakistani security officials, on the condition of anonymity, as saying the Al-Qaeda and Taliban are developing new links with the Tamil Tigers for logistics support. I would like to add that most of the security officials in Pakistan do not have any real insight or understanding on/of these cadres. After 9/11 they have re-moulded the pan-Islamist view of world domination by the Pakistani Mujahideen organisations into a nationalist outlook i.e. liberating Kashmir only. The Pakistani organisations were probably the largest in the world in terms of cadres, logistics, and support base to stop [Mujahideen] from attacking the US interests, against which they had been raising slogans for years. To break this tide from joining Al-Qaeda and Taliban inside Afghanistan was a huge task. The officials can claim some success for this but the real credit goes more to the corrupt leadership inside organisations, rather than the security and the intelligence hierarchy. So, at least I do not believe all they claim. Most of what they say is based on some internet story or book which they have read about insurgency, or a presentation given by them in the past to earn an A grade in a compulsory course. Two Tamil Tigers headed the group responsible for all their big deals—shipments of explosives from Rubizone Chemicals Ukraine, shipments of LMGs, rounds and guns from Russia, SAMS [missiles] from Thailand and Burma. They chartered ships in the corrupt PAN HO LIB [Panama, Honduras and Liberia] territories. They even bribed an Israeli weapons dealer and diverted a shipment of mortar rounds to their bastion of Jaffna. They forged end-user certificates and in many cases used the end-user certificates of third-world armies, e.g. Bangladesh. But all these are memories of the pre-9/1 1 world, when the US counter-terrorist forces had their eyes closed. Where have those happy times disappeared after 2001? What to talk of moving across borders? I know how many obstacles these cadres faced just moving things from city to city. In the given situation, only the Iraqi Al-Qaeda had the ability to operate across borders. Taliban, I really doubt. The sudden upsurge in the Afghan resistance, I feel, is due to the changed policy of Al-Qaeda to exploit Iranian channels from Iraq. If we look at the chronology of attacks in Afghanistan, it doesn’t seem that any kind of advanced weaponry is used anywhere. The changed trend is the adoption of the suicide bombings by the Taliban. The downing of Chinook and other gunships may be attributed to the RPG fire, since it has a history. The only possibility of logistically supporting the Taliban/Al-Qaeda with SAMs is from Iraq via Iran, with Pakistan out, because of the infiltration of the security agents into these organisations, a fact the Al-Qaeda has only lately understood. The Tamil Tigers themselves have been searching hard for the latest weaponry, since the time they were black-listed by Scandinavia, from the Far East, Central America, West Africa to the jungles of Jaffna in the post 9/1 1 scenario. The Al-Qaeda/Taliban can do anything—from killing people to stoning to death, but the one thing they are very strict about is no hashish, no marijuana! I noticed in my one year with them that printing fake money and smuggling was their favourite all-time pastime, but drug-dealing is strictly prohibited through all kinds of ‘Sbaree Fatwas’ issued by the respected Arab Ulema. Anyhow sir, this e-mail is for the sole purpose of letting you know that I am a fan of your articles and wanted to give you my views and bit of personal experience on the topic! I am in the Great Lakes region and importing rice. But I have learned how the Europeans, Americans, and the Israelis are robbing the Congo out of its huge mineral wealth including uranium, which is also an interesting topic! I also lived from 2001 to 2002 in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a peacekeeper. Once we entered its diamond-rich eastern Kono province to find it was completely out of the control of the capital and the world. How we got weapons back from the rebels, held the elections, made the government, and finally sent the diamond-rich country back into the lap of England. This is also an interesting story which demands your attention.
Thanks and wishing you great writings.
D R Congo
Captain Khurram came from a Kashmiri family of the Salafi dispensation. His story is a telling account of how the infusion of Al-Qaeda’s ideology and Islamic ideas convinced some middle-ranking officers in the Pakistan Army to become ‘blood brothers’ and adopt successful war strategies in the South Asian theatre of war. Ritualistically and otherwise, Khurram was a practicing Muslim. He was clear in explaining his religious viewpoints and political convictions on contemporary national issues. This made him particularly popular among his SSG colleagues. When he was deployed to Sierra Leone in 2001 and 2002 as part of the UN peacekeeping mission, he was extremely disturbed about the confusion of the local Muslims there. They were clearly identifiable as Muslims by their names, but they were totally unfamiliar with the details of their faith and obligations as Muslims. Khurram built a mosque and a madrassa in Sierra Leone, despite the opposition of his commander, Brigadier Ahmad Shuja Pasha. (who later became a Lieutenant-General and the Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI). Pakistan’s policy turnaround on the Taliban after the US invasion of Afghanistan had disillusioned the whole of the middle cadre of the country’s armed forces. But unlike his other colleagues, who remained silent critics of the policy, Khurram and his elder brother Major Haroon Aashik decided to take practical steps to rectify this. Haroon, an equally competent officer, took early retirement from the Pakistan Army in 2001 after Pakistan had decided to support the US-led War on Terror. Khurram left the Army in 2003 on his return from Sierra Leone. Both brothers then joined the LeT, but soon realised that the LeT was only a civilian extension of Pakistan’s armed forces.
The events of 9/11 also brought a change in LeT policies concerning Afghanistan. The LeT advised its cadre to stay away from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Haroon and Khurram were not only excellent Army officers, but also concerned Muslims. Thus this became a bone of contention. Haroon’s inspiration came from the Salafi school of thought, and was the result of his reading habits. He extensively read classical Muslim academics like Imam Ibn-e-Tamiyyah, Ibn-e-Khaldoun, and Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab. Among modern-day Islamic scholars, he studied the works of the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Syed Qutb, as well as the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Syed Abul Ala Maududi. Additionally, and even after retirement from the Army, Haroon continued to read up on military strategies in military journals and through extensive internet surfing. Haroon never kept his criticism of the Pakistan Army a secret. He was a vocal critic of the country’s armed forces. He visited his old military comrades frequently and taunted them on their weak Islamic beliefs, and for serving in Pakistan’s armed forces, which he considered a continuation of the old British colonial army. He often cited the example of how the Frontier Corps still showcases its wars against ‘tribal insurgents’ like Haji Saheb Taragzai and the Faqir of Ipi, who had fought against the British Indian forces before independence. Haroon motivated his former colleagues to leave the Army, referring to it as a purely mercenary force. He advised them to do something else for a living. Several of his colleagues took his advice seriously and left the Pakistan Army. In the meantime, Haroon had found a new comrade in Commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, a veteran Kashmiri fighter, who had been roughed up by Pakistan’s armed forces time and again. He decided to sever his ties with the Kashmiri struggle and move to North Waziristan with his family.
Major Abdul Rahman was another officer who resigned from Pakistan’s armed forces and joined Maj Haroon. Their first and foremost aim at the time was to go to Afghanistan to fight against the NATO troops there. Khurram and Rahman then went to the Afghan province of Helmand and fought against the British troops. Khurram died in the battle in Helmand province in 2007. Rahman came back alive, but alone. Khurram’s death became a source of inspiration for both Haroon and Rahman. Haroon was by now seriously involved in Afghanistan. He saw the death of his brother as martyrdom and dedicated his life to the Afghan resistance against the NATO forces. By 2006, Kashmiri was part of Al-Qaeda’s Shura and his 313 Brigade came under Al-Qaeda's discipline. Soon after, Haroon reduced his business engagements and frequently journeyed to South and North Waziristan to take part in guerrilla operations against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Haroon had fought in the Kargil war in 1999 and often cited the cowardice of the Pakistani officers. He was convinced that the Pakistan Army was incapable of fighting any major battle. Haroon’s exposure to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda had fired his imagination. The ‘soldier with a mission’ stood up in him. He engaged in extensive physical training and made himself super-fit. His relations with Al-Qaeda grew and he soon became part of its inner circle. The fusion of Al-Qaeda’s ideology and his own commitment and capabilities as a professionally trained army officer saw him loom large in the South Asian theatre of war. Haroon began evaluating the Afghan war theatre from a new perspective. Thousands of brave Taliban, ready to kill or to be killed, stood before him, but their obsolete guerrilla tactics prevented them from emerging on top. The Taliban made a successful comeback in 2006 in Afghanistan, but their casualty rate was very high. At least 2,000 Taliban fighters were killed in the spring offensive of that year, while NATO’s casualties were less than 200. Haroon was convinced that if the Taliban clung to old war techniques, the aerial firepower and military machine of the US would eliminate them by 2008. There was a need to develop novel guerrilla tactics through new schools of thought with the fighters oriented to new disciplines. Haroon felt that the Arab guerrilla fighters had a better sense of war than the Taliban but their ideas were limited. They did not have the capacity to strategise the war to advantage the Taliban. Rahman and Haroon jointly worked on this. They went to libraries and studied the most successful guerrilla battles against the United States in Vietnam. After extensive reading, both concluded that without more advanced weapons and improved strategy, success in Afghanistan could not be achieved. Haroon then went to North Waziristan and gave his presentation to senior Al-Qaeda commanders. He laid out two models of insurgencies, one related to Vietnamese guerillas operating against the US, and the other to the Tamil Tigers operating against the government of Sri Lanka.
He advocated that a start be made in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, with a three-pronged Tet-type offensive strategy, similar to the one that Gen Giap had used in North Vietnam in the 1960s to defeat the US. He proposed that the first phase of operations involve armed opposition to the NATO forces in these provinces. In the second phase, the militants would target isolated security posts and military personnel. Militants would capture and hold these isolated posts for 24 to 48 hours and then melt away. In the third phase, they would spread the insurgency to urban areas and the federal capital. Haroon emphasized that the central idea of Gen Giap’s strategy was to catch the enemy by surprise, and he placed emphasis on the training of select warriors for special operations. They were to use sophisticated arms acquired by insiders. The Arab militants paid close attention to Haroon’s presentation and discussed it with regional commanders such as Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Nazir. (The strategy was later successfully employed in Pakistan’s tribal areas against Pakistan’s armed forces.) Haroon developed a ‘guerrilla’ mortar gun of a type available only to some of the world’s more advanced military forces. The gun was so small it could be hidden in a medium-sized luggage bag. Unlike the normal mortar gun, the length of which makes it difficult to hide, this gun could be transported easily. Haroon also developed a silencer for the AK-47, hitherto available only to a select few internationally. This became an essential component of Al-Qaeda’s special guerrilla operations. He then visited China to procure night-vision devices (NVD). The biggest task was to clear them through the Customs in Pakistan. Haroon called on his friend Captain Farooq, who was President Musharraf’s security officer. Farooq went to the airport in the President’s official car and received Haroon at the immigration counter. In the presence of Farooq, nobody dared touch Haroon’s luggage, and the NVDs arrived in Pakistan without any hassle. (Farooq was a member of the Hizbut Tahrir, a fact discovered by the military intelligence as late as nine months after his posting as Musharraf’s security officer. After being spotted, he was briefly arrested and then retired from the Pakistan Army.) Once a level of sophistication had been reached, the Mujahideen prepared for special operations. The combatants for these operations all emanated from North Waziristan. An attack on the Serena Hotel Kabul in January 2008, a Taliban strike on the national day parade in April 2008 in Kabul, multiple bombing attacks in Khost in May 2009, and an attack on the Kamdesh US base in Kunar in September 2009, are just a few examples of the successful guerrilla operations they launched. In most cases, the Taliban donned Afghan armed forces or Afghan Police uniforms, and in almost every attack they had insiders providing them with information on the targetted complexes’ entry and exit points.
Neither Haroon nor Kashmiri favoured gathering adherents randomly for these special operations. They recruited the best and most ideologically motivated youths to their 313 Brigade. These youths were given special guerrilla training, including swimming and karate lessons, shooting and ambush techniques, and were familiarised with explosive devises as well as reconnaissance. The 313 Brigade fell strictly under Kashmiri’s control. The role of Al-Qaeda's Laskhar al-Zil (Shadow Army) was to coordinate with other groups. Several different groups of the Mujabideen were then inducted into the Laskhar al-Zil. Haroon had the Taliban widen their war perspectives. He then presented his most important assessment of future operational procedures to Kashmiri and Al-Qaeda’s other leaders. This was a comprehensive plan to sever the NATO supply line of containers from the port of Karachi to Afghanistan. Of these shipments, 80% go through Pakistan’s tribal area to the Khyber Agency and 20% use the Chaman-Kandahar route. Haroon next planned a masterstroke to organise attacks on NATO supplies running through Pakistan into Afghanistan in January 2008. The focal point was the Khyber Agency. This key transit point accounted for most of the NATO supplies needed to battle the Afghan insurgency. Laskhar al-Zil was assigned to execute the plan. Ustad Yasir, an Afghan, was appointed in the Khyber Agency as the project head. The chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakeemullah Mehsud, although then only an ordinary foot solider, was sent from South Waziristan to coordinate the action. Al-Qaeda knew that Laskhar al-Zil operations in the Khyber Agency would not receive any support from the locals as the majority of the population of the Khyber Agency belongs to the anti-Taliban Barelvi school of thought, which believes in Sufism. There were several local groups from the Deobandi School (a pro-Taliban Muslim sect in Pakistan), but they had good relations with the Pakistan Army and local tribes who stood against creating a law-and-order situation. Haroon suggested that Laskhar al-Zil establish its sanctuaries in the neighbouring Orakzai Agency and make Dara Adam Khail its base. His strategy aimed at pressurising the local tribesmen to remain neutral in the Taliban attacks on NATO convoys. Future Taliban attacks were then launched from the Orakzai Agency on a daily basis. Later militants succeeded in establishing their own strong pockets in the Khyber Agency in 2009-10. Suicide attacks followed. In one, the warlord Haji Namdar, who had initially been the local facilitator for attacking the NATO supply line, and who had supported the Pakistan Army against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the Khyber Agency, was killed. The other powerful warlord of the area, Mangal Bagh, learned from this lesson and remained neutral. The Taliban attacks rose to the point of Pakistan having to close its borders several times in December 2008. Haroon next contemplated widening the attacks on NATO supplies. He was convinced that this would be the key to NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan. He visited Karachi several times, and set up efficient teams there to monitor the movement of NATO’s shipments arriving at the port. These teams were to study how the NATO shipments were passed on to the various contractors. Each and every detail was closely examined, including the companies which had the contracts for the shipments. Several contractors were abducted in Karachi and the rest given warnings to break with NATO, or suffer the consequences. NATO commanders were taken aback by these new developments, and more so when in the last months of 2008, the Taliban virtually stopped their attacks across Pakistan and Afghanistan and shifted their entire focus towards blowing up NATO supply arteries. In Karachi, most of the contractors had been abducted, or were on the run. At the Peshawar terminal, almost every other day the Taliban suddenly appeared, carried out rocket attacks on NATO convoys, and disappeared into the Khyber Agency. Almost every day 20 to 40 NATO convoys were set on fire or looted.
The Pakistani Taliban released a picture to the Pakistani press of a US Humvee being used by the Taliban in the Orakzai Agency. This sent shock waves through Western capitals. The stories published in the international press of missing NATO aircraft engines said to be in the possession of the Taliban added to Westerners' concerns. The NATO command wondered who was guiding the Taliban. The immediate suspect was the Pakistani military establishment, but there was no hard evidence of this. Western intelligence fully examined the profiles of all the leading Arab commanders in North Waziristan and those who had been commanding the Taliban in Afghanistan, but was unable to track anyone with the required knowledge or skill to successfully pursue this strategy. The rising shortage of supplies in the provinces of Helmand, Ghazni, and Wardak seriously affected the patrol capabilities of NATO forces during the latter months of 2008. In April 2008, NATO struck a deal with Russia in Bucharest to send its supplies through Russia and Central Asia. On the sidelines of the 45th Munich Summit in February 2009, an agreement was simultaneously reached between Iran and United States for Iran to allow some non-military NATO shipments through the port of Chabahar. Permission for supplies through Iran, however, was given only to individual countries like Italy, France, and the United Kingdom - not NATO as a whole. But neither of these routes proved an economically viable alternative to the Khyber Agency route, through which 70 percent of NATO supplies still moved.
Haroon wrote me an e-mail after the Bucharest conference in April 2008, citing Wikipedia. He also sent a map in another e=mail: A landlocked country, surrounded entirely by other landlocked countries, may be called a ‘doubly landlocked’ country. A person in such a country has to cross at least two borders to reach a coastline. There are only two such countries in the world: Liechtenstein in Central Europe. Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Uzbekistan has borders with four countries—Turkmenistan to the southwest, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south and east, with Kazakhstan and the Aral Sea to the north—that border the landlocked salt-water Caspian Sea, from which ships can reach the Sea of Azov by using the Volga-Don Canal, and thus the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the oceans. There was no doubly landlocked country in the world after the 1871 Unification of Germany until the end of World War-I. This was because Uzbekistan was part of the then Soviet Union; while Liechtenstein borders Austria, which had an Adriatic coast until 1918. Haroon’s assessment was correct. NATO tried to move its supplies on the Central Asian routes to northern Afghanistan, but was not able to transport more than 10 to 15% of its requirements because of the much higher cost of transportation cost through the ‘doubly landlocked’ region. Pakistan remained the main supply route.
