What Mullah Omar’s Death Means

30 07 2015

Taliban Mullah Omar Afghan Flag

This week the news media buzzed about the Afghan government’s announcement that the Taliban’s long time leader Mullah Omar died from illness. In fact, some sources claim that he had died in 2013. There are conflicting reports about whether he died in Afghanistan or in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan is denying the latter version. If true, then that would be yet another huge embarrassment for Pakistan, following the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the U.S. targeted assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. The timing of announcing Mullah Omar’s death, and the internal wrangling among senior Taliban leaders that followed the announcement, are all very telling.

First, it begs the question: Is this a major intelligence failure? Or, have world powers including the U.S. been aware of Mullah Omar’s demise in 2013? If so, then why keep it a secret for so long? Second, why should Pakistan’s denials be taken at face value, given the bin Laden legacy? Third, who leaked this news about his death? Fourth, no doubt the source of the leak is aware of the fragility of the current Afghan-Taliban peace talks taking place. Does that mean the leak is intended to derail the so-called peace talks? Fifth, Mullah Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a close confidant to Mullah Omar, is also very close to the Haqqani Network, which the U.S. considers a dangerous terrorist organization, and frequently targets its leadership with drone strikes. In fact, Siraj Haqqani has been appointed as Mullah Mansour’s deputy, which is a major chess move.

The situation in the Af-Pak region is extremely complicated, and it’s only getting worse with the changing dynamics and configurations involving a mindboggling number of militias, warlords, religious extremists and militants, drug traffickers, criminal elements, and corrupt officials. And now thrown into the mix we have, supposedly, an ISIS cell opening shop there too. Hence, what we see on the surface is much more complex underneath. Mullah Omar’s death and the belated announcement is not only the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom of the massive and violent glaciers and fault-lines that lie underneath, ready to explode or implode at any moment.

Consider the internal dynamics of the Afghan Taliban. According to the BBC News, Mullah Mansour’s appointment as the new Taliban leader did not come from consensus, which means that the Taliban are very divided. A Taliban faction prefers Mullah Omar’s son, Yaqub, to take his father’s mantle. Sounds familiar, no? That echoes the split between Sunnis and Shias that happened some 1400 years ago. The patterns and trends that drive schisms within Islamic extremist groups never grow old.

Mullah Mansour favors the peace talks with the Afghan government. Not all Taliban members agree with this move. And, interestingly, unlike Mullah Omar who held the title “Emir al-Mu’mineen” (“Commander of the Faithful,” a very important appellation in Islamic history), Mullah Mansour is called the “Supreme Leader.” To make matters more confusing, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamene’i bears the title Supreme Leader, and the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself Emir al-Mu’mineen.

Competition among Islamic militant/terrorist groups is fierce, clearly both between and within them. However, while this configuration might seem ideal for the divide-and-conquer strategy that many governments employ, we should not be fooled to think, for a moment, that this is the end of the Taliban. They will regroup, they might have break-off factions appear here and there, but in general the Taliban are not going anywhere in the Af-Pak region. If anything, the fact that the Afghan government is engaging in peace talks with the Taliban indicates that they are a force and entity to contend with, warts and all.

Oh, and one more thing about Mullah Mansour, during the Taliban reign in the mid-1990s, he was actively serving as a minister in the Taliban government, and, according to BBC News, “he had an active role in drug trafficking” (“Mullah Omar: Taliban choose deputy Mansour as successor ,”BBC News, July 30, 2015).

In light of this, consider the following passage excerpted from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) April 30, 2015 Quarterly Report (page 46):

“The U.S. government has spent over $8 billion since 2001 on a diverse set of counternarcotics initiatives aimed at reducing the amount of opium poppy that is grown in Afghanistan; reducing the assistance insurgent forces receive from the proceeds of opium trafficking; and reducing the consumption and export of opium products. Counternarcotics initiatives include eradicating opium poppies in farmers’ fields; seizing and destroying harvested opium and refined heroin; arresting and prosecuting drug traffickers; providing alternative crops and income sources to the people who rely on poppy cultivation for their livelihood; campaigning to reduce local demand for opium; and building Afghan capacity to reduce poppy cultivation with less international assistance. However, these efforts have not achieved the overarching objective of reducing the supply of opium in Afghanistan. In fact, opium poppy cultivation has risen dramatically from 8,000 hectares in 2001 to 224,000 hectares in 2014.”

