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Le Monde Diplo October 1998/ Pravda 2001-11-07 on the 'sharia emirate'
by Tausch, Arno
20 September 2002 08:58 UTC
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Fundamentalists without a common cause


On the fringe of the UN General Assembly, the representatives of the United
States and Russia have been meeting those of Afghanistan's six neighbours to
discuss the crisis caused by the Taliban offensive, the assassination of
Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif and the massacres of Afghan Shiites.
With Iranian troops massing on the border, joint manoeuvres by the Russians
and Tajiks, and the rumoured deployment of Russian soldiers in Uzbekistan, a
regional war is on the cards. The increasingly isolated Taliban regime is
still not in control of the whole country. At the UN, Iranian President
Mohamad Khatami has accused the Taliban of genocide and turning Afghanistan
into a base for terrorism and drug trafficking. But a war in the region
could cost Iran dear and strengthen its hardliners. 

A new pattern of regional alliances is emerging. The Taliban are supported
only by Pakistan and, according to several sources, by the Israeli
government, which is obsessed by the "Iranian threat". Their links with
Saudi Arabia have become strained and their once close relationship with the
United States has deteriorated, as shown by the American bombing of Osama
bin Laden's Afghan bases in August. On the other side, a grand alliance is
taking shape, comprising Iran, Russia and the members of the Community of
Independent States, apparently supported by India and even China, which is
worried by the spread of Islamist propaganda within its own borders. The
days of the "great game", when Moscow and London vied for control of Central
Asia, are over. The new game which is developing is fraught with danger,
both for Afghanistan and the whole region. - A. G.




The West first felt the blast of Islamist radicalism in 1983, when hundreds
of French paratroopers and US marines died in the Beirut barracks bombing.
Iran raged against America, the "Great Satan". Meanwhile, the Soviet Union,
Ronald Reagan's "evil empire", was raining bombs on Muslim Afghanistan, with
the apparent connivance of radical Islamists. Washington conceived a plan to
make Moscow pay the maximum price for its occupation of Afghanistan while
turning Islamic radicalism against the communists and, as a spin-off,
against the Iranian Shia. The idea was to encourage a specifically Sunni
radicalism aiming at full application of the sharia but avoiding any hint of
Islamic "revolution". This suited Saudi Arabia perfectly, since it was
anxious to strengthen its Islamic credentials in opposition to Iran. As for
the Pakistani intelligence services, they had (and still have) the wider aim
of playing the Sunni Islamist card to gain control of Afghanistan and
achieve a breakthrough in Central Asia (1). 

The operation was mounted jointly by the CIA, the director of the Saudi
Intelligence Department, Prince Turki bin Feisal (who is still in office),
and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). However, only
the Pakistanis were prepared to put men on the ground. The CIA had got its
fingers badly burnt in Vietnam and Laos, and the Saudis were used to paying
others to do any work, from national defence to driving their expensive
limousines. So the job was given to the Arab Muslim Brothers and the
Pakistani Islamist Party, Jamaat-i Islami, from which General Zia ul Haqq,
Pakistan's head of state from 1977 to 1988, drew many of his advisors. 

Starting in late 1984, thousands of the Middle East's most militant Islamist
activists made their way to Afghanistan. Their recruitment was coordinated
by Osama bin Laden, a rich Saudi Arabian. In Peshawar they were taken in
hand by the Mektab ul Khedamat, an office led by Abdallah Azzam, a Jordanian
Muslim Brother of Palestinian origin who was assassinated in September 1989
in mysterious circumstances. Most of these volunteers, subsequently known as
"Afghans", were members of opposition groups from all over the Middle East.
The only non-dissidents among them were the Sudanese, who had been very
active in Islamic welfare organisations. None of them, of course, were
Shiites (2). Most were sent to the Hezb-i-Islami camps of Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar, but some were assigned to local commanders like Jellaluddin
Haqqani, today a staunch supporter of the Taliban. 