Maj Haroon was elated. He was playing the role of a General. This was something he could never have achieved in the regular Army, given his time of service. He bought a non-custom Pajero off-road vehicle from North Waziristan at the dirt-cheap price of PKR 125,000 and used it to travel through North Waziristan to Karachi. When night fell, he stayed in Army messes in the countryside. Being an ex-Army officer, he was allowed that facility. He always kept his Army-issued revolver on him with lots of bullets in case he was obstructed at any checkpoint, but his imposing bearing and unmistakable military accent in both English and Urdu always prevented this from happening. With his success in evading identification and capture, he looked forward to broadening both his, and through him Al-Qaeda’s, network. Every visit brought forward new comrades. Most of them were from the LeT, a few from other Jihadi outfits, but there were a number from the Pakistan Army as well. Through his close connections in the Pakistan Army, Haroon was able to develop an effective intelligence network. In 2007 he became aware that the US had taken a new view on the South Asian terror war, and had arrived at the conclusion that the problem lay in Pakistan. The US did not want a partnership with the Pakistan Army to defeat the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, it wanted to place US personnel inside the Pakistan Army to fight it. In 2008 the US took over some bases in Pakistan in order to launch Predator drone attacks against Al-Qaeda in Pakistani tribal areas. The same year the US bought land in Tarbela, 20km from Islamabad, and allocated US$1 billion for the extension of the US embassy in Pakistan’s capital. Earlier, in 2007, US war contractors had arrived in Pakistan. They interviewed and selected a group of Frontier Corps personnel to be trained as a counter-insurgency force. In Pakistan’s ISI, a counter-terrorism cell was established, with the officers to be trained in the US. They were to visit the US at regular intervals to allow the US administration to assess them and their conviction about fighting the War on Terror. The US establishment focused on making personal contacts at all levels in the Pakistan Army to set the stage for a conclusive war effort against Al-Qaeda. Haroon was privy to all of this, and busied himself working on a strategy to generate a crisis in the Pakistan Army. His avowed aim was to have the Pakistan Army sever all ties with the US. Using terror tactics was the only way Haroon knew to jolt the conscience of his former comrades-in-arms. He made a list of the senior ranking Army officers involved in anti-terror activities, and decided to make a horrible example of them to deter others from joining the US. The name of retired Maj Gen Ameer Faisal Alvi came to mind. Faisal had commanded SSG operations in Angor Ada on October 2, 2003 when 2,500 commandos had been airlifted into the village of Baghar, located near Angor Ada, with aerial support from 12 helicopter gunships. According to local residents, some of the helicopters flew from the Machdad Kot US air base from across the border in Afghanistan. Witnesses reported that 31 Pakistani soldiers and 13 foreign fighters and local tribesmen were killed in the action. A large number of Taliban combatants fled. In that operation several high-profile Al-Qaeda commanders, including Abdul Rahman Kennedy, were killed. Several others were arrested and transported to Guantanamo Bay. The attack was burned into the mind of Al-Qaeda and it mulled over the setback, especially since as, at that time, there had been no open hostility between it and Pakistan. Tracing the address of Alvi, who was British-born, was not a problem. After developing personal differences with the then Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Musharraf, Alvi had been forcibly retired from the Pakistan Army. After his retirement he worked as the CEO and Executive Director of Redtone Telecommunication Pakistan Ltd, a private telecommunications company in Pakistan. On November 19, 2008 while he was on his way to work, Haroon followed him. His plan was to waylay the retired General when he slowed down at a speed breaker near the PWD colony in Islamabad, where the General’s passage would be obstructed by two accomplices. Everything went according to plan. Haroon jumped out of his car and killed Alvi with his Army revolver. The murder sent shock-waves through the military rank and file. Intelligence outfits could read the fine print: both former and serving Army personnel were to be future targets. But they remained tight-lipped. The murder of Alvi was not Haroon’s sole mission, he was on the lookout for similar targets. The killing of the retired Army official was not purely an act of vengeance, it was to serve as a reminder to the serving military cadre that one day they too would retire and could suffer a similar fate. However, there was more to Haroon than being just an assassin. He was rapidly re-organising the aft cadre of the Jihadis and changing their mindset to fight a more disciplined war against the US.
The first time I met Maj Haroon was at his Lahore residence in September 2007. He was clearly a religious person from his appearance. He had a long beard and wore a prayer cap and the traditional Pakistani shalwar-qameez (a unisex form of dress similar in manner to the shirt and pants worn by Westerners). When I met with him later, I found a different person. He had trimmed his beard, shed some weight, and wore Western attire. But in his private life Haroon was a devout Muslim. At one time he came to visit me at the Avari Towers Hotel in Lahore and said his prayers in my room. There were pictures on one wall of the room, and he covered them all with a sheet as he considered them prohibited under Islam. Haroon was closely watching developments in Pakistan. He was in touch with all of his former colleagues in the armed forces (except those who were part of the military operations), including a Major General who was the officer commanding the garrison in Peshawar. The General had tried to reach Haroon many times to condole with him on the death of his brother Khurram, but Haroon had not responded. Meanwhile Haroon was getting information on expanding US influence from his old Army colleagues. Being an avid internet surfer and book reader, he was well-informed about state apparatus procedures, their manipulations and strategies. He focussed on altered plans to counter them before the state could use them. He realised that if the US continued to enjoy the success it had had up till then, Pakistan’s Army would ultimately have no choice but to bow down to it. The US was already promoting a role for India in Afghanistan as a countervailing force to Pakistan. Haroon knew the US was playing on the existing rivalry between India and Pakistan to encourage Pakistan to engage more fully in the US War on Terror. He saw this as a carrot-and-stick game aimed at luring the Pakistan Army into the trap of committing itself to fight the Jihadis. From 2007 onwards, Haroon worked on a counter-strategy along with his Ameer (commander), Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. The essence of this strategy was to expand the terror war into India. In the first phase Haroon aimed to conduct a 9/11 type event in India, which he thought would surely lead India to declare war on Pakistan. Haroon assessed that once that happened, the Pakistan Army would have no choice but to pull its troops out of the military operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda on its western front. Haroon assigned Major Abdul Rahman, the close friend and former colleague of his slain brother Captain Khurram, for the Indian operation. Rahman was a living encyclopedia on Indian affairs. Haroon then set up an India cell and worked to expand the network to its maximum limits. Haroon had left the LeT but was still in touch with its field commanders. He was aware of the LeT’s strengths and weaknesses. The LeT’s main strength was its connection with Pakistan’s military establishment and its resources. Its weakness was limited vision. Haroon would often discuss these aspects with the LeT commanders, who considered him a totally trustworthy person because he was a Salafi as well as a retired Army officer. Haroon used his connections for the execution of Al-Qaeda’s plan. He was aware that in late 2007 the ISI had decided on the launch of a new uprising inside J & K and LeT was to be used for it. Funds were allocated and LeT was given the green light by the ISI to launch the operation. That was the routine proxy war plan. But after the fencing of the LoC, the infiltration of terrorists into India became difficult. The LeT then had to use the deserted coastal area of Thatta (in the southern Sindh province of Pakistan) to move its fighters into India. From there they moved on into J & K.
Haroon met with a LeT commander, Abu Hamza, and advised him not to waste his time and resources on futile exercises inside India. He told Abu Hamza that he would draw up a more effective strategy for the cause. Haroon next turned to his expert on India, Rahman, to brief him more fully on the country. Rahman had visited India many times. He had photographs and maps of all the important targets in India. He identified the areas in Mumbai where Caucasian foreigners lived, like Nariman House and the Taj Mahal Hotel. Haroon informed Abu Hamza that they would travel on a Pakistani boat initially and then capture an Indian trawler to land from. He told Abu Hamza that once they were in position to launch a massive operation it would force India to the negotiating table to discuss an advantageous settlement on J & K. Abu Hamza forwarded the plan to the LeT commander-in-chief Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, who immediately left for Karachi to organise the operation. Lakhvi spent two months in preparation before the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai. He worked night and day to select and train the combatants who were to carry out the mission. When the selected combatants were thought to be fully prepared to proceed precisely along the lines of Haroon’s plan, they were launched. Haroon devised the mechanism of indirect communication for Abu Hamza, drawing the guidelines for instructions to the infiltrators, which were conveyed from countries other than Pakistan. The Mumbai attacks stunned the whole world. The event was a great test for India as the regional superpower. One of the attackers, Ajmal Kasab, was taken alive, and during his grilling he told his Indian captors the whole story of how, where, and when he had been given his training. All links led to Pakistan, and India geared itself for a limited war on Pakistan, which was to include air strikes on LeT camps in Muzaffarabad, in PoK, the LeT headquarters in Muridke, in Pakistani Punjab, and its seminaries in Lahore. This could have been the beginning of a fourth India-Pakistan war.
Al-Qaeda’s objective in undertaking the Mumbai 26/11 attack was to provoke a war between Pakistan and India. All hostilities between the Pakistan Army and the terrorists would then come to a halt in the Swat Valley in Pakistan’s KPK province, as well as in the tribal areas of Bajaur, Mohmand, and the two Waziristans. Pakistani Taliban leaders Mullah Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud announced that they would fight alongside Pakistan‘s armed forces in an India-Pakistan war, and the Director-General of ISI, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, confirmed this understanding in his briefing to national and foreign correspondents, when he called Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud Pakistan’s strategic assets. The stage was all set to change the dynamics of enmity and friend-ship in the region when Washington put its foot down. Washington hurriedly sent several officials to India and Pakistan to advise their governments that any war between them would only benefit the terrosists. Washington assured India that Pakistan would cooperate fully in the investigation of the Mumbai attacks and arrest those who had been responsible for their planning. Watching his plan fail, Haroon advised Rahman to use another approach for the 313 Brigade. LeT structures were now under siege because of US pressure on Pakistan, and hence of little value. Rahman journeyed to India again to acquire more information and photograph sensitive installations. These included India’s nuclear research laboratories in Mumbai and Hyderabad. He also took photographs of the National Defence College, India’s Parliament building, and some other high-profile government offices in Delhi. Rahman always drew up a contingency plan for assaults on different targets. In this case, if the terrorists were unable to hit India’s National Defense College during the day when several senior military officials were present, they were instead to attack the Indian Parliament. Rahman was arrested after a 313 Brigade combatant, Zahid Iqbal, was picked up by the ISI in Islamabad on July 2009 and identified him. But as he had not been involved in any terrorist act in Pakistan, he was released and soon back at work planning the sabotage operations in India using the 313 Brigade. However, information was leaked to the FBI before he could proceed with the action, and the entire team, including Rahman, was captured.
In October 2009 a conspiracy was unearthed in Chicago by the FBI. Two suspects were arrested, David Headley and Tahawwur Rana. Their interrogations revealed that they had been planning to attack the National Defence College in Delhi and India’s nuclear facilities. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which had published allegedly blasphemous cartoons featuring the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), was also on the hit-list. The conspirators all belonged to Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade. Their affidavit exposed the roles of Major Haroon and his aide Abdul Rahman in the recruitment and orientation process. Kashmiri was optimistic about giving India a far bigger jolt than the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai when I interviewed him on October 9, 2009. “So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?” I asked. “That was nothing compared to what we have planned for the future,” he replied.
Extracts from the FBI’s affidavit: After visiting Denmark in January 2009 [David] Headley travelled to Pakistan to meet with Individual A. During this trip, Headley travelled with Individual A to the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) region in north-west Pakistan and met with (Ilyas) Kashmiri. Headley returned to Chicago in mid-June 2009. Following Headley’s return from Pakistan, Headley communicated by e-mail with LeT Member A regarding the status of the Northern Project. Because LeT Member A responded that he had “new investment plans”, coded language for the planning of a different attack, Headley and Individual A began to focus on working with Kashmiri to complete the attack on the newspaper. In late July 2009. Headley travelled again to Copenhagen, Denmark, and to other locations in Europe. When Headley returned to the US, he told a Customs and Border Patrol inspector that he was travelling on business as a representative of an immigration business. Headley’s luggage contained no papers or other documents relating to such business. Following Headley’s return to Chicago in August 2009, Headley used coded language to inquire of Individual A on multiple occasions whether Individual A had been in touch with Kashmiri regarding planning for the attack. Headley expressed concern that Individual A’s communications with Kashmiri had been cut off. In early September 2009, Individual A called Headley to report that Kashmiri might be dead. Headley expressed dismay and concern, and said that Kashmiri’s death means “our company has gone into bankruptcy then,” and that “the projects and so forth will go into suspension.” Shortly after initial press reports that Kashmiri had been killed in a drone attack in Pakistan, Headley and- Individual A had a series of coded conversations in which they discussed the reports of Kashmiri’s death and the significance of Kashmiri’s death for the projects they were planning. Individual A sought to reassure and encourage Headley, telling him, among other things, that “This is business sir; these types of things happen.” According to the affidavit, Headley also talked about A’s friend “Harry.” A was Major Abdul Rahman, who was in charge of the India cell, and Harry, his friend, was Major Haroon.
Before the arrest of Rahman, Haroon had approached his LeT and Army friends. He convinced them to take part in the battle against NATO in Afghanistan. He took them to the Pakistani tribal areas and trained them in modern guerrilla warfare. In a matter of a few years the 313 Brigade came to be held in high regard in Jihadi circles for its expertise and resourcefulness. However, as more missions appeared on the horizon, more resources were required. Money had always been lacking for the war, and Haroon was now facing a situation in which he did not even have enough money to buy fuel for his car, let alone pay hotel bills during his travels. To keep going, he sold his Corolla station wagon and resorted to a modest style of living. At one point he sold his AK-47 silencers in the Dara Adam Khail market, but even that did not generate enough money. Their monetary situation forced Haroon and Kashmiri to think of an alternative strategy. This was kidnapping for ransom. However, they would only abduct non-Muslims. Haroon came to Karachi and contacted an old army friend, retired Major Abdul Basit. The only help Haroon sought from Basit was to spy on Satish Anand, a renowned film producer. Satish is a Hindu, an uncle of the famous Indian actor Juhi Chawla and son of the renowned film distributor Jagdish Anand. With the information he had received from Basit, Haroon came back to Karachi and abducted Satish for ransom, thinking his family to be rich. He took the film distributor to North Waziristan, only to discover that all the estimates about his money were wrong. Satish did not have liquid funds. He owned properties but in captivity he could not sell them. Satish was told to contact his family-members and ask them to raise a ransom, but it was to no avail. The abductors then made Satish an offer: they would release him if he embraced Islam. They did not kill Muslims. Satish embraced Islam and promised to make a documentary on the militants. It is still a mystery whether or not any money was paid for his release, and if so how much, but what is true is that Satish came back safely to Karachi and refused to register any case against his abductors. He was also tight-lipped about their identities. Haroon was eventually arrested in February 2009 in Islamabad while he was trying to abduct Sarwar Khan, a member of the Qadyani sect. (The Qadyanis are considered non-Muslims under Pakistan’s Constitution.) Several cases, including the murder of Faisal Alvi, were then lodged against Haroon. Haroon had served under some leading military officers, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Staff Committee, Gen Tariq Majeed (now retired), while his brother Khurram had served under the Director-General of ISI, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. I am sure that the Pakistan Army command, who knew of their professional skills, would miss these two brothers, very much like the Saudi establishment might have missed Osama bin Laden. These are the stories of Islamists pushed by circumstances onto a particular track, and then indoctrinated. They then became counterproductive, if not useless, for Muslim establishments that decide to go along with the US designs of a new world order in the post-Cold War era.
On March 3, 2009, only a week after Haroon’s arrest in Islamabad, around ten gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team on its way to play in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. The pattern of the attack suggested that the attackers had no intention of killing the cricketers, as they sprayed bullets only on the escorting policemen. When the policemen fled, the gunmen tried to hijack the bus. This was prevented by the bus driver who kept his wits about him and drove the vehicle past the gunmen to safety. Six of the policemen escorting the team bus were killed, and seven crick- etersand an assistant coach were injured in the attempted hijack. Rocket launchers and grenades were left on the site of shooting, as were water bottles and dried fruit. Officials said the incident bore similarities to the deadly November attacks in Mumbai. ISI claimed the incident was an action taken by militants trained by Haroon, and that the intention was to capture the cricketers and hold them hostage until they could be exchanged for the captive commander.
