AlQaeda, Taliban, Hamas - Are they birds of a feather?
by Abdul Cader Asmal
In the so-called ‘global war on terror’, it was expedient to portray Muslims under a single banner that was uniformly anti-West and anti-American and which could be readily marketed under the all-encompassing rubric of ‘Islamist terrorism’, a ploy that left little doubt who the enemy was. The machinations that got the hapless Iraqis embroiled into this are no longer a mystery, but an act of monumental hubris that unleashed endless terror on a largely innocent population and which has generated a hatred toward this country that now reverberates in the killing fields of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
To contain the current conflagration “enemies” must be redefined with even finer precision than President Obama has used, and strategies developed to change an unwinnable immediate situation into one that can, over the long term, serve the best interests of all involved. To this end we must take three steps: firstly, eradicate the further ‘AlQaedarisation’ of the Taliban’, secondly, halt the ‘Talibanisation’ of Pakistan, and finally, work with enlightened Muslims to dismantle the fossilized version of Islam embraced by the Taliban.
The underpinning of this strategy is the understanding that AlQaeda and the Taliban were distinct entities at the time of 911, and ideologically are still so, but recent events have brought them together so that the distinction in the theater of war has become less discernible.
AlQaeda is a cult of heretics who by issuing the ‘fatwa’ that it is Islamically acceptable to kill innocent non-combatants be they Christians, Jews or Muslims has de jure placed itself outside the fundamental tenets of Islam and should be excommunicated as such. At the time of the attack on the US, the number of active members in the training camps of Afghanistan, according to the 911 Commission’s Report, numbered only a few thousand - a number that could have been pulverized by a concerted single mindedness of purpose. Regrettably the mindless invasion of Iraq, billed as ‘the showdown with Saddam’, gave AlQaeda a public relations bonanza that the ‘American crusaders’ were out to deracinate Islam, which made it a religious obligation on all Muslims join the ‘jihad’ against the ‘infidels’. Thus ‘Alqaeda in Iraq’was a creation of our own making.
The Taliban represent an extremist group of Muslims with a very narrow rigid and xenophobic view of Islam. They are the children of war, eking a humiliating existence as refugees,with little or no formal education save for the suffocating indoctrination by preachers themselves frozen in time and embittered by their forsaken status- from the brutal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to the internecine conflict that saw the Taliban succeed where other warlords failed to bring any semblance of law and order, to the ongoing operations against the US and Nato forces. With the encroachment of the military campaign from Afghanistan into Pakistan and the wobbliness of the latter government, Talibanisation has become a real threat to the security and welfare of Pakistan. Once individuals develop a Talibanized mindset it is not difficult to inject the AlQaeda heresy into such brainwashed minds. And this happens every time a Western attack is made against Pakistan or Afghanistan. Hence the effort to bring the Taliban to its knees has had the counterproductive effect of bloating its ranks of jihadists and links to AlQaeda.
To extricate itself from this morass, US and Nato must redefine their mission as one with the sole object of eliminating the scourge of AlQaeda that has so dishonored the image of Islam, and continues to propagate a heresy. This may involve direct dialogue with the Taliban, as odious as it may seem, and may require the formation of a coalition government in Afghanistan, but this may represent the only viable approach to curb the spread of Talibanisation in Pakistan whose government must be supported to the hilt to directly take on the militants and anarchists.
The third and critical step in the stabilisation of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the reformation of Islam in both these countries. This would require an intensive diplomatic offensive working with fundamentalist Islamic groups in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to revise the rigid xenophobic curriculum that many madrassas have as their only resource. In this the US must co-opt the help of Muslim countries practising traditional Islam, and of organizations such as the Organisation of Islamic Conference. Muslims in this country remain a ready and willing source of promoting Islam that they are privileged to believe and practice. AlQaeda is a universal problem. Talibanism is a Muslim problem. Hamas is an Israeli-Palestinian problem with worldwide ramifications. Hamas is like the old Sein Fein with a social and political wing and a radical militant group. Its past use of terror as a tactic should not disqualify it from peace negotiations. Certainly by securing an enduring peace in the Middle East both Alqaeda and Taliban would face their biggest defeats.