The playing field for the variety of militants and warlords in the Af-Pak region has only expanded in recent years. The Taliban recognize their competition – both internal and external – yet they remain active in carrying out violent attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, Mullah Mansour is shrewdly allied with the Haqqani network, which could be highly beneficial for both.

Plus, Afghanistan and the U.S. and ISAF/NATO allies have numerous Achilles heels when it comes to their efforts in Afghanistan. For example, on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) side, the picture is far from rosy. The SIGAR report (pages 3-4) tells a troubling set of facts:

“SIGAR has issued two audit reports that highlight the challenges the United States faces in gathering reliable information about the total size of the ANSF, reported as of February 20, 2015, to number 328,805 personnel. A new SIGAR audit of the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) personnel and payroll data, as well as one released in January of the Afghan National Police’s (ANP) personnel and payroll data, found no assurance that these data are accurate.

Without reliable data on ANSF strength, the United States cannot determine whether the billions it has spent on recruiting, training, equipping, and sustaining the ANSF since fiscal year (FY) 2002 has been spent properly, or accurately calculate what additional funding may be needed.

… Numbers provide a basis for budgeting and planning—including planning the pace of U.S. and other Coalition forces’ drawdown from Afghanistan.

SIGAR’s audit of ANA personnel data illustrates the cause for concern. A team of SIGAR auditors made unannounced visits to the headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s 207th Corps in Herat Province and the 209th Corps in Balkh Province, and the Afghan Air Force (AAF) air wing based in Kabul. The auditors collected information on 134 service personnel present for duty. Of these, the identities of only 103 could be verified against ANA personnel data. One in nine had no ANA identification card. Of 35 persons present at Balkh, only 23 had an ANA ID card, and five were not listed in the ANSF human-resources database.”

There is much hope and support pinned on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to turn the security situation around, which would allow U.S. and Coalition troops to draw down significantly. In that spirit, President Ghani has conveyed a message to the Taliban. He is quoted as saying, “The Taliban need to choose not to be al Qaeda, and be Afghan.” For now, Mullah Omar’s death announcement has thrown a wrench into that process, while countless other ominous militant groups wait in the wings. Don’t hold your breath.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in National Security Affairs.

The views expressed are personal.

Advertisements




The Merger of Jihad Franchises in Syria: A War of Islamisms

22 11 2013

Syrian Rebels

syria_heavy_weapons_rebels.si

The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) accidentally beheaded one of their own commanders recently. Meanwhile, jihadist rebel groups have been fighting against the secular or more moderate Free Syrian Army forces, as well as against Syrian Kurds. Now, a group of Islamic rebel forces has announced a merger: “A statement posted online said Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham and the Kurdish Islamic Front had agreed to a ‘gradual merger’. It said the new Islamic Front will be an ‘independent political, military and social formation’ to topple the Assad regime and build an Islamic state” (BBC News, Nov. 22, 2013).

Throw into that mix Shia fighters in Assad’s camp, including Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and other pro-Shia Islamist militias, and now we have a full-fledged complex multidimensional sectarian war vying for a dominant Islamism to take hold of Syria.

The announcement of the new Islamic Front “may also challenge the growing influence of the two al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist rebel groups, the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), although they have co-operated with some of its component groups in the past.”

In sum, Syria embodies multi-layered “spiders web-like “ networks of Sunni and Shia militias and paramilitary forces, and this can only continue to plunge Syria into violence and chaos not unlike the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), although Syria’s war is at least a hundred times worse and intense and potentially will last a lot longer.

The supporters of these proxy rebel groups, like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other GCC states on the Sunni jihadists’ side, and Iran on the Shia side, have no regard for the innocent civilians suffering horrifically in Syria and also as refugees in neighboring countries. These proxy supporters are as guilty of atrocities as Bashar al-Assad. All sides are guilty of war crimes.