All the Western strategic experts wondered how Taliban’s rag-tag militia, which was on the verge of collapse, had in a few short years rehabilitated itself and come up with hugely effective guerrilla tactics. These strategists wondered how the guerrillas’ skills, which had been virtually non-existent till 2005, had suddenly transformed. NATO failed to comprehend that there could be a strategist behind the change. That strategist was Haroon, who had been shuttling continuously between Pakistan’s tribal areas in the two Waziristans and Karachi, undetected. In Al-Qaeda circles Haroon is today held in as high regard as Abu Hafs (killed in 2001) for his military operations and strategy. While walking on the sandy shores of the Arabian Sea near my Karachi sea-view residence with Haroon, it was hard for me to believe that this was the person who had moved the internal dynamics of the war in South Asia from Afghanistan to India. Like al-Zawahiri, Haroon’s whole life was the movement. Every part of his mind was focused on formulating a strategy to win the war against NATO. While walking near Karachi’s Clifton beach he never once appeared to enjoy or comment on the cool breeze, or the sight of the awesome waves. Instead his eyes were rivetted on the oil terminal as he pondered strategies to block NATO’s shipments from the port in Karachi to land-locked Afghanistan. Haroon shared his thoughts with me every time he came to Karachi in 2008, when I was living in the city. He said: Dr Saab, the victory of Khurasan is near. I am certain that if the Mujahideen succeed in severing the NATO supply-lines from Pakistan by 2008, NATO will be left with no choice but to withdraw by 2009. And, if the supply-line is cut by 2010, NATO will leave Afghanistan by 2011. This strategy is of critical importance in this war game. NATO’s claim of an alternative supply route through Central Asia is a joke. It is so long and complicated that the economy of the whole of Europe and the United States would collapse under the financial strain. The only other option is to move the NATO shipments to Iran. But if you study history, you will see that relations between the ancient Persian Empire and Roman Empire were strained. Similarly, in this battle, although Iran facilitated the US invasion of Afghanistan against the Taliban, it is still looking to defeat America and its NATO allies. I don’t think that Iran would allow NATO any permanent route for its supplies through its territory.
Haroon saw the climax of the battle coming in 2012: This is the time the Mahdi [the ultimate reformist leader] will make his presence felt. By all the reckonings and the estimates of Muslim scholars he has already been born. By 2012, he will come forward to command the Muslim forces in the Middle East and defeat the Western forces led by the Anti-Christ [Dajjal\. I used to spend hours walking with Haroon on the sea shore in the evenings, trying to understand the Al-Qaeda perspective on various issues. It was doubly perplexing for me that while the West doubted the loyalty of the Pakistan Army in the War on Terror in Afghanistan, believing it to be hand-in-glove with the Taliban, the Taliban were repeatedly attacking Pakistan’s armed forces, believing their loyalties were pro-West. Haroon was the perfect source of enlightenment on this, as not only was he a former officer of the Pakistan Army, he had also personally served under the command of several leading Generals, including Gen Tariq Majeed. Haroon said: “Their [the Pakistan Army’s] support to the Afghan Taliban is purely tactical. It does not come from any conviction. This kind of support to the insurgencies in neighbouring countries is given by states for its nuisance value—and to gain influence in the region. The Pakistan Army also supports LeT, but only as the means of waging a proxy war against India. India does the same with its fifth columnists in Pakistan. If the situation changes, the Army will also change its policies on India. For instance, the ISI used to launch LeT men in Calcutta [India] for acts of sabotage. These men were always arrested. Some because of their long beards, some because of the Salafi rituals they practiced, and some because of the language they conversed in. Whenever they carried out an operation, they were found and arrested. The Pakistani intelligence agencies wondered why ISI operations in India were always exposed while Indian proxy operations in Pakistan never came to light. The reason became clear to them later. The Indian saboteurs in Pakistan were rarely Indian. The Indian intelligence hired Pakistanis as their proxies. Pakistan decided do the same, and in 2007 and 2008 it used the Indian underworld to carry out bomb blasts in Delhi and other places. For the first time the Indian security agencies were clueless about the origin of the saboteurs. Now Pakistan does not need or want to use the LeT any more”. “But if that is the case, what prevents Pakistan from completely dismantling LeT?” I asked. He answered: “They still require LeT for many reasons. First, after their U-turn following 9/11, Pakistan lost its Islamist allies one by one. LeT is their only ally in Pakistan. There is one major reason for this. The Pakistan Army is culturally Punjabi. Approximately 60% of its strength comes from the rural areas of Punjab. LeT comes from the same background. LeT is from the Ahle-Hadith school of thought [the South Asian version of the Saudi Wahhabi school] and in this school of thought khuruj [revolt] is not allowed. In other words, LeT is a pro-establishment group. The Pakistan Army does not feel threatened by it.”
Comparison between the various Muslim societies and the successes or the failures of local insurgency movements was Haroon’s other favourite topic. “Dr Sahib, Islam is a universal message for all of mankind, but it does not ignore local themes, culture and traditions,” he remarked when we discussed the philosophy of Michael Aflaq, the founder of Arab Baath Party, and how Islam was practiced by Saddam Hussein in both letter and spirit. “But isn’t it against the basic spirit of Islam to paint this great religion in a narrow perspective of Arab nationalism, as did Michael Aflaq and Saddam Hussain?” I argued. He answered: Dr Sahib, there is no denying the fact that Islam is culturally Arab, but I don’t think that there is any harm if somebody supports the Islamic state on the basis of Arab nationalism. That happened in the time of Umar Bin Khattab [the second Muslim Caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s companion], when he gained the support of some Iraqi Arab tribes on the basis of Arab nationalism during the war against the Iranian imperialism. “Then what do you think of the Muslim Brotherhood, which condemns Arab nationalism and the Baath ideology?” I asked. “I don't know enough about their perspectives, but I do believe that in wars for the protection of an Islamic state, nationalist themes can be used,” Haroon replied. I often confessed to Haroon that I could not understand the rationale of wars in which thousands of non-combatants are killed. His answer was: Big causes demand big sacrifices. History witnesses that innocent people are often killed in wars and otherwise. In peace they are crushed by the tyrannical systems. Life is only for those who chose to play an active role on one side of the fence or the other. The rest are anyway caught in no-man's land.
Haroon is now in Adyala jail, Rawalpindi. The senior police officer who interrogated him and exchanged notes with me admitted he was impressed with him, and is at a loss to understand how Haroon got himself arrested for a crime like abduction for ransom. He quotes Haroon frequently and is proud he has had the chance to meet such a revolutionary in his lifetime. He wondered why Haroon’s life is such an under-reported story. Haroon continues to share his views on the need to defeat NATO forces in Afghanistan with his interrogators. Sometimes the loneliness and the emptiness of jail depress him, but his convictions bring him back to the world, and he lives for another day. His is another story of Al-Qaeda’s One Thousand and One Nights tales which lead to the promised ‘End of Time’ battles. Meanwhile his colleagues in Waziristan look forward to his coming back to the tribal theater of war. They are convinced that his ideas and presence would lead them to victory.
Al-Qaeda was looking for a person who was a master of guerrilla warfare with a global perspective, someone able to think over and above his own personal interests. Once again a crisis in the Kashmiri militants' camp provided it with an opportunity to benefit and to breathe its soul into a new order. This came with the attack on the Pakistani President Musharraf in late 2003, which resulted in a massive crackdown on the Pakistani Mijahideen fighting for the right for self-determination in J & K. During the course of investigations, any shred of doubt about a person was enough to nail anybody connected with Jihadi circles, no matter how well-connected he was with Pakistan’s military establishment. The supreme commander of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Abdullah Shah Mazhar, was one of the people picked by the ISI when it found a person by the name of Asif Chotu financing the attack. Asif had once been a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad. He later joined Al-Qaeda. Abdullah Shah Mazhar gave me this account of his days in detention: I was picked up from Karachi and taken in a vehicle. The last building I saw was the Sultan Mosque in the Defence Housing Authority. After that I was blindfolded and taken to a bungalow. I was offered good food and treated with all good manners. I was asked few questions about Asif and how much I knew of him, and my possible involvement in attacking Gen Musharraf. I told them categorically that although Asif and I had studied together in a madrassa, I knew nothing of his activities, and nor was I involved in his purported plot to assassinate Gen Musharraf. The military officer told me that I had three days to think, after which he would hand me over to people who would not be nice to me. My answer remained the same: I had no idea what Asif Chotu had been up to. Abdullah said that in next three days he was shifted to another location, which was a military barracks: Nobody came to see me except for a person who used to give me food and water. Then one day I was taken to the airport and to another city, possibly Lahore. There I was not asked a single question. They simply hanged me from the roof as a butcher hangs a chicken before slaughter—my hands and legs were tied together with a rope and I was strung up to a roof. Each muscle and bone of the body cried with pain. After an hour they pulled me down and then took off my shalwar (Pakistani trousers) and beat me on my hips with a thin cane. Each hit of the cane ripped off my skin. Throughout this time nobody spoke to me. When I was near-unconscious, I was shifted to a small cell. After a few hours a man came, slid the small window in the door open, and asked me to give him my hand. I gave my hand and he put some ointment into it and told me to spread the ointment over my wounds. Abdullah said that after this, there was a brief interrogation session, then he was left in isolation. He was given a chamber pot to use as a toilet. After six months he was declared innocent. A Brigadier came to him and tendered his apology for the harsh treatment. He offered monetary compensation, which Abdullah refused with thanks. Abdullah then returned to Karachi and became engaged in routine work, without any thought of revenge. But there were other people like Ibne Amin (real name Bin Yameen) from Swat who were detained in the same detention cells and refused to forget the vicious treatment meted out to them. Ibne Amin later became the most influential Taliban commander in the Swat Valley.
Another person, who, unlike Mazhar, adopted the path of defiance against the state of Pakistan was Commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. His name still terrifies the Indian military establishment. Among the guerrilla commanders of today’s world nobody has attained the type of success Kashmiri had as a field commander. His track record and his complete submission to Al-Qaeda impressed the Al-Qaeda leaders. He was quickly included in Al-Qaeda’s Sbura and later given command of Al-Qaeda’s operations. This was Al-Qaeda’s turning point. Al-Qaeda was now able to operate independently. It gathered together commanders like Qari Ziaur Rahman and Sirajuddin Haqqani, and its soul shifted into a new organisation, Laskhar al-Zil. Its best brains, men like Haroon and Ziaur Rahman, were members of Laskhar al-Zil. Born in Bhimber (old Mirpur) in the Samhani Valley of PoK on February 10, 1964, Ilyas passed the first year of a mass communication degree at Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. He did not continue because of his involvement in Jihadi activities. The Kashmiri freedom movement was his first exposure in the field of terrorism. Then there was the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI), and ultimately his legendary 313 Brigade. This grew into the most powerful group in South Asia, with a strongly knit network in Afghanistan, Pakistan, PoK, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. According to some CIA dispatches, the footprints of 313 Brigade are now in Europe, and it is capable of carrying out the type of attack that saw a handful of terrorists terrorize the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008. Little is documented of Ilyas’s life, and what has been reported is often contradictory. However, he is invariably described by the world’s intelligence agencies as the most effective, dangerous, and successful guerrilla leader in the world. Kashmiri left the Kashmir region in 2005 after his second release from detention by the ISI, and headed for North Waziristan. He had previously been arrested by Indian forces, but had broken out of jail and escaped. He was next detained by the ISI as the suspected mastermind of an attack on then-President Musharraf in 2003, but was cleared and released. The ISI picked Ilyas up again in 2005 after he refused to close down operations against Jammu & Kashmir. His relocation to the troubled Durand Line sent a chill down spines in Washington. The US realised that with his vast experience, he could turn the unsophisticated battle blueprints in Afghanistan into audacious modern guerrilla warfare. Ilyas’ track record speaks for itself. In 1994, he launched the Al-Hadid operation in the Indian capital, New Delhi, to secure the release of some of his Jihadi comrades. His group of 25 included Sheikh Omar Saeed (the abductor of US reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002) as his deputy. The group abducted several foreigners, including UK, US, and Israeli tourists, and took them to Ghaziabad near Delhi. They then demanded that the Indian authorities release their colleagues. Instead the Indians attacked their hideout. Sheikh Omar was injured and arrested. (He was later released in a swap deal for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines IC-814) Ilyas escaped unhurt. On February 25, 2000, the Indian Army killed 14 civilians in the village of Lanjot in PoK after its SF (Para) forces had crossed the Line of Control (LoC). They returned to the Indian side and threw the severed heads of three of them at the Pakistan Army soldiers manning their side. The very next day, Ilyas conducted a guerrilla operation against the Indian Army in Nakyal sector after crossing the LoC with 25 fighters from 313 Brigade. They kidnapped an Indian Army officer and beheaded him. This officer's head was then paraded in the bazaars of Kotli in PoK.
Ilyas’ deadliest operation took place in the Akhnoor cantonment in Jammu & Kashmir against the Indian Army following the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. In this, he planned attacks involving 313 Brigade being divided into two groups. Indian Generals, Brigadiers, and other senior officials were lured to the scene of the first attack. Two Generals were injured (in contrast, the Pakistan Army did not manage to injure a single Indian Army General in three wars), and several Brigadiers and Colonels were killed. This was one of the most telling setbacks for India in the long-running insurgency in J & K. With Kashmiri’s immense expertise in India-specific operations, he stunned Al-Qaeda leaders with the suggestion that expanding the theatre of war was the only way to overcome the present impasse. He presented the suggestion of conducting such a massive operation inside India that it would bring India and Pakistan to war. With that, all proposed operations against Al-Qaeda would be brought to a grinding halt. Al-Qaeda excitedly approved the proposal to attack India. Kashmiri then handed over the plan to a very able former Pakistan Army Major fom the Special Service Group (SSG), Haroon Ashik, who was also a former LeT commander who was still very close to LeT chiefs Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and Abu Hamza. Haroon knew about a contingency ISI plan for a low-profile routine proxy operation in India through LeT in the event of an all-out war between India and Pakistan. It had been in the pipeline for several years prior to 9/11, but the eventual official Pakistan policy was to drop it. The former Army Major, with the help of Ilyas Kashmiri’s men in India, hijacked this very ISI contingency plan and turned it into the devastating attacks that shook Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and brought Pakistan and India to the brink of war. According to investigations, the attackers travelled across the Arabian Sea from Karachi, hijacked the Indian fishing trawler Kuber, killing the crew, then entered Mumbai in a rubber dinghy. The first events took place at around 20:00 Indian Standard Time (1ST) on November 26, 2008, when ten Urdu-speaking men in inflatable speedboats came ashore at two locations in Colaba. They targetted the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Leopold Cafe, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels, and the Jewish Centre in Nariman House. They held people hostage and then killed them. The drama continued for almost 72 hours. The entire world was stunned by 26/11. It was almost identical to 9/11 in that it aimed to provoke India to invade Pakistan in the same manner as 9/11 prompted the US to attack Afghanistan. The purpose of 26/11 was to distract Pakistan’s attention from the ‘War on Terror’, thereby allowing Al-Qaeda the space to manipulate its war against NATO in Afghanistan.
However, the decision-makers in Washington had read between the lines. They rushed to India and Pakistan to calm nerves and prevented a war from breaking out. Significantly though, during the time Pakistan and India stood eye-to-eye, the fighting between Pakistan’s military and Al-Qaeda militants came to a complete halt. While the sword of an Indian invasion was hanging over the head of Pakistan, the militants were saying Qunut-e-Nazla (prayers in days of war) that they would not be forced to fight against a Muslim army. They prayed that Al-Qaeda and the Pakistan Army would join and fight India together, instead. Timely US intervention had prevented this, but while the Pakistan military was readying for a showdown with India, the terrorists availed themselves of the opportunity to mount attacks on NATO supply-lines in the Khyber Agency. This left Pakistan with no choice but to close down the transportation link between Pakistan and Afghanistan for several days during December 2008. This had a devastating effect on the NATO forces in Afghanistan, especially those based in the provinces of Ghazni, Wardak, and Helmand. NATO troops there faced serious fuel shortages and had to suspend operations. Due to the tense situation on its eastern borders with India, Pakistan’s participation in ‘Operation Lion Heart’ was tepid, and it was forced to strike a deal with the Pakistani Taliban, on their terms, in Swat at the beginning of 2009. Several actions followed, including a new operation in the Swat Valley, operations in South Waziristan and Mohmand, and the killing of Baitullah Mehsud. But these did not faze the militants. Their retaliation came in the form of an attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi on October 10, 2009, and a high-profile massacre of some of Pakistan’s military officers in Rawalpindi’s military mosque during Friday prayers on December 4, 2009.
