The Growth Of Islamic Fundamentalism In Afghanistan Politics Essay

If there has been an overriding feature of their history [the Afghans], it is that it has been a history of conflict–of invasions, battles and sieges, of vendettas, assassinations and massacres, of tribal feuding, dynastic strife and civil war. (2001, 12) “

Martin Ewan, Afghanistan, A Short History of Its People and Politics

Since the end of the Cold War, the Afghanistan has witnessed a considerable rise in internal violence. During the 1960s a struggle had developed between Communists and Islamists in Afghanistan. [1] After the withdrawal of Soviet troops and subsequent takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan has been constantly turning into a radically Islamist nation.
FOUNDATION OF ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM IN THE AFGHANISTAN
The USSR’s attempts to consolidate a Communist regime in Afghanistan, first through aid and indirect involvement and later through direct military involvement, were major components in the development of the civil war in Afghanistan which eventually led to the victory of the Mujahidin and the rise of the fundamentalist Islamic regime. [2]
In 1979, after the invasion had jolted the Muslim world. They realized that they were in no position to conduct a conventional campaign against Soviet Union. Thus a number of Muslim volunteers commenced moving to Pakistan to assist in the jihad. One of the first volunteers to move in to Pakistan was Osama Bin Laden. He said, “One day in Afghanistan is like thousand days in a mosque”. At first he personally covered the cost of travel of all volunteers to Afghanistan. In early 1980, he set up Ma’sadat Al Ansar, then the main base for Arab mujahedeen in Afghanistan [3] . This was the first time a formalized training camp was set up in this country. During this period Sheikh Abd Allah Yussuf Azza, who was the key in establishing the International Legion of Islam- hard core of international terrorism, came in contact with Bin Laden. Together they established the Bait ul Ansar, which received and trained the first Islamist volunteers for Afghanistan.
The Afghan Mujahidin waged their struggle against the USSR not only as a national liberation war but as a jihad in which radical Islamic elements from throughout the Muslim world took part and which had the blessing of most Arab and Muslim states [4] . However, most of the Mujahidin movements centred around traditional religious leadership based on ethnic and regional considerations, although some of the movements were heterogeneous and included supporters and included supporters and activities from various ethnic groups. The protest movement formed around local political and religious leaders and gradually developed into two main factions. [5]
The first faction wanted to transform Afghanistan into an Islamic state in the spirit of Islamic law (Shariah). They adopted principals from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and advocated jihad against the Communist regime. This stream became known as the “fundamentalist stream”. [6]
The second faction wanted to found a regime in the unique tribal tradition of Afghanistan. They also advocated struggle against the Communist regime. A considerable portion of the leaders of this faction came from the ranks of the supporters of King Zahir and inspired to reinstate the monarchy. This stream, which became known as the “traditional” or “moderate” stream, felt that the life of the individual should be guided by Islam but community and state problems should be solved in the “tribal Afghan way”. [7]
All the major mujahidin parties advocate an Islamic republic as an end goal and are essentially religious. Islam has been the primary ideology and unifying factor among all these parties in the course of the struggle against the Soviet occupation; secular parties have attracted no significant following, especially the left, which was discredited by the communist takeover. Within the spectrum of Islam, however, these parties differ significantly in their makeup and approach. Traditional analysis has divided the seven Sunni parties into four “Islamist” and three “traditional” parties [8] .
(a) Islamist.
(i) Hizb- e -Islami (the Islamic Party), led by Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, primarily Pashtun in membership and radical in character. An Islamic fundamentalist-oriented movement advocating the foundation of a central Islamic republic. The organization is a variance and in conflict with the majority of the other Islamic movement.
(ii) Hizb- e -Islami (the Islamic Party), led by Younis Khalis, primarily Pashtun in membership (on a tribal basis) and kept the original name even splitting from Gulbuddin Hikmetyar’s party. A fundamentalist-oriented movement that advocates the foundation of a theocratic republic.