More crucially, this merger of jihad franchises in Syria encompasses a “war of Islamisms,” wherein even after Assad’s downfall, these religious rebel groups will continue – and possibly intensify – the war in power struggles, in order for their own Islamist ideology to win. We have seen this pattern of the war of Islamism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In particular, once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan (1989), the multitude of Islamic fundamentalist/militant warlords and militias proliferating throughout the Af-Pak region turned their guns against each other. Within that scenario the Taliban arose and engaged these warlords in the Afghan civil war. We know the rest of the story, once the Taliban succeeded in taking Kabul and creating the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

I have called the Syrian civil war the “Afghanistan of the Middle East.” I would love to be proven wrong about that, but this merger of Islamic rebel groups and the power struggles between the Islamic Front and the Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist groups portend a similar outcome to Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. The war of Islamisms is nothing new, especially in terms of the sectarian rivalry between Sunnis and Shias. That’s as old as Islam itself. Now, we see the power struggles in the post-Arab Awakening Middle East and North Africa consist of all shades of Islamists trying to climb over each other for the seats of power. This is all at the expense of civilians, both Sunnis, Shias, Christians, and secularists.

To quote U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

Those waging the war of Islamisms seem to fail miserably in grasping that concept.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.
The views expressed are personal.





Many Pakistanis Side with the Taliban against Malala

21 07 2013

Malala_Yousafzai_addresses_UN_295x200
Pakistani Taliban Swat

Malala Yousefzai wrote and delivered an outstanding speech at the United Nations last week.  Yet, many in the cyber world of comments, tweeting, and hot air dispensing were not only dissatisfied, but missed the heart of her message completely.  Instead, many nitpicked about how she should have done X, Y, or Z, and not A, B, or C, including, among many other criticisms, supposedly her failure to sufficiently glorify Islam and/or the Prophet Muhammad.  This is very typical of myopic Muslims who time and again fail to receive important messages as the one Malala is conveying, and instead focus on – no, obsess about – the trivial and peripheral nonsense that they can pick on endlessly like mindless vultures.  Why do we bother pondering the reasons why the Muslim world is not progressing?  If only they would actually take her advice about getting a decent education and using their intellect for the greater good!  But that might be asking too much.  It’s much more convenient to blame others for all your problems.

Pakistan is already overflowing with conspiracy theories pertaining to Malala’s UN sponsorship for the speech.  Some ridiculous conjectures include CIA support for her activism, and even farfetched suggestions that the CIA is the one that actually shot her in the head in order to “make Pakistan look bad.”  Let’s be frank here, does Pakistan really need outside help to look any worse?  It’s not exactly the best example for “good governance” for the past decades, and some would even say since the country’s birth.  Besides, blaming outside forces for all their woes is really getting old.  And, let’s stoop to yet a deeper low and chastise a young girl for what – getting shot in the head?  For taking a refreshingly nonviolent stand against extremism and ignorance?  For initiating activism for girls’ education in Pakistan?  Yes, she deserves to be shot for all that, some actually would say!

Then came the letter to Malala from a high-ranking Taliban commander, which could not possibly be out of embarrassment.  The Taliban are not known for being embarrassed about anything they do.  Clearly, he saw a PR disaster as a result of Malala’s global stature.  According to the New York Times, the 4-page letter – “was signed by the militant Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani Air Force officer who took part in an attempt to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf a decade ago and escaped from prison last year, in the biggest jailbreak in Pakistani history.”  Yes, he is an esteemed character indeed, and he represents a segment of Pakistan’s armed forces no less.  What exactly does he want to convey to Malala?

Adnan Rashid explains in the letter that the Taliban shot Malala, not because of her activism and advocacy for girls’ education, but rather her “smear campaign” against the Taliban.  He admonishes “English” education and then he says:

“I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pushtoon culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah, use your pen for Islam and plight of Muslim ummah and reveal the conspiracy of tiny elite who want to enslave the whole humanity for their evil agendas in the name of new world order.”

The Taliban enslaved the Swat Valley, using brutality and force against locals to comply with their distorted policies.  The Taliban never hesitate to kill, maim, and brutalize civilians, and in his own words, they can’t even take criticism (i.e., “Malala’s smear campaign”) from a teenager!  By his own admission, the Taliban shot her in the head because she criticized them.  And, he claims the assassination attempt had nothing to do with her education advocacy, but yet he emphasizes that she must attend only a female madrassa that teaches nothing useful for individual and social progress and development.