TAKFEER AND KHURUJ: AN IDEOLOGICAL THESIS FOR THE SEPARATION OF ISLAMISTS AND STATES
Do Muslim ruling elites whose external policies support a non-Muslim government against another Muslim state remain Muslim according to Islamic tenets? Or are they expelled from Islam? Can an army comprising Muslim soldiers but committing atrocities against fellow Muslims who are fighting a war against an invasion by a non-Muslim army be called Muslim? Do Muslim masses who deny the Muslim political order of a Caliphate and instead follow Western liberal democracy, monarchy, socialism, or any other human-made political systems remain Muslim? Or, after adopting any such non-Islamic political system, are they driven out of the Islamic faith? Can Muslim individuals or Muslim masses who adopt a Western lifestyle giving up Muslim rituals still be called Muslim, or are they non -Muslim? There have been many publications over the past 20 years in which these questions have been raised and discussed at length. The conclusion arrived at by one strain of this debate is that barring small clusters in Muslim societies, the majority of the people who call themselves Muslims have in fact given up Islam. This has not come from purely academic debate, or sectarian discussion of a particular clerical order, but is factually the basis of Al-Qaeda’s ideology which today paradoxically aims at the polarisation of society in the Muslim world and is strategizing its future struggle in line with that. The continuing debate and the conclusions reached spring from the rediscovery of a thought process drawn from classical Islamic academic work on the situations in which the Muslim world has found itself in the post-Caliphate era. But what brought the matter to a head was the little publicized siege of the Grand Mosque of Mecca in 1979, when a small band of Muslims briefly gained control of the commanding mosque to instigate a rebellion against the Saudi regime. The revolt was brutally crushed by the Saudi Arabian monarchy, but it fired the imagination of many a Muslim youth who had gone to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While fighting the war against the ‘godless’ Soviets in Afghanistan, their understanding of the contemporary world sharpened, and their struggle to revive the Muslim Caliphate intensified, drawing inspiration from the 1979 Mecca siege. Al-Qaeda ideologues mark this siege as the first true Khuruj (rising against a Muslim ruler of un-Islamic governance) in the 20th century. Muslim youths drawn into Afghanistan had already began working on procedures to change the dynamics of the Muslim world through reading books written by classical Muslim jurists, as well as modern Muslin academics, and the Mecca siege spurred them on.
After the withdrawal of Soviet Russia from Afghanistan in 1989, these young militants who had fought in Afghanistan, laid the foundations for the Al-Qaedatul Jihad, a global Muslim resistance movement for the liberation of all Muslim-occupied lands from Western presence and/or influence, for the revival of the Muslim Caliphate. However, they realized that before the West could be confronted effectively there was need to ignite controversy over whether contemporary Muslim states should be recognised as Islamic in their collective thinking and practices. This was the beginning of Al-Qaeda’s manoeuvres to polarize the Muslim world and then re-structure Islamic society under the Al-Qaeda umbrella after gaining control of the resources available to ensure their rise to the helm of affairs in the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda anticipated three possible results emerging from this ideological spin:
• Pressure on the ruling Muslim elite, Muslim armies, and the Muslim masses to break their alliance with the West and support the Islamists’ cause of a global struggle for the freedom of occupied Muslim lands and establishment of a Global Caliphate.
• Muslim societies so polarized that their governments’ support for Western forces against Muslim resistance movements would weaken and ultimately become inconsequential.
• Islamist elements of society emerging victorious and launching a direct confrontation against the West’s hegemony over the world order for the liberation of Muslim territories through the establishment of a global Muslim political order under a Caliphate.
Any one of the above mentioned situations was acceptable to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda sought to bring the contradictions between Muslim states and societies, and the differences in their approach to international affairs, under a single dialectic for a common pattern of struggle, but in fact this dialectical process had emerged as the natural consequence of situations which had developed in the post-Caliphate era. The institution of the Muslim Caliphate after 661 AD (when the fourth Caliph, Ali Bin Abu Talib, was assassinated and the Caliphate became controversial) was symbolic rather than a model of righteousness. Yet until the last Ottoman Caliph, it had united Muslims as the vanguard for their collective interests, especially for the defense of Muslim lands. On the demise of the Ottoman Caliphate, however, the majority of Muslim states were conquered by Western powers, and even after they had been liberated, they followed Western models of governance with their foreign and defence policies subservient and aligned to Western interests. Although most Arabs welcomed the end of the Ottoman Caliphate because of its strong Turkish, rather than Arab, identity, the single largest population of the Muslim world in British India took exception to the Caliphate’s demise. In that period Dr Muhammad Iqbal was one of the few who aroused feelings through his poetry to remind Muslims they were one nation and spelled out resistance against foreign occupation forces through Jihad. Iqbal also voiced opposition to a Western form of democracy, even for the modern Muslim state. Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia, in the 1920s and 1930s respectively, endorsed Iqbal’s message. Thus when several Muslim majority states were carved out subsequent to the Ottoman Caliphate, questions relating to their Islamic identity were raised, albeit on a milder note than Al-Qaeda’s, with heresy decrees not easily issued. The founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, one of the most important Muslim ideologues of the Islamic movements in the world at the time, ruled that: If an Islamic society consciously resolves not to accept the Sharia, and decides to enact its own constitution and laws or borrows them from any other source in disregard of the Sharia, such a society breaks its contract with God and forfeits its right to be called ‘Islamic’.
Ideologues of Islamic movements like Maududi and Syed Qutb stated unambiguously that Islamic laws should be enforced in absolute form in Muslim societies, yet their approach was not as direct, harsh, or as frontal as began after the Mecca siege in 1979. Before this, the issues facing Islamic movements were the revival of the Muslim political order with a Caliphate, the imposition of Islamic laws, and the liberation of Muslim territories from foreign occupation. But the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement and the subsequent suppression of Palestinians in Jordan and Egypt shook the Muslim world. Resentment grew as several Muslim countries forged diplomatic ties with Israel and suppressed Muslim resistance groups, especially after Saudi Arabia struck a defence agreement with the US in 1990 and invited US forces into the country. The Saudi government then rounded up all the Muslim scholars who stood in opposition to this. The climax of the controversy camewith the US invasion in 2001 of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which was recognised by a majority of Muslim scholars as an Islamic state. The US invasion of Afghanistan was approved by many Muslim countries, including Afghanistan’s neighbour, Pakistan. The US next invaded Iraq in 2003, and was supported by Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, which further aggravated the situation.
Al-Qaeda never considered Juhayman ibn Sayf al Otaibi, the leader of famous siege of Mecca on November 20, 1979, as an ideologue or a leader. Neither did it approve of Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani, whom Juhayman declared as al-Mahdi, as the real al-Mahdi, or the redeemer of Islam. However, this almost forgotten 20th century siege is accepted by the Al-Qaeda leadership as the event that fired the imagination of Islamists everywhere and revived the long quiescent Islamic tenet of khuruj (revolt against a deviant Muslim ruler). Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the holy Prophet, launched the first khuruj against the Umayyad ruler Yazid Bin Mauvya after Yazid took over the Caliphate under a hereditary arrangement, against the will of the majority of Muslims. The khuruj continued throughout the periods of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, but failed to remove the governments. Al-Qaeda examined a strategy for the breaking of ties between the West and the ruling Muslim elite in the modern day, and organised a powerful Muslim backlash against Western culture, civilization, and the West’s influence in the Muslim world. Although Juhayman’s khuruj was suppressed by the Saudi regime (with the help of French and Jordanian commandos), this first day of the 14th century of the Islamic calendar marked the revolt as a unique event which left an indelible imprint on the minds of Muslim militants and reminded them that Muslim regimes in the post-Ottoman Caliphate era were the first line of defense of Western interests, and therefore were to be eradicated. The literature prepared for the revolt against the Saudi regime thus became the basis of Al-Qaeda’s analysis of the contemporary Muslim world and its relations with the West, and Al-Qaeda subsequently developed a dialectical process which would ultimately create the circumstances required for the ‘End of Time’ battles.
The siege, in fact, came at a critical juncture. This was the period when the writings of Muslim ideologues had inspired Islamic movements to rear a new generation of young Muslim radicals divorced from the prevalent orders in nearly every Muslim majority state. These radicals read Syed Qutb in the Middle East, Syed Abul Ala Maududi in South Asia, and Dr Ali Shariati in Shiite majority Iran, and although they appeared divided on the micro-issue of jurisprudence (Shiite, Sunni, and Salafi and Sufi Islam), neither the ideologues nor their adherents differed on the need for a united Muslim world. For instance, Syed Qutb was an Egyptian, but he was impressed by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, a South Asian, and his writings reflect a strong impression of Maududi’s analysis written in the 1930s and 1940s. Similarly Dr Ali Shariati, a Shiite from Iran, drew inspiration from Syed Qutb’s work, as well as from the Indian Sunni Muslim Dr Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry. At the crossroads of the new Islamic century, these half-century- long ideological struggles fused into the powerful events in the 20th century, which actually turned the historical course and jolted the fundamental dynamics of Muslim-majority states and their foreign policies.
The siege of Mecca occurred between the Iranian Islamic revolution in February 1979 and the beginning of the Afghan national Islamic resistance on December 27, 1979, when the then-USSR occupied Afghanistan. The fusion of all three developments in Iran, Afghanistan, and Mecca in the same year came at the time of the new Islamic century, and set the next stage to a point from which the armed struggle in Afghanistan had attracted Muslim youths from all over the world, while Iran’s Islamic revolution presented itself as a model anti-Western Islamic government. In short, by the end of 1979, the world had drastically changed and new forces were emerging on the international horizon to challenge the Western ‘hegemonic’ order. The catalyst for this change, turning it into a dialectical process, was the Mecca uprising of 1979. This failed uprising against the Wahhabi Saudi government simultaneously instigated an academic debate within the circles of Muslim brigades fighting in Afghanistan about the credibility of Muslim regimes. These brigades now began to debate whether the incumbent Muslim governments would promote Islamic values only to the level where those values would not harm their own interests, leading them to sponsor a disconnect with Islam while harmonizing with Western interests. The siege of Mecca on November 20, 1979 did not instigate a revolution as the rebels only numbered 400 to 500 and thus did not have the strength to topple the Saudi regime, but it did bring connecting questions into the foreground. At the same time it established the intellectual grounds for the next generation of Al-Qaeda activists to orchestrate the future struggle.
After the failed uprising and subsequent execution of Juhayman, his Seven Letters, which had been printed and published in booklet form in 1978, were distributed widely in the Arab world. The basic tenets of Saba Rasail (the Arabic title) were to model procedures along the lines of the Prophet Muhammad’s struggle for Islam. This included inviting people to join Islam, organising them, and then migrating to a secure base to launch the movement for Islam’s domination. Juhayman traced classical Muslim literature, which called for the overthrow of corrupt leadership. He believed that the Muslim leadership should come from the Arab tribe of Quraish and must be elected by Muslims. He emphasized the practice of the Islamic faith according to the Quran and the Sunnab (the revelations and practices of the Prophet Muhammad) and not the rigid interpretations of scholars and their incorrect teachings. He also advised his followers to move away from the prevalent socio-political systems and refuse official positions. Juhayman believed in the advent of the Mahdi (the promised reformer) from the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad to lead the revolt against corrupt leadership, and targeted taking Saudi Arabia towards the teachings of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), the Muslim scholar who had in fact backed the Al Saud family to seize control of Hijaz. Wahhab placed particular emphasis on monotheism by rejecting all the Shiite rituals of worshiping the Prophet Muhammad’s family members, including Ali, Fatimah, Hassan, and Hussain. Juhayman also condemned music and television, and last but not least, proposed establishing an Islamic state in Saudi Arabia which would disclaim all alliances with non-Muslim states.
Juhayman’s teachings were not new. There had been hundreds of Muslim organisations in the 20th century that put forward identical views. What distinguished the Juhayman-led uprising of 1979 from the other Islamic cleansing movements, however, was that he developed it to the point of issuing literature, and organised a team before launching his operation. The Seven Letters were of special interest to young Arab Muslims who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Copies were distributed in the Arab Mujahideen camps and became their most important political guide—as important as Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ for the Communist movement—to prompt political discourse on affairs in Muslim-majority states. Brought under instant review were prevalent corruption, non-Islamic practices, and alliances with Western governments. At the same time, Arab militants were critical of Juhayman on several counts. For example, they objected to his recognizing Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani as al-Mahdi, and criticized his ill-prepared operation, which had been organised in haste. But it remained a fact that this rebellion, especially because of its ideological moorings, had a huge impact on Arab fighters and their future political strategy. The uprising was considered crucial to highlight the existing contradictions in Muslim societies and thus heighten polarization in Muslim states.
Palestine has been the main schism between the West and the Muslim world in the post-Ottoman Caliphate era. It is at the same time a critical rallying point for Muslims the world over, as Palestine is considered the second most sacred site in Islam after Hijaz. This makes it as important a legacy as the Caliphate at the various Islamic forums, especially the World Islamic Congress (Moatamar Alam-e-Islami), the Rabita-e-Alam-e-Islami (International Islamic Coordination Committee), and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). The political and strategic policies pursued by Arab rulers on the Palestine issue over the years are denounced by Islamic militants as corrupt for the defeats suffered by the Arabs in successive Arab-Israel wars, while the peace agreement signed by Egypt with Israel in 1979, which established diplomatic relations between the two countries is a festering sore. The militants read these developments through the prism of Juhayman’s Seven Letters, which denounce the ruling apparatus of the apostate Muslim-majority states. They then draw out prospective retaliations against them from the Mecca uprising under kburuj. There has been a long history of bloodshed between Islamic militants and the rulers of Arab states. After the Egypt-Israel peace agreement and restoration of diplomatic ties, a new wave of agitation erupted in Egypt. This was not restricted to a few events of sporadic violence. The Islamic Jihad of Egypt planned a coup for the removal of President Anwar Sadat, whom the militants branded an apostate after he had signed the peace agreement with Israel. The consequential coup plan included the capture of key strategic points in Cairo and President Sadat’s assassination. Different cells were assigned to different jobs. But the reports of the revolt were leaked and hundreds of militants were rounded up before the coup could be launched. Despite this, a secret cell of the militants led by Khalid Islamboli killed Sadat during a military parade.
By the mid-1980s the contradictions in the Muslim world had broadened further. The ruling elite of the Muslim majority states was Arab nationalist, monarchist, and tilted towards Western models of governance: dictatorships or democracy. By and large they had lost their charm with their corrupt practices and bad governance. At the same time, Muslim groups, who had been badly mauled in the Middle East, and to some extent in South Asia, regrouped. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership was in exile in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE, and its middle cadre, comprising astute professionals such as doctors, engineers, and teachers, migrated to North America and Europe and began working for the Islamist cause from fresh perspectives. In Afghanistan Islamic militants were rapidly gaining ground, and in Pakistan the Islamist Gen Zia-ul-Haq had taken over after executing his rival, the former Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1979. Zia then proceeded with the Islamization of the country, and promoted ultra-radical Islamist resistance factions like Gulbaddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami which had operated in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. Pakistan had been the strategic backyard of the Mujahideen’s resistance against the Soviets. It now became the strategic backyard of the militants. Zia established an International Islamic University in the country, where he invited scholars affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and known to beultra-radical. One of those scholars was Dr Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian, who later established Maktab Al-Khidamat, a services bureau, for the recruitment and deployment of Arab youths in Afghanistan.
By the mid-1980s young Egyptian Arabs from the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian resistance movements, and Muslim separatist groups from the Philippines as well as Burma (Myanmar), had been admitted to the International Islamic University for enlightenment on Islam. Their real objective, however, was to join the circles of Dr Abdullah Azzam and other teachers in pursuit of an international Islamic struggle against Western domination. From the Islamic University these students went to Peshawar’s Services Bureau and then on to the militant camps in Afghanistan. That way thousands of Muslim youths acquired hands-on training in the art of war, a refined worldview from the Islamic perspective, and the political strategic insight to raise the struggle to the next level. In this highly charged ultra-radical political atmosphere a new generation of radical Muslims were reared. Several other events then developed on the international front which strengthened the argument of the militants against the ruling elite in Muslim majority states. The most important of these was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This invasion added fuel to the fire. Saudi Arabia sought the help of the US and deployed US soldiers in Saudi Arabia, fearing a possible Iraqi attack. All the smaller Arab states, including Kuwait and Jordan, supported the US counter-attack and invasion of Saddam’s Iraq, and international economic sanctions against his regime. The US invasion of Afghanistan followed after 9/11, and was supported by Pakistan through the provision of vital logistic help. This set the stage for a broadening of the division between the Muslim state apparatus and the Muslim militants. All of the events from 1979 onwards were being analyzed in international militant camps in Afghanistan, while the Mecca uprising and the Seven Letters of Juhayman were the essential components of the analysis on strategy. However, the analysis was conducted at a different level, as the militants in Afghanistan were living in a freer environment than Juhayman. They had a lot more time and space to expand arguments for a full-fledged war strategy. They had bases, arms, and ammunition, and with these resources their dialectical process was much more advanced and better thought out than Juhayman’s. Then their perspective was not restricted to one state. They had the entire Muslim world in sight for the global battle against the West.
The former USSR had been defeated in Afghanistan and forced to withdraw its forces in 1989. It left behind a weak communist government which collapsed in the early 1990s. A Mujahideen government followed. All of the Muslim radical groups around the world waited to see what would follow. The world environment was primed for Islamic radicalism. A new Islamic front, Hamas, was forged in 1987. It resurrected the Palestinian resistance movement under an Islamic banner. From 1989 onwards, Islamist factions trained in Afghanistan launched a separatist movement in J & K. The Abu Sayyaf group, trained in Afghanistan, stirred things up in The Philippines. Chechen separatists, again trained in Afghanistan, regrouped under the Islamic flag and resurrected their all but dead separatist movement. Similar separatist movements sprang up under the green crescent in Eritrea and Burma. Thousands of youths fell into line over Jihad in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Within a few years, Islamic seminaries popped up all over Pakistan and Bangladesh. Students poured in from the newly liberated Central Asian Muslim majority republics, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Europe. Different Islamic groups like Hizbut Tehrir surfaced in the Central Asian Republics.