The situation changed radically with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan
(February 1989), the Gulf war (1990-91) and the fall of the Soviet Union
(1991). The "Afghans" ceased to be of any use to Washington. Turning against
the United States, they accused it of waging war on the Muslim world.
Pakistan abandoned its protégé Hekmatyar, who had incurred the wrath of
Saudi Arabia by supporting Saddam Hussein. In August 1994 it switched its
support to the Taliban, who were just as Islamist but more conservative.
Washington indulged the Taliban from 1994 to 1996 (3), but the situation
changed once again when they gave refuge to Osama bin Laden, got involved in
poppy cultivation and stepped up the repression of women. The State
Department, in the person of Madeleine Albright, clearly distanced itself
from them in the autumn of 1997. 

But the camps that had been set up in Afghan tribal areas to train
anti-Soviet mujaheddin were never closed down. The international networks
have continued to recruit for one jihad after another: an Islamic state in
Afghanistan, Yemen up to 1994, Kashmir, Bosnia, and now the United States
itself. A two-way traffic developed. While hunted militants took refuge in
the camps, the fighters trained there returned to their home countries and
are now to be found in all the most militant movements. These movements, of
course, have histories of their own and are not simply creations of the
"Afghans". A possible exception is Algeria, where the founding leaders of
the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), Tayyeb al-Afghani (killed in November 1992),
Jaffar al-Afghani (killed in March 1994) and Sherif Gousmi (killed in
September 1994), were all Afghan returnees. They were also to be found in
the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) with figures such as Said Mekhloufi,
Kamareddin Kherbane and Abdallah Anas (real name Boudjema Bunnua, who
arrived in Afghanistan in 1984 and married Abdallah Azzam's daughter). But
in Algeria they figured most prominently in the GIA: Abu Messaab, a Syrian,
and Abu Hazma al-Misri (Mustafa Kamel) from Egypt are the main ideologists
of Al Ansar, the GIA newsletter published in London. Both men have lived in

On the Egyptian front, Muhammad al-Islambuli, brother of President Sadat's
assassin, has been living in Afghanistan for ten years or so. Fuad Qassim
and Ahmad Taha, the leaders of the Egyptian Islamist group Gamaat Islamiyya,
are both former "Afghans", as is Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian
Jihad, who co-signs Osama bin Laden's communiqués. The Kashmiri movement
Harakat al Ansar has its training camp in the Afghan province of Khost. This
camp was the main target of the American bombing raid on 21 August. 

Nevertheless, many Afghan returnees have difficulty in finding a place in
current struggles. Uprooted, they tend to gravitate between Peshawar and,
surprisingly, New Jersey, the latest Muslim "ghetto". Investigation of the
explosion that almost destroyed New York's World Trade Centre in February
1993 led to a strange band of activists. The main suspect, the Egyptian
Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, had spent time in Peshawar, and both his sons
fought in Afghanistan, where they are still to be found on the side of the
Taliban. The sheikh, who is known to have approved the assassination of
President Sadat, is one of the founders of the radical Egyptian Islamist
movement Gamaat Islamiyya. Despite this, he was given a visa by the American
consulate in Khartoum in May 1990 and got a green card on arrival in New
Jersey. The other suspects, Ramzi Yousef, a Pakistani brought up in Kuwait,
Muhammad Salameh and Ahmad Ajjaj (both Palestinians) had also spent time in
the Afghan camps. 

The attack on the World Trade Centre was not an isolated incident. In 1993 a
Pakistani, Mir Aimal Kansi, opened fire on staff entering the CIA's
headquarters in Langley. Both Yousef and Kansi were picked up by the FBI in
Pakistan, Yousef in 1995 and Kansi in 1997. Ex-ISI Chief Hamid Gul was
furious at the extraditions and called for the Pakistani officials
responsible to be court-martialled. On 11 November 1997 four American
employees of an oil company were assassinated in Karachi in reprisal for the
sentence passed on Kansi in the United States. The assassination was claimed
by Harakat al Ansar, a group which had its origins in the "Afghan" camps.
Mehat Muhammad Abdel Rahman, suspected to be the leader of the group
responsible for the massacre of European tourists in Luxor in September
1997, was also an "Afghan". And so is Said Sayyed Salama, whose extradition
from Egypt in June of this year provoked a communiqué from Osama bin Laden
threatening revenge. 

