Since the brutal attack in Boston a few weeks ago, the word terrorism, without being preceded by the word "cyber," unfortunately returned to our lexicon. For those who have spent the better part of the past decade obsessed by the al Qaeda terrorism threat, there was much in Boston that looked very familiar.
Two men who have spent an even longer time watching the evolution of the al Qaeda threat, Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of the London-based newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, and Phil Mudd, a former CIA analyst, Deputy Director of the agency's Counterterrorist Center, and Deputy Director of the National Security Branch at the FBI, have both written important and well-argued books that have a direct relevance to the al Qaeda inspired attack in Boston, the ongoing evolution of the al Qaeda threat and the U.S. intelligence community's current and future capacity to understand the ever-changing nature of that threat.
Abdel Bari Atwan's book, After Bin Laden - Al Qaeda the Next Generation, as its title connotes, seeks to explain the characteristics of "Al Qaeda and Associated Movements," or AQAM as he likes to call them, in the wake of bin Laden's death.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that while the death of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda Core's top leadership has hurt the central organization that was based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the movement and ideology, with its worldwide presence via regional associated movements, is as much of a menace to the West as ever and undiminished in its goal of a global caliphate.
Mr. Atwan spends considerable time discussing the poorly named "Arab Spring," the successive revolutions which occurred across the Arab world and the relationship that these events have with indigenous al Qaeda-associated movements that have their own deep roots in some of the very states that saw their governments topple, sectarian conflicts break into the open, and civil wars erupt.
While many of us in the West hoped that the revolutions in the Arab states would herald better governance and the opportunity for homegrown secularists with their own domestic legitimacy to rise, Mr. Atwan saw a different future - one where Islamist parties would dominate the ballot box and armed Islamists or AQAM would have a role to play as well.
Mr. Atwan takes the reader on an impressive tour of the Islamic world, with chapters and sections on almost every country and region from Arabia to Uzbekistan. While some of the background history that he provides on each country or region is old news to regular readers of the New York Times international section, they do provide the context in each locale for Mr. Atwan to make his most provocative argument - al Qaeda-associated movements are poised for a comeback when either the Islamists or secularists fail in their efforts of good governance, regardless of whether it is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, North Africa, Sinai, or Central Asia. While the situation in each country is distinct, in general, regional al Qaeda-type violence certainly seems unabated and potentially is on the upswing in countries like Iraq, Nigeria, Mali and Syria.
Mr. Atwan is at his best when explaining the tribal dynamics in such places as Yemen, where different alliances among the tribes and their long standing dissatisfaction with any central government make them a natural ally of al Qaeda-associated movements, who also seek to challenge the central government, are armed, and espouse an austere form of Islam that is not foreign to the locals. Mr. Atwan draws similar astute insights about local dynamics when considering the prospects for growth for al Qaeda in the states of North Africa or the Islamic Maghreb.
Unlike many who follow jihadist groups, Mr. Atwan did not neglect the unstable Russian Caucasus region, including Chechnya and Dagestan -places now etched in the American consciousness. While some may not have understood the centrality of the Caucasus in the al Qaeda narrative, Mr. Atwan captures not only its importance, but also its worldwide links to jihadists in Pakistan, the Middle East, and even Europe.
With such a broad array of al Qaeda-associated threats gathering across the globe, and a sporadic, hard to characterize, homegrown threat now having proven its capability to kill, one is likely to worry how the United States will confront this multi-faceted threat matrix.
Fortunately, we have Philip Mudd, who ate, slept, and dreamt this threat for the better part of this past decade from within various parts the U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy, to provide a unique perspective on how the United States is organized to confront this threat. What gives Mr. Mudd's book, Takedown - Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, its arc is his career trajectory within a counterterrorism bureaucracy that was constantly evolving to catch up to and ultimately try to stay ahead of a rapidly evolving al Qaeda threat.
For an outsider, Mr. Mudd provides unique insights as to what it was like on a day-to-day basis working in the CIA Counterterrorism Center and FBI National Security Branch and how those entities functioned, faults and all. Mudd's descriptions of his encounters with senior policymakers and agency heads like Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller could easily have been found in a typical Bob Woodward book about inside Washington. However, Mr. Mudd is a gentleman and takes the high road in his recollections. The book is less about "takedowns" of particular terrorists and much more a story of Mr. Mudd's experiences inside the U.S. national security apparatus, embedded in explanations of the functioning of the U.S. counterterrorism community's threat bureaucracy.
Mr. Mudd's vantage point from inside the different organizations at particular points in time allows him to explain how the al Qaeda threat looked to the U.S. government at various points during the last decade. This perspective is quite important and in many ways sets up the findings of Mr. Atwan's book about al Qaeda post-bin Laden.
Mr. Mudd served as a National Security Council staffer when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, after which he returned to CIA where he found himself at the rapidly growing Counterterrorism Center. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community was concerned primarily - and rightly - with al Qaeda Core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how to understand the hierarchy and network that supported it. So, the arrests, capture, and subsequent interviews of senior al Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided the intelligence community with information that could help potentially thwart plots or provide insights on other plotters and was, as Mr. Mudd describes it, "gold" for intelligence analysts.
As progress was being made against al Qaeda Core in the Af/Pak region, the United States mobilized for the Iraq War. Mr. Mudd describes how, suddenly, the al Qaeda-linked insurgency in Iraq that rose up in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion became an important focus and required an expansion of resources at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. Moreover, the phenomenon was not confined to Iraq after 2003 - but rather, an al Qaeda threat was spreading through South East Asia, North Africa, Turkey and Europe, as evidenced by attacks in these areas.
Although Mr. Mudd does not provide the detailed historical context or local dynamics that Mr. Atwan focuses on to explain this geographic proliferation of the al Qaeda threat, he does focus on one element that is a key common factor among all the al Qaeda associated groups regardless of where they are - ideology. This ideology is not only anti-Western, but also requires the overthrow of Middle Eastern regimes, and thus "attacks are meant to spark a revolution, not an end in themselves."
Furthermore, Mr. Mudd explains that it was during this time period (2003-2006) that the U.S counterterrorism community felt an acute sense of "surprise and unknowing" given the geographic sprawl that characterized al Qaeda attacks during this time. As time wore on, though, the intelligence community began to dedicate analysts not solely to al Qaeda Core but rather to these geographically disperse regions that now seemingly housed al Qaeda problems. Interestingly, what Mr. Mudd describes happening at the national level was also happening at the NYPD Intelligence Division, and we too had to both widen the aperture of our analytic lens and devote more resources to a broader and more diverse al Qaeda threat during those years.
Once Mr. Mudd moved to the FBI, on loan from the CIA, he gained insight into the threat that was increasingly manifesting itself in the West and ultimately struck in Boston - the homegrown threat, comprised of "loose clusters of youths, typically kids who were angry and thought other members of their communities weren't serious about opposing what they saw as a U.S. or Western crusade in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere." These men had little if any operational links to al Qaeda, but rather were inspired to act by the group's ideology.
As the reader finishes both books, the authors veer off into very different directions. Mr. Mudd makes no predictions as to what the threat will look like in future years, but gives the impression that the terrorism threat management bureaucracy in the United States had become more streamlined and regularized, or "far more well-oiled and less jumpy, than in the first years," suggestive of a higher level of functionality and capacity to thwart future al Qaeda plots.
Mr. Atwan, however, paints a picture that unfortunately does not bode well and in some ways challenges the assertions that the U.S. intelligence community has adequately evolved enough to face the diffuse, de-centralized al Qaeda threat that we face today. In Mr. Atwan's world, various al Qaeda-type groups coordinate and collaborate across huge swaths of the earth and take advantage of the chaos and instability of the post-Arab Spring Middle East. New post-revolutionary governments, whether Islamist or secular, may face protestors and al Qaeda-type terrorists who work together, if they falter or fail to deliver the changes that were promised.
Mr. Mudd is clearly right in that the U.S. intelligence community now has the bandwidth and regional expertise to adequately focus on a diverse and dispersed al Qaeda threat. However, the ability to better understand the threat and the ability to roll it back are different processes (intelligence analysis vs. counterterrorism policy execution). Unfortunately, greater and deeper insights do not assure American counterterrorism success, especially when Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that we face a future of many ‘al Qaedas' who have metastasized in hard to get at places, are unlikely to be completely defeated on the battlefield, nor collapse because of infighting, nor be successfully rendered impotent via U.S.-led decapitation strategies. Thus, despite the U.S. intelligence community's increase in terms of both breadth and depth of expertise, the longest war will probably go on longer, and we may have to be content with an American strategy that can keep the regional al Qaeda franchise threats in check, but cannot eradicate them.
Mitchell D. Silber is the Executive Managing Director of K2 Intelligence and was the Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York Police Department from 2007 to 2012.
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With just hours left before voters begin casting their votes for Pakistan's next leaders, political posters are plastered across markets, convoys of motorcycles and cars flying party flags clog major thoroughfares, and raspy-voiced candidates make their final appeals to throngs of people.
Election fever runs high everywhere, it seems, but in Rabwah.
The city nestled alongside the Chenab River in Punjab is home to an estimated 40,000 potential voters, but the vast majority of them will not be voting in the upcoming election due to their faith. Rabwah is a haven for Ahmedis, who make up over 95 percent of its population. While Ahmedis consider themselves Muslims, the Pakistani government has officially declared them otherwise.
The groups' adherence to Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, a man they see as a prophet, is heretical to most Muslims, who hold that the Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of God. This difference of beliefs has made Ahmedis the subject of scorn in Pakistan, where they could be subject to death for practicing their faith since doing so would mean engaging in the illegal act of "posing as a Muslim."
While they aren't officially barred from voting, Ahmedis must sign a statement renouncing their faith in order to cast a ballot.
"I'm 37 years old and I've never voted in my life," says Amir Mehmood, a lifelong resident of Rabwah.
Mehmood says that he follows politics closely, but having to deny his beliefs to vote is more of a sacrifice than he is willing to bear.
"If the state thinks that I'm not a Muslim, that's fine. I can't change the state. But how can I say that I'm a non-Muslim just because the state tells me to? I consider myself to be a Muslim."
A 1974 amendment to the Pakistani Constitution explicitly declared Ahmedis to be non-Muslims, and a few years later separate faith-based electorates were created that forced Ahmedis to vote as non-Muslims. Instead of doing so, most Ahmedis refused to cast a ballot-and have maintained their non-participation in the country's politics ever since.
While President Pervez Musharraf unified the electorate in 2002, he soon bowed to religious extremists by inserting one glaring exception to the rule: Ahmedis would have a distinct voter list. All those who tick the box "Muslim" in the religious affiliation column of their election ballot must sign a statement certifying that they are not Ahmedi.
Due to this requirement, the upcoming election will be the eighth one in which Ahmedis refuse to take part. But Saleemuddin, a spokesperson for the Ahmedi community who uses only his first name, says this does not amount to a boycott.
"We don't approve of the word ‘boycott.' We're not boycotting. We've been so clearly discriminated against that we've been essentially prevented from casting votes in these elections."
Saleemuddin says by phone from Rabwah, "Like anywhere in the world, voting rights should be based on citizenship. In fact, they are in Pakistan too, but one executive order has brought in religion and kept my community from voting."
He says every government has continued to propagate a second-class status for Ahmedis because of the power that religious extremists and powerful clerics exercise over the country's political arena. While this election will mark the first time one democratically-elected government will pass the mantle to another, for Saleemuddin, this milestone is undermined by the state's unwillingness to let Ahmedis vote in a free and fair manner.
And few candidates are willing to address the issue of religious freedom.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, "The elections will hardly bring any respite to religious minorities because the societal groups and parties that target them do not get their votes."
According to Rizvi, politicians don't have much to gain from courting the votes of religious groups like Ahmedis, Christians, or Hindus. "These votes which are small and scattered cannot generate enough political clout to pressure political parties effectively."
This amounts to a sort of catch-22 for Ahmedis since politicians do not feel politically bound to respond to their plight, something they cannot address without allies in the government. Saleemuddin says he had some hope that the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan might herald in a new era of religious freedom but Khan overtly declared his accord for the status quo saying in a video statement, "I have read the Qur'an very closely and I know that those who do not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet are not Muslims."
"Imran Khan has claimed that he's going to create a ‘New Pakistan,' but before he's even had the chance to do so, he's declared that Ahmedis will be stuck in the same ‘Old Pakistan' that we've known for too long," Saleemuddin laments.
Many Ahmedis feel that Khan's statements shamed his party's name-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf or the "Justice Party" -but Bilal Haider, an Ahmedi living in Karachi, says Khan is no different than other politicians.
"All of these parties have written into their agendas that they want equal rights but none of them actually [do away with discriminatory laws] once they get into power," he says.
While there are an estimated four million Ahmedis in the country, most politicians think appealing for their vote will do more harm than good since bias against the sect is widespread-and it isn't limited to election season or political rights, says Haider.
"Each and every Ahmedi family is now connected to someone who was martyred. It's not only about silent discrimination, it's about literal attacks."
One of Haider's uncles, along with his wife's father, was killed in May 2010 in synchronized attacks on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore, which resulted in the deaths of over 80 worshippers.
Haider is hopeful that when he has children, they'll be born into a more tolerant Pakistan.
But for Saleemuddin, the current situation is vexing enough. "My daughter watches TV and sees all of the political advertisements and news of the election," he says. "She asks me which candidate our family supports. She's only in 6th grade and it's really hard to explain to her why we're not voting. ‘Our town is so big,' she says, ‘So how come there isn't a single political poster or party banner here?'"
He says it's difficult to tell her that no politician is willing to change the laws so that his community in Rabwah can cast ballots without having to cast aside their faith.
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is reporting on education there through a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crises Reporting.
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There seems to be some disagreement between Pakistan's extremists over participation in the May 11 elections. Pakistani Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan recently told Pakistanis to boycott the elections because democracy is un-Islamic, while Maulana Sami ul-Haq, a conservative cleric who runs a religious seminary that trained many Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, said in a follow-up statement that voting is a religious obligation.
Could it be that the Taliban's brutal attacks on politicians belonging to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition have actually been detrimental to the wider extremist movement in Pakistan? The attacks definitely handicap religious parties, who often share sympathies and ideologies with the Taliban, at a time when they could potentially capitalize on staunch public disappointment with the outgoing government's performance.
While religious parties lost big in the 2008 elections, they probably anticipated some role for themselves in the next government, which is likely to be led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, a conservative political party known for its own "special relationship" with extremists. Religious parties were further bolstered by a survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealing that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy.
Instead, Taliban attacks have likely increased chances of a high sympathy vote for the secular parties, a dynamic that helped usher in the PPP coalition in 2008 following the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto.
Why is it, though, that the extremists are not speaking with one voice? The commonsense - and most likely - argument is that they are just plain unorganized. Even though many of Haq's students joined the Taliban movement, it's doubtful that he has direct influence over the Taliban command and control structure - hence the very public statements contradicting the official Taliban position.
Let's not forget that Haq is a politician who leads his own political party and previously served in the Senate. His statements are more a warning for his former students than anyone else to not ruin his chances or those of the others who have been sitting on the sidelines for several years. A return to politics means a chance to advance the ideological agenda of the religious right, but it also allows individuals like Haq and his friends to benefit from state resources, foreign aid flows, and other "perks" of being in power.
No one expects the religious right to take over...yet. Religious parties never have much success in Pakistani elections. Furthermore, the likelihood of a General Zia ul-Haq figure emerging on the scene is low. Zia, the military dictator who introduced a conservative interpretation of shariah law in several areas of Pakistani culture and law, began the trend of mixing religion with politics as a tool of state power. The approach engendered a vast network of militants that fought mostly Pakistan's battles while invoking the name of Islam; some were also used by the United States in pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, while others advanced their own sectarian agendas.
While no one can compete with Zia's quasi-theocratic feat at the moment, religion and politics still mix - and badly. Pakistan's long relationship with militants and its cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 have engendered a new breed of religious right - those against the state, namely the Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
It is because of this shift in the state's relationship with militants that the Pakistani military has a clear interest in strengthening the religious right's political chances. Could the likes of Sami ul-Haq and other religious political parties convince the Pakistani Taliban to stop attacking the Pakistani military, secular politicians, and ordinary citizens? Don't bet money on it, but in February the Taliban did say they would participate in talks with the military if they would be mediated by one of the following individuals: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President Nawaz Sharif, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Munawar Hasan, or Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The talks did not happen. Instead, the Pakistani military began an operation in the Tirah Valley where numerous security officials and militants have died. It is becoming harder and harder for the Pakistani military to respond to battlefield challenges by militants who now want access to the ballot box too. In addition to militant leader Hafeez Saeed's new "political career," dozens of individuals with alleged links to militant organizations have filed papers for the elections.
The entrée of such unsavory characters into Pakistani politics would not be a first, but it would be the wrong direction for a country that is still testing a rapidly evolving democratic culture and also trying to clarify the role of religion in politics. Islam, after all, is inextricable from Pakistan's history. The country was formed in 1947 as part of a political push by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to establish a homeland for the Indian subcontinent's impoverished Muslims. General Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, reiterated this point last week when he told the country's premier military academy that "Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan."
Many believed Kayani's remarks justified religious extremism. This can hardly be the whole truth given the losses the military has suffered fighting the Pakistani Taliban. But the skepticism provoked by his remarks illustrates just how damaged religion and politics has become in Pakistan.
If extremists can take advantage of this characterization of Pakistan to advance their violent agendas, then surely the country's secular parties and government institutions can strengthen themselves against the militant threat in the name of Islam as well. But with extremists such as the members of the banned sectarian group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, fielding candidates in this week's elections, such progress does not appear imminent.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2013 Annual Report, focusing on Pakistan and 28 other countries around the world, including Afghanistan. As an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department, USCIRF's Annual Report identifies violations of religious freedom, as defined by international conventions, and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
Based on our monitoring over the past year, we have concluded that the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world.
The report found that "sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi'a Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology that undertake attacks impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country's security and stability.
In the face of increasing attacks against Shi'as and consistent violence against other minorities, Pakistani authorities have failed to provide protection and have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.
