TANK: Hundreds of Wazir tribesmen took to the streets to condemn Thursday’s drone attack in Wana that killed 12 people. After Friday prayers, Wazir tribesmen and elders staged a protest rally in Wana Bazaar and marched through various roads and streets. They called the attacks “an assault on the country’s sovereignty”. The protesters shouted anti-US slogans and demanded that the government play its role in stopping the attacks. Tribal elders said the people had rendered matchless sacrifices during the war against terror, adding that the tribesmen would continue to give more sacrifices to protect the country. They said most of the people killed in the drone attacks were innocent civilians. Markets and shopping malls remained closed to mourn Thursday’s killings.
—Saleem H Ali
During my last visit to Lahore when I interviewed various progressive scholars, they also expressed the strongest concern about America’s unflinching support for Saudi Arabia’s policies, which made them more suspicious of the West’s resolve in tackling extremism
The assassination of Dr Sarfraz Naeemi at a prominent madrassa in Lahore marks a turning point in Pakistan’s civil strife. The Taliban profess to be “pure” Sunni Muslims, and have targeted Shia mosques and seminaries many times before. However, Maulana Naeemi is the first notable Sunni scholar to be murdered by the Taliban.
The growing rift within Sunni Islam that has spread across Pakistan and fuelled the Taliban with foot soldiers from some radical centres of learning has clear connections to Wahhabi doctrines. The culpability of Saudi Arabia, both officially and privately, in perpetuating intolerance across the Muslim world must be duly acknowledged. No longer can we afford to believe cultural excuses from the Saudis for spreading ossified worldviews in other Muslim countries as a means of shielding their own state.
Pakistanis have also been made acutely aware of the arcane interpretations of sharia law in Saudi Arabia this week with the arrests of some poor pilgrims who were duped into drug trafficking by a Karachi agent.
While returning from Hajj three years ago, I had my first encounter with the pernicious evangelism of the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Islam. Before boarding the flight from Jeddah to Islamabad, each passenger was handed a book in Urdu, free of charge, by the Saudi boarding agent in which allegations of heresy were made against any Muslims who did not adhere to the “pure” Saudi brand of Islam. If each Haji returning to Pakistan is to be gifted such vitriol against pluralism, imagine what is going on in madrassas that receive funds from Saudi sources.
Let us not forget also that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were initially the only two countries to recognise the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before 9/11 (the UAE also briefly recognised the regime).
Saudi financing of radical doctrines was acknowledged by the 9/11 Commission report, which points out that “awash in sudden oil wealth, Saudi Arabia competed with Shi’a Iran to promote its Sunni [sic!] fundamentalist version of Islam, Wahabbism.”
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower, veteran journalist Lawrence Wright described how the rate of Saudi investment would impact the Muslim world: “…eventually, Saudi Arabia, which constitutes only a little over 1 percent of the world Muslim population would support 90 percent of the expenses of the entire faith, overriding other traditions in Islam.”
The Saudi influence in Pakistan is palpable everywhere. They bail us out when we run out of wheat; they provide political asylum in palaces to former prime ministers; they broker peace deals and provide funds for our weapons programmes.
No doubt some aspects of Saudi assistance to Pakistan and other Muslim countries are to be appreciated. However, what they want in return is an insidious evangelism of their exclusionary version of Islam, which must be resolutely rejected. They feel vindicated in destroying several mosques in their own country (such as the destruction of the Sabah Masajid in Medina) for fear of bidda’, or innovation, and we see the same callous destruction by the Taliban now of shrines and places of worship that deviate from their definition of “pure”.
While the world worries about Iran’s return to radicalism in the aftermath of the election, let us not forget the other radical Islamist country across the Gulf. In terms of human rights and treatment of minorities and women, Saudi Arabia is far more retrogressive than Iran and has played a more consequential role in the radicalisation of strategically important countries like Pakistan.
The Saudi government and Wahhabi sympathisers have recently attempted to differentiate Wahhabi Doctrine from “Qutbist” doctrine, named after the Egyptian Muslim Brother Syed Qutb, who travelled extensively in Western countries as well. They have argued that Al Qaeda leaders follow Qutbist views rather than Wahhabi views. However, this argument is not as compelling if one reads some of the writings of Syed Qutb, in books with misleading titles such as Islam and Universal Peace (1977). Much of this book follows a supremacist ideology that can be found in the Wahhabi tradition as well.
The Saudi government would claim that it has been a victim of terrorism by Al Qaeda as well. Indeed, Osama bin Laden has repeatedly declared war on the Saudi royal family. However, the Saudi government has realised that there is tacit support for many of Al Qaeda’s ideas within the Saudi people, and so they have co-opted many of the radical clerics by allowing them to evangelise in other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Even from a theological perspective, the Saudi view of Islam is highly hypocritical. For example, there is no concept of a monarchy in the Islamic tradition and yet Saudi Arabia is a kingdom. Strict Wahhabi doctrine also forbids photography yet the Saudi monarch insists on his portrait being displayed in every office in the country!
The Saudi establishment has thus kept an uneasy and unprincipled balance of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Such an approach is unsustainable from the perspective of regional conflict resolution as well as for Saudi Arabia’s own viability as a state.
Maulana Naeemi had repeatedly warned against the influence of absolutist Saudi doctrines in Pakistan. He recognised that the Taliban ideology was most closely associated with the Salafi/Wahhabi brand of Islam. Many of the draconian capital punishments that the Taliban practised in the Swat valley were emulating judicially prescribed practices in Saudi Arabia. However, this source of Taliban doctrines is still not being fully recognised by Pakistanis or the West.