Pakistan, previously a strategic backyard of the Afghan resistance against the USSR, was the country most affected by the new wave of Islamism. Islamic seminaries in Pakistan were traditional, but the new Islamic trends reared a different generation of students who had been given the opportunity to fight against the Soviets and so were fully bloodied. These students became the faculty of the Islamic seminaries and turned the seminaries from seats of Islamic learning into ultra-radical Islamic nests. One example is the Jamiatul Islamia, Binori Town, in Karachi. The Binori Town seminary had always been considered one of the most respected seats of Islamic learning of the Deoband school of thought. It had produced several leading Islamic jurists and scholars. However, in the 1990s the seminary became associated with the ultra-radical Islamic thought process. This was not because it had altered its syllabus, but because some of students from there had gone to fight against the USSR in Afghanistan and accepted the influences of students from more radical seminaries present there. Many of these students later became teachers in the Binori Town seminary and influenced the minds of their students accordingly. For instance, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai joined the Binori Town seminary as teacher and changed the dynamics of the seminary, turning it into a Jihadi hotspot. After his assassination in 2004, the Binori Town seminary once again became a seat of learning rather than a Jihadi breeding ground. The Jamia Farooqia in Karachi, another top Islamic seminary, recorded an identical history, as did the Akora Khattak seminary in the north and other larger or smaller Islamic seminaries around the country.
By 1994, Afghan students in the Islamic seminaries had taken a firm stand against Afghan warlords and their vandalism in Afghanistan. By 1996 they had raised the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This upped the radicalization of Islamic seminaries and mosque networks in Pakistan. However, all these developments from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s did not necessarily directly benefit Al-Qaeda, albeit they were there for them to manipulate. Pakistan’s military establishment was quick to act, and vied for the control over the Afghan Taliban (student militia) and its government in Kabul. Pakistan’s military establishment then built bridges with Islamic seminaries, while the ISI assigned special cells to control Jihadi organisations and streamline their activities exclusively for its ‘bleed India’ plan. Pakistan’s establishment declared Afghanistan to be its ‘strategic depth’ zone, and established training centres for Kashmir-centric separatist groups to implement its national security agenda.
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein regime, Iran’s Islamic government, the Syrian government, and the Saudi monarchy all developed close ties with Palestinian Islamists such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The nexus of Islamic groups and the Muslim countries’ ruling elites, and their strategy and designs from the developments since the Afghan Jihad against Soviet Russia, were seen by Al-Qaeda as narrow strategic gains by the ruling regimes of the Muslim-majority states to consolidate their hold. That situation necessitated a strategy that would separate all the newly propped-up Islamic factions from statecraft and bring them under Al-Qaeda. Takfeer (declaring them apostate) was the best way in which to serve this cause. From the mid-1990s carefully crafted literature was published and circulated. The basis of this new literature was classical Islamic concepts based on Quranic teachings, the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and practices, and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. The verdicts and opinions of Muslim academics and jurists over the last 1,400 years were also taken into account. The literature applied these concepts to contemporary issues of the post-Ottoman Caliphate era, analyzing the secular democratization of the Muslim world, the personal pursuits of monarchial regimes, and their doctrines on the foreign policy front. Interestingly, and contrary to the literature promoted by the Islamic movements in the 20th century, whose target audience was the educated urban youths of the Muslim society, Al-Qaeda’s target audience was not the commoner but the cadre of society that already practiced Islam. Al-Qaeda worked to convince these Islamists of the heresy of contemporary beliefs and systems and the prevalent foreign policies in the Muslim world, and incite them to revolt against their rulers. At the same time, this new literature did not aim to promote basic monotheist values in tune with the ritualistic perspectives of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab, the Muslim scholar from Arabian Peninsula and ideologue of the House of Al Saud who helped found the Saudi dynasty. Instead, the new literature developed, combined the ideas of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab with the thoughts of Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), a Muslim academic, reformist, and the leader of resistance against the Tartar invasion, in a broader political context. A natural characteristic of the Islamic resistance is that its strategy and struggle have always been interlinked with ideological writings. During the Ottoman decline, Muslim intellectuals like Muhammad Abdahu of Egypt, Syed Jamal al-Din al- Afghani, and Dr Muhammad Iqbal from India, worked for the promotion of pan-Islamism which gave birth to new Islamic movements. The literature they produced indirectly turned the cycles of the events after 50 years of struggle to shape the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Afghan Jihad, and the Mecca uprising. Similarly, after the decline of the Mughals in South Asia, the writing of Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) had analyzed the causes for the social and political decline of the Muslims in South Asia, and now provided a strong base for Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s revival of the Jihadi movement against the Sikh dynasty in the Muslim-majority regions of Pakistan’s Punjab and former North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
Shah Ismail (Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s lieutenant, the grandson of Shah Waliullah, and the ideologue of the movement) wrote his book, Taqwiyat-ul-Iman, before the battle against the Sikh dynasty. The book redefined the Islamic faith, culture, and traditions, creating considerable controversy in a section of the Muslim society at the time it was written. There was a special reason for writing this book: the Muslims of India had always been considered as foreign invaders from Central Asia. Their indigenisation and acceptance began during the Mughal era at the time of the Emperor Akbar. A newly evolved Hindustani language, Urdu, was introduced beside Persian. Urdu was influenced by local languages such as Sanskrit. Similarly Muslims became influenced by the Hindu and Sikh cultures. This influence penetrated the orders of Muslim minorities, and rituals like the qawwali (religious song), which was similar to the Hindu bhajans (devotional music), became part of Muslim tradition. The lines of demarcation in thought and culture between the Muslims and the other inhabitants of India became thin. Shah Ismail, the ideologue of the Tehrik-e-Mujahadeen, had to create ground among the Muslims to fight against the Sikhs. In his book Taqwiyat-ul-Iman he redefined the faith, negated all the influences which had permeated from Hindu society, and tried to explain to the Muslims of India how different they were from Indian society at large. This feeling of distinctiveness has always been necessary to pitch one nation against the other. Shah Ismail accomplished this mission by stressing Muslim monotheism in polytheist Hindu India. Through this strategy he was able to persuade the thousands of irregulars who went to Punjab to fight against the Sikh dynasty. In pursuit of similar objectives, Al-Qaeda was no different from past Jihadi movements. Syed Qutb’s literature provided a base for Al-Qaeda, but before it could initiate its struggle, the flashpoint of which was 9/11, its ideologues redefined faith. The situation, however, was different from the time of Barelvi’s movement. The Mughal Empire was close to collapse at the time—its writ virtually non-existent. Al-Qaeda operates in the middle of strong states. It follows, therefore, that Al-Qaeda would employ the tougher tactics of Ibn Taymiyya, a Muslim academic of the 13th century who was the ideologue and the commander of the Muslim resistance against the Mongols. Tayamiyya also redefined faith even as he emphasized the monotheist values of Islam to bring Islamic distinctiveness under the spotlight against Mongol traditions, to inspire Muslims to fight the Mongol occupation of Baghdad.
Initially Al-Qaeda made use of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab’s literature with its emphasis on Islam’s monotheist values. But there was a flaw in Wahhab’s writing, in that while it provided some basic themes like the concepts of wala wal bara (the benchmark for friendships and foes—in che context of alliances and treaties with non-Muslims), Wahhab was the ideologue of the House of Al Saud, which fought against the Muslim Ottoman Caliphate. Nobody could ignore that fact that Wahhab was used against the Ottoman Empire to incite the Muslim masses against Sufi-oriented Islam, which he thought to be close to polytheism. Thus Wahhab, perhaps unintentionally, facilitated the fall of the Caliphate and paved the way for colonial rule. Al-Qaeda thus felt the need for a different form of text which would document Islam’s monotheist distinction from modern secular and/or polytheistic orders of democracy and monarchy to promote its dialectic in the battle against the West. This redefinition of the Islamic faith began after the collapse of the communist regime in Afghanistan. The new literature documented the distinctiveness of monotheist values against polytheism as well as the secular Western political order. It aimed at drawing Muslims away from the Western cultural ethos and values. As a result, polarization was imminent in those Muslim societies which had been seriously influenced by the West. By the time of 9/11, which marked the beginning of the war, the foundations of an ideological perspective for Islamic renaissance had already built through new Al-Qaeda literature.
9/11 created friction around the globe and initially divided the world into two camps: those who were with the United States and those who were anti-US. This divide impacted Muslim societies where the ruling classes were still close to the West, and after this defining moment, the Muslim ruling classes and the broad masses stood divided. In the coming years Al-Qaeda worked to sharpen this divide to pave the way for revolts in Muslim societies in order to weaken the support of Muslim establishments for the US war against Al-Qaeda. On the strategic front, Al-Qaeda had successfully stung the US with 9/11. The US invaded Afghanistan and, according to Al-Qaeda, the trap was sprung. However, the strategy would have failed had Al-Qaeda not explored the dialectic of events beyond 9/11, which was to reinforce the ideological divide in Muslim societies. It embarked on this mission by enlisting the services of Islamist-minded officers in the armed forces and influential clerics in the religious parties and religious schools in Muslim countries. It then looked to gather resources to launch a long war against the US in Afghanistan. Academics associated with Al-Qaeda-authored literature laid down the rules of faith and heresy for a Muslim, but there were other brains at work on the dialectical front. Al-Qaeda aimed at creating a Muslim backlash against the anticipated Western retaliation to the 9/1 1 attack, but was equally cognizant of the fact that even in the Muslim world, there would be divided reactions, because of the political, military, and economic dependency of Muslim regimes on the West. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and Kuwait, this became a flagrant reality. Thus there was never any belief in the Al-Qaeda camp that once the US reacted to 9/11, pro-Western Muslim regimes would be able to remain ‘non-aligned’. Al-Qaeda was 100% sure that once Washington decided on war against Al-Qaeda, the ruling regimes in the Muslim world would have no option but to align themselves with Washington.
The 9/11 attacks were thus organised for a particular purpose: to provoke the US and bring it into the Afghan trap. A Muslim backlash was certain to follow, and eventually this would lead to a direct confrontation between the West and the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda also understood that bringing the US war machine into the vastness of the hostile Afghan mountain wilderness was an imperative. But it was equally aware that this would not signal victory. Victory against the West required a long struggle, planning, and a winning war strategy. This in turn would require resources, but all the known resources were under the control of the West-aligned Muslim regimes. Therefore the second most important objective of Al-Qaeda’s strategy in the wake of the 9/11 attack and the retaliation to it was to discredit the ruling Muslim regimes by bringing up the contradictions inherent in their political alliances with the West. Once these Muslim regimes’ real allegiance towards the West was exposed, Takfeer would be the weapon Al-Qaeda employed to isolate them from the Muslim masses. Sympathetic sections of the armed forces, religious parties, and Islamic seminaries would then be activated against the ruling elites and more easily moved to join forces with Al-Qaeda in its fight against the West globally! Takfeer also aimed at gathering in and employing all of the Muslim world’s resources against the Western occupation forces. But Al-Qaeda well understood that it would be a slow and tedious process, and a long-term academic exercise, to topple the ruling regimes in Muslim-majority states. Still, the goal was clearly to bring about Islamic revolution and pave the way for the revival of the Muslim Caliphate to orchestrate the global Jihad. The struggle for the revival of the global Muslim Caliphate that ran from the 1920s to the 1970s was the first phase of an ideological movement to purge Western thought from Muslim minds. However, by the 1970s Islamic revival movements in Muslim countries had started to succumb to the persuasion of Western ‘democracy’. Earlier, the ideologue of the Islamic movements, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, had declared democracy the best vehicle for Islamization. He felt that once the Islamic forces seized power through the electoral process, they would make fundamental changes in the constitution to enforce Islam, leaving only Islamists to participate in politics. Thus secular democracy would purged from the system. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt subscribed to a similar thought process in the 1970s. The siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1970 ended this, and revived the ideas of Khuruj (revolt against the deviant Muslim ruler). This finally matured in 1980s and 1990s in the camps of the militants of Afghanistan, where the sum of the post-Caliphate-era dialectic was put to the test. The Egyptian camp comprised those who were both politically and ideologically motivated. Though most had belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, they disagreed with that organisation for its insistence on trying to change society through the democratic processes and elections. The Afghan Jihad served to bind the like-minded, many of them doctors and engineers. Others were former personnel of the Egyptian Army associated with various underground Egyptian movements like the Islamic Jihad of al-Zawahiri (Osama bin Laden’s deputy). As mentioned earlier, this group had been responsible for the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 after he had signed the peace deal with Israel at Camp David. All were agreed on a single point: the reason for the fall of the Arab nation was the United States and puppet governments in the Middle East. This Egyptian camp was in the hands of al-Zawahiri. After Ishaak prayers those assembled would sit and discuss contemporary issues in the Arab world. It bears repeating that one of the messages the leaders drummed home was that members should invest their resources in the armies of Muslim countries, and ideologically motivate the best brains to be found there.
In the mid-1990s, when then Afghan President Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and his powerful Minister of Defence, Ahmed Shah Masoud, allowed Osama bin Laden to move from Sudan to Afghanistan, the Egyptian camp drew in several of its better strategists from across the world to Afghanistan. There they ran maaskars (training camps), studied, and taught strategy for the future fight. By the time the Taliban had emerged as a force in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the Egyptian camp had settled on their strategy, underscoring the following two points:
• to speak out against corrupt and despotic Muslim governments and make them targets, as this would destroy their image in the eyes of the common people.
• to focus on the role of the United States, which was to support Israel and tyrannical Middle Eastern countries, and make everyone aware of this fact.
However, identical ideas had been projected by the Muslim Brotherhood earlier. The Arab militants in Afghanistan were reading Syed Qutb’s literature, with his book Milestone featuring foremost. (Syed Qutb was an ideologue of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who was executed by Nasser’s regime in 1966 for writing rebellious literature including Milestone.) Also strongly featured were the books authored by Wahhab. Wahhab’s writings were still the basic source of monotheist Islamic thinking, and while the militants argued that Muslim regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia were not abiding by the rules he had laid down for an Islamic state, the bigger problem was that Wahhab’s books were written during the period of the Ottoman Empire and were thus less likely to be effective in the 20th century. Similarly, Syed Qutb’s literature was a fair foundation for revolutionary ideas, but the militants felt that a redefinition of Islamic thought through new writings was required to spell out more clearly the distinctions between Islamic and un-lslamic policies. This would then be presented as the benchmark for future friendships and enmities, to negate through Takfeer the existing Muslim regimes’ practices of friendship with the West and enable the new-construct to complement Al-Qaeda’s strategy as and when the time of an inevitable split in ideas materialised. After the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan, the Arab fighters looked for the leading role in the Muslim world. They started compiling their thoughts, and ideas and books like Qawaid Al-Takfeer (Rules of expulsion from Islam) were published in 1994.
Under the Caliphate all Muslims were one Ummah (nation) irrespective of caste, creed, and ethnicity. The Caliph was the head of the state. Under that political order, there were only two nations in the world: Muslims and non-Muslims. The interests of Muslims were as of one nation and different from other nations in the world. That mindset prevailed in the Muslim world for over 1,300 years, but broke in 1920s after the complete collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate. During the decline of the Ottoman Caliphate, an era of prolonged Western colonialism was begun for the purpose of dividing Muslim states into several larger or small countries to be governed under the colonial order. Even after their independence this colonial order persisted. Muslims were never to be allowed revert to their old political order. In most of the Muslim countries Western colonial powers like France, England, and Italy handed over power to leaderships of a Western mindset. As a result, newly independent Muslim nations adopted systems of governance inspired by Western political models, whether dictatorial or democratic. By the end of the 20th century Islamic political orders, in any shape or form, were considered relics of the past. In the new world order, all countries were to be nation states founded on the basis of ethnicity. International relations were to be based on bargains of mutual interests. This new global order drew in subscribers from the Muslim world. These subscribers to modernism in the Muslim world were backed by the international community, with the traditionalist Islamists being labelled as outcasts. Islamic states all the way from North Africa to the Asia-Pacific compromised and adopted Western democratic practices to remain in the international political mainstream. However, an influential segment of Muslim academia continued to believe in the concept of the Caliphate, and separated itself from the ‘democratic’ content. The siege of the Grand Mosque of Mecca in 1979 gave them a boost of confidence, and the subsequent Afghan Islamic resistance movement against the Soviet invasion provided them with the opportunity to promote a return to the Caliphate. For ten years, the militants joined in discussions, and compiled thoughts on ways to counter post-Caliphate ‘innovations’. With that a stream of new literature was published in the 1990s, following the fall of the communist regime and subsequent to the rule of the Mujahideen government in Afghanistan.