In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC, by the U.S. Department of State for these systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The CPC designation is a special blacklist created when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act. Unlike some other ‘blacklists,' the CPC designation does not carry any specific penalties for the countries on the list. What it does do is assign a framework through which U.S. officials can encourage the designated country's government to address the egregious violations of religious freedom. This can come in the form of a binding roadmap of agreed actions, a waiver, or punitive steps if progress is lacking.
Countries currently named by the State Department include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has concluded it overwhelmingly meets the threshold established in the Act.
The facts speak for themselves. As the report states:
The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi'a Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed "unIslamic" will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country's blasphemy law, used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalize various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views deemed "un-Islamic." The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC would make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship and start a process to encourage Islamabad to undertake needed reforms.
There are a range of issues that should be on the bilateral agenda, whether or not Pakistan is designated a CPC. The U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits, as well as urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing acts of violence against Shi'as, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law; and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws. The United States can also highlight to the new government how the Federal Ministry for National Harmony is an institution unique among other nations, and maintaining it would keep a partner to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and freedom. For sure, none of these are easy, so naming as a CPC would cut through the distractions and help create the political will to act.
The situation in Pakistan is acute, with the increasing violence against diverse religious communities and a system of laws that violate human rights. With a new government soon coming to power, there is a unique opportunity to work together to confront these threats to Pakistan. At the same time, negative pressures could tilt the new government in the wrong direction. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban's targeting of "secular politicians" could give traction to their offer from late 2012 to cease violence in exchange for constitutional amendments to install their religious vision over the country. The CPC process would support Pakistanis who want a better future for their country and counterbalance these pressures -- if the Pakistani government fails to address these issues concretely, penalties could follow after a CPC designation.
The United States is Pakistan's only friend that has the heft and desire to encourage it to tackle these difficult challenges. For sure, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is complicated and designating a CPC would likely complicate things further. However, to protect all Pakistanis, these issues cannot be ignored and must be confronted and addressed.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Any personal views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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Most people remember the harrowing cover of TIME in late July 2010 depicting the 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off following a Taliban sentence for her attempt to flee from an abusive husband. Many can recall the penetrating glare of the green-eyed Afghan girl in a refugee camp on the cover of National Geographic. Both images are powerful reminders of the past atrocities, present humanitarian strife, and future aspirations of millions in Afghanistan as the international military presence draws down. Many Afghans ask, "Can my country avoid a relapse into civil war?" Even those who assess this question with some optimism still find themselves asking, "Will Afghanistan be safe enough to raise my children and build a livelihood?"
Preventing an outright civil war is directly related to the national interests of the coalition countries engaged in Afghanistan. A civil war would strengthen the hands of the numerous terrorist groups that operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Moreover, destabilizing spill-over effects would weaken an already fragile Pakistan, exacerbating the internal cleavages and security threats confronting the state with the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal. Therefore, the primary objective of the U.S.-led coalition is to ensure a stable and cooperative Afghan political order that denies terrorist groups the capacity and opportunity to conduct large-scale attacks against Western interests.
Human rights perspectives, beyond those necessary to achieve this primary objective, are at best second order issues. If human rights were a primary objective, the international community would have intervened earlier and stayed longer-something that is unfeasible and not in the interest of any of the coalition countries currently engaged in Afghanistan. But this does not and should not preclude an effort to advance human rights in Afghanistan while the international coalition is present. Though a second-tier objective, the international community has an interest in and a moral duty to improve human rights, or at least to do no harm.
The problem is that the human rights agenda has been undermined by unrealistic goals and ineffective efforts, too often driven by a desire to please domestic, Western audiences rather than to help the Afghan population. International rhetoric has often elevated the drive to promote human rights-in particular the equality of women-as a goal on par with the primary security agenda. This reflects measures of both idealism and cynicism. Some have held sincere yet naïve visions of Afghanistan's social and political transformation. Others have simply used the human rights agenda as an instrument to garner political legitimacy and justify the human and material costs.
Both views have led to vast amounts of foreign aid and political attention being squandered. Many schools and clinics have been built irrespective of the local demand. Foreign aid has been conditioned by counterproductive gender quotas. Incredible amounts of time and resources have been spent on largely symbolic cases such as legislation on women's shelters or on Shiite marriages or the recent appointment of the new intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid. But battling atrocious laws or a controversial appointment is the wrong fight. What matters is what affects the human rights that Afghan's exercise in their daily lives.
This raises the question: What is the right fight? What is the realist perspective on human rights in Afghanistan? Without reverting to naïve aspirations and while maintaining a realistic order of objectives, how can the international community more effectively advance human rights?
The single most effective thing the international community has done to promote human rights in Afghanistan and empower women is to send Afghan boys to school. This should certainly not be understood as an argument against girls' schools or female education in general. But under conditions tantamount to patriarchal totalitarianism, the key to promoting human rights resides in the hands of Afghan men. Save a rebellion by Afghan women, only a voluntary shift in the attitudes of Afghan men can empower women and advance the human rights of every Afghan. All Afghan girls should get an education, but unless the men ease their repressive dominance, half of the population will never have the opportunity to exercise their human rights. Such attitudinal shifts are more sustainable if nurtured indigenously and voluntarily through education. Conditioning aid on gender quotas and human rights principles mostly leads to counterproductive tension or symbolic gestures by Afghan counterparts.
In theory, conditioning aid could perhaps entice a shift in Afghan behavior but unless the international community is ready to withhold aid entirely if conditions are unmet-and be willing to jeopardize their national interests at stake-it is very unlikely to occur in practice. Afghans know this. Besides, once the international presence in Afghanistan recedes, human rights gains will erode in the absence of the indigenous preference shifts necessary to sustain them. For change to last, Afghans must want it.
The good news is that primary education is one of the greatest legacies of the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001. Fewer than 1 million children were in school before the intervention and virtually no girls received primary education. Today, some 9 million children receive primary education and about 40 percent are girls. This is a monumental achievement. Unfortunately, it is not mirrored in the higher education sector. Although progress has undoubtedly occurred-Kabul, for instance, has witnessed a surge in newly established universities-the capacity of the higher education sector is still far from sufficient to absorb the influx of students from the primary sector. A more concerted international effort to improve the higher education sector would significantly increase the opportunity of the youth to fulfill their potential and, in doing so, improve conditions for advancing human rights and greater gender equality.
A realistic time horizon is also important to establishing an effective human rights effort. Too much, too soon is too risky. Some say clocks tick slower in Afghanistan. It is safe to say, at least, that past attempts to quickly roll out vast social reforms have triggered civil unrest. Modernizing efforts by King Amanullah Khan ignited revolts and eventually a civil war in 1928. He was forced to abdicate the next year. Only the Soviet intervention in 1979 kept the Communist rule from the same fate after it had introduced its radical reform agenda in 1978.
The lesson is that sustainable social change in Afghanistan is slow. The human rights agenda must therefore be attuned to a long-term perspective. Here is great potential. Navigating between currents of modernization and conservatism, between forces of societal change, tradition, and stagnation, Afghans will chart their own course on human rights after 2014. In doing so, the Afghan youth can be decisive. In a country stricken by an adult illiteracy rate around 70 percent, and where 43 percent of its 30 million inhabitants are aged 14 or younger, the 9 million children currently in school have truly transformative potential.
Surely the lives of too many Afghans can still be described in Hobbesian terms as brutish, nasty, and short. Immediate and concerted action remains necessary as human rights violations and humanitarian strife across the country must be addressed. It is because of this that many international actors take a short-term view when assessing how to advance human rights and show legible results. This has a persuasive logic, but it also has counterproductive implications. In particular, this short-term lens has led to a strong inclination in the international community to focus on the near-term ebbs and flows of the human rights agenda in insulated Kabul.
International pushback against proposed legislation and specific cabinet appointments has often dominated the human rights agenda. Highly visible international intervention in a specific political or legal case may resonate well with Western audiences, but through Afghan eyes it risks tainting the human rights agenda as an avenue of international social engineering and a principle question of Afghan sovereignty. Such perceptions render Afghan advocates of human rights much less effective and undermine the local ownership which is so difficult to nurture, but so important in order to sustain change.
An incremental, low-profile, long-term international effort holds the greatest chance of success in the promotion of human rights in Afghanistan. A more realistic and effective approach must cultivate and support Afghan agents of change, particularly the educated youth. But their potential can only be unleashed if they are given the opportunity to do so by a stable environment. As security is the basis of any human rights progress in Afghanistan, the primary objective of a stable country bereft of terrorist havens both meets and complements the human rights agenda.
Christian Bayer Tygesen is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Copenhagen University. He conducted field research and diplomatic assignments in Kabul in 2011 and 2012.
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The life of a Pakistani politician is fraught with life-threatening situations. In recent years, several high-profile politicians have been assassinated: former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011. The dangerous trend has continued this month with the targeting of lower-profile candidates running for office in the upcoming May 11 parliamentary elections. In these instances, the Pakistani Taliban or religious extremists were the perpetrators, choosing their targets for either "un-Islamic" secular and progressive values or their perceived cooperation with the United States against Pakistani militants and in the war in Afghanistan.
Beyond the tragic loss of life, the assassinations have the added casualty of limiting the space within which Pakistani leaders can safely operate. Taliban attacks have pressured willing and able voices against extremism into silence on issues-such as minority rights, girls' education, and trade with India-that Pakistani society must publicly debate in order to fully embrace and institutionalize them. Those who remain vocal do so at great personal and professional risk: Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman faces charges in Pakistani courts for her support of revisions to the blasphemy law.
In the context of upcoming polls, even more worrisome is that the specter of assassination and violence could affect the election outcome, and potentially the representation of key Pakistani constituencies. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the group's intention to target candidates and party workers affiliated with the ruling coalition's Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). ANP and MQM candidates and activists have already been injured or killed-fear tactics intended to directly handicap the ruling coalition's chances of returning to power.
Another side effect of the Pakistani Taliban's killing spree is that the specific pressure on the ANP could skew the Pashtun vote. After the 2008 election, many had high hopes for the secular party based in the Pashtun-concentrated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. But even then security threats from the Pakistani Taliban prevented ANP from fully taking advantage of the mandate the voters had given it. ANP was viewed as a potential counter to the influence of religious parties like Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which swept national and provincial elections during the Musharraf years as part of a coalition of religious parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
The Pakistani Taliban's renewed targeting of ANP could improve the chances of religious parties who have, in the past, shared common ideological ground with them. The influence of religious parties has typically been downplayed, but what they are selling might have a new buyer. A survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealed that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy.
But the Pakistani Taliban has also threatened some religious parties, such as JUI, for cooperation with the federal government. The real worry is not the return of religious parties but the disenfranchisement of Pakistani Pashtuns, who may decide to stay at home on election day to avoid violence. This is the last thing the Pakistani state needs in a province that borders the ungoverned tribal areas and where the notion of a greater Pashtun homeland-"Pashtunistan"-exists in spirit if not fully in practice. ANP also faces threats in Karachi, where the growing Pashtun population has become ensconced in the city's gangland-style political culture. Any handicaps for Karachi's Pashtuns in the upcoming elections could also potentially worsen the security situation there.
The PPP, which led the previous government with ANP as a coalition partner, faces similar challenges in reaching voters. President Asif Ali Zardari has been reluctant to participate in large public rallies during this campaign, and for good reason. The memory of the 2007 assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, following a rally in Rawalpindi is still fresh among PPP leadership. Fears of assassination have kept Zardari out of the public eye for most of his term and now limit how much his son Bilawal Bhutto, the PPP's heir apparent, campaigns on behalf of the party as well.
Bhutto could have rallied the party's base at a time when the PPP needs it the most. Besides the PPP stronghold of interior Sindh, nowhere else is PPP guaranteed to dominate. Voter outreach is especially critical in north and central Punjab, the traditional domain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and where Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has made inroads. Most elections analysts believe that if PTI can continue to tap into PML-N's base of support, especially among urban educated youth, then PPP's chances in Punjab are inadvertently strengthened. It can also benefit from the fact that the strength of PTI's "tsunami" appears to be tapering off. If PPP can access voters who are falling off the PTI bandwagon, it could have a chance in chipping away at PML-N's lead. But PPP cannot rely solely on PML-N's failures or PTI's wane.
For the time being, Pakistani Taliban threats continue to keep the most influential PPP politicians far from Punjab where it matters the most. Even more tragic is the possibility that ANP will be forced to boycott the elections. While much of the elections focus has been on the historic political transition afoot in Pakistan, the threats serve as a reminder of the tough road ahead for whoever manages to survive and come out on top.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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Sectarian violence is raging in Pakistan, and some commentators are now describing the relentless assaults on Shia Muslims as genocide. Predictably, many observers fear that this unrest-coupled with a dangerous overall security situation-could delay Pakistan's May 11 national elections.
It's an understandable, yet ultimately misplaced, concern. As was recently pointed out, Pakistan has held elections under much more trying conditions-including one in Swat in 2008, during the height of the Pakistani Taliban's insurgency there.
Few commentators, however, are talking about another possible impact of sectarian strife on the elections: Shias-roughly 20 percent of the Pakistani population-mobilizing en masse to vote the ruling political party out of power.
Their motivations would be obvious. Shias-like Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minorities in Pakistan-are incensed at the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for failing to protect them, and for taking no meaningful action against those who terrorize them. In the blunt words of Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a prominent Hazara Shia in Quetta who heads the Hazara Democratic Party, "the government doesn't have the will to go after them."
Under this scenario, who would the Shia vote for? Probably not the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-Pakistan's chief opposition party and the current favorite to lead the next governing coalition. The PML-N's bastion is in Punjab Province, which is also the home base of some of Pakistan's most vicious sectarian extremist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Yet instead of confronting the LeJ, the PML-N is seemingly courting it. Last year, the law minister of Punjab's provincial government (led by the PML-N) campaigned with the leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), LeJ's parent organization. And just days ago, the secretary general of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)-like the LeJ, a splinter group of SSP- bragged: "We have thousands of voters in almost every constituency of the South and Central Punjab and the PML-N leadership is destined to knock at our doors when the elections come."
Rumors have abounded that, with the election in mind, the PML-N is negotiating a "seat-adjustment" agreement with ASWJ. (The Express Tribune, in an article later removed from its website, described the deal as follows: the PML-N will support the ASWJ in races for three National Assembly seats, while in return the ASWJ, "whose votes often play a vital role in helping candidates win," will withdraw its candidates from contesting about a dozen National Assembly seats in Punjab) Last month the PML-N denied the rumors-only to be contradicted just days later by SSP's leader. Regardless of who's telling the truth, the PML-N has done little to dispel the expectation that, if it leads the next government, it will do little to address the Shias' plight.
A more likely choice for the Shias might be voting for Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI, more so than the PML-N or PPP, has gone out of its way to condemn the country's sectarian bloodshed and its chief instigators. Pakistani analysts have contrasted Khan's strong and unequivocal denunciations with the "obfuscations and meaningless remarks" uttered by the Pakistani government. After an LeJ bombing killed nearly 90 people in a Quetta market last month, Khan declared at a press conference: "I tell you by name, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi...there can be no bigger enemy of Islam than you." He also accused the LeJ of exhibiting "the worst kind of enmity towards Islam." Such strong language is rarely used by the PPP or PML-N. In January, Khan even endorsed Shia demands for targeted operations against religious militants.
Admittedly, the PTI has no plans to take aim at the root causes of sectarian violence. For example, reforming-much less repealing-Pakistan's blasphemy laws (which are often used as a pretext to persecute religious minorities) is a move no political party in Pakistan dares make; the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for merely criticizing them. Nonetheless, compared to the two major parties, the PTI gives the impression of genuinely caring about, and wanting to help, Pakistan's besieged minorities (along with other vulnerable segments of the population; the party recently released a new manifesto to protect the disabled). Tellingly, after an attack on a Quetta snooker hall targeting Hazara Shias left more than 100 dead in January, Khan visited the victims' grieving families-a meeting that occurred before the arrival of Pakistani government officials. Shias in Lahore and other areas of Punjab-home to 148 of Pakistan's 272 national assembly seats-could cause significant damage to the PML-N's electoral prospects if they vote as a bloc for the PTI.
But there's little reason to believe Pakistan's Shias will actually turn out in droves to vote for the PTI. Many Shias are suspicious of Khan because of his support for talks with the Taliban and other gestures perceived as sympathetic to religious militants. Such suspicions intensify when PTI officials (including party vice chairman Ajaz Chaudhry) share the stage with hardline Islamist figures-including members of the ASWJ-during rallies of the Pakistan Defense Council, a collective of conservative religious parties. A recent video produced by the Shia rights group ShiaKilling.com captures the contempt that Pakistani Shias harbor toward the PTI (and toward the PML-N as well). One Shia cleric (who does not appear to enjoy a large following) has even peddled an elaborate conspiracy theory involving Saudi Arabia and the ISI colluding to install Khan as the leader of a new "Saudi-Wahhabi Islamic State" of Pakistan.
There's also little reason to believe Shias will band together and vote en masse for any other political party. Formal research on Pakistani Shia voting patterns is limited, but based on informal conversations and anecdotal evidence, it's safe to say that such patterns are far from monolithic. On May 11, some will vote along ethnic lines. Others will opt for the PPP; in a by-election last year in the Punjab city of Multan, the PPP candidate triumphed-and analysts noted that he earned Shia votes (in fact, according to research by Andrew Wilder, Shias in Punjab tended to vote for the PPP as far back as the 1990s -because of the perception that it was more liberal and tolerant of religious minorities than were other parties). Others still will vote for the MQM. This is a party that has controlled Karachi politics for decades-and has traditionally received many Shia votes (though given Karachi's violent political culture, many of them were probably cast under pressure). Some will simply choose a sympathetic patron. Finally, many Shias-due to fear, apathy, or sheer disgust-probably won't vote at all.
This isn't to say Shias aren't joining forces to pursue political goals. Last November, a top official with the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), a collaborative of Pakistani Shia religious scholars, announced that the organization would be establishing a Shia Solidarity Council "to promote harmony" among the country's Shias. The MWM, he added, "has been making all-out efforts to unite all Shia parties of Pakistan at one platform." (MWM party leaders, incidentally, have also said they seek to "counter [the] nefarious designs of the imperialist forces" against Pakistan, and the MWM has staged U.S. flag-burnings in front of the American embassy in Islamabad.)
