Saleem Shahzad's book ("Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban", Pluto Press, 260 pages, available at Flipkart) is a must read for anyone who is concerned about Islamist terrorism and an eye opener for the student of the murky politics beyond our western border. Going beyond the wealth of information that it presents, what is most remarkable about the book is the frank, no-holds-barred candour with which he presents his point of view from a near first person perspective and had he not been killed after the publication it may have been difficult to believe all that he has said. But his unfortunate murder – in the hands of those whom he had talked about – puts a seal of authenticity on the events, dates and characters that are described in the text.
Most of us in India believe that Islamist terrorism – from Kashmir to Mumbai and elsewhere – is the handiwork of the all powerful Inter Services Intelligence unit, the ISI, of Pakistan and is nurtured in and unleashed from terrorist camps located across the border. We also believe that if India were to have the guts to go across in “hot pursuit” or at least bomb them to smithreens then the problem would be solved to a large extent. But as Shahzad points out such an act of bravado will not solve the problem – it will make it the problem worse.
Why ? Is Shahzad another pacifist or an apologist for Pakistan ? Not at all. In fact he is least interested in what is happening on Pakistan's eastern border and India enters his worldview as a small but interesting footnote in the a much larger story – and this is the chilling story of the Global Muslim Caliphate and the clash of civilisations that it implies in the “End of Time” battles that the Middle East religions all talk about.
There are Muslims and there are Muslims – and then there are non-Muslims like us in India – but the Muslims that Shahzad talks about are of a kind who believe that they, and they alone, are the only true Muslims and the other Muslims are Muslims in name only. For example Muslims who love and appreciate qawali songs are not Muslims in this definition. To keep things simple, we will use the word Islamist – as distinct from Muslim – to distinguish between the two though neither Shazad nor the Islamists use this word in the sense that is being applied here.
Prima facie, a Global Muslim Caliphate is not something to be greatly concerned about. We have the example of the Catholic Church based out of the Vatican that commands the loyalty of millions of Catholic Christians all around the world. In the past we have had the British Crown and the Communists in Russia wielding great influence over vast parts of the planet. But this Caliphate is a different kettle of fish altogether.
To begin with it is based on monotheism – which may be still be fine for many though not quite so for others with a different world view – but the definition of monotheism will shock even traditional monotheists like Christians, Jews and of course Muslims. This Islamist monotheism is one that believes in the absolute supremacy of the entity that Muhammad refers to as god, to the exclusion of not only the gods of other religions but to every other source of authority. This means any form of social or political structure – democracy, monarchy, dictatorship and even the common sense wisdom of any collective like the family, a village, the bazaar, the municipality ... anything at all – is dismissed with vengeance and brutality. There is no scope for any discussion or debate on any topic because everything is frozen into a time-warp dictated by the norms and ideals of seventh century Arabia.
This ultra narrow Islamist “monotheism” that excludes not only hapless “Hindus” like me but also Jews, Christians and most interestingly a vast majority of those who believe they are Muslims is the cornerstone and foundation of a political structure that is referred to as the Global Muslim Caliphate. This caliphate draws inspiration from the line of Caliphs that ruled the Muslim world in the Middle East right up to the First World War when last Caliph was deposed in Turkey and the concept of nation state – with its own laws – introduced not only Turkey but in a host of other nations like Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia.
The Global Muslim Caliphate as envisaged by the Islamists is supposed to supersede all such national, political and social constructs and create a gigantic transnational entity for the protection of Muslim rights and the glory of the Muslim god – and of course anyone who disagrees with must be killed ! This means that there is no space for democratic or any other kind of government in an Islamist state since any rule or law that is created for the administration of such an entity is immediately declared null and void since unless it is in complete congruence with Islamic law.
Such grand plans of world domination have been around for a while from the time of the Mongols, through Napoleons right up Hitlers and Stalins but the troubling fact is that this Global Muslim Caliphate is something that is troubling us here and now – witness the bomb blasts in Mumbai as late as last week !
Now where does Af-Pak fit into this grand scheme of things ?
Muhammad has stated that the world and its people will reach the state of perfect Islamist “monotheism” through a blaze of warfare that will commence in the East, in Khurassam – modern Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia – where Muslim armies will defeat the non-muslims ( infidels, kaffirs whatever ) and then march triumphantly westward to claim and rule Mecca and Jerusalem under the Caliph. ( Who chooses the Caliph ? Don't ask !)