(iii) Ittihad-e- Islami (the Islamic Alliance of Afghan Mujahidin), led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, mainly Pashtun and radical in character as well as Saudi-oriented. An organization with a conservative ideology that advocates the establishment of an Islamic republic. The organization developed into a body that attempted to unify various Afghan elements located in Pakistan.
(iv) Jamaat-e-Islami (the Islamic Movement of Afghanisdtan), led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, with membership mainly drawn from northern Afghanistan (Tajiki extraction) and more moderate in character. An Islamic fundamentalist-oriented movement advocating the foundation of a theocratic republic.
(b) Traditionalist.
(i) Harakat-e-Inquila Islami (The Islamic Revolutionary Movement), led by Mohammad Nabi Muhammadi, primarily Pashtun in membership and drawing more on traditional clergy. A conservative organization that aligns itself with returning to the prerevolutionary establishment (a relatively moderate organization).
(ii) Jabha-ye-Nejat-e-Milli (The National Liberation Front), led by Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, mainly Pashtun in membership and Sufi oriented. A monarchist organization that supports reestablishment of the Pashtun establishment in the pre-revolutionary format. This is a relatively small organization among the Pashtun population.
(iii) Mahaz-e-Islami (the Islamic National Front of Afghanistan), led by Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, mainly Pashtun and Sufi oriented as well as pro-royalist. A monarchist organization that aligns itself with reinstatement of the monarchy (in the pre-revolutionary format)
In addition, there are a variety of Shiite parties – as many as ten at present, but with only a few having substantial political clout. Eight of these Shiite parties are religious and oriented toward Iran but are not necessarily firm in their support of the political line of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Two Shiite parties are not affiliated with Iran. Main Shiite organizations are [9] :-
(a) Shura, led by Sayed Ali Beheshti. The organization advocates establishment of a Hazara autonomy. IT reached its height of power in 1979-1980 but later lost Iranian support to more radical Shiite organizations.
(b) Nasser (Victory), led by Mir Hussein Tsadiki. An organization that advocates Hazara separatism. The organization was supported in the early 1980s by the Iranians as a counterbalance to the Shura but gradually became “overly independent” and lost Iran’s support.
(c) Harkat-e-Islami (Movement of Islami Revolution), led by Mohammed Alsayyaf Muhseini. The organization advocates establishment of an Islamic state. It was supported by Hazara population and the Dari-speaking Shiite populations.
(d) The Revolutionary Guards, led by Muhsein Razzai. A Khomeini-Hazara organization that advocates unification with Iran. Since 1984 the organization has massive Iranian support.
(e) Hizbullah is a Hazara organization with a Khomeini orientation that advocates unification with Iran. The organization receives substantial support from Iran and maintains cooperative ties with Hizbullah in other countries.
AFGHAN FUNDAMENTALISM : ITS ROOT OF LEGITIMACY
The Afghan fundamentalist, or Islamist, movement enjoys a powerful base of legitimacy in Afghan politics owing to three key factors as under :-
(a) The historic role of Afghanistan as “defender of the faith” in the Indian subcontinent.
(b) The Islamists’ opposition to communism in Afghanistan in the early 1970s which forced many Afghan leaders to work from Pakistan against communist influence (the 1978 communist coup in Afghanistan overwhelmingly vindicated the Islamists’ initial fear of communist influence and intentions).
(c) The paramount role of Islamist and religious parties in the struggle against Soviet occupation.