Several weeks ago, the MWM registered as a political party with Pakistan's Election Commission, and has now decided to contest elections. Party officials have vowed to field candidates for 100 parliamentary seats (60 of them in the national assembly), mostly representing Shia-majority areas in Punjab and in Pakistan's other three provinces. However, owing to a variety of factors-such as the lack of electoral success of Pakistani religious parties, and the MWM's dearth of political resources-the party's big-picture prospects appear dim.
The takeaway? Pakistan's sectarian violence is unlikely to delay this year's election. And, owing to the strong likelihood of a PPP or PML-N victory on May 11, the votes cast by those in the crosshairs of that violence will fail to delay the inevitable-the arrival in power of another fragile coalition unable or unwilling to protect them.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
At about 5:30 PM local time on February 16, a massive bomb ripped through a bustling street lined with grocery stores, schools, and tuition centers in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. A water tanker packed with an estimated 2,200 pounds of improvised explosives had been detonated in the middle of busy crowds of children leaving their classrooms, and men and women buying groceries for their evening meals.
According to initial media reports, the blast killed at least 79 people and wounded 180 others, mostly women and children. A Hazara activist I spoke with two days after the attack claimed that the death toll had reached 110, as some of the wounded succumbed to their injuries and more bodies were recovered from the rubble of the shops brought down by the blast. The victims were members of the Hazara community, an ethno-religious minority that is becoming the symbol of Pakistan's drift into horrors of sectarian conflict and extremist violence.
Like much of the past attacks against Hazaras, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an extremist Sunni militant group ostensibly banned in Pakistan since 2001, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday. Abu Bakar Siddiq, its spokesman, called local media outlets to claim the attack and reiterate LeJ's stated mission of "making Balochistan a graveyard for the Shias." He blatantly declared "either we or the Shias will live in Quetta."
Sectarian violence is neither new nor rare in Pakistan. Beginning in the 1980s, the country has witnessed an escalation of violence between militant groups of its Sunni majority and Shiite minority population. The growth of these jihadist outfits cannot be disentangled from strategic rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the leadership of the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia's decades-old policy of promoting puritanical Wahabi Islam, along with the Islamic Republic of Iran's efforts to promote its own version of revolutionary Shiite Islam, was central to the mushrooming of fanatical groups such as the LeJ.
Founded in 1996, LeJ has its roots in the Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni-Deobandi militant organization which was established in 1985 amidst the rise of international militant Islamism and sectarian violence following the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 and the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. For several years, the SSP fought violent battles against its Shiite equivalent Sipah-e Muhammad (SM).
Pakistan's domestic sectarian conflict has grown in tandem with and as consequence of its military and intelligence establishment's use of extremist groups as a weapon in its foreign policy arsenal. While the Shiite militant organizations such as SM over time disappeared in the face of an inhospitable political environment in Pakistan, groups funded and armed by Saudi petro-dollars became a convenient instrument in the hand of Pakistani political and military establishments in its conflict with India over Kashmir, and in the war in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, LeJ was one of several foreign militant groups that aided the Taliban movement that emerged with Pakistan's support in the second half of 1990s. These groups along with Al-Qaeda provided the Taliban with an endless supply of external firebrand jihadists and financial resources. LeJ maintained a militant training camp in the Surobi district of Kabul under Taliban rule and participated in the militia's campaigns of ethnic cleansing and scorched-earth operations against its opponents.
The devastating blast in Quetta on Saturday was the latest in a series of targeted attacks on Hazaras that have over recent years been escalating rapidly to become a full-fledged campaign of ethnic cleansing. According to Hazara Organization for Peace and Equality (HOPE), an organization of Hazara activists that has maintained and updated a list of victims of such sectarian violence since 1999, the targeted violence against the Hazaras has taken over 1,300 lives and injured more than 3,000 others.
LeJ attacks against Hazaras intensified after the group distributed a pamphlet in Quetta in June 2011 designating Hazaras as wajeb-ul-qatl (those whom Muslims have a duty to kill). It declared:
Just as our fighters waged a successful jihad against the Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission is the elimination of this unclean sect and people, the Shiite and Hazaras, from every city, every village and every corner of Pakistan.
Hazaras make up about a half-million-strong community in Baluchistan's restive capital of Quetta, and are distinguished by their distinctive Central Asian facial features, their distinctive dialect of Persian, and their practice of Shiite Islam in a predominantly Sunni country. In the complex political and security environment of Pakistan, and South Asia more broadly, where blatant violence holds sway, the Hazaras do not carry much political weight. In a country of 180 million people, they have neither the sufficient voting power to threaten Pakistan's key political parties ahead of the forthcoming general elections, nor the capacity to take the fight against LeJ into their own hands.
Operating in an environment of virtual impunity, LeJ has over time improved its tactics to increase the number of victims per episode. The new tactics include the ambush and mass murder of Hazara passengers on Baluchistan's highways, and brazen attacks at the heart of Hazara neighborhoods. On September 20, 2011, a bus carrying 26 Hazaras as intercepted in the Mastung district of Baluchistan, and its passengers were shot to death execution-style. LeJ claimed responsibility for the attack and released a video of the gruesome killing in the internet. And less than six weeks before this month's blast in Quetta, on January 10, a double bomb attack targeting a snooker club on Alamdar Road (another primarily Hazara neighborhood) claimed more than 90 lives and wounded more than 150, mainly Hazaras.
Attacks targeting individual businessman and ordinary Hazaras over the past years have effectively driven much of the Hazaras from the main economic and social centers of the city, pushing them further into their ethnic enclaves in the west and east of the city. And these two massive attacks in the span of less than two months targeted the hearts of these enclaves, indicating that LeJ will not just be satisfied by pushing isolating and terrorizing the Hazara community.
The impunity with which outlaw groups such as LeJ conduct a campaign of ethnic cleansing raises fundamental questions about the nature and future direction of Pakistan as a country. Allegations of Pakistani military and intelligence agencies' collusion with extremist and violent groups, in particular when these groups served its political or security interests in the conflict over Kashmir or in Afghanistan, are neither new nor rare.
Despite the scale and brutality with which these attacks have been carried out and the implications they have for the image and credibility of Pakistani state institutions, not a single culprit has been arrested or brought to justice. At best, the situation of Hazaras in Quetta illustrates a disturbing incompetence of Pakistani state institutions in the face of small groups of fanatics such as the LeJ. And at the worst, it may represent their collusion with groups bent on killing its own citizens.
Hazara activists have regularly accused Pakistani authorities of turning a blind eye to their killings, and they have good reason to distrust Pakistani institutions. Malik Ishaq, one of the key leaders of LeJ, was released from prison in Lahore in July 2011, apparently for lack of evidence. He was detained in 1997 on charges of involvement in dozens of murder and violent activities. Usman Kurd and Shafique Rind, two of the ringleaders of LeJ death squads in Baluchistan who are allegedly responsible for much of the violence against Hazaras, escaped under mysterious circumstances from a high security prison in Quetta's military cantonment in 2008. Ishaq was detained on Friday, less than a week after his organization claimed responsibility for last weekend's attack. But if history is any sign of what is to come, he will not be in custody for long.
Desperate and disappointed with Pakistani political and security response, Hazara activists in Pakistan and around the world have sought to attract international attention. After every major attack, they have organized peaceful street demonstrations, gone on hunger strikes and written letters to world leaders. But a United States struggling to end a decade-long costly military intervention in Afghanistan and trying to adjust with a tumultuous Middle East is yet to take notice of the killing of a small, isolated and powerless community in Baluchistan. The key question that remains is, will the world continue to turn a blind eye to a tragedy of this scale? And if LeJ succeeds in turning Baluchistan into a Hazara graveyard, or empty the city out of its Hazara population, who will be the next victim of Pakistan's unbridled forces of terror and bloodshed?
Niamatullah Ibrahimi is an analyst based in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has researched and written extensively about the Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Just after Christmas, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) offered a peace deal of sorts to the Pakistani government. In exchange for a cessation of TTP violence, they demanded Pakistan's constitution be brought into conformity with their version of Islamic law and the government break ties with the United States. In response, a senior Pakistani government official reportedly called the offer "preposterous."
Yet it may not be, especially regarding the implementation of religious law. Similar demands were met in 2009 after the TTP took the Swat valley, with the Pakistani government giving away these very rights. The local government led by the Awami National party agreed to establish sharia law in Swat and the broader Malakand Division, which was approved by the national parliament and signed by President Zardari. It was only when the Pakistani Taliban pushed for more territorial gains that the government responded with force of arms. If past is prologue, the government may bend to get a deal now.
However, the status quo arguably meets TTP demands regarding religious law, as much of what they seek already exists - Islamic law plays a major role in governance, and militants are free to violently force their religious interpretations on the population.
This slide towards religious governance goes back to the country's founding. From the outset, the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which preceded the first of several constitutions, tilted Pakistan towards an Islamic state where citizens and their rights were defined by religion. This occurred despite Jinnah's famous speech two years earlier to the Constituent Assembly, in which he said, "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." The Objectives Resolution went in a different direction, and while it recognized the presence of religious minorities, it only promised "adequate provision" of basic rights, while defining the entire state in Islamic terms. Constitutions that followed built off and expanded this foundation.
The biggest leaps came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's secular Prime Minister from 1973-1977, and General Zia ul Haq's reign from 1978-1988. Under Bhutto, the Ahmadis were effectively outlawed through constitutional changes that created a definition of a Muslim that excluded Ahmadis. The constitution was also amended to establish the Council of Islamic Ideology to advise on whether proposed laws are compatible with Islam. Not considered particularly devout, he took these and other steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.
Zia went even further, setting into place much of what the TTP wants today, changing both statutory law and constitutional provisions. He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. This alone has had far-reaching effects. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) where I work knows of at least 17 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 others serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. The surprising outcome of the Rimsha Masih case is an exception to the sad norm.
In addition, Zia altered the penal code to criminalize the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith. He amended the constitution to create the Federal Shariat Court to review legislation that may conflict with sharia law, creating an unclear legal structure that appears to run parallel to or oversee the secular system. In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.
And today, for what the law does not forbid (which is much), militants have free reign to impose their religious views at the point of a gun.
This was shockingly evident last week, with the January 10 attack that killed 81 Shi'a Muslims in twin bombings in a Shiite area of Quetta. The attack was tragically predictable, as the targeting of Shia Muslims steadily increased throughout 2012, with rights groups estimating (before this attack) more than 400 murdered. The TTP, and fellow travelers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regularly claim responsibility. Human rights organizations continue to criticize government inaction, but the body count keeps rising.
Another case in point is the TTP murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs and the only Christian in Zardari's cabinet. Working bravely against the blasphemy law, the TTP answered Shahbaz's efforts in 2010 by assassinating him steps from his mother's Islamabad home in broad daylight. The TTP were so brazen as to leave fliers at the scene claiming responsibility, but no one has been held accountable and the investigation fizzled.
Ahmadis continue to suffer discrimination, abuse, and violence. 80 Ahmadis were killed in May 2010 when two of their mosques were attacked by the TTP. Violence continues today throughout the country - in July of this year the president of a local Ahmadi community outside Karachi was murdered and in December over 100 Ahmadi graves desecrated in Lahore. Hindus too are among the victims of Pakistan's climate of intolerance. The forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls has increased in Sindh Province, and in 2012 upwards of 250 Pakistani Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces have migrated to India to avoid increasing violence. Christians remember the violence of Gojra in 2009, where an entire village was burned to the ground and no one held to account, and last year the National Commission for Justice and Peace found nine places of worship were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, including 5 churches and 3 Hindu temples.
Clearly, the Pakistani Taliban's demand for enforcement of their version of Islamic law is not far from reality. In the current environment, Pakistani law is used to enforce religious views, and militants act with impunity against those they consider un-Islamic. Both the majority Muslim population and minority religious communities are at risk. Pakistan's active civil society must continually retreat and retrench to protect the small openings for peaceful debate and human rights work. Consequently, the very fabric of Pakistan is being torn, and if this "preposterous" ask is implemented, it could unravel more.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
Over 1,300 years after the brutal killing of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in what is now Karbala, Iraq, Shi'a Muslims still mourn their loss. One group of Muslims at the time wanted the Islamic Caliphate to be handed down along hereditary lines, while another group wanted the Muslim community to elect a leader. This difference in political beliefs led a split between the groups into Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, who also now differ in their religious practices as well as their historical beliefs. Today, Shi'as come under fire all over the world, particularly during the month of Muharram, during which they mourn Hussein's death with an inconsolable grief that many hardline Sunnis deem blasphemous.
In an attempt to prevent attacks on the one-fifth of Pakistan that is Shi'a on the tenth of Muharram, when their mourning processions fill the streets, Pakistani authorities banned motorcycles -- which are often rigged with explosive devices -- in the most volatile areas, closed thoroughfares near Shi'a mosques, and blocked cell phone signals in fifty cities.
Despite the fact that the country's president and much of its military top brass are Shi'a, attacks on Pakistan's Shi'a Muslims by militant extremists have steadily increased over the past few years, as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to operate largely unfettered. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 902 people were killed in sectarian violence between 2009-2011, and 425 have lost their lives in attacks motivated by religious intolerance in 2012. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 320 of those killed so far this year were targeted because they were Shi'a.
But no one speaks of this all-too-frequently renewed cause for grief at a communal mourning session for Shi'a women in a quite corner of Islamabad. A group of about thirty weep over the loss of Hassan, Hussein, and their relatives as one woman recounts the massacre at Karbala from her pulpit -- a solitary chair in the center of a living room emptied of furniture.
"May you have no other grief than the loss of Hussein," she proclaims to the sea of whimpering women draped in black, causing only louder wails. "May your families' young not suffer as Hussein's family suffered."
Shi'a families across Pakistan are grieving the losses of young sons and daughters just as Hussein's family did so many hundreds of years ago.
But such individual tragedies don't merit the sort of grief Fizza Ali, 21, feels over the Karbala massacre. "In Muharram, we don't ever mourn for personal reasons, because if our families or our brothers are getting killed, it's all beside the point," she says. "The sadness over the loss of the Prophet's relatives is more for us. It means a lot. It means more."
After pounding her chest and chanting along with the other women in black, Ali, a software engineering student says, "Even if we feel like we're going to be attacked, we don't fear it, Shi'as don't fear it at all, because we cannot get stopped [sic] just by attacks even if our lives are in danger."
Ali says that Islamabad is relatively safer than other areas of Pakistan, but that Shi'as have also continued to visit sacred sites in more volatile areas, such as the Southwestern city of Quetta.
"They're being killed almost daily," Nasrullah Barech of the Center for Peace and Development in Quetta says when asked whether Shi'as there feel afraid to practice their faith.
"Before, the attacks were only in Muharram, or only at sacred Shi'a sites. Now, the killings have become routine across the city."
Barech's organization runs interfaith dialogues to build community connections between Sunnis and Shi'as. He admits that there is a history of fraught relations between the two sects, but says the attacks have taken on new force in recent years.
"It's hard to tell who is behind all of the attacks now. It's not one sect killing another any longer," Barech says. "There are so many different militant groups that claim this bombing or that, and the police are unable to stop them."
Last Monday in Quetta, three Shi'as of the minority Hazara ethnicity were shot dead in targeted killings, and two more were killed days later when a vegetable shop was shot up by unidentified gunmen on a passing motorcycle.
In Islamabad's "twin city," Rawalpindi, a bomb blast targeting a Shi'a religious procession killed 23 and left 62 injured on Wednesday night, while an explosion outside of a Shi'a mosque in Karachi claimed the lives of two people.
This weekend, two separate bombs went off in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan during Shi'a processions in honor of the Ashura holiday. A total of 13 people were killed and dozens more injured in these attacks, which were later claimed by the Taliban.
Raza Rumi is the director of the Jinnah Institute, a policy think tank that keeps tally of extremist violence in Pakistan. He says the attacks against the Shi'a community are alarming not only because of their sharp escalation, but because of the impunity with which they're carried out.
"Usually no people are arrested and no justice is carried out," Rumi says.
He cites Pakistan's decision to make a "permanent ally" of Saudi Arabia as a factor in the country's growing intolerance, owing to the oil-rich nation's strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam and denouncement of the Shi'a clergy based primarily in Iran. The other issue, he says, is Pakistan's civil-military establishment, which patronized anti-Shi'a groups to combat the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"The problem is that for 30 years it has allowed these militant groups to gain strength, to deepen their roots in society, to raise funds, to get direct funds from the Middle East, that now it's no longer a simple issue of controlling them. Even if the state of Pakistan wants to control them, it's a five- or 10-year long battle."
He points to a number of legal and political reforms that might ease tensions, including stricter monitoring of the mosques and religious seminaries that foster extremism.
Many blame a corrupt and inefficient police force, in addition to a failing criminal justice system for the inability of the state to curb sectarian violence. The Pakistani Supreme Court's decision to release of the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group for a lack of evidence is seen as case in point. LeJ leader Malik Ishaq was thought to be involved in the murders of dozens of Shi'as, but witnesses in the cases against him were continually killed or disappeared. Since his release in the summer of 2011, Ishaq has gone on to incite further attacks on the Shi'a community.
Still, Rumi maintains hope for an end to the brutality against religious minorities in the country. "We have become a bit cynical in Pakistan because of these daily doses of bad news," he says. Looking at his hands as if to read out the fate of the nation, he borrows a line from many men who couldn't help but maintain hope for a better future, "But we shall overcome."
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
When people began pouring out onto the streets in Pakistan to protest on Friday, there was little chance that the government would take any action against them. After all, it was a declared public holiday to mark love for Prophet Mohammad, and religious and political groups had taken the government's move as a sign that the protests were sanctioned by the state.
Pakistan has been engulfed with protests against the controversial film the Innocence of Muslims. Over the course of a week, members of a religious grouphave broken through police cordons to amass outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and protestors attacked the enclave reserved for diplomatic missions in the capital city of Islamabad. In Hyderabad, the second largest city in the Sindh province, a businessman was accused of blasphemy for not participating in the protests.
Friday was a free-for-all in Pakistan. Television channels broadcast footage of riots from nearly every major city. Protestors burned down cinemas in Karachi and Peshawar, as well as a church in Mardan, and attacked banks, police vehicles, buildings and even a public hospital.