This process started around 1979 when (a) Islamists seized the main mosque at Mecca and tried to topple the Saudi regime and (b) the mujahedeen freedom fighters attacked the Soviet puppet government in Afghanistan. Do note that in the eyes of the Islamists, there is no difference between the atheist Soviet government and the Muslim ( though not Islamist) Saudi government. Both need to be overthrown with equal rancour because neither of them meet the “monotheistic” credentials of the Islamists.
Who gives a concrete shape to this nebulous concept ? Many groups of people in different countries – for example, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – have had this vision but the most well funded and best organised entity at the moment is Al Quaeda – a brainchild of the Egyptian Al Zawahiri and initially funded by Osama Bin Laden.
Al Quaeda acts – or tries to act – like a holding company that has subsidiaries in many countries, each of which tries to implement this vision in their own local context. The most well known example is the (Orignal) Taliban in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Taliban in, well, where else Pakistan, plus similar outfits in Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and perhaps even in India. Fortunately for us this grand unified vision of networked terrorism is not yet a reality because the Al Quaeda has not been as successful in getting their act together to the extent that they have been able to in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
That is the grand vision – but where does India fit into this scheme of things. Muhammad has apparently said “A group of you will conquer India, Allah will open for them [India] until they come with its kings chained, Allah having forgiven their sins. When they return back [ from India] they will find Ibn Maryam [Jesus] in Syria.” [ from Kanzul-Ummal, a collection of Muhammad's sayings quoted by Shahzad on page 201].
So India, thankfully is peripheral to this grand vision of the Global Muslim Caliphate except to the extent of sending our dear Prime Minister and his glorious Cabinet to Baghdad in chians BUT there is another angle to the whole story.
We have our mini-Talibans in Kashmir ( and Aligarh, Kerala and possibly even distant Assam ) and state actors in Pakistan – which include the ISI and the Army – have been using these mini-Talibans to poke, prod and bleed India to avenge the humiliation of three successive wars. But of late there have been two factors which have reduced the intensity of the pin-pricks. First, thanks to 9/11 when Islamists shed American BLOOD on American SOIL ( how dare they :-) the US has been turning the screws on Pakistan to cease and desist from such behaviour. Secondly, 9/11 brought the US Army into Afghanistan and they in turn dragged the Pakistani Army by its ears, kicking and screaming, to fight along with them along the Durand Line.
So now we have the clash of civilisations – the non-believers led by the US and the believers led by the Al Quaeda – in Kurassan ( that is Af-Pak) that the Islamists believe will herald the End of Time battles where the Islamist army will win and then march triumphantly westward to Jerusalem.
But there is a fly in the ointment and that is the Pakistan Army. It has no intention of fighting the tough and ruthless Al Quaeda and wants to be left alone to loot the Pakistan exchequer and to poke and prod India so as to justify its own existence ! and India is something that Al Quaeda has really no interest in ! ISo now what ?
Mumbai 26/11 : The Pakistani Army was proving to be too much of a trouble for the Al Quaeda because it was being goaded by the US to fight them in the no-mans-land between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- along the Durand Line. The Pakistani Army also had a rather timid, plan to do “something” in India and Al Quaeda thought of killing two birds with one stone. They hijacked the Pakistani plan and implemented it with their own brand of fearful ruthlessness in the hope that India will attack Pakistan and so giving the Pakistani army a good excuse to rush to the eastern border thus leaving the Americans in the lurch in the west ! This was a great plan but was unfortunately thwarted by a combination of American diplomacy or (as I would suspect ) Indian indecisiveness !
Shahzad's book has many such sub-stories that are built up and around the Al Quaeda's grand plans of a Global Muslim Caliphate and as stated by the author himself, it is like the Story of the Thousand and One Nights where Queen Scherazade spun a new yarn everynight and left it unfinished so as to achieve the main goal of saving her own life from the Caliph's misguided malevolence.
Scherazade was apparently of Indian (Hindu ?) descent and she used her wits to get the better of the Caliph. India too should use her wits. Lock the borders, police our towns but do not make the mistake made by the US and step into the Af-Pak minefield in hot pursuit. Let the Islamists, Muslims and the People of the Book kill and fight each other from the Indus all the way to Jerusalem. Let us instead look east because that is where the sun rises everyday !