AFGHANISTAN ROLE OF DEFENDER OF THE FAITH
Afghanistan has had a unique and long-established tradition as defender of Islam in the subcontinent [10] . In the 19th century, for example, India (including present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh) was under the rule of the British Raj, the Turkish Ottoman Empire controlled vast portion of the Arab world, and Iran was helpless in the face of Russian and British domination – but Afghanistan was one of a handful of truly independent Muslim countries in the world. Afghanistan alone had maintained its own independence from foreign control since 1747, and it thus enjoyed respect and recognition throughout the Muslim world. Afghanistan’s Durrani Empire in the 19th century was actually the second largest Muslim empire in the world at that time, ceding first place only to the Ottomans [11] . In the 19th century, Kabul helped foment Islamic political uprisings in India and was itself seen as one of the few places of refuge for those Muslims in British India who felt it was religiously untenable to live in a “godless”(British-run) state. Kabul also struck several severe blows against British power in the region, most notably by repelling what turned out to be a disastrous invasion of Afghanistan by the British army in 1842. [12]
THE FOUNDATIONS OF ISLAMIST STRENGTH
The strength of the Islamist movement in Afghanistan today rests largely on its military capabilities and on the strength of its political organization. The movement is not, in other words, a popular one, although it does command widespread respect for its role in the liberation of the country from Soviet occupation. It derives particular legitimacy from having provided the ideological spearhead for that struggle, radical Islam, which transcends mere nationalism. The Islamist’s movement, however, had actively opposed communist coup and takeover began. The movement thus occupies a central place in Afghan politics today.
That all Afghan mujahidin parties today have a religious basis was underscored during the anti-Soviet jihad, or holy war – a conflict that helped define the Islamic orientation of contemporary Afghan politics. Hence, there is a strong likelihood that the political, removal or fall of Najibullah’s People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) will be followed by the establishment of some type of Islamic republic -one that is committed in some measure to the implementation of Islamic law (the Shari’ a). Possible Islamic models from which Afghanistan might draw include the Islamic governments of Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The actual character of the new Afghan government, however, could vary considerably, depending in who dominates it and on the nature of specific policies and methods of implementation.
Of the seven Sunni mujahidin parties in Afghanistan today, four are fundamentalist-ideological-Islamist in character, and two of these four are radical in their beliefs and operating style. Together, these four parties have the more integral role in the Soviet conflict than have the more traditional parties. Indeed, a key contributor to the Islamists’ strength has been the large measure of support that the radical Islamist parties have derived from Pakistan by virtue of their military performance and zeal. Such support was bolstered by former Pakistan’s President Mohammed Zia-ul-Haqq, who found the politics of the Afghan Islamist parties in consonance with his own Islamisation campaign in Pakistan. The Afghan Islamists, for their part, enjoyed the backing of Pakistani religious parties, who in turn were strong pillars of support for Zia. Zia also understood that the ideological orientation of the Islamist parties would largely inhibit them from encouraging Pashtun ethnic separatism in Pakistan – an Afghan policy of nearly 30 years standing that had engendered considerable tension between the two countries. Islamists disapprove of narrow ethnic orientation as a basis for the state and instead support broader political groupings based on a common Islamic outlook.
The close cooperation between Pakistan and the Afghan mujahidin against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had one important and immediate consequence: the long – standing hostility between Pakistan and Afghanistan has abated considerably. Benazir Bhutto’s brief term as Prime Minister following Zia’s death, despite her more secular policies, did not significantly weaken Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan mujahidin. Fundamentalist parties in Pakistan will continue to support Afghan fundamentalist groups, regardless of the policies of Islamabad in the future.
WILL THE FUNDAMENTALISTS COME TO POWER?
Ironically, the removal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan has weakened one of the principal sources of Islamist strength in Afghanistan- for while all mujahidin parties may agree on the desirability of an Islamic government, consensus on power sharing is an entirely different matter. There are in fact deep rifts among the parties, mot only between traditionalists and Islamists but also among Islamists themselves. These divisions, which reflect ideological, regional, and ethnic differences as well as conflicts between personalities, are not likely to be readily resolved in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal.
The strength of the Islamist parties rests on other factors as well like as under:-
(a) Pakistan and Saudi preferences with respect to the distribution of aid among the mujahidin have served to strengthen the Islamists by providing them with greater opportunity to distribute their financial and military largess and hence to attract a broader following – including support among the military commanders.
(b) The mujahidin’s use of Pakistan as a political base of operations – a factor that has skewed the true there -way power relationships inside Afghanistan among the parties, their local mujahidin commanders, and the populace at large – has worked to the Islamists’ advantage.