In Karachi, hundreds of members of groups as diverse as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a mainstream political party, to the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan dominated the streets. Dozens of effigies of U.S. President Barack Obama were burned along with American flags, and protestors chanted against the U.S., Israel and the filmmaker behind Innocence of Muslims. Police were deployed at several key locations, but did not act to stop the protestors. In any case, they were largely outnumbered: about a half-dozen police officers are no match for hundreds of angry rioters.
The issue in Pakistan is not just of one day, or one week, of protests. The problem is institutional. The outrage at issues like an allegedly blasphemous film or cartoons has a legal basis, which stems from controversial laws that make blasphemy punishable by death, and excommunicate an entire sect. Government officials not only support the law, but the Interior Minister Rehman Malik once declared that he would kill a blasphemer himself. In a speech on Friday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf questioned why those denying the Holocaust were punished while there was no consideration for the feelings of Muslims.
The government has supported the outrage ensuing from the film, not just by declaring a holiday, but also by summoning the current U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Pakistan to protest the film, blocking YouTube and reportedly approaching Interpol. These measures do little to control violence. More importantly, the government has failed to act against banned organizations that operate openly and protest without anyone batting an eyelid.
Acting against the protestors -- as the Karachi police did when members of a Shiite group protested outside the U.S. Consulate -- is construed in Pakistan as the state attacking civilians for the sake of protecting ‘foreign governments.'
The outrage is also politicized, though not entirely. Many of the groups protesting are used by political parties for support during election campaigns. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a coalition of over 40 religious organizations that also protested on Friday, seeks to become a pressure group to raise issues of religious ‘honor' and issues related to foreign policy, and will likely support many of the candidates from coalition parties in the upcoming elections.
However, many protestors in Karachi said that they were not linked with political parties or religious groups, but had taken to the streets because they genuinely felt angry over the film. In a country where religious honor is tied in with nationalism, it is not surprising that many felt the need to protest. The protestors were from a wide spectrum, ranging from office workers to students to clerics. And for many of them, it was an opportunity to vent: President Asif Ali Zardari was condemned as vociferously as President Obama was.
The protests will likely die down in a few days, if not earlier. The pattern of these protests has been fairly consistent over the years, and the issue will be abandoned in favor of something else.
But the question of what the government can do to stop the protests may now be too late. The rot in Pakistan has been many decades in the making. Sectarian conflict has been stoked by successive rulers, including military dictators, religious outrage has received state approval by governments and political parties, and those responsible for massacres of various religious sects continue to fundraise to kill more. The military backs anti-U.S. sentiment, as evidenced during the debate in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill, or the outrage over the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. What is undoubtedly worse, though, is that there is no attempt to reverse any of the damage that has been done over the decades. Instead, the current government - and successive ones - will likely play a game of appeasement with religious groups in the hope that they will one day back them. That bet, as history has proven, will not pay off.
Saba Imtiaz works as a reporter for The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A month ago today, Rimsha Masih was unknown to the world. A month later - probably the worst of her life - the 14-year-old Christian girl from a slum near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, has stirred up a storm not only at home but the world over, putting Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws in the spotlight like never before.
Born and raised in a family of ‘sweepers' - a term synonymous to Christians in mainstream discourse in Pakistan - Rimsha Masih was arrested in mid-August for allegedly burning pages from a religious instruction book containing verses from the Holy Quran, along with pages of the holy book itself - a serious act of blasphemy punishable by death under the Pakistan Penal Code. The prime witness: her Muslim landlord's 23-year-old nephew, Amad Malik, who, according to Pakistani media reports, ‘by chance' caught her carrying a polythene bag with the desecrated pages.
In close to no time, a furious mob of hundreds, led by the Imam of the local mosque, Hafiz Mohammad Khalid Chishti (commonly referred to as Hafiz Jadoon), surrounded the Masihs' one-room dwelling, demanding that the girl be handed over. The mob wanted to burn the Christian girl alive for committing the ‘heinous' crime of disrespecting the Quran. However, in a surprising turn of events, the same mob handed her over to the police for further prosecution.
In the aftermath of Rimsha's arrest, almost all terrified Christian families of the area, including hers, fled to other already over-crowded Christian slums in and around the Pakistani capital, and the enraged mob temporarily dispersed.
But if Rimsha was to be granted bail and returned to Mehrabadi - a place she could no longer call home - "that could change," Jadoon was found saying on international TV. "Maybe they will leave her alone. Maybe they will kill her," he added. Rao Abdur Raheem, the prosecution lawyer in Rimsha's case reaffirmed by saying, "The girl is guilty. If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job." In any case, justice was to be done. Predictions appeared similar to the harrowing incident of mob justice a few months ago in July in Southern Punjab, where another infuriated mob mercilessly beat a deranged man accused of sacrilege and burnt him alive.
Introduced by British colonial rulers of the subcontinent in the late 1920s to maintain communal harmony in a multi-ethnic population, the law was retained by Pakistan as it gained independence in 1947 under its moderate founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
However, the lowest point in the devolution of the blasphemy law in Pakistan came under the military dictatorship of Zia ul Haq between late 1970s and early 1990s - a period that can easily be termed Pakistan's dark ages. Zia, a dictator remembered most for intensifying Islamic policies to radicalize the country and for manipulating Islam for the survival of his own regime, made several additions to the country's laws. This included the bill adopted by the Senate in 1992, where death penalty was made mandatory upon conviction on charges of blasphemy.
A harsh punishment considering an offence for which, to this day, no preliminary investigation is required before the filing of the First Information Report (FIR) by a local police officer. Even more disturbing is how the law is still framed to cover not only intentional but also unintentional blasphemy, completely undermining the principle that "a criminal act requires a criminal intention".
Consequently, under the Pakistan Penal Code today, all one needs is a testimony - genuine or otherwise - and the FIR is filed and the person arrested. Rimsha's testimony, however, vanished into thin air after her arrest. Amad Malik fled to "avoid unnecessary interrogation and questioning by the police and media," Jadoon was found saying on a Pakistani talk show.
Infamous for his fiery anti-Christian sermons at Friday Prayers week after week, 30-year-old Jadoon was appointed a lead cleric in the local mosque of the area 10 months prior to the incident. Very vocal about his dislike for Christians and their practices, Jadoon was often found contemplating ways to rid the area of them. Casting himself a holy man ‘incensed' at the desecration, Jadoon was heard saying that the Christians had committed blasphemy to "provoke Muslims, like they have with their noisy banging and singing from their churches," adding that he'd be pleased if the Christians didn't come back to Mehrabadi. And he pretty much made sure that doesn't happen, even if that meant desecrating the Quran himself.
Two weeks into the case, in a rare show of courage - one that could have cost him his life - the prayer-caller at the same mosque, Hafiz Zubair, came forward as a witness to testify against Jadoon. According to Zubair, the prime witness Malik brought the plastic bag into the mosque and handed it over to Jadoon. After examining the contents of the bag, Jadoon tore up a few pages of the Quran and added them to the bag, to make sure the evidence against the Christian girl was not just blasphemous, but "blasphemous enough".
Even though Rimsha has been released on bail and has, under heavy security, been moved to an unknown location via government helicopter to be reunited with her family, while Jadoon remains in custody awaiting prosecution, one can't help but feel mind-boggled at the turn of events.
In the 58 years between 1927 and 1985, only 10 blasphemy cases were reportedly heard in court. But since Zia's Islamic reforms in Pakistan, more than 4,000 have been handled. In the year 2000 alone, the National Commission for Justice and Peace recorded 16 blasphemy cases against Christians and Hindus and at least 36 against Muslims. Although no death sentences have been carried out in Pakistan to date - most of those handed down have been overturned during the appeal process - the spree of mob justice persists as religious leaders practice their own violent, eye-for-an-eyeversion of Islam.
The World Minority Rights Report 2011 ranked Pakistan the sixth worst country with respect to the safety and rights of minorities - non-Muslims, those the state has dubbed non-Muslim, and women.
For the Christians of Mehrabadi, memories of the Christian massacre in 2009 in neighboring city of Gojra are still fresh. Thousands of Muslim radicals burned down around 40 Christian houses, brutally killing eight, after a mere rumor that a page from the Holy Quran had been desecrated during a wedding. For the Hindus of Sindh, there appears to be no other way to prevent forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages - nearly 600 FIRs lodged last year across 40 districts of Pakistan, with the majority in Sindh - than to migrate to India.
For Ahmadis all over the country, facing persecution since the very creation of Pakistan, the nail on the coffin was being declared a non-Muslim minority in 1974 by then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Considered a revolutionary of his time -- though probably not when it came to minorities -- Bhutto's decision kick-started the widespread societal discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis, including the violation of their places of worship, banning of burial in Muslim graveyards and denial of freedom of faith, speech, and assembly - all backed by the then sitting government of Zia ul Haq.
Today, the Ahmadi community is still recovering from an incident in 2010, in which extremist Islamist militants attacked two Ahmadi places of worship in the central Pakistani city of Lahore with guns, grenades, and suicide bombs, killing 94 people and injuring well over a 100. And if that wasn't terror enough, the injured from the incident were attacked yet again at the ICU of Lahore's Jinnah Hospital - a take-two which consumed at least a further 12 lives.
Whether it is the outraged mob of Mehrabadi, the security guard who shot the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January last year, the killers of Pakistan's only Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, later in March, or the mullahs and maulvis like Hafiz Jadoon who "direct them towards the light," it is but one big rage-brigade. Why are we so angry, so violent, and so unforgiving?
Has violence become an integral part of the Islamic social discipline, or has it always been?
And if so, the question is, why? Is it, as many suggest, that Muslim countries are by and large economically imbalanced, undemocratic states with large swathes of unemployed, frustrated men who find release in religious expression? Or is it because of our fear of persecution at the hands of the West, demonstrated in both intellectual and popular discourse as well as policy - most clearly represented by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Palestinian occupation? Or is it simply because we are taught since childhood of an era gone by, when Islam was a uniquely powerful, progressive and just empire and which has now fallen on bad times.
While there are positives to be taken out of this repulsive episode - the bravery of the apprentice, the role of Pakistan's social, broadcast and print media, and the efforts of the authorities to keep Rimsha safe - the truth remains that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan continue to be as politically and socially toxic and as untouchable as they were before Rimsha began to matter.
With no government in Pakistan - past or present - willing to rid the country of these frail laws or raise a voice against those who exploit them in ways that are neither constitutional nor Islamic, there seems to be only one place left to turn to for hope: the upcoming general elections in November.
This year has witnessed a flood of educated young people coming forward in great numbers, willing to vote for political parties bearing promises to transform Pakistan from a religiously and socially intolerant nation to a progressive, more conforming democracy. For these political parties, a model exists in the form of a bill introduced last year by former minister for information and Pakistan Peoples' Party legislator, Sherry Rehman, to amend the controversial laws in Pakistan.
Rehman's private bill proposed the substitution of the death penalty with a 10-year sentence, and the substitution of life imprisonment with a five-year sentence. But the strongest directive of her bill was the castigation of anyone making false or frivolous accusations under any section of the law. Such a person was not only to be punished "in accordance with punishments prescribed in the section under which the false or frivolous accusation was made," but was also to be arrested "without a warrant" and tried in court.
Using the bill as a guide and Rimsha Masih's case as a stepping stone, there is no better time to amend the precarious weaknesses of the blasphemy laws that leave room for people like Hafiz Jadoon to use it as they please. Ideally, a party with this on their manifesto would come into power. However, with the majority of Pakistan's population - rural and uneducated - who shower men like Mumtaz Qadri with rose petals for killing a moderate politician who showed concern for a Christian blasphemy convict, hope fades.
But Rimsha Masih's case feels like a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. If Hafiz Jadoon is convicted and taken to task, one can be certain others will think twice if not more before pointing fingers. Maybe that's the first step. Maybe there will be more.
-- Rabail Baig is a Pakistani journalist based in Boston.
Religion matters in Afghanistan in significant ways. However, U.S. policy over the past decade has paid it insufficient attention, costing the United States in its effort to build a stable country that does not foster violent extremism. I diagnosed the problem in my last posting, providing a coup d'œil of sorts about the tactical and strategic advantages of thoughtfully engaging Afghanistan's religious terrain. Now I am returning to offer specifics on how to advance religious tolerance and freedom in Afghanistan in a way that doesn't create a backlash. Much depends on fostering a legitimate government that respects, rather than represses, fundamental rights and provides the civic space needed for peaceful debate on issues of religion and state.
Granted, the legitimizing role of religion has been sought after in the Afghan nation-building enterprise. Military counterinsurgency and stability operations doctrine places much emphasis on fostering a government viewed as legitimate, attempting to pull the "uncommitted middle" away from the irreconcilable insurgents into the government's orbit through outreach to religious leaders and communities. Yet U.S. doctrine and practice does not contemplate the consequence of pulling religious leaders with a Taliban-like religious viewpoint into the government fold.
A recent example of this error comes from President Hamid Karzai's endorsement of a so-called code of conduct issued by the Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, which permitted spousal abuse and promoted gender segregation. Yet Karzai has the legitimacy equation backwards. While it is doubtful the Afghan populace viewed him differently after his statement, the Ulema Council emerged with greater perceived influence as an entity that impacts political power. This is seriously problematic. The Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre highlighted two years ago how the result of such accommodation "has been both to sustain the former jihadi leaders' influence and contribute to the marginalization of more moderate Islamic forces."
The key is to change the equation, so political leaders see the benefit of legitimizing voices supporting religious tolerance and rights, instead of trading them for ephemeral political gains.
To advance this idea, the United States needs to foster and build an indigenous movement of religious leaders and public figures who can shape the environment in a positive way through their deeds and interpretations of Islamic law and practice. For those courageous enough to step forward, speaking out can be life-threatening. The murders of Salman Taseer and my friend Shahbaz Bhatti in neighboring Pakistan speak to this danger, as they resolutely criticized Pakistan's deeply flawed blasphemy law, but did not enjoy wide support and were vehemently opposed by the clerical class.
How can we avoid this? Iraq offers a surprising example of how the U.S. government engaged the religious dynamic constructively.
From 2006 to 2007, the Command Chaplain of Multinational Force-Iraq, Col. Michael Hoyt, together with Anglican clergyman Cannon Andrew White, began to engage Sunni and Shia religious leaders about the sectarian violence ripping the country apart. Over a year of tireless and dangerous work, Chaplain Hoyt and Cannon White found voices willing to denounce the violence. Far from being one chaplain's good initiative, the process had political backing from both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as well as enjoying the support of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and his National Security Advisor.
The outcome was the issuance of a remarkable document that denounced violence, which included the two major Islamic sects, as well as religious minority leaders who were also being victimized. The document was issued the day after the second bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, an attack that was followed by none of the widespread killing unleashed after the first Samarra bombing. In addition, observers credit this initiative with creating the conditions under which Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged calm and Shiite militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr chose not to incite his fighters.
Chaplain Hoyt's effort made a difference, sowing the seeds of tolerance by finding key leaders to embrace the effort, and a similar approach could work in Afghanistan. What follows are specific suggestions for how the U.S. government could increase its efforts to foster religious tolerance and freedom, creating the civic space needed to undercut extremists and to empower many voices that can legitimize this approach.
Prioritize: Decide that creating civic space through the promotion of religious tolerance and freedom will be a priority and act accordingly. For those skeptical about the ability of the United States to move the needle on sensitive issues woven into societal and religious mores, look no further than the progress made on women's rights. The Taliban were terrible persecutors of women, denying them education and forcing them under a burqa, and tradition-bound Afghan society was thought to be beyond moving on sensitive social issues. While much work remains, the international community's emphasis on women's rights has already benefited millions of Afghans.
This did not happen by accident. It happened because the issue was made a priority and woven throughout U.S. and international engagement. For instance, the Chicago NATO Summit Declaration on Afghanistan had very strong language on women's rights. The emphasis of the international community likely compelled President Karzai to condemn the brutal assassination of a woman for alleged adultery. A similar commitment could do the same for religious tolerance and freedom, which could further concretize gains for women.
Change the conversation: To push extremist voices out of the civic space, steps must be taken to change the domestic conversation and educate the population about other interpretations of their faith. The United States should flood Afghanistan with Americans and religious leaders who can speak credibly about issues of religion, society, and law. The visits of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, to Afghanistan have been very successful. He is able to "talk religion" with high-level Afghan Government officials, religious leaders, civil society representatives, and students. More of these trips are needed, but also with delegations of religious leaders crossing sectarian and/or religious lines. Further, the U.S. government can facilitate trips of religious leaders to the United States or through Islamic democracies.
Utilize military chaplains: The United States has at its disposal religious leaders in uniform in the chaplaincy corps. In 2009, the Pentagon issued Joint Publication 1.05 for religious affairs in joint operations, which gives commanders the option of using chaplains to engage religious leaders in their area of responsibility. The change in doctrine reflects that chaplains understand religion in unique ways and can be deployed in conflicts where religion is a driving factor. Smartly using chaplains in this role worked in Iraq. Of course Afghanistan is not Iraq, but religion matters in both. With the chaplaincy corps still in theater, there is an opportunity to deploy them with like-minded partners to build a movement for tolerance and religious rights.
Bolster and protect: Any effort must privately encourage the Afghan leadership to appoint politically moderate religious leaders, political reformers, and human rights defenders to key positions. This would be in government ministries, but also in Afghanistan's court system, Ulema councils, the human rights commissions, and other places of influence. Once in place, the international community can bolster their progressive work by supporting and funding initiatives. At the same time, the international community must emphasize that their security is a matter of serious concern and press for the provision of adequate protections.
Educate. The children of Afghanistan need to understand that "the other" has value, even if they have different religious or political views, thereby countering the narrative that leads to violence. USAID has a major role in such an effort, in developing primary and secondary education materials and textbooks that incorporate themes of religious tolerance and religious freedom. Curriculum for both secular and religious schools should incorporate international human rights standards and speak of Afghanistan's pluralistic record in prior times.
Talk about it: To demonstrate a deep interest, matters of religious tolerance and freedom should be a prominent part of the bilateral conversation and agenda. Despite no reference in the Strategic Partnership Declaration, these issues can be addressed in communiqués from donor and contact group meetings. As recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), where I am policy director, the U.S. government should include a "special working group on religious tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues" and integrate "human rights concerns into the reconciliation process looking toward a post-conflict Afghanistan."