Several issues have confronted the Muslim world. Amongst them the one that stands out is the Takfeer of others (declaring people heretic). However, those who do not fulfill the criterion set by the classical Muslim scholars for (rightfully) casting the verdicts of Takfeer only follow the paths of the classical Kharijite sect, which emerged at the time when the Muslim Caliphate was divided between Ali and Mauviya when both were embattled against each other. The Kharijites emerged in those days and specified tough and rigid rules to be followed, and denounced both Ali and Mauviya as heretic and issued a verdict for the killing of both. Kharijites marked Takfeer on all non-practicing Muslims and those who indulged in punishable sins, and then waged battle against them. They adopted the belief of wala and bara (friendship and enmity with anybody should be on the basis of Islam), and on that basis gave a blanket ruling that a number of conventional practices were immoral. However, this was not the belief of the majority of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions who were thetrue flag bearers of the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions. The Prophet had earlier identified this deviant sect and warned that they would fight against every Muslim, yet raise no objection to idol worshippers. The Prophet had said that if such a sect surfaced in his time he would denounce them as the Nation of Aad (a pre-Islam nation destroyed because of its sins). A companion of the Prophet later stressed that the sect (identified by the Prophet) would apply Quranic verses meant for heretics against true believers. On the one side now we have groups like Kharijites who would inflate the issue of Takfeer, and on the other there were groups and sects like the classical sects of Jhmiya and Marjna, who did not believe in Takfeer at all, and accepted anybody with a Muslim name as a Muslim, even if they believe in secularism or communism, and mock Islam and Muslims. Such people, once their national identity cards are issued showing their religion as Islam, work for anti-Islamic forces, and nobody dares expel them from Islam. (Abu Baseer al-Tartusi in the Foreword of Qawaid Al-Takfeer)
Sheikh Abd-al Mun’em Mustafa Halima Abu Basir aka Abu Baseer al-Tartusi is a Syrian Islamist living in London. He has been described as a ‘primary Salafi opinion-maker’ guiding the Jihadi movement. His book Qawaid Al-Takfeer is part of Al-Qaeda’s syllabus, and was one of the first books which laid down the rules of Takfeer and hence Khuruj (revolt against deviant Muslim establishments). Written in London in 1994, Tartusi’s book redefines the Islamic faith. It explains the distinction between Islam’s monotheism and the polytheism of Western philosophies, encompassing Western democracy, secularism, and secular monarchies which reject any divine guidance and depend on human-made laws. The book aims to stir up polarization in Muslim majority states. It declares as Takfeer all the modern political systems in Muslim-majority states, along with their foreign and the defence policies. Tartusi goes through all the basic terminologies. For instance al-kufur (heresy) is defined in the traditional abstract form, but the explanation comes in the lower-level definitions of kufur akbar (the bigger heresy), kufur amad (deliberate heresy), kufur takabur (heresy with snobbery), kufur jahud (venom against Islamic heresy), and kufar tahli (contradicting Quranic orders). He interprets these categories of heresies in the political context, and discusses the role of states that are involved in all those heresies and are therefore not entitled to be called Muslim states or Muslim societies. Similarly, shirk (polytheism), fisq (debauchery), zulm (injustice and abuse), nifaq (hypocrisy), zindaqa (irreligion), irtidad (going back from Islam to heresy), hawa (vagary), mawalat (supports, alliances), and iman (faith) are enumerated, and definitions of all those Islamic terms are presented in detail, with each aspect explained in the light of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, and through the interpretations of classical Muslim scholars, to connect the dots in the contemporary world. For instance, he cites Quranic Al-Toba’s verse number 44 and 45 and then presents Ibn Taymiyya’s interpretation: “In this verse God says to his Prophet that whosoever asks to leave Jihad are not believers, though this Quranic commandment is for those people who actually sought permission to leave Jihad. The commandment is harsher on those who abandoned Jihad on their own without seeking any permission.” Tartusi adds the spice to Taymiyya’s interpretation in the modern-day world context: what is supposed to be the commandment against those who are against Jihad? ... the commandments about those who call the Mujahideen terrorists, criminals, and gangsters .... Those who put pseudo conditions for waging Jihad, for example, Jihad can only be waged by the state authority-a state authority which is established on a democratic system of governance which is itself based on un-Islamic and ignorant percepts ... undoubtedly these people are hypocrites and deprived of faith. Those who prevent people from Jihad should make themselves accountable, restrain themselves from supporting the enemies of God by any mean, whether by the tongue or by creating obstacles in front of Mujahideen [they must] renew their faith because if such persons were Muslim (once) now their faith is damaged. Tartusi’s manual on Takfeer and other literature written in the mid-1990s and onwards was timely, as the militants were victorious in Afghanistan against the Soviets and they had bases to operate from. Similar ideas were developed by Takfeer Wal Hijra, an underground movements organized in Egypt in the 1960s when Nasser used brute force against the Muslim Brotherhood and carried out the execution of its leaders and workers. Islamists were portrayed as villains by the Arab socialist regimes of Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Libya. The Islamists then took refuge in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and sheikhdoms like the UAE and Qatar, and even the United Kingdom and the United States, but the refuge provided in those places was restricted to living theree. There was never any question of their being permitted to engage in dialectical debate. The Mecca uprising in November 1979 popularized ultra-radical thinking which questioned:
• Can a person be called Muslim for being born into a Muslim family without actually believing in Islam?
• Can a state really called a Muslim state where the majority of its population has registered itself as Muslim but politically lives under a non-Islamic constitution?
• Can a state still be called an Islamic state, when though it practices Islamic ritual, it has effectively become the most important instrument of non-Muslim forces against the Islamic cause?
The erstwhile ideas that Takfeer Wal Hijra and other underground Islamic organisations in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Tunis and Libya had tried to promote in the 1960s came to new life with the Mecca uprising in 1979. Coincidentally, the Islamists gained a base to operate from when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 27, 1979 and there was a worldwide call, led and facilitated by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to Muslim youths to join with their Afghan brothers against godless communism. In a matter of few years, thousands of young Muslims from across the world had established independent camps to revive a Muslim political order and explore the dialectic of their struggle in Muslim societies where they aimed to re-organize, resurrect, and imbue the Islamist core with a new spirit of purpose through a new thought process. They then sought to establish their nuisance value against the ruling classes of the Muslim world and force their respective Muslim rulers to move away from their allegiance to Western societies and governments. The ultimate purpose of this struggle, however, was and remains a global war against the West’s presence in Muslim lands, guided by Al-Qaeda. By the time Tartusi and other Arab authors had compiled books on the modern definition of faith and heresy, thousands of Muslim youths had journeyed from Pakistan, The Philippines, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Muslim countries to join the Afghan Jihad, and developed anti-American and anti-establishment views. When, in 1994, these youths either had left or were about to leave Afghanistan, Qawaid Al-Takfeer provided a very strong ideological dimension to continue with a post-Afghan-Soviet war struggle.
The Mecca uprising in 1979 was also a major turning point in the analysis of Muslim societies by various Muslim reformers in various areas. In the 1,400 years of the Muslim history there were several occasions when Muslim reformers challenged Muslim establishments on the ideologies that prevailed in their domains. However after events starting with the 1979 uprising, continuing to 9/11 and onwards, a unique line was followed and a unique analysis of the situation was made. It was assumed that all the Muslim countries in the world were allied with the West and their societies were operating on non-Islamic beliefs, and they were urged to change their positions. Those who refused to do so were declared heretics, and war was declared on them. This was most extreme line ever taken in 1,400 years, ever since the Islamic faith had been defined from the perspective of contemporary events and issues. And, with that, the majority of the Muslims living in the new world order were effectively declared heretics. However, the basics of this thinking were not alien. It actually reflected an evolving view of new analysis in the minds of Muslim scholars drawn from a long run of reformist movements since the advent of Islam. During the time of Umayyad and then the Abbasid Empire in the Muslim world, following the initial 40-year rule of the Prophet and his companions, Muslim monarchs had been inclined towards maintaining a status quo interpretation of Islam. This status quo arrangement was intended to counter revolutionary interpretations of Islamic laws on emerging issues in politics, the economy and social life, to enable rulers to manipulate statecraft in their personal interests. The emergence of the four Muslim jurists, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafai, Imam Malik, and Imam Hanbal, at different periods of the Abbasid Caliphate era aimed to deny this status quo arrangement to the ruling classes. They worked in their individual capacities, researched and interpreted new issues despite the opposition of monarchs, and compiled Islamic laws adapted to contemporary governance needs. Similarly, the promotion of Greek, Roman, and Eastern philosophies in the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Turkish empires was a challenge confronting the Muslim intelligentsia. Dozens of debates on Islamic tenets began in the light of those philosophies. New schools of thought sprang up in Sufism, heavily blended with ancient Zoroastrian traditions or Greek philosophies. New Islamic literature surfaced which took in Greek philosophies. Some Muslim scholars opposed these trends and some favoured them. As a result, verdicts of heresy were issued randomly and sectarianism rose sky-high in the Muslim world. Muslim monarchs were the main sponsors and promoters of these sectarian schisms as they helped them divert the attention of the masses away from the real issues concerning statecraft and politics. The renowned Muslim academic and jurist of that time, Imam Ghazali, confronted these challenges. He documented the spirit of Islamic thought and explained how it might be at odds with other philosophies. He also sorted out and refined the issue of heresy as it had developed according to Islamic tenets, so that Muslims should not unduly issue heresy decrees against each other on sectarian grounds.
The ideological evolution for the reform of the Muslim society following the era of the Prophet Muhammad reached its climax during the invasion of the Tartars, who ransacked the Abbasid Caliphate. This was the worst period of Muslim history. Muslims had been the dominant world power, but they faced a sudden fall following the Tartar invasion. The Abbasid Caliphate was abandoned and so were the Muslim political order, Islamic laws, culture, and traditions. Everything became subservient to the Tartar perspective. Different parts of the Muslim world remained free from the Tartars, but the local rulers did not have the courage to stand up against them. They were terrified of the Mongol power and its brutalities, and they did not want to face the fate that had been witnessed in Baghdad, where the people were ruthlessly butchered and an entire civilization destroyed. This submissive attitude of the Muslim ruling classes and sections of Muslim society towards one of the momentous events in Muslim history, which came with the elimination of the Abbasid Caliphate and the fall of Baghdad, gave birth to a Muslim resistance movement manned by volunteers. The ideologue and commander of that Muslim resistance against the Tartars, and their attempted imposition of Tartar law on Muslim society, was Imam Ibn Tamiyyah (1263-1328). Tamiyyah was considered the model of ideological resistance in the Muslim world, and his ideas are still the direct source for Islamic revolutionaries, who for the first time aggressively practiced the principle of Takfeer to re-organise Muslim resistance against the Tartars—and against those who, although they claimed to be Muslims, placed obstacles in the way of the Islamic resistance against the invaders. Tamiyyah aimed to shock deviants by declaring them non-Muslims, and he discredited them in front of the common Muslims, so that the Muslim resistance against the Tartars focused on the expulsion of the Tartars from Muslim soil. Tamiyyah was a strong critic of the logic of Greek philosophers like Aristotle. He wrote a critical analysis of their writings and presented a model of Islamic thought as a plausible counterweight. He drew a comparison between Islamic thought and the Greek philosophies, and argued for the superiority of Islam through logic.
Tamiyyah was born at the time the Tartars had conquered Muslim territories from the Indus River to the River Tigris. Although the Tartar invaders later accepted Islam, they introduced their native traditions and cultural arrangements into Muslim society. The Tartar rulers took complete control over Muslim religious institutions, and the Muslim religious elite succumbed to their will. They declared Halaku Khan as a righteous ruler, and issued the verdict that a righteous infidel ruler was better than a tyrannical Muslim ruler. The newly converted Tartar rulers had enforced two different laws. Personal laws, like marriages, were interpreted under Islam, but public laws concerning the economy, politics, and the judiciary were interpreted under their traditional Yassa code. Tamiyyah declared that Jihad against the Mongols was obligatory, and based this ruling on the grounds that the Mongols could not be true Muslims despite the fact that they had converted to Sunni Islam because they subscribed to human-made laws (the traditional Yassa code) rather than Islamic law or Sharia, and thus lived in a state of Jahiliyya, or pre-Islamic pagan ignorance. He simultaneously refuted many schools of Sufism, calling them un-Islamic. He declared Shiites to be heretics and fifth columnists against the Islamic Sharia, and advocated action against them. He announced: “Every group of Muslims that transgresses Islamic law ... must be combated, even when they profess to subscribe to the Islamic credo.” His decree of Takfeer went all the way through to the era of Syed Qutb and on to the ideology of Al-Qaeda.
The Mamluk ruler Nasir Al-Din Qalawun tried to prevent war against the Tartars and proposed neutrality. Tamiyyah forced this Muslim ruler of Egypt to fight against the Tartars, and threatened that if he continued his policy of neutrality and stopped the war against Tartars, he would launch a revolt against Qalawun himself first, and on capturing power, he would resume the fight against the Tartars. His were the first actions of any Muslim academic working on three different fronts as commander of the resistance, academic, and reformer. Tamiyyah’s mindset focussed on the struggle against the Tartars, for which he laid ideological grounds by emphasizing the monotheist values of Islam against the polytheist values in Mongol culture. And, in emphasizing monotheism, Tamiyyah aggressively confronted anything and everything he believed to be polytheist, declaring as heresy even the faith of the Khusrawan-e-Shiites of Lebanon, the Sufi schools of Asha’ira Jahmiyya, and the Mu’tazila creeds. Al-Qaeda’s interest was in Tamiyyah’s ideology of resistance. They used Tamiyyah’s work to support their arguments. The larger part of the Islamic movements of the post-Caliphate period in the 20th century were the flag-bearers of Tamiyyah’s ideology. The founder of Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, and the Muslim brotherhood ideologue, Syed Qutb, converted Tamiyyah’s teachings into contemporary Islamic thought. They employed the Jahilliya definition Tamiyyah had applied to the Greek, Roman, and Tartar philosophies and their traditions and rules. These 20th century Muslim ideologues extended the same rulings to encompass socialism, secularism, and democracy. Maududi argued against Western democracy, socialism, and the Western social system. He had argued for the Islamic way of life in its entirety. However, he believed in an evolutionary approach. He did not believe in violence to enforce Islam. He researched and studied ways whereby the Islamic system would not clash with modern thinking and institutions. For instance, he approved the adult franchise election system to enforce Islam and did not insist on the revival of the institution of the Caliphate. Syed Qutb, on the other hand, while expanding Maududi’s earlier arguments against Western democracy and socialism, urged Muslim nations to abandon the West’s social, economic, and political system altogether, and advocated Islamic revolution.
Al-Qaeda’s ideological discourse starts with the interpretations of Tamiyyah and ends at Syed Qutb. But after that, it does not deliver any modus operandi, or any clear policy or guidelines, to define the onward struggle on contemporary issues. Thus, neither Tamiyyah’s nor Syed Qutb’s thoughts and ideas fully find expression in AlQaeda’s practiced philosophy. After the execution of Syed Qutb in 1966, the entire Muslim Brotherhood leadership was either terminated or put in exile. The lower cadre of the organisation was dismembered or moved into other underground organisations. Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan and its founder, Maududi, played a lead role in mediating between Nasser’s government and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, and urged the Muslim Brotherhood to follow the election process to bring change to Egyptian society. From the late 1960s onwards, the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and Islamic movements worldwide were seen to have taken to election politics and in that way become part of the establishment. All this time the Al-Qaeda Muslim radicals operating in underground organisations in the Middle East were looking for the missing pieces to fuse their ideology into a movement. The Mecca uprising in November 1979 and the immediate beginning of the Afghan Jihad as a result of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan on December 27, 1979 provided them with the opportunity. The Mecca uprising set the stage for Khuruj to clearly define that no matter how much the Saudi monarchy might claim an Islamic identity, since its foreign policies were attached to Western interests, it was to be seen as an instrument of Western powers in the region! Its claim of being an Islamic state was not acceptable. The Afghan Jihad, meanwhile, provided pre-Al-Qaeda Muslim radicals with the opportunity to establish a base in Afghanistan and an equally strong base over the border in Pakistan’s tribal territories. From there Al-Qaeda developed new ideas and strategies through a dialectical process, first in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and from there all across the Muslim world.