WEAKNESSES OF THE ISLAMIST PARTIES
While the Islamists are still the single strongest element in Afghanistan’s political equation today, some of their strength derives from the location of their political base in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, where Pakistan’s own political influence over the mujahidin can be maximized. As the struggle moves out of the anti – Soviet, anticommunist phase and into a phase of civil war, the influence of the special political climate of Peshawar will diminish, and with it, the influence of Pakistan itself over the struggle. Other factors that may contribute to the possible weakening of Islamist influence are as follows :-
(a) The Islamists lack a charismatic national figure – like, for example, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini – who will serve as a natural leader.
(b) If financial support to specific mujahidin parties is severed in pursuit of a political solution in Kabul, it is unclear how much strength the Islamist parties would retain. While the Islamists’ ideological and organizational strengths remain significant in Peshawar, an internal power struggle inside Afghanistan would present a new set of variables that would affect the ultimate success of one party over another.
(c) The Islamist parties are by no means united within themselves.
(d) Because tribalism and regional loyalties in Afghanistan were largely subordinated in the decade long effort of all national elements to expel the Soviet Union, a permanently enhanced sense of national unity may now exist. On the other hand, the expulsion of the Soviet enemy may refocus Afghan politics on older and more parochial issues. Tribalism and regionalism are already reasserting themselves, essentially working against the radical Islamist parties.
(e) Mujahidin commanders inside the country maintain only tenuous ties with the Peshawar parties. Hence they may not fully share the political views of these parties and may be increasingly inclined to act independently or to pursue their own agendas if alternative sources of aid weaken the party hold.
(f) The highly disproportionate representation of ethnic Pashtuns among the refugee population in Pakistan skews our understanding of the political preferences of the broader population as a whole inside Afghanistan – especially when Pakistan refugee camps are used as a basis for public opinion findings, press coverage, straw polls, and identification of political attitudes. Current Islamist strength in the Peshawar environment might well weaken once politics shift inside the country.
The Islamists are therefore likely to come to power only by military means. The moderate parties in particular are concerned that the most radical Islamist faction, Hizb-e-Islami (the Islamic Party ), led by Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, may attempt to use Leninist tactics to eliminate other mujahidin leaders by assassination in order to secure power – a fear that is based more on the personality of Gulbuddin than on the character of his Islamic ideology per se. While such an attempt cannot be ruled out, it is highly unlikely that a minority radical Islamist party attempting to do just that. Any radical Islamic leadership that sought to rule successfully would have to come to terms with the other political and ideological elements within the country.
WHAT WOULD A RADICAL ISLAMIST LEADERSHIP MEANS?
Any Islamist regime in Afghanistan, were it to come to power, would differ sharply from Iran’s Islamist regime in many important respects. First, such a regime would be firmly Sunni rather than Shiite in character, suggesting a greater ability to work with elements of secular state power as well as a less apocalyptic, oppression and martyr- oriented outlook. Afghan Islamists, furthermore, lack the depth of hostility toward the United States that has characterized Iranian politics. The Afghan Islamists in fact have almost no formal grievances against any past US role in Afghanistan; to the contrary, however much they may dislike US culture, the Islamists are well aware that the United States played a pivotal role in the anti- Soviet struggle. Afghan political culture as a whole also tends to be far less xenophobic than that of Iran- simply because Afghanistan has never been dominated and manipulated by foreign powers as consistently as was Iran throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Nonetheless, Afghan Islamists share with other Islamist world movements the same concerns over the threat to the Islamic way of life posed by Western – and especially American – culture. Essentially , the Islamists perceive the United States as representing secularism, permissiveness, hedonism, individualism- all of which they see as deeply corrosive to the establishment of the virtuous Islamic society. Any Islamic Afghan regime will thus oppose such influences inside Afghanistan and will limit Afghan contact with American cultural influences.