Exactly which ‘ummah’ is he talking about?  Is it the one in which Shias, Ahmadis, and other sectarian and religious minorities are not only excluded, but even violently persecuted?  Is it the one in which schoolgirls get acid thrown in their faces for daring to get an education?   Is it the puritanical ummah that hates and fears females and anyone and any ideology that does not conform to its own brand?  Is it the ummah that is being forced on civilians at gunpoint and with threats of beheadings and amputations?  Is it that great ummah in which the Taliban carry out suicide bombings killing scores of civilians, in order to impose their own “new world order”?  Hypocrisy thy name is the Taliban!

The greater travesty is that many in Pakistan are embracing the Taliban’s messages and reactions.  The fact that the Taliban’s asinine victimization claims are touching a chord in Pakistani society, to the extent that many are reviling Malala, is a deeply troubling commentary about the state of affairs in Pakistan.

Pakistan is afflicted with much more than just geopolitical complexities; it is clearly in deep psychological crisis and confusion about its national identity, internal contradictions, violent dissent, and the rise and empowerment of militancy, extremism, and militarism in nearly all aspects of society.  Many Pakistanis obsess with blaming outside forces for all their troubles, yet they ignore their self-inflicted social ills, including violent misogyny, debilitating poverty, and gross corruption and incompetence of political leaders.  The greatest casualty in all this social/psychological turmoil is something so basic and essential to survival and progress:  common sense.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed are personal.





DIME+E and The ABCs of Fighting Religious Extremism

15 11 2012

Please read my article in the Tampa Tribune:  “The ABCs of Fighting Religious Extremism”

http://www2.tbo.com/news/opinion/2012/nov/15/naopino2-the-abcs-of-fighting-religious-extremism-ar-564781/

This article introduces the (copyrighted) concept (my idea) of DIME+E, the second ‘E’ refers to EDUCATION.





Women in Afghanistan – Journal Article

13 11 2012

The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) journal has published my article, “Women in Afghanistan: A Human Rights Tragedy a Decade after September 11” –

http://www.gloria-center.org/2012/11/women-in-afghanistan-a-human-rights-tragedy-a-decade-after-september-11/

Also published by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), thank you RAWA:

http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2012/11/12/women-in-afghanistan-a-human-rights-tragedy-a-decade-after-september-11.html





Islamic Extremists’ Propensity for Violence & Intolerance

31 10 2012

The shooting of the brave Pakistani teenager, Malala Yusufzai, underscores a reality, without exaggeration, about the degree and severity of misogyny of Islamic extremists.   The shooting, which the 14-year-old activist and campaigner for girls’ education survived, is an ever-growing stain on Pakistan’s fabric of militancy and mindless misogynist orthodoxy.  The list of threats and violence against women and liberal voices is long.  This week BBC profiled an Afghan female rap artist, who is a proud patriot, yet receives regular threats by militants, including threats of acid attacks.  In Dagestan, militants murdered the fourth Sufi cleric this year.

What drives these hyenas to commit senseless acts of violence against innocent civilians and even children?  Are they so threatened by girls that they have to resort to such tactics as acid attacks and shootings of school buses?  Is this what their seminary curricula have taught them, to hate everyone who doesn’t conform to their own way of thinking, and to fear girls, especially educated ones?  I once reprimanded my students for using the word “barbaric” for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but now I lament my actions.  The behavior of these militants and extremists, which are not restricted to the Af-Pak region, is beyond barbaric.  They transcend the Dark Ages in their regressive madness and extremes.  They make me hate the news and cringe every time I reach for BBC or NPR.  They are a dark cloud hovering ominously over the “modern” Muslim world today, and sadly many Muslims remain defensively in denial or apologetically rationalize the existence of these ugly elements, or re-frame Shariah (Islamic law) to distance themselves from such ideologies.