The Twin Towers attack on 9/11, 2001 marked the beginning of open hostilities between Al-Qaeda and the West. The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, and by December 2001, the Taliban were defeated and forced to disperse. Washington announced victory in Afghanistan and began work towards establishing a democratic government there. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda then moved to safer places in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan's tribal areas, and began preparations for a resistance against the new foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the main battleground and Pakistan was to be its strategic backyard. However, the resistance faced challenges on two fronts: from the foreign occupation forces stationed in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani security forces, with Pakistan a major ally in the US-led War on Terror. As a result, Al-Qaeda needed to develop a strategy that could address both the challenges. The Taliban-led resistance in Afghanistan began in 2002, but was very weak. Al-Qaeda then prepared the grounds for its reinforcement, to include new recruitment, training, and motivation, and a new dialectic to identify the Islamist cadre of Pakistani society, including Islamic-minded officers in the Army, Jihadi organisations shaped after the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union, Islamist seminaries, and that section of the masses who truly believed in Islam and would join with the resistance. In this process Pakistan was classified as Al-Qaeda’s backyard, and under US pressure, Pakistan was forced to wage a war on Al-Qaeda, which had expanded the theatre of war so much so that the US would call the war in Afghanistan its Af-Pak strategy. Al-Qaeda faced an identical situation when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance faced challenges from the foreign occupying forces stationed in Iraq, as well as the security forces of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, after the Iraq war in 2003, Al-Qaeda decided to replicate its Afghan strategy throughout the Muslim world. As in the case of Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda then made Iraq as a central theatre of war, and neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, all allies of the West, were identified as the enemy. As Iraq’s neighbours these countries were to serve as the strategic backyard of Iraqi resistance, which led to a serious confrontation between Al-Qaeda and these Muslim-majority states.
Al-Qaeda next expanded its presence into Yemen and Somalia, with the aim of severing Western supply lines to the battlefields. In essence, by 2006 the larger part of the Muslim world had become the theatre of war. Revolts, clashes, and suicide attacks became routine. The establishments in the Muslim-majority states could clearly see that the roots of the problem lay in Iraq and Afghanistan, and although those establishments were in principle against the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, they were politically and economically compelled to come out in support of the US. State-sponsored religious decrees were then issued against rebellions inside the Muslim-majority states. Religious scholars in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia held a dialogue with militants and assured them that if they keep their focus on the US invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they would pose no problem to them, but as countries such as Pakistan, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia were gradually compelled to coordinate with and facilitate the US in its war, they became a target. Al-Qaeda was not an organisation which would accommodate the argument that a Muslim-majority state had been ‘compelled’ by a non-Muslim invading force, and therefore was not ready to allow such a concession. On the contrary it considered Muslim majority states who supported the West as heretical and thus enemy states. It carried out more attacks on them than on the United States and its Western allies. This forced these Muslim majority states to initiate a debate on the legitimacy of Al-Qaeda for running the theatres of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first round of this ideological battle began in the Middle East. Nasiruddin al-Albani called the Muslim radicals Neo-Khawarij—the Muslim sect in early Islamic centuries that had declared the then Muslim rulers heretic on the basis of their un-lslamic practices and instigated revolt against them. He said: History repeats itself. A new generation of Khawarij who have a limited knowledge about Islam has emerged. They think that rulers do not represent the entire Islamic system. Therefore, without any consultations with Muslim scholars, jurists, and learned academics, this new generation have launched an armed rebellion and created serious chaos and crisis. They have carried out bloodshed in Egypt, Syria, and Algeria. Earlier, they attacked the Grand Mosque of Mecca [in 1979]. Therefore, they are the Muslims who oppose the authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad which, except the (classical) Khawarij, every Muslim practices. A Saudi Salafi scholar expanded on this debate when he was asked whether there were still people who follow the deviant Muslim sect of Khawarij. He narrates: What else was the ideology and practice of the Khawarij? It was about declaring Muslims as heretics, the worst form of which is the killing of Muslims, and using oppressive tactics against them. The following is the actual belief of the Khawarij:
• declaring Muslims as heretics
• challenging the political order and writ of the state by armed rebellion
• announcing the killing of Muslims as permissible.
If somebody follows the above mentioned things he is a Khawaraji, whether he associates himself with that deviant sect or not. (Sheikh Saleh Bin Fawzan, Rules and regulations of Jihad) Nonetheless, in the state-sponsored discourse against Al-Qaeda the fact was completely ignored that Al-Qaeda’s battle in the Muslim-majority states was not the result of any internal political or ideological conflict. This battle was directly linked with international relations in which Muslim-majority states stood beside Non-Muslim occupation forces. This helped Al-Qaeda to develop its argument of heresy against them. The occupation of Muslim territories such as Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan has been the root cause of the Muslim insurgency. The reason for the recent troubles in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries spins off their support of the West in its invasion and occupation of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
After 9/11, Pakistan provided bases to the US for its air strikes against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Pakistan also provided an inland route for NATO supplies to landlocked Afghanistan. In addition, Pakistan has arrested several hundred Al-Qaeda members and handed them over to the US. Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran to an extent provided logistic and intelligence support to the US to dislodge Saddam Hussein’s government for the US occupation of Iraq. The backlash in Muslim countries, especially in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, has been enough to destabilise the ruling regimes in these states. Militants attempted to assassinate former Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf and former Premier Shaukat Aziz, and assassinated Pakistan’s pro-Western leader, Benazir Bhutto. From 2004 to 2006 Saudi Arabia has faced more extreme violence than ever before. By 2007 the Muslim establishment realized that as long as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued there was no way of stopping Islamist revolts and rebellions in Muslim countries. To counter this, state-sponsored articles and television talk shows were arranged in which pundits discussed the key Islamic principles for a ‘true’ Islamic renaissance. Through these measures, there was an attempt to establish that in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan was armed resistance justified. Different scholars cite the following rules from the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet for a true Islamic resistance:
• There should be an Imam (leader) to lead the resistance. The Quran narrates “don’t you see a group from the children of Israel after Moses, and they urged their prophet to appoint a emperor, so we shall fight for Allah” (Al-Baqara).
• There should be adequate resources for the battle.
• The Prophet did not allow Jihad (armed struggle) until he founded a state in Medina and migrated there. Hence no Islamic resistance is justified before a fort or a state is erected to justify a struggle.
• The strength of the Muslim army should not be less than half of the enemy forces.
• Without fulfilling these four conditions any battle cannot be considered Islamic resistance.
In the most difficult terrain of North Waziristan is based Abu Amr Abd al-Hakim Hassan, popularly known as Sheikh Essa, who has been the most visible and accessible Al-Qaeda figure for the Punjabi, Pakistani Pashtun, and Afghan militants. He believes that all the Muslim struggles begin with defiance and Takfeer (declaring somebody non-Muslim) of the established un-Islamic authority, because this clarifies the rules of the game: who is on whose side in the battle for Islam. Following the Taliban defeat in Afghanistan in 2001, Al-Qaeda struggled to survive. At the operational-level Sheikh Essa pioneered the dialectical process in Pakistan in order to strategize the South Asian theatre of war. That dialectical process aimed to orchestrate a clash between the secular forces and the Islamists of Pakistan, to arrive at a point where the Pakistani state apparatus would either remain completely neutral in the US war in Afghanistan or be forced to support Al-Qaeda’s resistance against the US. Al-Qaeda’s targets were to gain a complete hold over two Pakistani provinces, the Khyber Pakhtukhwa (formerly NWFP) and Balochistan, both bordering Afghanistan, and to fight the NATO alliance. Sheikh Essa’s 70-year-old body is riddled with injuries. The last one he sustained was during the Pakistan Army operation in Angor Ada in 2003. He is known as an ocean of emotions (perhaps the reason for his suffering a stroke in 2007). Essa was the aide of Abdul Qadir ai-Audah, an ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Al-Audah was executed in 1960s by the Nasser regime. The young Sheikh Essa, a graduate of the College of Commerce in Cairo, then turned against Egypt’s ruling establishment. He developed theories on the heresy of Muslim regimes and personally suffered at the hands of the Egyptian government, but his suffering strengthened his resolve and hatred for the existing rulers of Muslim countries.
Sheikh Essa was one of the conspirators in the coup against Anwar Sadat’s government in Egypt in 1980, and after Sadat’s assassination he was imprisoned. On his release, he was admitted to Al-Azhar University in Cairo and emerged with a degree in theology. In 1986 he went to Afghanistan for the Jihad against the Soviets, and remained close to Abdallah Azzam and Sayyid Imam (aka Dr Fadl). In 1992, he went to Yemen to teach in religious schools but returned to Afghanistan in 1996 on the Taliban’s ascendancy to power. When the Taliban regime was defeated by the US in Afghanistan he migrated to North Waziristan. The ageing factor, coupled with sciatica (lumbago), may have contributed to Sheikh Essa’s stroke as well. Sheikh Essa was thus unable to take part in combat operations, but he was the source of singular inspiration for the youths coming from the tribal areas for the Jihad. Sheikh Essa was also held in high regard by the militants coming from the Punjab. They listened to his interpretation of Takfeer, mesmerized. They read his most famous book, Al-Wala Wal Bar a, “an Islamic benchmark for friendship and foes”, which laid down some of the rules and paved the way for the dialectical process in Pakistan, which urged a war between diverse segments of Muslim society. His book completely rejected democracy as a system because it brought all political and religious schools of thoughts together and streamlined the liberal Muslim state which he held in contempt. He believed that under the democratic form of governance, even if Islamists were to dominate Parliament, as they do in Turkey, they could not establish the totalitarian type of governance or system that is the essence of political Islam. He thus felt that Islam's influence would not transcend borders and would be restricted to the nation-state’s boundaries, when the call was for a global Islamic order. His book presents a detailed declaration of heresy for those who support non-Muslims or an un-lslamic system, and documents the principles under which Sheikh Essa clearly identified Pakistan as Darul Harb (an abode of war) because it was supportive of the US war on a Muslim Afghan army that was fighting against US-led NATO forces.
Soon disgruntled elements of Pakistani Jihadis, more especially the anti-Shiite Laskhar-e-Jhangvi members including the brutal Qari Zafar (died 2010) from Karachi, Muhammad Afzal of Khanewal, Doctor Umar of Kror Lai Essan, Lyah, Faraz Ali Shami of Faisalabad, Shoaib Ishaq of Faisalabad, Saeed of Jhang, Attock, Doctor Hamid of Lahore,Haji Tariq of Karachi, Hakeem Tahir Abdullah of Lahore who resides in Attock, Ishtiaq of Chunian, Sanaullah of Warbarton, Sheikh Nisar of Sotar Mandi, and Iftikhar Qureshi of Madina Town, Faisalabad, became his disciples. Simultaneously, in North Waziristan two prominent clerics and commanders, Sadiq Noor and Abdul Khaliq Haqqani, became his followers. Sheikh Essa raised the question first in the Pakistani tribal areas: “Is it sufficient to be a born in a Muslim family or should there be a benchmark on which basis a person, group or country should be labelled as Muslim or heretic?" He compiled the required standards of being a true Muslim in his book Al-Wala Wal Bara, which was translated and circulated around the country. The target audience, however, was not ordinary commoners but practising Islamists in the country. Sheikh Essa wanted them to clash with the secularists in the country. He believed in the strategy that the Pakistan Army had to be won over first, before the war in Afghanistan against NATO forces could be won. In Al-Wala Wal Bara he cited Ibn-e-Tamiyyah’s statement: Even when a person is forced into the battlefield against fellow Muslims it is incumbent on that person that he should not take part in hostilities against fellow Muslims, no matter if that person risks execution if he does not obey orders. Similarly, it is completely prohibited for a Muslim to kill another Muslim no matter how much pressure he might be under.” After quoting this, Sheikh Essa commented, “It is clear from Ibn-e-Tamiyyah’s statement that those who side with non-Muslims against the Muslims are heretics and have no relationship with the Muslim nation. They are fighting for money and therefore I have no hesitation in declaring them heretics.”
Sheikh Essa’s literature was a compilation of recognised quotations from the Quran, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, and classical Muslim scholars’ renderings. He applied all of these to Pakistan’s support for the US-led War on Terror. Sheikh Essa’s eyes were on the Islamists in Pakistan’s armed forces, religious parties, and the Jihadi organisations. He was optimistic that once the Islamists in Pakistan were convinced that Pakistan could no longer be considered an Islamic state while its rulers were allied to the US war and against the fellow Muslims, a revolt (Khuruj) would follow, whereupon the militants would receive at least one of three benefits:
• Pakistan would not be able to support the US war in Afghanistan.
• Pakistani Islamists employed in the key strategic positions would turn their resources over to the militants.
• If the Khuruj was successful and Jihadis seized power, they would make available bases in Pakistan to provide the best launching pad for a global Jihad against the West.
Sheikh Essa was wanted by all the intelligence agencies in the country. Being an Arab, although fluent in Urdu and Pashtu, he could easily be spotted as an Al-Qaeda member. Yet he took the risk and travelled all the way from North Waziristan to the major Pakistani cities of Multan, Faisalabad, and Lahore. Sheikh Essa took several copies of his book along with him when he travelled to Lahore. He met Dr Israr Ahmed (who died in 2010), an academic who believed in Islamic revolution and the revival of the Caliphate. He also met with the then chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, and with the Chief of Laskhar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. He read out parts of the book and asked whether they were wrong or right. None of these men rejected the contents. “If all of this is true, why don't you declare as heretic the Pakistan Army, which undertakes operations in South Waziristan only because the local tribes are supporting the Muslim resistance in neighbouring Afghanistan and providing shelters to the Arab Muslim Mujahideen?” Sheikh Essa questioned. “In principle you are right, but your theories in the present circumstances would only benefit enemies like India and America,” Qazi Hussain Ahmed replied. Such responses could not break the will of Sheikh Essa. He continued his interaction with the top religious leadership of the country, and this pursuit took him into the heart of the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad to meet with the prayer leader of Islamabad’s Central Mosque, more commonly known as the Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque).
In a modest house attached to the Lal Masjid, hardly 1.5km away from ISI headquarters, Sheikh Essa raised the same question again before Maulana Abdul Aziz, the son of the slain Maulana Abdullah who had actively taken part in the Afghan national resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s. Aziz was a simple and straightforward man. Sheikh Essa’s sermon and his book had inspired him. Sheikh Essa was desperately looking to get Aziz on his side for obvious reasons. Aziz was not an ordinary cleric or religious scholar. He was a favourite of Pakistan’s military establishment because he had raised hundreds of young recruits for the Kashmiri insurrection. Every year Commander Fazlur Rahman Khalil, the head of a Kashmiri Jihadi outfit Harkat-ul Mujahadeen, came to his door, and within few days of a call by Aziz, hundreds of youths from the madrassas were readied to join the Kashmiri struggle. Many of the religious-minded civil and military bureaucrats based in Islamabad and Rawalpindi used to send their daughters to the women’s Islamic seminary run by Aziz who, together with his brother Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, headed a citizens’ rights committee in Islamabad. Unsurprisingly then, Aziz was a vital asset of Pakistan’s military establishment sitting in the heart of Islamabad. But Sheikh Essa felt that a revolt, by the Lal Masjid would be the beginning of the Islamic revolution in Pakistan. “After reading this (Sheikh Essa’s book Al-Wala Wal Bara) do you still believe that the Pakistan Army is a Muslim army?” Sheikh Essa asked, while reminding Aziz of his duties as a Muslim scholar. “If you refuse the call of Takfeer on the Pakistan Army, God will never forgive you,” Essa emphasized.
Aziz was an emotional person of deep religious conviction. The call of Takfeer on the Pakistan Army amounted to losing all his honour, prestige, and connections with Pakistan’s military establishment. But retaining his closeness with the military despite its operations against Islamic militants meant discarding his faith. Abdul Aziz decided to go against the military. Under a pseudo identity he had a letter posted to his own Darul Ifta (an office for issuing religious decrees) asking about the faith status of the Pakistan Army after it had mounted an operation against Muslims in South Waziristan. In response to the query he concluded in a religious decree: “Pakistani soldiers killed while fighting against the Mujabideen in South Waziristan do not merit a Muslim funeral or a burial in Muslim cemeteries.” Aziz issued this fattva (religious edict) in 2004. The fatwa had a huge impact. Dozens of soldiers in the Pakistan Army defied the orders of their seniors to fight, and hundreds of officers and soldiers applied for retirement from service. The situation compelled the Army to surrender and strike a deal with the militants. The fatwa was the beginning of a new ideological war between the military and the militants. That ideological war aimed to discredit the Pakistan Army’s faith and belief, and was more damaging than its military defeats in the tribal areas. The Musharraf regime had invested millions of rupees to hire clerics to support Pakistan Army operations in the tribal areas and to speak against the religious beliefs of the militants, but the Al-Qaeda ideologues sitting in South and North Waziristan launched an organised campaign against them. The leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Qari Tahir Yaldochiv, who was living in exile in South Waziristan, took the thread from Sheikh Essa and started contacts with Aziz. He sent Uzbek men to Aziz with written notes appreciating the initiative of his fatwa against the Pakistan Army. “This is the right time to turn this fatwa into an organised campaign. Use the network of your madaris [Islamic seminaries] and urge the talibs [students] and ulemas [scholars] to stand in support of Mujahideen for the Islamic revolution against this infidel army which helps the American assaults to continue in Afghanistan,” Tahir urged Aziz in a written note. Sheikh Essa also advised Aziz that instead of sending youths to Kashmir, he should encourage them to play a role in the Islamic revolution.