The two attacks against Americans on Saudi territory are a little more
obscure. The first was the bombing of a National Guard training centre in
Riyadh in November 1995. The accused, Hassan Abdel Rab Al Sarihi, was a
35-year-old Saudi Arabian living in Pakistan, who was alleged to have spent
time in Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's training camps. To Washington's chagrin, the
Saudis executed him without giving the Americans a chance to debrief him.
The bombing of the Khobar Towers military housing complex in Dhahran in June
1996 is still the subject of intense controversy. For a year the American
press pointed the finger at Iran and accused the Saudis of covering up the
Iranian connection so as not to jeopardise their rapprochement with Tehran.
However, it was the Iranians, not the Saudis, who had been seeking a
rapprochement, with a view to the Islamic summit in Tehran in December 1997.
And it is rather strange that there has been no more talk of an Iranian lead
since the only suspect (Hani al-Sayegh, a Saudi Shiite who had spent some
time in Qom) was extradited to the United States. 

This brief survey shows that most of the attacks on Western interests can be
traced to a network of radical Sunni movements based in the
Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands. What is striking about these new
movements, of which the Taliban are the prototype, is the contrast between
their political radicalism and their ideological conservatism. It is this
which distinguishes them from large Islamist movements like Khomeinism. The
mudslinging of the Western media should not blind us to the fact that the
Taliban arouse a sympathetic response in a sector of Muslim public opinion
(4). Their sole point of reference is the sharia, and their outlook is
uncompromisingly conservative and profoundly Sunni in character. The social
content of the Islamic revolution is foreign to them. In Egypt, for example,
the Gamaat Islamiyya approved the agrarian counter-reform carried out by
Mubarak last autumn. The goal of the radical Sunni movements is the sharia,
the whole sharia, and nothing but the sharia. What is more, the sharia
itself is very narrowly defined, with the term "sharia emirate" preferred to
"Islamic state". 

This outlook is partly explained by the militants' social base. They stem
mostly from the private religious schools (madrasas) that have mushroomed in
certain Muslim countries, particularly those like Pakistan where state
schooling is blatantly inadequate. The private madrasas have received
funding from Saudi Arabia and are exposed to the propaganda of conservative
governments that are pushing the sharia in an attempt to cut the ground from
under the radicals' feet. They are flooding an already saturated market with
thousands of preachers who have no skills other than a vague knowledge of
the sharia and for whom the Islamisation of society offers the only hope of
social advancement. 

Against this background, Osama bin Laden does not appear as the "mastermind"
behind radical Islamist movements throughout the world. He should rather be
seen as a trainer of militants who subsequently choose their own fields of
action or mount spectacular symbolic operations within the framework of his
organisation Al Qaida. These militants are connected by networks of personal
relations and supported, in Pakistan, by a group of parties that have been
in existence for a long time and include the traditionalist, conservative
Jamiat Ulema-i Islami, which, like the Afghan Taliban, follows the teachings
of the Deoband School (5), and the Islamist movement Jamaat-i-Islami. Both
of these organisations have sprouted more violent splinter groups. In the
first case, the Sipah-i-Saheban (Army of the Companions of the Prophet),
whose mission is war against the Shiites. In the second case, the
Dawat-ul-Irshad, set up in 1987, which is very active in Kashmir. Private
madrasas, like the one in Akora Khattak, near Peshawar, which is run by
Pakistani Senator Sami ul Haqq (a member of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islami), have
sent thousands of students to Afghanistan to join the ranks of the Taliban. 

While the new movements brandish the traditional banner of
"anti-imperialism", the American flag is now being burnt in the name of the
sharia. What is "radical" about these movements is their choice of violence
and their visceral hatred of "Crusaders", Jews and Shiites, a hatred fed by
all the frustrations of the last ten years (notably the Gulf war and
America's indulgence of Binyamin Netanyahu). The tone is exemplified by
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri's announcement, earlier this year, of
the creation of a World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders.
The Shiites are regarded as heretics (6). The exacerbation of inter-communal
strife in Pakistan and the blockade of Shiite areas by the Taliban in
Afghanistan are symptomatic. This is a considerable setback for Iran, which
posed throughout the 1980s as the leader of a world Islamic revolution
transcending the Sunni-Shia divide. The murder of Iranian diplomats by the
Taliban and the assassination of Iranian cadets and diplomats in Pakistan
last winter show that Iran is now as much of target as America. Tehran did
not join the Arab League in protesting against the American bomb attacks on
Afghanistan and Sudan, and is now on the verge of war with the Taliban. 