Train: Along with efforts of this sort should come a commitment to train U.S. personnel, both civilian and military, on Islamic law and Afghan custom. The Afghan constitution in Article 3 enshrines Islamic law, stating "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam," and Article 130 states that Hanafi Islamic law shall apply when the law is silent. Together, these two provisions bring Islamic religious law into the realm of secular application. The JAG corps, the military's lawyers, are embracing this reality by including training on Islamic law, but more needs to be done. The U.S. government has no role in theological debates, yet it must be able to understand and engage with the law of the land.
All these steps, if taken together and vigorously executed, could foster a wider understanding of the benefits of religious tolerance and freedom, which could begin to give reformers the support they need to guide Afghanistan toward a progressive future. Without a course correction, President Karzai will continue the flawed approach of attempting to build legitimacy by pulling neo-Taliban religious actors toward the government and trading human rights for political support. This won't work and is done at the peril of U.S. interests. And while engaging the religious terrain to promote religious tolerance and freedom is not a silver bullet, to quote Chaplain Hoyt from Iraq, it should be "part of the ammunition belt" that brings stability.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
The following article was adapted from the author's recently released report, "Breaking the Bonds Between al-Qa'ida and Its Affiliate Organizations."
The death of Osama bin Ladin and the fall of Arab dictators have left al-Qa'ida's leadership in disarray, its narrative confused, and the organization on the defensive. One silver lining for al-Qaida, however, has been its affiliate organizations. In Iraq, the Maghreb, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, al-Qa'ida has used local groups to expand its reach, increase its power, and grow its numbers. This string of mergers is not over. In places as diverse as the Sinai Peninsula and Nigeria, al-Qa'ida-linked organizations are emerging. However, the jihadist world is more fractured than it may appear at first glance. Many Salafi-jihadist groups have not joined with al-Qa'ida, and even if they have, tensions and divisions occur that present the United States and its allies with opportunities for weakening the bond.
The role of affiliates is perhaps the most important uncertainty when assessing whether or not the United States and its allies are "winning" the struggle against al-Qa'ida. If affiliates are really part of the al-Qa'ida core, then the overall movement Zawahiri champions is robust and growing. But if the affiliates are al-Qa'ida in little more than name, then Zawahiri's organization, the core of which has been hit hard in recent years, may be close to defeat.
The Rewards and Risks of Affiliation
Al-Qa'ida has always been both a group with its own agenda and a facilitator of other terrorist groups. This meant that it not only carried out its own attacks, but it also helped other jihadist groups with funding, training, and additional logistical essentials. Toward the end of the 1990s, al-Qa'ida incorporated Egyptian Islamic Jihad into its structure. After September 11, 2001, this process of deepening its relationship with outside groups took off, and today a number of regional groups bear the label "al-Qa'ida" in their name, along with a more local designation. Some of the most prominent affiliates include al-Qa'ida of Iraq (AQI), al-Qa'ida of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa'ida of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Shebaab in Somalia.
Groups have joined with the core after losing recruits and popular support and otherwise seeing their original goals frustrated. For much of its history, al-Qa'ida was flush with cash, which made it an attractive partner for other terrorist groups. Al-Qa'ida ran training camps, operated safe houses, and otherwise established a large infrastructure in support of terror that offered local groups a safe haven and created personal networks among those who trained and sheltered there. At times, groups sought to replace their more local brand with that of al-Qa'ida, believing the latter is more compelling. Because groups share havens, training facilities, and so on with al-Qa'ida, when these locations are targeted by U.S. or local government forces, the individuals from these join al-Qa'ida in fighting back.
Having a diverse array of affiliates helps al-Qa'ida extend its reach, gain access to hardened fighters, and fulfill its self-image as the leader of the jihadist community. Today, amid the U.S. drone campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the group, the actions of al-Qa'ida's affiliates can serve as proof of the group's continued strength.
Despite the benefits to joining with al-Qa'ida, not all Salafi-jihadist groups choose to affiliate with it, including Egypt's Gamaat al-Islamiyya and Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and fighters in Chechnya, Gaza, and Pakistan, though some individual terrorists from these groups did join up.
Doctrinal disputes divide the jihadist community, and some groups go so far as to declare others to be unbelievers, which has tremendous consequences for how a group chooses its targets, and on a group's popularity. In addition, an ideological divide over issues like targeting civilians has caused a rift among jihadists. Local versus global outlooks have also played a role in keeping some groups from linking up with al-Qa'ida. Even if a group shares al-Qa'ida's goals and ideology, going global brings a host of downsides, particularly the wrath of the United States and other strong powers.
Strains in the Relationship
Different aims and divergent strategies may strain the al-Qa'ida-affiliate relationship. Because al-Qa'ida's affiliates started out with local goals, linking with the al-Qa'ida core and expanding attacks to global targets can make it harder for a group to achieve its original aims. On the flip side, the core's anti-Western brand can become hijacked or contaminated by local struggles. Often, local groups have markedly different convictions from al-Qa'ida, particularly when it comes to nationalism and democracy. Expansion also creates tensions inside and outside the core. As the number of affiliates increases, the overall security of the al-Qa'ida network decreases. In cases where al-Qa'ida sends its own operatives and other non-locals to join an affiliate, these foreign fighters may alienate locals through their personal behavior or attempts to alter local traditions.
These issues, and others, may not only create tension between the core and its affiliates, they may be cause for like-minded groups or prominent jihadists to publicly condemn al-Qa'ida-something that costs al-Qa'ida heavily in terms of prestige, and possibly recruitment.
How to Fight Affiliates Better
Often only a small portion of an affiliate's organization focuses on Western targets and an even smaller portion focuses on operations against Western targets outside the local theater of operations. By lumping an unaffiliated group with al-Qa'ida, the United States can drive it into Zawahiri's arms. It is also important to consider how some Sunni groups like Hamas that act against U.S. interests can still serve to weaken al-Qa'ida.
An information operations campaign can try to widen these gaps within the broader movement, highlighting differences and thus encouraging them. In addition, the foreign nature of al-Qa'ida should be emphasized and local nationalisms used to discredit the jihadis. The United States and its allies should also call attention to al-Qa'ida's unpopular stand against democracy and contrast it with statements by peaceful Salafi leaders, including some former jihadists, in support of elections.
Intelligence services can monitor radicals within diaspora communities and work with law enforcement officials to curtail fundraising for affiliate groups. If the core's money diminishes, the core will be less likely to be able to attract new affiliates to its banner. Moreover, depriving affiliate groups of revenue often leads them to undertake illicit activities to make up the funding shortfall. These actions paint the group as more criminal than heroic.
Washington must also understand how actions its takes in the region may influence the al-Qa'ida-affiliate dynamic. In deciding whether to intervene abroad, for instance, U.S. policymakers should consider, along with other more obvious costs and benefits, how doing so may impact al-Qa'ida affiliation.
Ultimately, there are no simple choices when confronting al-Qa'ida affiliates. On the one hand, ignoring groups until they become affiliates, or ignoring affiliates until they strike at U.S. targets, risks leaving U.S. intelligence and security officials in a defensive and reactive mode and vulnerable to a surprise attack. On the other hand, too aggressive an approach can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, strengthening bonds between al-Qa'ida and other jihadist groups by validating the al-Qa'ida narrative and leading groups to cooperate for self-defense and organizational advancement. So, as with most difficult counterterrorism issues, judgment and prudence are essential
Daniel Byman is a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, and the Research Director at the Saban Center at Brookings.
MOHAMED MOKHTAR/AFP/Getty Images
Among the more interesting revelations from the documents recovered during the raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was bin Laden's angry reaction to Faysal Shahzad's effort to detonate a bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010, based on the notion that Shahzad had violated the oath of allegiance he swore to the United States in a naturalization ceremony. The critique was included in an October 2010 letter from bin Laden to ‘Atiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, a veteran Libyan fighter who would go on to become al-Qaeda's second-in-command after bin Laden's death. The dispatch is part of a larger selection of documents that the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released on May 3, 2012.
In the letter, Bin Laden criticizes both Shahzad and Hakimullah Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who offered him training and advice:
Perhaps you monitored the trial of brother Faysal Shahzad. In it he was asked about the oath that he took when he got American citizenship. And he responded by saying that he lied. You should know that it is not permissible in Islam to betray trust and break a covenant. Perhaps the brother was not aware of this. Please ask the brothers in Taliban Pakistan to explain this point to their members. In one of the pictures, brother Faysal Shahzad was with commander Mahsud; please find out if Mahsud knows that getting the American citizenship requires talking an oath to not harm America. This is a very important matter because we do not want al-Mujahidn[sic] to be accused of breaking a covenant.
The concern reappeared in another letter, likely from bin Laden or ‘Atiyatullah to Nassir al-Wuhayshi, emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The author counseled the emir:
If the government does not agree on a truce, concentrate on the Yemeni emigrants who come back to visit Yemen and have American visas or citizenship and would be able to conduct operations inside America as long as they have not given their promises not to harm America.
Bin Laden's (and ‘Atiyatullah's) sensitivity towards this issue reflects a sustained debate in the jihadist universe. Although the idea of covenants have a long pedigree in Islamic theology, stretching back to the Prophet Muhammad's arrangements with the various non-Muslim tribes throughout the region, the issue gained relevance for jihadists only recently. In 1998 Bin Laden formally articulated his strategy to abandon the jihad against "near enemy" Arab regimes and redirect the war towards the west. But making the West (as opposed to the Islamic world) the battleground posed a series of theological challenges, including identifying the rules that governed the conduct of jihadists already living in or travelling to the West.
Probably not coincidentally, around this time a community of predominantly London-based sheikhs and commentators began discussing the obligations of jihadis residing in the West. Abu Baseer al-Tartusi, an exiled Syrian scholar known for his radical, if often dissenting views on the conduct of jihad, lectured publicly about the importance of maintaining what he saw as a "covenant of security": Muslims in the West were not allowed to attack the countries in which they lived or had taken refuge in. Al-Tartusi also spent a portion of his 1999 treatise al-Istihlal on the issue, and his followers later translated this section and issued it as a pamphlet (these works are available on Tartusi's website). Tartusi explained that he was motivated to comment on the covenant because:
[A] great number of Muslims -both those living in the West as ‘citizens' and others- who enter the lands of non-Muslims in a covenant, do not really know what rights Sharia Law gives them and what responsibilities it assigns to them... And what makes this matter worse is that those wrongdoers' ignorance about the teachings, rulings and "purposes and intentions" of Islam makes them commit such acts in the name of Islam and under the impression of holding fast to Islam, while Islam has nothing to do with such irresponsible acts!
While some prominent jihadis criticized Abu Baseer's view, other London-based jihadist figures expressed their adherence to the idea of the covenant. In fact, after the 7/7 bombings in Britain (carried out by British Muslims) Tartusi issued a strongly-worded refutation of the attacks, arguing that tactics and strategy must always be grounded in theology, not vice versa. Tartusi's ruling and subsequent controversy that erupted in militant circles was one example of the sensitivity around the issue. The recent decision of the British government to re-launch their anti-radicalization "Prevent" strategy has revitalized the discussion among British extremists.
The implications of bin Laden's far enemy strategy also ignited criticism from Middle Eastern-based jihadist figures. Most prominently, in 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka Dr. Fadl, a former leader of the Egyptian group al-Jihad, leveled a series of theological, strategic, and personal attacks on Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda. Al-Sharif opened with an interview for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in which he castigated al-Qaeda for violating this covenant. In the most colorful portion, Sayyid Imam warned that "the followers of Bin Ladin entered the United States with his knowledge, on his orders, double-crossed its population, and killed and destroyed. The Prophet, God's prayer and peace be upon him, said: "On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner at his anus proportionate to his treachery." Shortly thereafter, Imam released a book which expanded on many of these criticisms. As he wrote in Guiding Jihad Work in Egypt and the World: "Whoever receives permission to enter the unbelievers' countries, even if they do so with a forged visa, they must respect this as a religiously-approved security contract, and any Muslim must honor it...(pg. 20)"
For their part, al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri tried to brush off the criticism. Zawahiri countered with a book of his own a short while later, The Exoneration, in which he defended the decision to reject the covenant. As he argued:
If we assume for argument's sake that a visa from America or from any other crusader country allied with America in its more than 50-year-long aggression against Muslims is an aman (grant of safe passage), this aman is void for two reasons. First, no aman protects the life of someone who wages war against God and His prophet, harms Muslims, and insults their prophet and religion. Second, America and its allies violate the aman every day. (pg. 154)
At the time there was little evidence that the exchange caused a reassessment. In the following years, public statements from al-Qaeda-affiliated figures showed little interest in revisiting the issue. For instance, in late 2010 Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric, wrote in the fourth issue of Inspire, AQAP's magazine, that "Muslims are not bound by the covenants of citizenship and visa that exist between them and nations of dar al-harb." (pg. 56). It is worth noting that in another Abbottabad document, bin Laden was skeptical of al-Awlaki, politely but firmly rejecting al-Wuhayshi's suggestion that al-Awlaki be designated the leader of AQAP.
A complete judgment will have to await additional information, including the release of more than 17 carefully selected documents. But these two passages point to a tension between those who, like bin Laden and ‘Attiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, remained concerned over the theological foundations of al-Qaeda's war against the west, and those who apparently subsumed the theological questions to the urgency of carrying out high-profile attacks. These same types of tensions and conflicts have historically riven the jihadist movement, and al-Qaeda itself. Now, with bin Laden, ‘Attiyatullah, and al-Awlaki dead, it remains to be seen if Ayman al-Zawahiri will overcome or exacerbate these divisions.
Steven Brooke is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin.
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This month's NATO summit in Chicago has provided many writers and analysts a moment to debate possible outcomes of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan. Commentary ranges from David Ignatius "thinking the unthinkable" about the Taliban returning to Kabul, to former First Lady Laura Bush urging the international community to remember the women of Afghanistan. The meeting provides a timely inflection point about the price paid in blood and treasure, and the future return on this costly investment.
Yet there is a glaring gap in this conversation, one that ignores the on-the-ground reality of Afghanistan. It is the role of religion and its influence on the trajectory of the Afghan government. By paying it little or no heed, the United States is omitting a key piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle that is Afghanistan's future.
My meeting with Afghan Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib in Kabul drove home the importance of religion and its influence on matters of state. Our conversation in December 2010 quickly turned to the application of Islamic religious law to the affairs of men and women, especially the issue of apostasy, a topic which places core freedoms of religion and conscience at the center of government policy. At the time, a convert to Christianity was being detained, but similar cases had arisen where Muslims were charged with "criminal" activity considered blasphemous. He justified government actions on Islamic law, brushing aside my counterarguments for freedom of religion and belief based on international standards, the Afghan constitution, and even Qur'anic references.
It wasn't surprising that the Minister was unmoved in his view that apostasy and blasphemy were crimes to be punished by the state, as it reflected past Afghan government actions against Muslims and non-Muslims to stifle freedom of thought and restrict expression. However, it underscored the cost of not addressing the role of religious tenets in law and governance.
Afghanistan's legal system is a big part of the problem, despite Article 7 of the Afghan constitution stating that the Afghan government "shall abide by" the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In practice, Afghanistan has established a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law through the vague repugnancy clause in Article 3 that states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Consequently, there are no protections for individuals to dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts.
David Ignatius' "unthinkable" thought of a Taliban return to Kabul could happen, but perhaps even faster than he imagines. The Afghan constitution's provisions referencing undefined notions of Islamic law give Taliban sympathizers legal cover to apply their regressive religious interpretations through laws against human rights, religious freedom, and women's rights.
Religion matters in Afghanistan, and promoting religious freedom and tolerance can help achieve human rights and security goals. Repression of religious freedom strengthens the hand of violent religious extremists. As I've written elsewhere, conditions of full religious freedom allows for the peaceful sharing of differing views and interpretations. This openness can displace extremist influences from social and religious networks, thereby limiting their ability to influence populations of concern and turn them towards violence. Recent studies and research are building an empirical case that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- where I work -- has documented Afghanistan's poor religious freedom record and placed Afghanistan on our Watch List. USCIRF has described the situation as "exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities." Regarding religious minorities, USCIRF reported how "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed (and later released) for the ‘crime' of apostasy." The Hindu and Sikh communities continue to face discrimination and violence, while the small Baha'i community operates basically underground, especially since a 2007 ruling by the General Directorate of Fatwa and Accounts decreed their faith to be a "form of blasphemy." Even the much larger minority Hazara Shi'a community, which has experienced greater freedoms, was targeted by suicide bombers in late 2011.
A string of events in recent months bears further witness to religion's unmistakable role in Afghanistan:
Taliban response to Strategic Partnership Agreement - There were two Taliban responses to this agreement, one violent, but the other focused on religion. The violent response received much greater attention, since this was the attack on Bagram Airbase after President Obama left the country. However, the Taliban also issued a statement in April, immediately after the announcement of a deal, outlining five ways the Karzai government was caving. Four of the five focused on issues relating to Islam - preventing a true Islamic government; bringing in secularism and liberalism; creating an army hostile to Islam; and being a continuous threat to Muslim countries in the region. The Taliban believes this issue to be relevant to the Afghan populace.
Qur'an burnings - The accidental destruction of Qur'ans and other Islamic materials triggered a nationwide backlash, attacks on U.S. and ISAF personnel, and an apology from President Obama. Dozens were killed and scores more wounded. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the Taliban pressed to exploit the situation to their advantage, issuing statements urging violence and offering this as further evidence of America's supposed war against Islam.
Ulema Council statement and Karzai response - The Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, issued a "code of conduct" for women that permits husbands to beat their wives and promotes gender segregation. If that wasn't alarming enough for human rights and women's rights advocates, President Karzai endorsed the statement. He had other options, such as refuting the findings or at least ignoring them, but Karzai felt the need to endorse them, saying they were in line with Islamic principles. Why? Because the role of religion in politics and governance has a great influence in Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, a response is not to be found in the Strategic Partnership or the recent NATO summit declaration. No mention was made of promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance, key elements of any attempt to see human rights and women's rights protected and respected.