If so called moderate and liberal Muslims fail to acknowledge the reality of these extremists and their agendas, and, more importantly, fail to counter these militant and extremist forces in their midst, dire consequences await Muslim communities worldwide.  Some of these consequences are already occurring, including:

  • Hijacking and undermining children’s education systems, in the guise of “religious education,” by the infiltration of extremist and ultra-orthodox ideologies that promote intolerance and potentially militancy.  Such ideologies include Wahhabism and Salafism;
  • Stifling of liberal and Sufi voices and practices, as well as destruction of religious sites, as in the case of Salafi destruction of Sufi shrines and UNESCO heritage sites in recent months in Mali and Libya;
  • Attacking and killing non-Muslims in the name of Islam, as in the case of Boko Haram killing Christians and attacking churches in Nigeria;
  • Increasing the oppression of girls and women and religious minorities, as well as religious pariahs (e.g., sectarian groups like Shiites, and religions like Bahaism), and denying their rights and freedoms;
  • Stoking anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, anti-modernism, and anti-Jewish and Christian sentiments, again in the name of Islam;
  • Undermining democratization and socioeconomic progress, especially by means of suppressing segments of society like women and minority groups;
  • Repressing intellectual freedoms and the arts;
  • Arbitrarily invoking takfir (calling someone a non-believer, or an apostate) and blasphemy labels, resulting in excommunication or even death of the targeted individual;
  • Questioning modern secular ideas, education, and progressive lifestyles, and seeking to repress them;
  • Locking entire communities in cycles of religious authoritarianism and totalitarianism by use of force or threats of violence, peer pressure, and excommunication;
  • Killing anyone who opposes them;
  • Focusing on nothing but their own myopic concepts of “jihad” and manipulations thereof;
  • Pursuing agendas of territorial expansion, areas of operation, recruitment, and cooptation of local government, law enforcement, and religious officials, where possible;
  • Blaming everything on the US, Jews, and Israel;
  • Interpreting religious laws and principles literally;
  • Attempting to superimpose 7th century ideas and practices on the present;
  • Bullying innocent people into submission and conformity, resulting in religious fascism that does not tolerate dissent, nor does it tolerate women’s rights to choose how they dress, live, acquire an education, work, and marry or divorce.

The end result of this religious fascism is nothing but destructive, oppressive, intolerant, and violent, authoritarian male-dominated communities living anachronistically in a 7th century time warp.  In fact, that itself is an untruth, because much of these extremists’ attitudes and behaviors pre-date Islam.  Yet, they insist on attributing their take on Islam as replicating the time of the Prophet Muhammad in 7th century Arabia.  Still, even the latter was not such a shining example of women’s emancipation and rights, certainly not by modern standards, nor was it brimming with religious tolerance and harmony.  Pre-Islamic Arabia fared even worse of course, but to compare these historical contexts to modern times is a non-starter.  Hence, the extremists’ backward regression is far worse than anticipated.  We all thought the Taliban were the worst when they emerged in the 1990s, but now they have parallel groups and ideologies that mirror them in many respects.  And we have the Saudis to thank for the proliferation of Wahhabi / Salafi ideologies that are inspiring these extremists and militants.

Last year and even earlier this year, I had high hopes for post-revolution political and socioeconomic development in Tunisia, where the 2011 Arab Awakening began.  Now, Salafist thugs are threatening to derail stability and security in Tunisia, while continuing their violent agendas and attacks.  Even as recent as October 31st, there have been fierce clashes in Tunis, as Al Jazeera reports:

“Wielding sharp tools and swords, the protesters went on the attack in the Tunis suburb of Manouba after police arrested a Salafist suspected of assaulting the head of the suburb’s public-security brigade, Khaled Tarrouche, interior ministry spokesman, said.

‘There has been a reinforcement of security, of the National Guard, of the army to prevent any retaliation’ by the Salafist movement, Tarrouche said on Wednesday.

‘The response by the security forces led to the death of an attacker who was hit by a bullet.’

Two security force members were also seriously injured, he said.”

These extremist elements are enemies of knowledge.  They are haters of peace and harmony.  They are the most intolerant towards tolerance.  Muslims must not bury their heads in the sand about this.  There is way too much at stake.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views





The Taliban, Salafi ideology: Learning from History

9 10 2012

This is my latest Jerusalem Post opinion piece, October 9, 2012, “The Taliban, Salafi Ideology: Learning from History”:

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=287164