Jihad goes intercontinental
By Walid Phares in Asia Times
Since the deadly attacks in Mumbai last November, counter-terrorism experts worldwide, particularly those based in democracies in the crosshairs, have been drawing long-term conclusions as to the forthcoming type of operations which may hit cities and interests on more than one continent.
Today, we are in the post-Mumbai era where the expectation of recidivism and copycats is eerily high. Indeed, the jihadis who seized a few buildings in India’s financial center, wreaked havoc at several locations in the city and killed nearly 220 people have brought to the attention of national security analysts a concept for the future: Urban jihad.
I had predicted these scenarios of mayhem perpetrated by
determined terrorists in chapter 13 of my first post-September 11, 2001 book, Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against the West, published in 2005.
My projection of al-Qaeda and other jihadi tactics was based on a patient and thorough observation of their literature and actions for decades. By now, the public realizes that such scenarios are not just possible but highly likely in the future. In all countries where jihadi cells and forces have left bloody traces over the past eight years, at least counter-terrorism agencies have been put on notice: it can happen there as well.
But the Mumbai ghazwa (raid) reveals a more sinister shadow hovering over the entire sub-continent, if not also Central Asia. Although a press release was issued by the so-called “Indian Mujahideen”, many traces were left – almost on purpose – to show Pakistani involvement, or to be more precise, a link to forces operating within Pakistan, one of them at least being Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Other suppositions left investigators in the region with the suspicion that elements within the intelligence service in Pakistan were involved, even if the cabinet wasn’t aware of it. This strong probability, if anything, gave rise to much wider speculation since this attack took place in the midst of dramatic regional and international developments.
In the United States, the Barack Obama administration is gearing up to redeploy from Iraq and send additional divisions to Afghanistan where the Taliban forces have been escalating their terror campaign. In a counter move, the jihadi web inside Pakistan has been waging both terror and political offensives. In Waziristan and the Swat Valley, just prior to the latest attempts to strike deals with local warlords, Pakistani units were compelled to retreat.
A few weeks later, Islamabad authorized the provincial administrators to sign the so-called Malakand agreement with the “Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law”, headed by Sufi Mohammad, in which local Taliban would enact religious laws instead of the national secular code.
Across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India it has become clear that the jihadis are acting as an overarching regional force. In short, while Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi are consumed with domestic challenges such as ethnic and territorial crises, the nebulous beginning with al-Qaeda and stretching to the local jihadi groups across the land is acting ironically as one, though with many faces, tongues and scenarios.
The jihadis have become continental, while the region’s governments were forced into tensions among each other and with their own societies. Hence, exploring the regional strategies of the jihadis is now a must.
In the post-Cold War era, a web of jihadi organizations came together throughout the Indian sub-continent from Kandahar to the Bay of Bengal. The nebulous was as vast as the spread of Islamist movements that took root in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
The cobweb is extremely diverse and not entirely coordinated. In many cases, striking competitions and splinters characterize its intra-Islamist politics. But from political parties to student unions to jihadi guerrillas, the main cement of the plethora has been a solidly grounded ideology, inspired by local Deobandism and West Asian-generated Wahhabism and Salafism.
The “jihadi causes” reflect a variety of claims, from political and sharia to ethnic territorial. However, all these platforms end in the necessity of establishing local “emirates”, which eventually are building blocks towards the creation of the caliphate-to-come.
Inside Pakistan, the Islamists fight secularism, impose religious laws and crave an all-out “Islamist” – not just “Islamic” – nation. From this country, a number of jihadi groups have been waging a war on India for the secession of Kashmir, but in order to establish a Taliban-like state. The Pakistan-based “Kashmiri jihadis” have connected with their India-based counterparts who in turn have bridges with jihadis operating across India through various networks, including the Islamic Student Union and later the “Indian Mujahideen”. The “web” stretches east to Dhaka and south all the way to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Unfortunately, Western and non-Western scholarship in the field didn’t recognize the regional dimension of the jihadi threat on the sub-continent before the 2001 strikes in America and the subsequent attacks in Europe and beyond. Jihadism in South Asia has always been conventionally linked to local claims and foreign policies, while in reality the movement has developed a regional war room; even before the US intervention in Afghanistan, the jihadis had been seeking transnational achievements.
The post-Soviet grand design of al-Qaeda was to incite the “national” jihadi entities to act in concert with one another, even if their propaganda machines would intoxicate their foes with different narratives. Based in Kabul since the takeover by the Taliban in 1996, the initial plan was to grow stronger inside Afghanistan, make it a “perfect emirate” model to follow and from there expand in all directions. Evidently, the first space to penetrate was Pakistan, starting with the northwestern regions.
In the book Future Jihad, I have argued that one of the long-range goals of the 9/11 attacks was to provoke massive jihadi uprisings in many Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan, with help from insiders and the armed forces.
The pre-9/11 plan was to infiltrate Islamabad from Kabul and thereafter to penetrate Kashmir and back a massive jihadi campaign inside India. The enormity of developments was supposed to enflame Bangladesh as well. In short, the plan was to “Talibanize” the region from Kabul to the Gulf, slicing many enclaves in northern India with it. Obviously, plan A collapsed as US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces crumbled the Taliban regime and dispersed al-Qaeda.