While these high-level documents are silent, there is increasing recognition of this challenge in U.S. government policy. The State Department has initiated a program to counter extremist voices, which looks to bring other Islamic perspectives into Afghanistan to help expose Afghanis to the broader Islamic world. After 30 years of civil war and the impact of a narrow Taliban-imposed view, there is little understanding of how their religion can work successfully with democracy and human rights. USAID is also doing interesting work with Afghanistan's informal justice system, introducing human rights into the centuries-old traditional system, and doing so through the lens of Islamic law. However, these efforts, while positive, are not enough to have a lasting impact.
In other words, the current level of programming won't move a needle that is pointing dangerously in the wrong direction.
It's getting late in the game, but it's not too late to move the needle. There is still time for concerted action. The U.S. government can ramp up its efforts to increase public diplomacy relating to religious freedom and religious tolerance, and bring more delegations of Afghan religious and NGO leaders to the United States and take American religious and NGO leaders to Afghanistan. The United States can jump-start training about the balance between religion and state and the compatibility of Islam with human rights and religious freedom. Continuing to press for greater freedoms in public and private is critical, as well as starting new initiatives, such as creating a special working group on religious freedom/tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues. U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces should be trained to understand international standards when engaging with Afghan religious leaders, local government officials, or Afghan local police forces. U.S. government personnel also need to increase their "religious IQ" on the role of Islam in Afghan society, as well as understand how religious freedom can promote stability and security.
As Afghanistan goes about building institutions as the international community departs, getting the religion question right will be a part of every answer. The Taliban and the Afghan government talk about religion, apply religious law, and use it to their advantage. Considering religion is the lens through which everything passes, significantly increasing engagement on religious freedom and tolerance will advance U.S. human rights and national security interests.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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It was 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Mossarat Qadeem was sitting on the floor of a house with about a dozen young Pakistani men -- some of whom had nearly become suicide bombers. Qadeem's goal: to undo the destructive brainwashing of the al-Qaeda and Taliban teachers who trained them in extremism, in part by asking the students to narrate their life stories.
"We were handling one of the boys, and he just came, put his head here in my lap, and he started crying and weeping," Qadeem recalls. "I was taken aback. It is very unnatural in my country that a man that tall can just sit at your feet and put his head here. [The other men] were all crying with him, and I was looking at him, and thinking, ‘my God.'"
All in a day's work for Qadeem. She's the national coordinator of Aman-o-Nisa, a coalition of Pakistani women that convened in October 2011 to combat violent extremism in Pakistan at the grassroots level. A delegation of 12 women from Aman-o-Nisa, sponsored in part by the Institute for Inclusive Security, recently traveled to Washington, DC to share their work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Washington policymakers. The AfPak Channel sat down with three of the women -- Qadeem, the founder of Pakistan's first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding, Sameena Imtiaz, the founder and executive director of the Peace Education and Development Foundation, and Bushra Hyder, the founder and director of Qadims Lumiere School and College -- while they were in town for a conversation about why so few women work in counterterrorism, and the tactics they use to reverse the violent, extremist mentality.
The interview is condensed and edited below.
Of course, Islamic extremism is a major problem in many other countries besides Pakistan. Why are there so few groups like Aman-o-Nisa, and so few women working to counter extremism?
Bushra Hyder: Most of the women are not even aware that they can play a positive role combating extremism. Secondly, there are security reasons involved. In our part of the country, if a woman goes out and starts getting involved in such activities, she is definitely going to be at risk. Naturally, the males of the household and family would not like their women and females...facing any kind of security threat. That could be the reason, but the fact is the majority of the women are not aware of it.
Sameena Imtiaz: [Women] are also not recognized by men as [people] who could play a very supportive role in combatting extremism in countries such as Pakistan. [In] the security sector in countries like Pakistan, for instance, women are hardly visible. They are not at the dialogue tables, they are not consulted and valued in the policymaking processes that are there.
Mossarat Qadeem: Extremism per se has never been recognized and debated upon in Pakistan as a threat. We feel that there is a foreign hand involved in the incidence of extremism that takes place in Pakistan. And ...we leave it to the government to respond to it. Even the men in the community and society have never thought that they can do something at their level to combat it or to address it. Everyone says it's the responsibility of the government , and they should respond to it because it's a foreign threat - it has nothing to do with Pakistanis, it's not our issue.
Why do Pakistanis see it as a foreign threat? Is it because the extremism in Pakistan isn't homegrown, as it tends to be in Morocco, for example?
MQ: In Pakistan...it's so unobtrusive. It's not obvious that someone is coming and asking the people to become Taliban, to become an extremist, unlike Morocco. That's why this invisible enemy, this invisible hand, is so dangerous, because you don't know who to counter and how to counter.
What are the origins of extremism in Pakistan?
SI: Talibanization and extremism are not new phenomena in Pakistan. We have to go back into the early 80s when many Pakistanis were fighting in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. There was a lot of money that was poured into Pakistan to help these militant groups who are now called Taliban and who have become a monster. They have been thriving on foreign aid.
A lot needs to be done to undo what has been done in the past. But what we are expecting from Pakistan at the moment is there should be a magic wand and all this disappears. It [requires a] change of mindset. You have for decades taught young people that they have to fight this fight in the name of Islam. If you have trained young people to become fighters and warriors, you cannot expect them to become mercenaries of peace immediately. You have to work with them...deradicalize the people who already have this mindset now, and to stop the slide of these young people into extremism. You have to provide them other opportunities, you have to open up avenues for alternative work opportunities for them. What do they do if they don't fight? If they don't become militants? Do they have then food to eat, places to sleep in? You have to look at them as human beings and treat them as human beings.
How do you go about trying to transform the mindsets of radicalized youth?
MQ: We use the Quranic verses -- the true interpretation of the Quran, and of course the teachings of the Holy Sunna. We give examples of the Prophet Muhammad. That's the best way to counter radicalization and extremism in Pakistan, because the [verses] have been misquoted and misinterpreted [by extremist trainers]. We use a lot from the history around the world, giving examples of why peace is important.
What are the subjects - or verses - that you bring up the first time you speak to a radicalized young person?
MQ: Before doing all of this, I conducted research [to find out] what tools have been used to transform these youth. I came across certain verses that were misinterpreted and misused -- particular verses about jihad. And I had to take different sources and different interpretations of various religious scholars and accumulate them. I had to actually work with some of the trainers and scholars [who had radicalized the youth] because I wanted to know, what should be my approach?
How did you get these trainers to talk to you? And what did they tell you?
MQ: Two are transformed now. They told me, these are the verses we have been using, these are the tactics we have been using, this is the picture we used to draw for these students. I did it in a very different way. I used the same tactics, but it was real, it's what the Quran says.
What's an example of a verse that has been misinterpreted?
MQ: There is a particular verse in the Surah Maidah that says ‘go out and fight.' But the fighting in that particular verse was misinterpreted. That verse was used in a particular period of time when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was living in the state of Medina, and the people wanted to kill every Muslim. So they really had enemies to face - [they] were being killed, and [there was the risk that] Islam would [disappear].
Obviously, you all do very risky work. How often do you feel directly threatened?
SI: All the time. We are working in such a sensitive area. The risk is always there. We have so many times received life-threatening messages. There have been attempts on many of us. So yes, that's part of the game.
Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation.
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The last two years have not been kind to al-Qaeda Central (AQC). U.S. drone strikes over Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions have decimated its leadership ranks, killing a number of senior operational leaders and ideologues. These killings have eroded the ability of AQC and the transnational Sunni jihadi current to propagate its message. Despite these losses, however, AQC still has a number of charismatic voices that it is able to, and frequently does, deploy. One of these is the group's chief juridical voice, Abu Yahya al-Libi. A second is the Kuwaiti preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, a much lesser-known ideologue who has played an increasingly prominent role in AQC's media productions since his debut in an often comedic "quiet dialogue." This "dialogue" was actually a rhetorical monologue aimed at U.S. president Barack Obama, released by the group's al-Sahab Media Foundation in August 2009.
Since then, al-Husaynan has emerged as both the spiritual guide to AQC's armed cadres in the AfPak region and the group's missionary ambassador tasked with wooing new recruits from abroad. These roles have been emphasized in his repeated appearances in al-Sahab's Diary of a Mujahid video series, which presents a holistic picture of the jihadi-guerilla lifestyle by showing jihadis engaged in military attacks, physical and doctrinal education, and leisure activities such as fishing. The Diary of a Mujahid series highlights the important but often neglected social aspects of "mujahideen" life, through which bonds are created among jihadis, reinforcing the group's ideology and dedication. Al-Husaynan has appeared more frequently in a quasi-military capacity, filmed with firearms delivering lectures and sermons in the field to AQC's frontline troops, emphasizing his role as a "mujahid" or warrior theologian and missionary preacher. The publication of several of his essays and full-length books on weighty theological and juridical topics by the al-Fajr Media Center, the shadowy media network that coordinates the online distribution of all media materials produced by AQC, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), solidified his credentials as a jihadi juridical voice and religious scholar.
Unlike Abu Yahya, al-Husaynan has not attracted a significant amount of attention from scholars and analysts -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- despite being one of the most vocal advocates for the transnational jihadi missionary campaign. While it is true that AQC's operational and media abilities have been significantly hampered by its recent losses, the group retains prominent voices, such as al-Husaynan's, urging Muslims around the world to support its "jihad" against the U.S. and its allies and regional clients in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. These voices should not be ignored by al-Qaeda analysts because they continue to provide a valuable window into the ideological machinations of a certainly weakened, but still living transnational militant movement.
In addition to his personable oratorical style, which runs the gamut between fire-and-brimstone preaching to (more frequently) a conversational tone, al-Husaynan is also able to deploy his credentials as a religious scholar and preacher prior to his joining AQC. The transnational jihadi current suffers from a relatively small number of bona fide religious scholars (‘ulama), and the presence of ideologues such as al-Husaynan enables it to claim much-needed juridical and theological cover for its actions. Specifically, jihadis are able to use voices of "frontline scholars" (‘ulama al-thughur) such as al-Husaynan to counter the criticisms of AQC and its sister groups by other, more mainstream, ‘ulama, such as the Saudi Salafi scholar Salman al-‘Awda.
A former preacher employed by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, al-Husaynan began his formal religious education in 1986 with a number of prominent Saudi Salafi scholars, including the prominent Saudi jihadi-Salafi scholar Suleyman al-‘Ulwan, who has been imprisoned since April 28, 2004, and the mainstream Saudi Salafi jurist Muhammad al-‘Uthaymin, one of the most influential Salafi scholars in modern history. The Kuwaiti ideologue provided a detailed sketch of his educational and biographical background in a lengthy interview with Hittin, an Urdu-language jihadi Internet magazine named after a famous battle in which the medieval Muslim ruler Saladin defeated the army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, which was published in the January issue.
Information posted online by al-Husaynan's supporters sheds additional light on his biographical background. After graduating with a degree in theology from Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, he worked as a prayer leader (imam) and preacher at the mosque of the Sa‘d al-Abdullah Academy for Security Sciences, an institution which is responsible for training Kuwaiti police officers. He later worked at a number of other mosques controlled by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs where has was a popular preacher and a prolific writer of religious pamphlets on issues such as supplicatory prayers (du‘a), the Day of Judgment, and women's issues. Even at this point in his career, al-Husaynan was known for employing humor in his lectures in order to better connect to his audience. The preacher emphasized his use of humor as a means for reaching out to Muslim youth, which he identifies as the primary target of his and other Kuwaiti preachers' missionary work, in his Hittin interview.
By the mid-1990s, he was a vocal advocate for Muslim fighters, or "mujahideen," presumably in places such as Chechnya and Bosnia. At this time in his life, al-Husaynan worked with the Salafi Movement of Kuwait, whose spokesman, Fahid al-Haylam, is quoted by al-Husaynan's supporters as having described him as a "missionary man" who was active in the organization of religious seminars for students at summer camps. Al-Husaynan was eventually removed from his position as an imam and preacher (khatib) at the academy's mosque because of fears that he would influence the cadets politically, and he was moved at a mosque in Bilqis in the Jalib region. In either 2006 or 2007, al-Husaynan left Kuwait to travel to the "battlefields of jihad" in Afghanistan, the land of "glory and pride." The date he gives in his Hittin interview is the Islamic lunar year 1427, which corresponds to the Gregorian years 2006 and the beginning of 2007.
Al-Husaynan's emergence as an AQC ideologue was slow but steady. In November 2009, al-Sahab released a video recording of his sermon for the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday ending the month of Ramadan, in which the preacher's demeanor was no longer as cartoonish as in parts of his August debut. Throughout Ramadan the following year al-Sahab released a series of brief, daily video lectures by al-Husaynan on a variety of issues ranging from proper belief (‘aqida) and theology to ritual practice and the proper behavior of a pious Muslim. Some of the lectures included references to political and ideological topics, such as one on the signs of hypocrisy, which include, according to the preacher, backbiting against the "mujahideen."
In October 2010 al-Husaynan, who is known in jihadi circles by the nom de guerre Abu Zayd al-Kuwaiti, was referenced briefly in the fifth installment of al-Sahab's masterfully produced martyrology video series The Wind of Paradise, which chronicles the life stories of AQC fighters and leaders killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In April 2011 the series of video "propagation lessons" (al-durus al-da‘iyya) that began with the Ramadan 2010 lecture series continued, and a month later al-Husaynan was being referred to by a new title, the "missionary" or "propagating" sheikh (al-sheikh al-da‘iyya), the same title used in AQAP's media to describe the role of the militant American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al-Husaynan has undeniably become one of AQC's most frequently broadcast ideological voices and his importance to the group is likely to only increase with the thinning of the group's ranks of ideologues over the past two years. Despite the fact that al-Sahab has steadily pushed al-Husaynan to the forefront of its media campaign since late 2009, his impact on the broader transnational Sunni jihadi current is unclear. Measuring influence in the jihadi universe is difficult, but one way is to see who is quoted by other jihadi groups in different geographical areas of operation and how often they are quoted. Unlike Abu Yahya, ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi, Usama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Husaynan is not yet quoted frequently by jihadi movements such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or even AQIM and AQAP. Cyber artwork produced independently by online jihadis is another indicator and a field of jihadi media that the author has followed closely for several years. Al-Husaynan has only recently appeared in such artwork. While this uncertainty as to al-Husaynan's standing within the broader jihadi current should be considered, his promotion by AQC itself and the increasingly prominent role he has played in the group's recent media productions are compelling reasons to pay attention to his contributions to contemporary jihadi thought and discourse.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
In September 2010 Afghan President Hamid Karzai named Maulvi Qalamuddin to the High Peace Council, an Afghan organization set up to negotiate with the Taliban-led insurgency. Qalamuddin has a notorious past as the former deputy minister for the General Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Elimination of Vice (Amr-e-Bil M'arouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar) during the Taliban regime. He oversaw the implementation of the extreme and strict Islamic laws through religious police squads who ran surveillance on the Afghan populace. Activities included public beatings of women who were deemed to be dressed or behaving inappropriately, banning women from working in public space, smashing televisions, and forcing men to grow beards and spend more time in mosques.
Maulvi Qalamuddin is among the most controversial of the five Taliban members who have been appointed to the HPC as part of the Afghan government's efforts to include more hardliners into the peace process. He is considered to be among the few of Taliban members who still have significant clout and connections among insurgents, including the Taliban leadership. Qalamuddin is a product of the Dar-ul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in the town of Akora Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the same madrassa that produced Mullah Omar and other Taliban ministers and commanders, including Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network and one of the most dreaded insurgent leaders in Afghanistan. In an effort to build trust with insurgent leaders, Afghan government has petitioned the U.N. Security Council to remove Qalamuddin and 19 other former Taliban members from a sanctions list that has prevented them from travelling or sending money abroad since 1999.
As the rush towards withdrawal gathers momentum, and the search for political solution intensifies, the urge to portray a moderate face of the Taliban is gaining traction. While those who have joined the peace process appear to have moderated their views, the key question of whether there has been a genuine change of heart or whether nominal moderation represents mere opportunism remains unanswered.
Afghans who have been fatigued by the unending war and uncertainty of the international presence are broadly supportive of the peace and reintegration processes, but they, too, remain sceptical about the motives and intent of the former Taliban leaders who are eyeing a return through political negotiations. Concerns remain over how the Taliban might behave once they are allowed into some kind of power sharing arrangement. Moreover, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, remains elusive, with little or no real indication of his thoughts on the peace processes.
Through my discussions with the members of the High Peace Council, as well as the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), it was interesting to observe the various strands of thinking on reintegration, reconciliation and peace processes. The HPC and APRP members were optimistic about the reintegration process, though they expressed concerns about the reliability of guarantees from the government of protection, compensation and employment opportunities to prevent the militants from re-joining the insurgency. As for the reconciliation and peace process, members lamented the lack of clarity on the role and powers of HPC with the U.S. having set up the parallel Qatar process. Most feel that this should be an Afghan-led negotiation, and any parallel process should be in consultation with the Afghans, and needs to be gradually integrated into the Afghan effort. They perceive the present U.S. effort at negotiation as a face saving formula rather than a serious stake holder in the negotiation process. However, some concede that the Qatar track may also take the heat off of the Afghans to find a political solution, given that the HPC had lost a lot of steam after the assassination of HPC head Burhanuddin Rabbani last year. Concerns remain over the potential spoiler role that could be played by Pakistan, and the belief that the Pakistani establishment has control over the Quetta Shura or at least continue to provide sanctuary to Taliban militants.
During a conversation with Maulvi Qalamuddin in Kabul, I had a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into his personal views on the various issues that have confounded the Afghans and the international community, and threatened the viability of the peace process. He paints a very optimistic picture of the prospects of reintegration and reconciliation, though he remains wary of the role of the United States and neighbouring countries.
Below are Maulvi Qalamuddin's responses to my questions.
Shanthie D'Souza: Why do you think peace and reconciliation is important? Do you think the Afghan government can bring peace?
Maulvi Qalamuddin: Reconciliation and peace are important to bring an end to the war. The people of Afgahnistan are tired of war and violence and want peace. So it is important to work with the government to bring peace. The Afghan government by working through the provincial offices of the High Peace Council has been able to reach out to large segment of tribal elders that has helped gain grass root support.
SD: Why didn't you support or join the government earlier?
