Sultan M Hali
AL-Qaeda was once a dreaded name. Meaning the “Base” in Arabic, Al-Qaeda was created by CIA to train the Muslim volunteers reaching Pakistan from various parts of the world in early 1980s to stop the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These bases were established in religious seminaries, where the spirit of jihad was inculcated in the volunteers while guerrilla warfare tactics were taught so that the Mujahedeen, as the jihadists would now be called, could wage hit-and-run operations against the Red Army occupying Afghanistan. When the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan in 1988, defeated and licking their wounds; considering their mission accomplished, the CIA too departed from the scene.
Some of the Muslim volunteers returned to their countries of origin, while numerous others, who had burnt their boats, decided to stay on. They had married locally and decided to settle down in Afghanistan, while the Saudi born Osama bin Laden (OBL), who assumed leadership of the group and also named it Al-Qaeda, promised the stragglers a continuation of jihad and new venues for waging war. Equipped with sophisticated weapons, ample funds and the spirit of jihad still burning in them, while some chose sides in the struggle for power that caused tribal wars in Afghanistan in a bid for gaining supremacy, others bided their time for opportune targets.
OBL moved his base of operations to Sudan, where he forged links with militants across the Middle East and North Africa who played a role in numerous terrorist attacks, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre. In February 1998, after being expelled from Sudan and returning to Afghanistan, he issued a fatwa against the United States. Al-Qaeda by now had assumed terrifying proportions. Later that year, he ordered the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people. The US struck back through strikes by Tomahawk missiles at Khost where OBL was suspected to be residing. He was saved by a whisker but the violent plan for 9/11 was set into motion and caused unprecedented devastation. US-led NATO forces attacked Afghanistan after the Taliban regime failed to produce OBL. Massive bombing campaigns drove the bulk of Al-Qaeda into hiding in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, where they regrouped and continued their heinous bombing operations from Bali in 2002 to Madrid in 2004 to London in 2005.
Al-Qaeda continued its mission of the leading terrorist organization of the world, but after the assassination of OBL in May 2011, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, its new leader failed to maintain cohesion in the organization, resulting in popping-up of the most violent terrorist organization of history, named as IS (Daesh). Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who was working under the command of Al-Qaeda earlier, claimed Caliphate under the flag of IS and wreaked havoc, mostly on Muslims. His proclamation of the Islamic State (IS) is purely aimed at self-glorification. The areas he captured in Iraq and Syria, the millions he stole from government treasuries, looted and plundered historical heritage acquired sophisticated weaponry, sustained him for a while.
Unfortunately Baghdadi’s appeal to the youth, even in the west charmed some to join him in a life of adventure and his false claim of waging jihad—leading to martyrdom with a place in paradise. The reign of terror, the massacre of innocent people and rape of even his own female volunteers, soon disillusioned the new recruits especially the females. Beaten and in a state of retreat, Baghdadi tried to pass on his franchise to hardened terrorists in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and many other oriental destinations. Sporadic attacks have been carried out in Europe by Daesh recruits to hit back at the west for targeting the IS in Syria and Iraq.
Atrocities and unacceptable mindset of Baghdadi and IS is disastrous for Muslims all over the world and is purely un-Islamic in nature. Both Al-Qaeda and IS are wrongfully declaring terrorism as Jihad. Misuse of Jihad is common denominator for almost all extremist ideologies in the Muslim world. The sole purpose of terrorism is to cause severe impairment, pain and sufferings to others by creating panic, which is against the basic essence of teachings of Quran, Sunnah (the practice of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and Jihad. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had ordained that Jihad is to be used only as a last resort after all avenues of peacemaking have failed; secondly it is only the government, which after consultations with the Shoora (parliament) that can authorize jihad and not any individual.
Regrettably, the spirit of jihad imbibed in gullible followers of Islam by the CIA into the volunteers to defeat the Soviets in the 1980s is now coming back to haunt the world. OBL, later Zawahiri and now Baghdadi and his ilk are misusing the concept of jihad to further their heinous plot. Twisting and distorting the verses of the Holy Quran, using text sans the proper references and out of context, they duped their followers into following the path of terrorism.
It is equally deplorable that to achieve their vested interest of acquiring power and ruling the Muslim world, the propaganda wing of IS is also spreading disinformation that democracy is against the basic tenets of Islam. This couldn’t be further from truth. Not only Islam practiced and propagated democracy through a parliament called Majlis-e-Shoora but dynastic rule is not permitted. Western democracies, like the US have borrowed from Islamic democratic canons in their constitution and acknowledged our Holy Prophet (PBUH) as one of the greatest lawgivers of the world as depicted on the Supreme Court friezes.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Sultan M Hali