The new situation is also a setback for the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi model of alliance between conservative Islamic fundamentalism and
the West has failed. The problem for Washington is that it has no
alternative political strategy vis-à-vis the Muslim world. On the Saudi
side, the double talk of Prince Turki, a convinced pro-American who has
always supported the radical Sunni movements and was still with the Taliban
in the spring of this year, is reaching its limits (7). Riyadh is spending
large sums of money to fund Islamist networks that actually feel nothing but
contempt for the emirs and their petrodollars and think the Islamic State of
Saudi Arabia would be even more Islamic without the Saud dynasty. 

In Pakistan, however, the radical Sunni movements enjoy solid support within
the state apparatus. They are an integral part of the country's regional
strategy of guerrilla warfare in Kashmir, control of Afghanistan, and
Islamic agitation in Central Asia. The former head of the ISI, General Hamid
Gul, spoke out fiercely against the United States after the bomb attack on
20 August. One of his successors, General Javed Nasir, was sacked in 1994
for Islamist sympathies. The new president is himself an Islamist
sympathiser. In September this year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced
full Islamisation of the legal system. While handing over from time to time
the people most directly implicated in anti-American attacks (Yousef, Kansi
and Odeh for the Nairobi bombing), Pakistan is still playing the Taliban
card to the full. 

The question for the Americans is whether Pakistan itself has become a rogue
state, and a nuclear one to boot. It would appear that the United States was
fighting the wrong enemy in 1995 when it introduced sanctions against Iran
through the D'Amato bill, just as Tehran was ceasing to be involved in
anti-Western violence. Given the weakness of the Executive and the
incompetence of Congress in matters of foreign policy, the United States is
drifting like a ship without a captain, loosing Tomahawk missiles at random

The Sunni fundamentalist movements are capable of spectacular attacks and
portray themselves as the vanguard of struggle against the United States.
But in fact they are largely disconnected from the real strategic issues of
the Muslim world (except in Pakistan and Afghanistan). Their distinctive
feature is their internationalism and lack of territorial base. Their
activists wander from jihad to jihad, generally on the fringes of the Middle
East (Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia). They are indifferent to their own
nationalities. Some have several. Ramzi Yousef calls himself a Pakistani by
birth and a Palestinian by choice (9), and Muhammad Sadiq Odeh is said to be
a Palestinian born in Jordan and married to a Kenyan. Others, like Osama bin
Laden, whose Saudi nationality has been revoked, have none. They all define
themselves as Muslim internationalists and link their militancy to no
particular national cause. Their "centres" are located in the no-man's-land
of the Afghan-Pakistani tribal areas. 

They are thus disconnected not only from existing states (especially Iran),
but also from the large Islamist movements, which have disowned their
offspring. The whole of the FIS, for example, including the tendency led by
Abdallah Anas, has condemned the GIA. The large Islamist movements, such as
the Muslim Brotherhood, the FIS, Refah in Turkey and Hamas in Palestine,
place their struggles in a national framework and claim full recognition as
protagonists in the political process. This approach, which is shared by
Iran, might appropriately be described as Islamic nationalism. It is a far
cry from the imaginary umma which Osama bin Laden and his associates invoke.
These are more like the urban guerrillas of Sunni fundamentalism which,
without a genuine political project, recruit on the social and geographical
fringes of the Middle East, where tensions are exacerbated by the political
deadlock (10).


* Director of Research at the CNRS 


(1) The Pakistani army has always seen the Afghan affair as an opportunity
to achieve strategic depth with respect to India and to open a corridor to
Central Asia. As a corollary of this policy, Pakistan expects its support
for the Afghan mujaheddin to result in a virtual Pakistani protectorate in
liberated Afghanistan, to be established in the name of Islam and, more
subtly, by means of Pashtun ethnic connections on both sides of the border.
An interesting testimony, though heavily slanted and highly tendentious, is
the book by ISI General Mohammed Yousaf, The Bear Trap, Jang, Lahore, 1992. 