MQ: By direct political negotiations, there were many like Maulvi Qalamuddin who were ready to join the government but were arrested in 2002. There were many like him who wanted to join the government earlier but were captured or killed. This created a trust deficit.
SD: Why did you join the Taliban and why are you supporting the Afghan government now?
MQ: The rationale for joining the Taliban was to put an end to the conflict caused by the incessant infighting among the mujahideen in the 1990's. The Taliban were the only ones who were able to being security and justice to Afghanistan. Likewise, my present decision to join the government is to help bring peace to the country. Eleven years of war has worked to no one's advantage. I will support any government that has and serves the interest of the Afghan people.
SD: Was the Taliban regime better or more effective than the present government?
MQ: The Taliban regime was good because there was a security, justice in Afghanistan and it was a pure Islamic state. The present Afghan government is good because it has money, professional cadre and international support. In the time of the Taliban, one could not visualise offices with young people working on computers that one sees today. That is a good sign. I have three television sets at home and I watch Televison programs[The Taliban during its rule and under Qalamuddin's direction had carried out public executions of TV sets as it was considered as ‘idolatry']. For a man averse to photography, he was open to being photographed.
SD: Are the Taliban ready for talks? Who should be included in the talks and negotiations?
MQ: Taliban has shown inclination for talks. Not all Taliban are useful and they do not depict the Afghan culture. The present excesses of the Taliban like beheadings and suicide bombing are unacceptable. There is a need to separate the criminalised networks from the real Taliban.
SD: What are the challenges to the reconciliation process?
MQ: The presence of criminal groups who function under the name of Taliban are a main challenge. There are also issues of night raids [by the international forces], torture, detention centres, black listing of Taliban member and role of neighbouring countries. More importantly, there is lack of trust and confidence between the government, international community and the Taliban
SD: How do you think these challenges can be addressed?
MQ: For reconciliation to work there is a need for change in the constitution, provide guarantees, build trust and international community's support.
SD: What do you think of the Qatar Process? Do you think it will help establish contact and official address for the Taliban?
MQ: The Qatar process is an informal dialogue and not an official channel. Thus, it has its limitations. Taliban had only a presence in Qatar, not an office. This window has opened on to a path that might lead eventually to peace negotiations. [His emphasis was on the Afghan process].
SD: What should be done after 2014 in case of international withdrawal?
MQ: There is a need to work together with the Afghan government and the international community.
SD: If the Taliban were to come back to power in some form, would women's rights be protected?
MQ: The west does not understand the Afghan society. I am not against women working in offices or going out in public alone. Look, you are a foreigner. If you can cover your head and respect our culture, we appreciate and expect the same from Afghan women. The present breed of Afghan women appearing on TV without head scarves is not acceptable. Women need to adhere to the sharia laws in consonance with the Afghan culture.
When I asked other HPC officials about women's rights, they were adamant that the respect and protection of women rights would not be compromised by reconciliation with the Taliban. Based on my own observations in Afghanistan, there appears to have been a marginal (or tactical) shift in letting women in public space, but not letting them dress the way they want to, for example . While most Afghan women would like to wear the traditional attire or cover their head, there are others who believe they should have the freedom to make that choice themselves. Interestingly, Qalamuddin let me photograph him, but declined to have his picture taken with me, presumably because I am a woman. I perceive this as a marginal change, and not a full, attitudinal change.
The Afghan women leaders with whom I have had discussions, such as Fawzia Koofi, Sima Samar, Shukriya Barakzai and others in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Nangahar, are very apprehensive. They feel that once back in power, the Taliban will resort to old ways. Unless the international community ensures some guarantees on women and human rights, Afghanistan risks reverting to its pre-2001 ways.
Do Qalamuddin's views signify a dramatic shift in thinking among the Taliban? Are these early signs of transformation or tactics of opportunism? It is important for the United States and its allies, who are pushing for hasty deals through multiple negotiation channels, to sieve through these strands of thinking to prepare for eventualities when the Taliban are back in some form in the Afghan society and polity. Obviously, these attempts at peace making and negotiations should not fritter away a decade-long achievements in areas of democracy, human and women rights.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institute.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza
When anger erupted last Tuesday over the U.S. military's mishandling of a large number of Qurans, it was clear that this was going to be big and bad - but nobody knew how bad. After three days of protests across the country, some of which turned violent, last Friday was going to be the litmus test: Would the whole country erupt into anger? Would it set off chain reactions that would be difficult to undo? Would the police and army maintain discipline? The day ended in a mixed picture: relief over the sense of restraint that prevailed in many areas; and sadness and resignation over the reports of violence and deaths coming from a handful of places.
All in all, it was not as bad as could be feared: people did not join in large numbers, the police and the army held together, most leaders used their influence to defuse rather than to ignite. In the following days the intensity and spread of the protests waned and by Monday no more protests or riots were reported. Afghanistan, it seemed, was not in the mood for protracted rage and all the violence that comes with it.
We have seen this pattern before: after incidents provoking wide-spread anger there are several days of demonstrations, some violent, with provinces taking their turn to express their outrage. And although some areas have multiple days of violence, in most places the protests start dwindling after there has been a significant gathering or flare-up. But there were reasons why it could be different this time: nastier, more widespread, more difficult to contain.
The Quran burning on Afghan soil was potentially far more emotive than other incidents in the past, like for instance the outrage over particularly tragic cases of civilian casualties or fatal car accidents involving U.S. forces (not the same sense of desecration and mostly felt locally) or last year's Quran burning in Florida (in a far-away country). There was also the issue of cumulative anger - people asking: how often should we forgive, how long can we tolerate - and of conflicted loyalties, particularly on the part of the police and the army who could be called on to protect internationals from angry attacks.
If Afghanistan was going to erupt into even more violence over the Quran burnings, it would have been on Friday. On Fridays you don't have to gather people, they naturally congregate in mosques. And it doesn't take much to get an angry crowd, just a passionate sermon and a few people who help heat up the mood. So on Friday most of us, Afghan and foreign, were waiting - to see what the day would bring and what the country would look like at the end of it.
Throughout the day protests were reported in about half of Afghanistan's provinces. There were escalations in the vicinity of American or government sites. Attempts to storm military bases in Baghlan and Khost turned violent and several protesters were shot. Towards the end of the day demonstrations escalated in Herat and Kabul - two cities that also experienced violent demonstrations in the past (2004 and 2011 in Herat and 2006 in Kabul). In Herat demonstrators tried to march towards the U.S. Consulate and clashed with the army when it tried to stop them. In Kabul the protests turned ugly and chaotic in the well-known hotspot of Pul-e Charkhi at the edge of town.
But the outright majority of the population either stayed inside or went home peacefully after attending Friday prayers. Most demonstrations ended without incident and none of them were massive (the largest seem to have counted a few thousand demonstrators). There was anger, for sure, but there was also a lot of restraint. Across the country people have been calling for calm and patience in their communities, not wanting to see more bloodshed. They did not manage to pre-empt all violence and there were still nasty riots in the days after, but it will be difficult to argue that the rioters were acting on behalf of the whole population.
After a week of violence, with around thirty dead and many more injured, it may be difficult to explain to the rest of the world, but in a way this is what relative restraint looks like - in a country awash with weapons and frustration, and that has suffered for decades from the young men itching for a fight and the leaders accustomed to using religiously fuelled violence as a political tool.
Despite the heavy hand of conservative religious power, the main debates have not been fully settled. There is a sprouting vocal new generation - not automatically democratically-minded or un-implicated in political deals, as is sometimes assumed, but certainly with a mind of their own and many of them determined to make something more out of their country than is currently on the books. And among the older generation, many are not sure they want to rally to the same rhetoric as they used to, having seen what can come of it. Afghanistan is still very violent and deeply conservative, but it would be a mistake to paint the whole population with the same brush.
But where do you go from here - with relationships so damaged and trust so badly undermined? The burning of the Qurans has greatly exacerbated lingering resentment and suspicion among Afghans towards the international presence. And the murder of two senior military advisers in the Ministry of Interior has left the international military feeling very exposed and angry over what they consider the much too feeble response of the Afghan government. Patience at home is running dangerously low, as angry stereotypes fill the comment sections of news sites. It has always been a complex relationship, coloured by high hopes, misunderstandings, and an increasingly resentful dependency. If it is allowed to settle, it will be possible to patch things up and to muddle on. But it will remain a relationship under a cloud and under very difficult circumstances.
For a discussion of the different faces of anger, click here.
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which published an earlier version of this piece on February 24, 2012. The original article can be found here.
My article criticizing certain rituals in the Shi'a Muslimtradition in Pakistan's Express Tribune on December 8 spurred a firestorm ofcontroversy, as a number of commentators deemed it inappropriate or worse. Myargument was that religious adherents need to repudiate rituals that infringeon collective rights, and which can escalate sectarian conflict; these includethe rituals during the commemoration of Muharram, that can involve men and evenchildren flagellating themselves withknives on chains, and processions of bleeding men as a display of adoration forthe martyred Imam Husain (this is byno means reflective of all Shi'a practice, but is widely practiced amongSouth Asian Shi'a).
The controversy grew more intense on Twitter, and evennotable commentators such as NasimZehra asked for an immediate apology from the Tribune on grounds that thearticle was "outrageously offensive."To her credit, Ms. Zehra later noted thatafter the apology the matter should be closed. However, hate mail from all over followed,including several messages to the president of the University of Vermont (whereI teach) asking for my dismissal, a surprising torrent against free speech evenfrom highly educated writers. The university noted that the article was wellwithin the confines of free speech and was in fact condemning violence. Insteadof admonishing me, the university offered me police protection.
Under pressure from sponsors and amid fears that other mediahouses would use this episode to spur a consumer boycott, Tribune decided tofirst edit and then completely remove the article, and noted that I was"banned" from writing in their pages again. My intention was never to rebukeShi'ism itself, but rather such rituals whose practice further leads toacrimony between Shi'a and Sunnis. Furthermore, a ritual with so much bloodbeing spilled in a procession can be a public health issue, and has been repeatedlyquestioned and curtailed in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
Ireposted the article on my site with a clear apology for specificstatements which were, in retrospect, inflammatory for Pakistan's religioussensibilities. The newspaper's "ban" on my writing was later edited out of the apology statement posted onthe Internet, but this episode left me deeply troubled about the state ofjournalistic independence in Pakistan. The country has a vibrant civil societyand promising career track for journalists and independent writers, but therehas been a rapidrise in abductions and murders of journalists whose views were consideredantithetical to certain religious perspectives.
This episode highlighted for me a larger issue of mediafreedom in a country which often prides itself in having private TV channelswith fiery talk shows blasting politicians. Yet religious debate, often socontentious and even violent in Pakistan, remains off limits. Pakistan as asociety needs to understand that the right to offend in journalism is afundamental right. I don't mind getting hate mail despite the norms of freespeech, but what surprised me was that educated people questioned my right tocriticize a cultural practice by referring to it as "hate speech." I wasrepeatedly asked what my point was if criticism could further cause conflict. Stillanother asked, "could you criticize Jewish rituals the same way in America?" Thiskind of reaction could have taken place in many Muslim societies -- and Sunnisare equally culpable on such matters as Shi'a.
Pakistan's infamous blasphemylaws are a result of exactly this kind of oversensitivity and pattern ofraising ire following any hint of criticism about religious rituals or edicts.The valorization of extreme religious edicts by the State has unfortunatelybeen successful in co-opting the sensibilities of even many educated citizens. Thisin turn has strengthened the religious establishment's efforts toinstitutionalize a radical inertia within the political system. Perhaps unwittingly, liberal commentators whowould rather avoid tougher issues of dissent scorned my article, and by doingso strengthened the same kinds of arguments that fanatics use to marginalizeminorities or their opponents.
Ironically, in my article, I clearly stated that lawsagainst hate speech must be enforced. Speech that directly urges violence towardsany particular person or group of people must be avoided at all costs. Yet tounderstand sectarian conflict, which is often compared to "cancer," we have tolook at both proximate and systemic causes. Just as one treats cancer withchemotherapy, groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ) need to be hunted down for terrorist crimes. But we also need to searchfor systemic causes of sectarian strife, which in Pakistan can be traced totheology in both Shi'a and Sunni doctrines as well as political interventionand alleged statesupport for sectarian groups like LeJ or Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP).
In a pluralistic society, the limits of what is allowed insuch cases can be debated and questioned, and laws can be passed and changedthrough democratic processes. For example, there are laws in some Europeancountries against questioning the historical validity of the Holocaust, but inthe United States, such historical questioning is protected by the firstamendment to the U.S. constitution (despite the repeated accusations by many Pakistanisthat American law and politics reflect undue Jewish influence). While Idisagree with the limitations on free speech in Europe, there is at least aworkable legislative pathway for repeal of these laws. In Pakistan, the prospectof any legislative change to errant laws is stifled by precisely the kindof bullying about religious sensitivity exhibited in this episode.
The duty of any socially conscious writer is to push theenvelope and challenge people to question their assumptions. This will makepeople uncomfortable, but incremental social change always happens through sucha dialectical process. If people were always trying to stray from controversy socialchange would never take place. Cultural sensitivity is far too often used as anexcuse for maintaining the status quo in places like Pakistan, and this needsto change if the country is ever to overcome the polarization that continues toimpede communitarian peace.
Saleem H. Ali is professor ofenvironmental studies at the University of Vermont's Rubenstein School ofEnvironment and Natural Resources and the director of the Institute forEnvironmental Diplomacy and Security at the James Jeffords Center for PolicyResearch. He can be followed @saleem_ali
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The idea of defiance against tyranny and oppression owes a great deal to Hussain ibne Ali, the hero of the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. With just 72 valiant followers and family members, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad faced the military might of the Muslim empire ruled then by a despot, Yazid bin Mu‘awiya. Hussain refused to sanctify Yazid's reign through baya'a (allegiance) and consequently, he and his small contingent were martyred in the most brutal of fashions. The accompanying women and children were imprisoned for months in the dark alleys of Damascus.
On every Ashura, the 10th day of the Muslim calendar month of Muharram (which fell on December 6 this year), many Muslims all across the world commemorate Hussain's great sacrifice, but tragically the central message ofKarbala appears to evade the broader Muslim thinking today. In Western literature and research on Islam, this episode is often viewed through the lens of certain Shi'a rituals practiced on and around Ashura. It is worth probing why that is so. Even more importantly, it is critical to understand why terrorists and extremists like al-Qaeda andthe Taliban often attack the Ashura related gatherings (as is evident from attacks in recent years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan), and what is at the core of their disdain of all the things that Imam Hussain stood for.
A brief historical reference is required to understand the context of Ashura.After Prophet Mohammad's death in 632 AD, the expansion of Islam became a global phenomenon, courtesy of a variety of means. Islam was a rising power in theworld, but in the process, the fabric of Muslim society was also being transformed, as the Muslim outlook was gradually influenced by people from various cultures. New elites that were more interested in power and wealth alone started emerging as more influential, and consequently, Islam's emphasis on egalitarianism, justice and equity started getting diluted. A deliberate attempt to imitate the dynastic empires of the Byzantines and Sasanians was obvious to many observers at the time. The distortion of Islamic ideals became a favorite pastime of Yazid and his coterie. The expansion of influence by way of the sword was a hallmark of his times.
Imam Hussain, the spiritual custodian of Islam at the time, staunchly stood against this shifting tide, and his unprecedented sacrifice was intended to shake the Muslim conscience and expose the misleading path introduced in the name of Islam. It was a matter of principle for him - one of human dignity and honor. Challenging the newly introduced monarchical system of government was another important feature of this struggle. In his last sermon before departing from Madina on his journey towards Karbala, Iraq, he made clear his mission: "I seek to reform the Ummah of my grandfather." An armed struggle for that purpose was never his intended route. He believed in conveying the message through love and compassion. It was a message motivated truly by humanity. The great Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi aptly acknowledged this by saying: "I learned from Hussein how to achieve victory while being oppressed."
This was not a mere political battle, though some Muslim historians try to project it that way so as to cover up not only Yazid's atrocities, but indirectly to defend his school of thought as well. The mainstream view, however, both among Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, is very sympathetic toward Imam Hussain. It would be an absolute travesty of Muslim history to call this a Sunni-Shi'a battle. Some writers still do that, either out of lack of in depth understanding, or in a flawed effort to simplify things for a lay Western reader. On the Muslim side, only a handful of controversial clerics project this version. Still, most Muslims shy away from digging too deep into the matter, and carefully avoid questioning the historical developments leading to the rise of Yazid.
Insightfully, the whole narrative of tragedy at Karbala would have remained unheard of without the tireless struggle of Hussain's sister Zainab ibne Ali, who as an eyewitness of the tragedy propagated details of the event far and wide among Muslims. While in chains, she courageously challenged Yazid's policies on his face in his court in Damascus soon after the battle at Karbala. Many Muslims -- some out of ignorance and others out of bigotry -- avoid appreciating the crucial role of a woman in this grand struggle. Zainab's contribution to fighting for the essence of the Muslim faith was as critical as that of Hussain.
Though Shi'as are often at the forefront of commemorating the tragedy of Karbala, Sunnis, especially those belonging to the Barelvi school of thought in South Asia and almost all Sufi circles in broader Asia and the Middle East, also enthusiastically participate in paying homageto Imam Hussain and his companions. Extremists and terrorists among Muslims want to destroy this element of unity, as sectarianism suits their divisive and violent agenda. Distorting religion to make it dogmatic in outlook and regressive in approach is also what helps them achieve their goals exceedingly well. For them, political power is an end in itself. Hussain's message stands completely contrary to this perspective.
The attack on Shi'a Muslims observing Ashura in Kabul on December 6, which killed 55 people, was a manifestation of the perpetrators' perverse worldview. Next door in Pakistan, where this threat is more pronounced, a heavyprice (in the form of terrorism and violence) is being paid for ignoring the expanding tentacles of religious extremism. Though things remained peaceful on Ashura in Pakistan this year, the Kabul attack was claimed by a splinter wing of a banned Pakistani sectarian group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ). Authorities have yet to uncover solid proof ofwho was responsible. Irrespective of whether the Afghan Taliban was directly involved in this specific attack or not, their policies during the ‘reign of terror' in Afghanistan (1996-2001) indicate that they hold similar views toward those who honor the martyrs of Karbala. Taliban massacres of ethnic Hazara Afghans (of whom the vast majority areShi'a Muslims) in the late 1990s are a case in point. The curse of sectarianism has inhibited spiritual growth of many Muslims.