During my last visit to Lahore when I interviewed various progressive scholars, they also expressed the strongest concern about America’s unflinching support for Saudi Arabia’s policies, which made them more suspicious of the West’s resolve in tackling extremism. Perhaps such matters were on President Obama’s mind as he visited Saudi Arabia last month. The lack of transparency in any communications during that visit has once again left an unsettling impression.
The unholy alliance between the United States and the Saudis is going to be mutually destructive unless it is predicated on international principles and norms. As a member of the new G-20 group of world powers, the Saudis must be pressured by the other members to reform internally and stop exporting intolerance. The Great Kingdom of the Khaadim-ul Harmain risks becoming an unpleasant anachronism if it continues to resist positive change.
Dr Saleem H Ali is associate professor of environmental planning and Asian studies at the University of Vermont and the author of Islam and Education: Conflict and Conformity in Pakistan’s Madrassas (Oxford University Press, 2009) http://www.saleemali.net
These diaries contain instructions, in exquisite detail, on how to make explosive devices, many with the most innocuous components like sugar, cooking oil (ghee), aluminium, Vaseline, coffee, charcoal, salt and even black seed
A not very well known fact is that during the Swat operations, security forces captured the diaries of some Taliban leaders, including Muslim Khan, the spokesman for the warlord Fazlullah. I managed to lay my hands on some of them, including a diary of someone who styles himself as ‘Khalid bin Al Walid’, an obvious pseudonym.
While most of the diaries read like normal diaries, relating events of the day, recording deaths with names (some names have been kept secret by the security personnel who gave me the diaries), but a portion of each diary is a training manual. This is the fascinating portion.
These portions are restricted to detailed instructions on the conduct of urban and rural guerrilla warfare. These include instructions on carrying out ambushes, evading one if possible, and how to fight through an ambush. They list combatants under loose command structures for certain operations, and even analyses of successes and failures of operations under each, casualties inflicted and suffered; the latter with a list of names. They record why a commander has been changed, occasionally for inefficiency, but more frequently so as to find the most appropriate individual for each task.
The details of each operation, instructions on how to regroup and reorganise after success, partial success, and even failure provide a fascinating insight into the extent of their training and understanding of guerrilla operations. Occasional glimpses of Sun Tzu’s and Che Guevara’s teachings come through. What these diaries resemble most are the ‘training manuals’ captured from the rebel Contras that Nicaragua took before the International Court of Justice to present its case against the United States for involvement in training the Contra rebels. However, quite obviously, these are contained in the diaries of the leaders, those in positions of authority.
While fascinating, they are not any cause for surprise, except for how they received such detailed instructions on guerrilla warfare. However, the remaining instructions contained in the diaries of leaders as well as ‘soldiers’ are certainly cause for concern and alarm.
These instructions, in exquisite detail, are on how to make explosive devices, many with the most innocuous components like sugar, cooking oil (ghee), aluminium, Vaseline, coffee, charcoal, salt and even black seed! Other explosive components include potassium chlorate, the most frequently used, whose chemical composition, KClO3, is invariably stated. In each case, all quantities are spelt out in milligrams, and frequently with diagrams.
Instructions on the use of TNT, RDX and Plastique are also included. The ratio of each component is included in detail, and instructions include information on which composition will result in a fire-bomb, which will explode, which can be charged with ball bearings for additional effect, which should not, and why.
They also include how improvised explosive devices, IEDs, can be triggered. Methods range from conventional fuses to improvised ones from rope soaked in fuel, to ones made from a hand-wound wrist watch, an alarm clock, even a mobile phone. Instructions also include which devices can be used for which IED. In addition, they state how charges can be shaped to maximise effect in a given direction and even have instructions on biological precautions to be taken if there is prolonged exposure to certain chemicals: when to drink a glass of milk or have a quart of yoghurt if exposed to a certain chemical!
Needless to say, instructions also include details on the sensitivity of each kind of IED, what might trigger each prematurely and the life span of each. Everything necessary has been covered in minute detail. Most of this was unknown to me until I read these diaries.
While all his information is available on the Internet, it needs a specialist to even search for it. This information necessitates knowledge of chemistry, physics and biology, and the combination of such knowledge can only be found for specific purposes, such as training people to operate behind enemy lines and make do with whatever is available, mostly special operatives of intelligence agencies who might find it necessary to build and deploy an IED. Such information could also be gathered by a scientist in the pay of an organisation like Al Qaeda.
The obvious question that comes to mind is from where they obtained this information. Even a chemist would need to be pointed in the right direction to collect the relevant data and schematics. This information has to come from an intelligence agency. Mossad, CIA, RAW or ISI: take your pick.
Now we are talking about people who are not only programmed to kill through distortions of religion, but combine that religious conviction with the knowledge of highly trained operatives capable of constructing their weapons individually. Just think of them as a few thousand Rambos with a distorted version of religion to justify the havoc they can wreak.
So far they are used to operating as individuals or in a group, under the instructions of what would be called ‘a control’, in intelligence parlance. However, if the Pakistani military operations are fully successful and eliminate the leadership, the command and control, and even the training structure of all chapters of the Taliban, which they must, even if only to stop them from churning out more of these ‘killing machines’, those already trained no longer need ‘controls’ or further instructions. If only ten thousand are left, and fifty percent decide in favour of peace, five thousand suicide attackers will still be left for us to face. With one suicide attack a day, their attacks can span almost fifteen years.
As far as Pakistan’s future is concerned, the question of who trained them pales in insignificance when compared to the implication: it lends credence to a conclusion I arrived at in an earlier article, that we are not destined to see the end of murder, mayhem, and suicide attacks in Pakistan for the foreseeable future.
This article is a modified version of one originally written for the daily National. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)