(2) Iran did send a few pasdaran (revolutionary guards) as advisors to the
Afghan Shia, but nothing on the scale of the "Afghan" phenomenon. The
Iranian activists of the 1980s learnt the art of war in Lebanon, not in
Afghanistan, one of the reasons being to avoid antagonising the Soviets. 

(3) See Olivier Roy, "Avec les Taliban : la charia plus le gazoduc", Le
Monde diplomatique, November 1996. 

(4) See, inter alia, http://www.taliban.com, a pro-Taliban Website run by
the newspaper Dharb ul Mumin. 

(5) A traditional religious school founded in the 19th century to combat the
influence of Hinduism on Islam on the Indian sub-continent. 

(6) The current obsession with Iran as the mastermind behind all Islamic
terrorism obscures the violently anti-Shia aspect of Sunni radicalism. There
is whole body of anti-Shia literature on the Pakistani market which is
little known outside the country. See for example Khomeyni, Iranian
revolution and the Shia faith, by Maulana Nomani, a follower of the Deoband
School, with an introduction by Sayyed Nadwi. On 2 August 1998 Dharb ul
Mumin, a newspaper closely associated with the Taliban, published on the
Taliban Website some khutba (sermons) by Sheikh Hudaybi, imam of the
Masjid-e Nabavi mosque, in which, after an attack on Christians and Jews, he
describes the Shia as kuffar (ungodly), rafawiz (heretics) and monafiqin

(7) The Saud dynasty is obliged to make concessions to the anti-Western
current that is gaining strength not only in certain parts of the country
but also at the very heart of the Wahhabite religious establishment, which
has up to now been a pillar of the monarchy. 

(8) The theory behind the US Congress' outlook has put formulated by an
"expert", Ken Timmerman, who endeavours to demonstrate that Iran is behind
all terrorist action. In a article in The Wall Street Journal on 11 August
1998, he states categorically, without any attempt at proof, that Iran was
responsible for the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. 

(9) Washington Post, 5 June 1995. 

(10) See Olivier Roy, The failure of Political Islam, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1994.


Translated by Barry Smerin 

Pravda.RU:World:More in detail  
15:20 2001-11-07


Up to the year 1990, Osama bin Laden made an impression of a "well-mannered,
gentle young man, not daring to express his opinion in a conversation". This
was told by ex-chief of Saudi intelligence, prince Turki Al-Feisal, who met
with bin Laden three times (twice in Saudi embassy to Islamabad, and once -
in the kingdom, where bin Laden returned in 1990). 
In his interview to Saudi TV station MBC, the head of general intelligence
of the kingdom, who resigned this August, noticed, that bin Laden had been
an ordinary man, one of the not many Saudi volunteers fighting in
According to prince Turki, bin Laden tried to appear with anti-American
announcements in schools and religious organizations, though he was not
noted of undermining actions, so after a strict reprimand, he was allowed to
leave the kingdom. After Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan,
Al-Qaida, organization created by bin Laden in 1989, did not have any
concrete tasks, except a very indistinct aim of "restoration of justice",
the prince said. Though, according to him, in 1990, bin Laden proposed
Er-Riad to use the army of Muslim volunteers instead of US troops to deliver
Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. He was against foreign troops' presence in
Saudi Arabia, where Islam had been born and where the two main Muslim
sanctuaries were situated, RIA 'Novosti' reports. 
Bin Laden was in opposition to fetva of Saudi ulems, who admitted acceptance
of military help from the West to be possible for deliverance of the
neighbouring country. Prince Turki supposes, that since that moment, Osama
bin Laden has changed and has become so, as we know him now. 
In 1992, bin Laden went to South Yemen, where he recruited youth for
military training in Al-Qaida's camps. 

Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2001/11/07/33516.html



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2002 Le Monde diplomatique 

PS: The respected President's Mohamad Khatami's statement can be read at:


Arno Tausch 

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