It was April 2007. I was sitting with Maulana Abdul Aziz on a bedstead woven of jute under a tree in Aziz’s residential compound adjacent to Lal Masjid. He was instructing the students to let an Islamic seminary know that he would speak to its students in the evening. “It has been my routine to address the students at Islamic seminaries on a daily basis,” Aziz told me. “Maulana, do you want to instigate a Taliban (student) movement on the pattern of Afghanistan for the enforcement of Islam?” I asked. “Indeed I do. And this is the only way to protect Pakistan’s integrity, which is rapidly plunging into chaos and disintegration due to its ethnic and political polarization,” he replied. Nonetheless, Pakistani intelligence sources were reporting to the presidency that Lal Masjid was demanding the enforcement of Islamic Sharia, but in fact it was playing mind-games under instructions from Al-Qaeda. Whenever the Pakistan Army launched an operation in South Waziristan, Lal Masjid created some mischief, which diverted attention from Al-Qaeda’s machinations. The intelligence report was partially correct. But that was not the only role delegated to Lal Masjid by Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda aimed to promote the Lal Masjid prayer leaders as the leaders of a movement to reinstate Islam, and through them to use Pakistan’s Islamic seminaries’ structures. There are approximately 13,500 Islamic seminaries from the Deobandi school of thought adhered to by the Taliban. They are situated all across the country and house 1.8 million regular students. Lal Masjid aimed to use these structures to defy and revolt against Pakistan’s policies supporting the US-led War on Terror. That is why its leaders were not primarily interested in the enforcement of Islamic Sharia. Rather, their aim was to create maximum friction between the Islamists of the country and the Pakistani establishment, so that the Pakistani establishment would eventually succumb to pressure and withdraw its support for the War on Terror.
Al-Qaeda thinkers in North Waziristan wrote and published extensive literature on Takfeer simply to impress academics like Maulana Abdul Aziz. They did not expect Aziz to pass on those notes in pure academic form in his sermons, but rather to resort to actions and turn the Takfeeri ideology into a cogent strategy. From 2004 to 2007—the year when the Pakistani military establishment finally conducted a crackdown on Lai Masjid—Aziz continued to issue defiant religious decrees against Pakistan’s military establishment while carrying out such acts as had never before been practiced by any Islamic scholar. For instance, Lal Masjid vigilantes started busting brothels. The Pakistani military establishment advised the Lal Masjid clerics not to take the law into their own hands, and to let Pakistan’s law-enforcing agencies carry out crackdowns against them instead. To prove a point the Pakistani Police carried out massive raids on those guesthouses in Islamabad that had been supplying prostitutes to their clients. Lal Masjid should have appreciated these efforts of the administration, but this was not what they were looking for. Their aim was to undertake more actions to generate friction. Lal Masjid vigilantes then raided Islamabad’s markets, took obscene movies from the video shops and burned them. In the meantime, Aziz continued to address Islamic seminaries all across the country every day. He spoke out against democracy and Pakistan’s support for the War on Terror and, without fear or apology, termed the Pakistani style of governance Kufr(heresy) and claimed that the operations of the Pakistani armed forces against the Pakistani tribes, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, were Kufr too.
What exactly Lal Masjid was up to in the middle of Pakistan’s capital was beyond the comprehension of almost everybody, including the top religious leadership of the country. Only Al-Qaeda ideologues understood the undercurrents and real motives behind the defiance. Pakistani officials, like the Minister of Religious Affairs, Ejaz-ul-Haq, the son of the late President, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, visited Maulana Abdul Aziz frequently. This was not surprising as Aziz’s father, Maulana Abdullah, and Gen Zia had been very close, and this relation had continued down to their sons. “Maulana, I beg you, please stop all this. I know it will ultimately cause a serious clash. Iam seeing an ocean of fire,” Ejaz-ul-Haq was reported to have said as he held Aziz’s feet (a gesture of humility and submission). Butall his pleas to Aziz failed. Ejaz-ul-Haq did not have any idea that Aziz was actually aiming to create more friction to generate fire. He coldly replied that he would not retreat a single inch from his position.
Religious-minded ministers in the federal cabinet like Ejaz-ul-Haq and the leader of then ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, urged Gen Musharraf to make special efforts to reduce the tensions. The outcome of this was an invitation to Mufti Taqi Usmani, a renowned Islamic scholar and the spiritual guide of Maulana Abdul Aziz, to come to Islamabad to pour oil on the troubled waters. Usmani flew from Karachi and reached Islamabad. “What are you up to?” Taqi asked Aziz. “I want an Islamic system of life in Pakistan,” Aziz replied respectfully. “But what model would you follow—the model of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) or your own?” Taqi inquired. “Of course, the Prophet Muhammad’s model is the only one to be followed.” Aziz answered. Taqi asked: “Can you please elaborate on the justification for occupying a children’s library, kidnapping prostitutes, detaining cops in the mosque, and creating a law-and-order situation in the city by putting video films on fire? Are there any such instances from the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s struggle? Did we find such modes of struggle in Salaf [classical Muslim scholars]? Do you see any difference between a struggle for the enforcement of Islamic laws and creating chaos in the country?” Aziz put his head down but did not reply. “Abdul Aziz, I need an answer,” Taqi insisted. “You are my teacher and my spiritual guide. I do not dare argue with you,” Aziz said. “Do you then promise me that you will refrain from such practices in future?” Taqi demanded. “I will continue to practice what I have been doing because I think that is the right path,” Aziz persisted. “You intend to do this despite the fact that you don’t have any justifications for such actions in the Quran and the Sunnah [the Prophet’s traditions]?” Taqi asked. Aziz was silent. “Abdul Aziz, I hear you still say to the people that you and I have a relationship of guidance, but I now tell you this relation no longer exists. Don’t say to the people you take guidance from me,” Taqi said furiously. This was the biggest punishment any teacher could have meted out to a disciple, and it meant that Taqi Usmani had expelled Abdul Aziz from his circle for spiritual guidance. Aziz had tears in his eyes but remained silent. Taqi did not say another word and went out. Abdul Aziz did not try to stop him.
The Musharraf administration was then left with no choice but to play its last card by inviting the prayer leader of the Mecca Mosque, Sheikh Abdur Rehman al-Sudais, in the hope that his argument would be respected by the Lal Masjid prayer leader. However, al-Sudais’s meeting with Aziz also turned out to be an exercise in futility. Finally, Musharraf’s military regime decided to take action against the Lal Masjid people on its own. The Rangers and the Police were sent to cordon off the area, and demanded that the Lal Masjid students and teachers surrender. Maulana Abdul Aziz and his brother Abdul Rasheed Ghazi refused and delivered fiery speeches in retaliation. Although there were only 11 AK-47s in the mosque, the prayer leaders announced to the media over their cellphones that they had guns and suicide-bombers ready to confront the establishment forces. The military next sent the chief of the banned Harkat-ul Mujahadeen, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, to Lal Masjid as a final effort to win over the clerics. He warned them that their rants had already brought Lal Masjid into the international spotlight, and that the military was bound to follow. He emphasized that the only way to avoid such a military operation was to surrender. He guaranteed that they would be treated with respect during their arrest, and legal bail would be arranged for them within a few months. With the noose thus tightened around Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz finally realised that a prolonged stay would not be possible. He understood that once he had left the place, surrender for his supporters would be easier and he could still command the movement from outside. He put on a Burqa (a woman’s complete covering that hides the face as well as the body) and tried to sneak out of the mosque. But he was spotted by the law-enforcement agencies, arrested, and humiliated on the state-run Pakistan Television in the same Burqa. Aziz’s attempt to escape outraged the Al-Qaeda ideologues in Waziristan. The chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Qari Tahir, personally called Abdul Rasheed Ghazi and his deputy Abdul Qayyum and warned them that as of now they would have to stay till the last bullet, because that would be the turning point of their struggle, and if they surrendered so easily in future, the whole Islamic revolutionary movement could collapse. Ghazi abided by the instructions. He and his accomplices, his mother, and Maulana Abdul Aziz’s son were killed in a military action that followed. However, the Lal Masjid operation changed the dynamics of the country forever. It laid the foundations for a fresh military struggle, the exit of Gen Pervez Musharraf from power (one of the reasons for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who had approved the Lal Masjid killings), and the discrediting of the religio-political parties of the country (which chose to attend an All Parties Conference in London instead of pressing to prevent the military operation against Lal Masjid). Notwithstanding all of this and contrary to the expectations of Al-Qaeda and Maulana Abdul Aziz, not a single student of the Islamic seminaries from whom they were expecting a Taliban (student) revolt for the enforcement of Islam or/and in favour of Lal Masjid stood up—not even the 18 Islamic seminaries in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Al-Qaeda did not give up. When the funeral prayers for the Lal Masjid students and clerics were being conducted, Al-Qaeda was in communication with its man from the scenic Swat Valley. The Valley was now in hands of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Mohammadi’s Mullah Fazlullah. Fazlullah was the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the cleric arrested by Pakistan’s security agencies for illegally having taken thousand of youths to Afghanistan to fight against the US invasion in 2001. The little-known Mufti Aftab was then sent by Al-Qaeda from Miranshah, North Waziristan to guide the Al-Qaeda man in Swat on how to pursue the pattern and style of the future struggle. However, the story goes that the purpose of the movement in Swat following the LaL Masjid massacre was not the establishment of Islamic courts, as projected, nor was Mullah Fazlullah Al-Qaeda’s real leader there. The real Al-Qaeda leader was Bin Yameen. People who had spent time with Bin Yameen (also referred as Ibn-e-Ameen) during his detention in ISI cells or had worked under his command in Swat, or who had known him from early childhood, agreed on two things about him: his short temper, which stretched to the limits of madness, and his strikingly good looks. Bin Yameen was 6 feet 2 inches tall, had a broad chest, was fair in complexion, and had a full head of hair. His looks were God’s gift, but his short temper was not inbuilt. Circumstances were responsible for making an extremely polite young man into an ideological fanatic. Mufti Aftab used to document reports on Bin Yameen and send them back to Al-Qaeda ideologues, and they were convinced that in coming years Bin Yameen would be the man in Swat to create the maximum friction between the state authorities and the general public. He was expected to take the confrontation to the level where the Pakistan Army would not be able to provide support to the US war in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda’s instructions and Bin Yameen’s fanaticism worked well together, and turned the movement for enforcing Islamic laws in Swat into a revolt against the state.
I am not sure whether I should call it his fate that he was born in Peochar Valley of Swat, the hub of militancy. Legend has it that in the early 19th century the area was the headquarters of Syed Ahmad Barelvi, the pioneer of the 19th century Jihad in South Asia against the Sikh dynasty in Punjab and the northern parts of present-day Pakistan. Bin Yameen came from Wanai Namal village, in Matta in the Peochar valley. Born as a Behloolzai, a sub-tribe of the Youzufzai tribe, Bin Yameen was never the playboy of his village or a poet. He was a school dropout at the matric (high-school certificate) level. While he was still in his teens he went to Afghanistan and fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was arrested in his first battle and then spent seven long years in the inhuman jails of the Northern Alliance. Bin Yameen often remembers how his fellow Taliban detainees died in the jail. Sometimes he witnessed their swift deaths while they were talking or cooking. After the Taliban defeat, he was released by the US. But it was not his seven years in the Northern Alliance jails that had embittered him. After his release from Panjsheri prison, his manners were still extraordinarily polite. He always stood up to welcome any guest. The marriage and love life of any Pashtun has always been a very private business. No Pashtun from a village background would ever confide in anyone over matters of the heart. But Bin Yameen used to proudly say that his wife (also his relative) had fallen in love with him and that before their marriage, when they were only engaged during his prolonged imprisonment in Afghanistan, all the family members had pressed her to break her engagement to him and marry somebody else. But against all Pashtun traditions, the girl defied her family and said that her name wouldbe tied to Bin Yameen’s forever, whether he lived or died. When Bin Yameen was released and went back to his village the first thing he did was to marry her, proud that this was the girl who had steadfastly stood by him despite all the pressures put on her by her family to forget him. Bin Yameen always said that all the pain and agony of his days in the Afghan prison disappeared after the marriage. It was as if nothing had happened. He started his new life with a loving wife. His wife delivered a son and they moved to Peshawar. Bin Yameen joined Jaish-e-Mohammad, the militant group later banned by Musharraf’s regime. Since he was the most knowledgeable person on the Afghan prison system among them—and there were hundreds of Pakistani prisoners languishing in Afghan jails following the defeat of Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001—he was placed in charge of Jaish’s jail affairs. His responsibility was to look after the interests of those who were in Afghan jails and work for their release.
December 2003, when Musharraf was the target of two failed assassination attempts, was the major turning point in the lives of Pakistani Jihadis. They were rounded up like criminals. The state which had been the main supporter and perpetuator of the Pakistani Jihadis turned its back on them. Several Jihadis gave up their struggle and several turned against the state. Bin Yameen was the most prominent of those who came in the later category. On August 21, 2004 Pakistan’s security agencies raided Bin Yameen’s house in Peshawar. He was sleeping with his wife. In the next room were two prominent Jihadis, Asif Chakwali and Mufti Sagheer (now in Adyala jail in Rawalpindi). Both Asif and Sagheer broke the police cordon and escaped, but the police who had broken into the house captured both Bin Yameen and his wife and literally dragged them to their vehicles. Bin Yameen was half-asleep and half awake, but he saw strangers touching his wife. He attacked them like a wounded lion. He tried to snatch their guns. It took dozens of security personnel to overwhelm him. Both his wife and he were imprisoned. Later his wife and son were released, but Bin Yameen, who had been injured during his transportation, never forgot the humiliation suffered by his wife at the hands of Pakistan’s security personnel. He was completely unaware of any plot to assassinate Musharraf, and during the interrogation refused to answer the questions thrown at him. In response, he would either spit in the faces of the inquiry officers, or threaten that on his release he would destroy them and their families. This resulted in a vicious cycle of torture. His inquisitors hung him upside down and beat him, but he only yelled one thing in response: “If I stay alive I will return and avenge all of this.” They tied and shackled him but his rage remained unabated. After two months of torture and interrogation, the prison guards and inquiry officers got tired of him and sent him to solitary confinement in an ISI detention cell, without a police case being presented against him and without a court trial. He spent two-and-ahalf years in solitary confinement without further torture or interrogation, but his venom against the Pakistan Army remained high. His prison guards were used to his verbal assaults on them and the Pakistan Army, and sometimes retaliated to his threats with jokes. Just days before his release when he was collecting his clothes and belongings, a Corporal asked him in a light vein: “But Bin Yameen, what if you found me walking on the road one day?” Bin Yameen’sface turned red and he said in a cold voice: “I will slit your throat.”
In an exclusive interview in 2010, a senior Taliban leader reminded me that North Waziristan’s environment is so weird it can turn any person into a Takfeeri within 20 days. As soon as Bin Yameen was released from the ISPs cell, he was summoned to North Waziristan where his hatred of Pakistan’s military establishment gained ideological flavour. Mufti Aftab from North Waziristan was Al-Qaeda’s emissary in Swat. He took Bin Yameen to North Waziristan. For the Al-Qaeda ideologue, Bin Yameen’s life meant nothing. He was a militant who was born for Islam and would sacrifice his life for Islam, although his knowledge of Islam was basic. But his hatred of the Pakistan Army was unbelievable, and this was exactly what Al-Qaeda was looking for. Bin Yameen was given money and Uzbek and Arab fighters to set up his own maaskar (training camp). His first task was essentially simple. He was to hijack the Tekrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) founded by Maulana Sufi Mohammad, after whose detention it was controlled by Fazlullah. Thousands of people were associated with the TNSM and committed to the enforcement of Islamic laws in Swat and Malakand divisions. Bin Yameen was silently planted in this group.
Al-Qaeda was frustrated after the Lal Masjid operation. Dozens of people had been killed and the most useful Al-Qaeda asset in Islamabad sacrificed without the main purpose being served: not a single person stood up in revolt. Maulana Abdul Aziz had been detained and humiliated. Abdul Rasheed Ghazi and others were buried among tears. This was when Osama bin Laden put his foot down and appointed an Ameer-e-Khuruj (commander for revolt) in Pakistan. This was Abdul Hameed, alias Abu Obaida al-Misri. Bin Laden instructed him to organise a revolt in the country as soon as possible, and Al-Qaeda urged its Middle Eastern donors to arrange funds on an urgent basis. When these funds were received they were hurriedly distributed amongst all the Al-Qaeda associates, including Baitullah Mehsud and Bin Yameen. Targets were then identified to stir up maximum friction in the country, with the aim of making the state ungovernable. One of the targets was Benazir Bhutto, the only politician in the country to have supported the Lal Masjid operation. However, for a prolonged engagement against the Pakistan Army, a revolt in the Swat Valley (400km away from Pakistan's federal capital, Islamabad) was essential. Immediately after the Lal Masjid operation, Al-Qaeda mobilised its cadre to provide the logistics for a revolt in Swat. This came on the third day after the burial of Lal Masjid’s dead.