The remedy to the malady lies in mainstreaming the message of Karbala both within the worldwide Muslim communities and among those who are interested in deciphering the foundational themes of Islamic discourse. At a higher level, Hussain's message of defiance against oppression and personal sacrifice for the cause of humanity is applicable for a broader audience for generations to come.
Dr. Hassan Abbas is a Senior Advisor at the Asia Society and the editor of Watandost blog. He is based in Washington D.C.
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The killing September 30 in Yemen of the militant American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, arguably the most recognizable transnational jihadi figure beside Osama bin Laden, deprives the transnational Sunni jihadi movement represented by Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) of its premier ambassador to English speaking and reading audiences around the world. His killing also cuts short his further ascendance as one of the most promising members of Al-Qaeda's missionary vanguard of charismatic ideologues who harness their rhetorical flare and varying degrees of scholarly bona fides to further the goals of AQC and its sister groups. Using his gifts as a rhetorician, al-Awlaki fulfilled a key communicative role between Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which confirmed his death in a statement issued October 10, and the broader AQ movement and potential supporters. Al-Awlaki maneuvered himself into the position of being one of the transnational jihadi movement's key ideologues, the most effective missionary of its self-declared "jihad" among English-speaking audiences.
Al-Awlaki's influence has steadily expanded beyond this base since late 2008. His writings, sermons, and audiovisual messages have been translated into a number of languages beyond their original English or Arabic including Urdu, Bosnian, French, Russian, Somali, Indonesian, and Bangla. He has been referenced and praised by media networks affiliated with Somalia's Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) insurgent movement and the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.
Based on open source information, including AQAP media materials, al-Awlaki's exact position within the organization, if any, continues to be debated after his death. There is no debate, however, that he was publicly endorsed by high-profile AQAP leaders including amir Nasir al-Wihayshi and Fahd al-Quso, who is wanted by the U.S. government for his alleged involvement in the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Al-Wihayshi pledged his group's support for al-Awlaki in a May 16, 2010 audio message. Al-Quso referred briefly to al-Awlaki in an interview with the London-based Arabic-language daily newspaper al-Quds al-‘Arabi that was published on September 19, saying that the American "agrees with the mujahideen in their vision and opinion." Neither al-Wihayshi nor al-Quso specifically listed al-Awlaki's position, if any, within AQAP.
The nature of al-Awlaki's relationship with AQAP and his importance to their broader media operation is indeed unclear. Despite frequent contributions by and references to him in AQAP's English-language Internet magazine Inspire, al-Awlaki has only been mentioned a couple of times and usually in passing in short "news updates" featured in AQAP's flagship Arabic-language magazine, Sada al-Malahem (Echo of Battles), which is aimed at its core base of supporters both inside and outside Yemen, whose native language is Arabic.
The level of support for al-Awlaki outside of AQAP and in particular within AQC's leadership is debated. Anonymous U.S. government officials have claimed that intelligence gathered from bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan shows that some wanted the American to replace al-Wihayshi as AQAP's amir but that the Saudi founder of AQC vetoed the suggestion. The evidence for this claim is not publicly available for public evaluation. A lengthy clip from al-Awlaki's last video message, "Make it Known and Do Not Conceal It," released on November 8, 2010, was included in the fifth installment of al-Zawahiri's series of audio and video messages about Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, which was released on April 14. A clip of al-Awlaki, taken from his "exclusive interview" with AQAP's Al-Malahem Media Foundation that was released in May 2010, was first used by AQC in an October 2010 video message from fellow American Adam Gadahn. Al-Awlaki was not, however, explicitly or publicly endorsed by AQC's senior leaders. Nor did he seem adamant about self-identifying or promoting himself as an official member of al-Qaeda, probably hoping to maximize the benefits of his image of relative autonomy in terms of freedom of speech and association.
The role of Muslim religious scholars (‘ulama) in supporting al-Qaeda's "jihad" was one of al-Awlaki's key interests, partly because he presented himself as a religious scholar and preacher, and he addressed the ‘ulama's responsibilities in much of his work. In "Make it Known and Do Not Conceal It," he calls on Sunni ‘ulama to fulfill their duties by supporting AQAP against apostate governments in the Muslim world, like that of Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, that are allied with the "Crusaders, Zionists, and Rafidah ("Rejectionists," a derogatory term for Shi'ites). Al-Awlaki, in effect, was attempting to dialogue with other ‘ulama by strongly questioning why they have not yet spoken out. Al-Awlaki was also at the forefront of the transnational jihadi attempt to delegitimize the March 2010 Mardin Conference in Turkey, at which a group of Sunni ‘ulama attempted to re-interpret and contextualize a series of juridical rulings by the medieval jurist Ibn Taymiyya with the objective of delegitimizing al-Qaeda's claim of juridically sanctified violence. "The [Mardin Declaration] is an ignominy... It is an insolent statement that shows no respect to the suffering of our ummah," he wrote in an eight-page article in the second issue of AQAP's Inspire magazine.
Although al-Awlaki has presented himself as a scholar in order to solidify his legitimacy on the transnational jihadi scene, it is really the pragmatic and socially relevant content of his message that has built and sustained his popularity. His straightforward and unambiguous advice, on matters ranging from proper diet to the legitimacy of suicide attacks, has fed the appetite of his followers for everyday guidance. In an article titled "The Ruling on Dispossessing the Disbelievers Wealth in Dar al-Harb," al-Awlaki has engaged in an extensive discussion on Islamic jurisprudence regarding the legal status of goods stolen by Western Muslims from their fellow, non-Muslim citizens. Claiming that the West was considered Dar al-Harb (from the Qur'anic concept of the "House of War") because of its repeated military interventions in Muslim countries, he concluded that Muslims could legally dispossess non-Muslims since covenants of non-aggression based on citizenship and visa were invalidated by the non-Muslims' attacks. The preacher had voiced arguments requesting that his followers abandon mainstream economic activities and stop paying taxes on previous occasions, with the ultimate justification that "income generated from booty taken by force from the enemies of Allah [was] purer and more virtuous" than any other type of income. These unconventional yet contextually-relevant exhortations were meant to alleviate the funding issues facing jihadi groups and to facilitate his followers' transition to the outlaw lifestyle required by jihadi militancy.
Part spiritual adviser and part self-styled legal expert, al-Awlaki also produced timely and compelling political analyses. In response to the massive public uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya against autocratic regimes, al-Awlaki attempted to spin the rapidly changing events in AQ's favor. In his article "The Tsunami of Change" published in the fifth issue of Inspire, al-Awlaki offered a rebuttal to the idea that the events of the Arab Spring had rendered al-Qaeda unattractive and irrelevant. Taking a pragmatic view of regional developments, he reassured his audience, which was wary of the seemingly secular trajectory of the Arab Spring, by declaring that there was no need for the immediate result to be Islamic governance because any political outcome could certainly not be worse than the regimes being overthrown. Al-Awlaki further claimed that the events in fact constituted an opportunity for jihadis across the Arab world to link up and pool their resources.
In addition to his role as a "missionary" ideologue masquerading as a learned religious scholar, al-Awlaki is perhaps best known publicly for his role in inspiring and in some cases actively counseling and encouraging the radicalization of a number of North American and European Muslims. The highest profile of those influenced either in exchanges over the Internet or in person with al-Awlaki were Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, and Faisal Shahzad. Lesser known, particularly in the U.S., is the American's influence on Mounir and Yassin Chouka, two German brothers who currently occupy high profile positions in the Pakistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In a written narrative of their "journey to the IMU" released online by the IMU in February, Yassin, who is known within the IMU as "Abu Ibraheem al-Almani (The German)," wrote that he and his brother "benefited greatly" from him during the "precious hours" in which the preacher spent with them. Al-Awlaki and one of his associates ultimately played a key role in the brothers' decision to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan to wage "jihad."
Parts of al-Awlaki's life story remain debated or shrouded in mystery. Little is known, for example, about his summer 1993 experience in Afghanistan, the degree of his foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and the exact nature of his role within AQAP. However, it is undeniable that he was an individual with unique abilities whom the transnational jihadi movement will no doubt have a hard time replacing. U.S. officials, and some AQAP experts , have claimed that before his death he had been playing a key operational role in the organization as the "chief of external operations," though this claim is debated. There is ample evidence that al-Awlaki played a very successful role as an ideologue in the radicalization process of members of his audience, but fewer concrete examples of his operational leadership. The real legacy of al-Awlaki lies in his popular message that lives on through his still widely-accessible lectures and online messages.
On October 14, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdul Rahman, who was also an American citizen, was killed along with his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin in a second U.S. drone strike in the Yemeni province of Shabwa. The boy's family has spoken out forcefully against claims by Yemeni and U.S. government officials that he was a member of AQAP and was 21. The family released Abdul Rahman's Colorado birth certificate showing that he was born on August 26, 1995. The two teenagers' killings, which have also been condemned by the Yemeni Organization for Childhood Protection, have reopened the debate about the legality of the Obama Administration's extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
Bruno-Olivier Bureau is a master's student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies the modern history of the Middle East, radical Islamist ideology and the propaganda strategies of the transnational jihadi movement.
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The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has led tostock-taking of the attacks and their legacy. Even after ten years, debates remain fierce about the scope of thethreat, and the proper nature of any response.
Making sense of the aftermath of 9/11, the subject of JasonBurke's The 9/11 Wars, is amonumental task -- but Burke is up to the job. The 9/11 Wars is insightful, thorough, and at times fascinating. Burkebrings the reader from villages in Afghanistan and Iraq to slums in London andFrance, offering individual portraits of combatants and those overrun by warwhile also weaving in government policies and scholarly research to portray thebroader context. The resulting tapestry leaves the reader more informed, thoughoften appalled by policymakers' ignorance and furious when well-intentionedpolicies backfire.
Burke himself is well-qualified for his ambitious task. Aveteran reporter for The Guardian andThe Observer, he has writtenextensively on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The 9/11 Wars draws on a wide range of sources and, in contrast tothe works of many journalists, is meticulously documented.
Burke's work is a book big in scope and, weighing in at a hefty752 pages, in substance. Such size is understandable. As he points out, theconflicts associated with 9/11's aftermath are not one but many, and each onehas its own intricacies. Burke is at hisbest giving ground truth to the war on terrorism. He claims his book is aboutpeople, not politicians, and for the most part he stays true to his promise.
The United States and al-Qaeda, Burke contends, repeatedlymisunderstood the complexity of the societies in which they waged their wars. Whetherit was trying to impose Western concepts of women's rights on villages inAfghanistan or viewing the Kurdistan-based terrorist group Ansar al-Islam asfriendly to Saddam Hussein's regime (when it was in fact hostile to the former),the United States frequently was its own worst enemy. Nor do U.S. allies farebetter. Indeed, after the July 2005terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, the discourse in Europe on terrorism becameparticularly absurd. Muslimorganizations had embraced a crude anti-Americanism and made claims that they werereceiving Nazi-like treatment from European governments, while nativistscaricatured Muslims as brutal rapists.
Al-Qaeda, however, fares even worse in Burke's telling. It wasoften disorganized and fractious, held together by personal links rather thanfirm institutional ties. Attacks oncivilians turned locals against al-Qaeda in places like Jordan and Indonesia,squandering the goodwill its fighters had gained from their battles againstU.S. soldiers. Striking at Americans inIraq was seen as heroic, Burke points out, "But when the violence came home itprovoked a very different reaction. Thesight of blood on one's own streets, the dismembered bodies of one's owncompatriots, the grieving parents who could have been one's own ... turnedentire populations away from violence." As they lost popularity, the terroristsrelied more on coercion -- and in so doing made themselves even lesspopular.
Burke's fundamental argument is a simple one: the local isthe enemy of the global. For the United States, this meant that grandiosemissions to transform the Arab world into a mirror image of Western democracyled to insurgency and scorn. For al-Qaeda, attempts to impose an Islamic stateran into stiff opposition from nationalists, practitioners of more traditionalforms of Islam, tribal leaders, and others with a stake in their long-establishedways of life. In the battle against al-Qaeda, "Bloody-minded localparticularism" is America's greatest ally.
Burke at times offers guarded praise for U.S. and alliedpolicies after 2006. The new U.S. counter-insurgency manual, for example,stresses cultural sensitivities and local concerns as a way to win the war,while Burke describes how deradicalization programs in Europe and the MiddleEast offer a softer, but in his view often more effective, form ofcounter-terrorism.
Al-Qaeda, in contrast, remains under siege. To secure aplace to hide its leaders, the group often must avoid training, planning, andrecruiting on a large scale. Conditions forwould-be fighters hiding out in the tribal parts of Pakistan are much worsethan they were before 9/11 under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Burke relates howone Belgian recruit who got malaria was "left in the corner" and "given a jabevery few days by a kid who was the little brother of the local doctor." Even al-Qaeda'smany affiliates, which offer some bench strength to the group, often do notheed the central leadership, or frequently they lack popularity themselves. Asa result, the much-vaunted "network of networks," he argues, is "battered anddisjointed."
Pakistan, which Burke correctly identifies as the mostimportant theater in the 9/11 wars, comes off the most poorly (thoughAfghanistan is a close second). Use of jihadist proxies has long been part ofPakistan's overall strategy, and the Pakistani security establishment remainscommitted to them, even after 9/11 and subsequent violence in Pakistan showedthat the militants were off the leash. Sadly, Burke finds that in this dividedcountry there is more unity than ever on one issue: that the United States and its allies arepart of an anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim conspiracy.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of The 9/11 Wars -- one common to many accounts of counter-terrorism-- is that it misses much of the day-to-day of intelligence gathering andpolice work against suspected jihadists around the world. The CIA is blastedfor its "extensive [program] of kidnapping suspects overseas, illegaldetention, collusion and direct participation in torture." However, thenear-constant, and largely successful, intelligence effort against al-Qaedagets little attention. In countries as far apart (politically as well asgeographically) as Sweden, Malaysia, Morocco, and Russia, security serviceshunt suspected jihadists with U.S. support and guidance. Such behind-the-scenesarrests rarely make good stories, but they put pressure on al-Qaeda and itsallies worldwide, making it far harder for the organization to communicate,plan, and conduct attacks. Indeed, the biggest threats emanate from where counter-terrorismcooperation is poor due to the host country's support for jihadists (Pakistan)or lack of governance (such as in Somalia or Yemen).
In its attempt to be comprehensive, the book at times offerstoo much detail. The story of the U.S. fiasco in Iraq has been told, and toldwell, in other books, and another detailed repetition won't offer most readerstoo much (though the additional attention on the followers of radical Shi'acleric Moqtada al-Sadr is most welcome, as their role in the Iraq conflict isoften poorly understood). While the ups and downs of terrorism andcounterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan are less-known, some of thematerial could be condensed, as the reader may get bogged down in each twistand turn and lose sight of the bigger picture.
The 9/11 Wars wentto press as the Arab Spring broke out and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden waskilled, so understandably Burke doesn't have much to add on thesetransformative events beyond the most general analysis. Such events, however,are in keeping with Burke's theme that local politics and the aspirations ofordinary people shape the battlefield, and that the most profound events areoften the least expected.
Burke ends, appropriately, on a sober and grim note: thebody counts. As he points out, there is no clear winner of the 9/11 wars, but"losers are not hard to identify." Thetens of thousands dead from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan arelikely to be joined by tens of thousands more in the next decade. New theaters,ranging from Yemen to Nigeria, may also become enflamed. Stopping theconflagration is beyond the skill and means of even the best of leaders, but ifthey avoid the mistakes Burke identifies, they can better shield their owncitizens and avoid adding fuel to the fire.
Daniel Byman is theauthor of A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of IsraeliCounterterrorism. He is a professor atGeorgetown University and the research director of the Saban Center atBrookings.
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This week's AfPak Behind the Lines assesses the state of al-Qaeda in Iraq with analyst Brian Fishman.
1. What is the current status of al-Qaeda in Iraq, following the deaths of its leaders Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in a U.S. airstrike in Tikrit earlier this year? How has the group adapted to these losses, organizationally and ideologically?
Since the deaths
of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi, AQI (operating as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI))
has demonstrated that it can still cause death and destruction in Iraq. Nonetheless,
since its dramatic decline in 2007, the ISI's operational profile has changed
significantly, from attempting to control and dominate territory unilaterally
toward more intermittent large-scale attacks. No doubt this shift was a
concession to the reality of decreased influence and authority in Iraq, but by 2009 ISI was finding ways to use
major attacks in Baghdad
and elsewhere to discredit and undermine the Iraqi state. This trend has
continued since the deaths of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi, though one might argue
that the group has focused more on attacking Awakening Councils rather than the
formal Iraqi state. It is too early to draw that conclusion, in my opinion, but
it is interesting because it raises questions about ISI's sense of self and
purpose. Little is known about the new Emir of the ISI, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
al-Husayni al-Qurashi and his deputy Abu Abdullah al-Husayni al-Qurashi. They
have given little indication of their strategic focus or background.
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Wearing army fatigues and a red cap, Zaid Hamid is perhaps Pakistan's best-known television personality. The strategic affairs expert, who coined the term 'Hindu Zionist' to describe the hypothetical Indian and Israeli nexus against Pakistan, has become a household name across the country for his conspiracy theories on economic terrorism and Indian-U.S.-Israeli plotting. His Facebook page currently has a following of 66,000, among them students of expensive schools and even pop singers and fashion designers. Whether it is explaining Taliban militancy, Pakistan's ever-present electricity crisis, Blackwater's involvement in planning terrorist attacks, or plans for the U.S. to take over Pakistan's nuclear weapons, conspiracy theorists call the shots in Pakistan.
Pakistan's booming television industry, allowed to operate by ex-dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, helped lead to his downfall. The country's vibrant Urdu press, which outsells its English-language counterparts in most areas of the country, also helps shape public opinion, with its small army of retired military officers and civilian officials dominate the opinion pages to air their misgivings and concerns. It seems that anti-Americanism on the op-ed pages sells to Pakistanis, who are among the most anti-American people in the world.
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