In addition, any Islamist regime in Kabul will gravitate strongly toward nonalignment and exclusion of Western as well as Soviet influence in the region. Such a regime would therefore oppose a US military presence in the Persian Gulf states, in Pakistan, or anywhere else in the Muslim world. Similarly, it would be likely to support the cause of Islamic minorities in regions such as India and the CAR. As an example, major ethnic elements in Afghanistan, such as Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Turkmen, are heavily represented in the CAR- a phenomenon that the Soviets have attempted to exploit in efforts to draw Afghanistan closer to the USSR. Yet such tactics have not assisted Soviet policy and in fact have likely backfired; ties between ethnic elements of both sides of the Soviet border are more likely to draw these populations closer together, resulting in an effort to diminish Moscow’s influence and to broaden the options of the Muslim populations of the CAR.
Finally, an Islamist Afghan regime will be strongly conscious of “Western imperialism” and will be a strong advocate of the “have-nots” in “North vs South” issues.
Despite these positions, however, an Islamist Afghanistan will have limited opportunity or reason to directly attack US interests, since such interests in Afghanistan will be highly limited in their scope. Afghan Islamists would unquestionably support the cause of fundamentalist parties in Pakistan, which could bring them into conflict with US policies there. Unlike pre- 1978 Afghan governments, however, Afghan Islamists are unlikely to support ethnic separatism in Pakistan.
An Islamist Afghanistan will share some philosophical interests with Iran, but it would not be likely to cooperate closely with Iran on anything other than broad international Islamic issues. Sunni fundamentalists will in fact resent Iran’s support of the Afghan Shi’a, who will represents Iran’s chief instrument of influence in Afghanistan, and there is likely to be some degree of rivalry between a Sunni and a Shiite Islamic republic. Iran’s bid for influence in Afghanistan has nonetheless risen dramatically since the end of the Iran- Iraq War, and it perceives itself as a major player in future Afghan politics. Part of Iran’s goal here is to thwart Saudi interests.
EMERGENCE OF TALIBAN
Ever since the fall of Najibullah government and withdrawal of Soviet forces, the attempts by Pakistan to form a consensus regime in Kabul had failed. Pakistan also failed to install Hekmatayar govt and Rabbani had his own ambitions showing no inclination to accept Pakistani directions. By early 1994,the Inter Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) realised that the Rabbani regime was slowly consolidating itself in Kabul. This development was against Pakistan’s overall interests in Afghanistan and forced her to look for an alternative. Maj Gen (Retd) Naseerullah Babar, the Interior Minister in the second Benazir Bhutto Government conceived the idea of creating a student’s militia along with some veterans from the Afghan Mujahedeen who had fought the Soviet Army and who had taken shelter in Pakistan. [13]
The infrastructure for launching Taliban was set up by May 1994. [14] The word Taliban literally means “students of religious schools “. The Taliban militia largely comprises students of religious schools (Madrassas) in Baluchistan and NWFP. Initially these Madrassas were set up by Jamait-i-Uiema-lslam (JUI) led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman for the Afghan refugees. Subsequently the Pak ISI took over these institutions and extended training, moral and material support to Taliban. The movement was very well planned to exploit religious sentiments of Islamic countries and Islamic organisations. This also paved way for easy recruitment and funds from international Islamic community.
Taliban in Afghanistan is unique in the sense that it is not the product of a national movement like its predecessor, the Mujahidin, which waged a war against the Soviet Union and its Afghan puppets.
The Taliban is a force created by the Pakistan with the twin purposes of containing Iran and diluting, and eventually weakening, Russian influence in its former Muslim-majority republic. The implicit aim is to preserve Pakistan’s influence over Afghanistan as the Taliban is dependent on Pakistan for logistics and military training and on the UAE for funds. Pakistan aimed following major advantages by Pakistan by supporting Taliban are:-

(a) Militarily subdue and defeat the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic militias, bring Afghanistan under Taliban rule and thereby secure the Kabul-Salang-Kunduz highway, the major artery leading to Central Asian Republics.

(b) Seek diplomatic international recognition for Taliban and orchestrate its future actions in consonance with her own interests.

(c) Gain strategic depth vis-a-vis India.

(d) Maintain Taliban as an anti India instrument for reigniting the Kashmir insurgency. [15]