The New Frontlines of JihadSyed Saleem Shahzad
Takfirism: The Root of the Problem
In addition to its pursuit of US and European targets in the global jihad, al-Qaeda has sought out “bad Muslims,” and governments that have cooperated with the West. The reasoning comes from al-Qaeda’s adherence to Takfirism, a messianic ideology which promotes the fight against “bad Muslims” as the first and most important step before any outside enemy can be targeted. But regional and local insurgent groups, including the Taliban, prefer to cling to Osama bin Laden’s notion of an anti-Western fight against the non-Muslim “infidels”—the foreign forces in the region.
Between 2003 and 2006 al-Qaeda drew militant Islamists from all over the world to Iraq, to join the brutal fight against not only the Coalition forces, but also Sunni Muslims who did not share its Takfirist beliefs. At the same time, thousands of trained Arab, Chechen and Uzbek fighters came to Northern Pakistan to pursue a similar endeavor: Create an uprising against the Musharraf government by establishing regional strongholds in Pakistan’s “tribal belt”. They went so far as to declare “Islamic states” in two regions, North and South Waziristan, in order to challenge the Pakistani military elite.
al-Qaeda’s Influence in Pakistan
This is one of the reasons why Pakistan-based Taliban leaders today are so intolerant of foreign al-Qaeda fighters in the areas dominated by the former. In order to maintain the fight against the foreign NATO-“infidels” and re-establish dominance in Afghanistan, the Taliban attempted to set up a haven for the organization in northern Pakistan for purposes of planning and regrouping.
When the Taliban brokered a “peace agreement” with Pakistani intelligence in September 2006, there was opposition from those Takfirist foreign fighters who refused to put the fight against NATO in Afghanistan ahead of the struggle against Pakistan’s military government. Al-Qaeda forces tried to sabotage the agreement, and 141 foreign fighters from Central Asia were left dead as they clashed with tribal Taliban forces.
Consequences For Iraq
In Iraq, the sectarian strife instigated by al-Qaeda and its associated groups continues to terrorize ordinary Muslims. This has appalled other insurgents, who believe that the focus on fellow Muslims weakens the fight against Coalition forces. The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), for example, publicly announced its departure from the al-Qaeda coalition. A similar development has occurred with regard to tribal leaders, who saw local and regional agendas weakened by al-Qaeda actions.
The US has a major chance for influence here, as many tribal sheikhs and former insurgent leaders are now cooperating with the Coalition and Iraqi security forces to drive the Takfirist fighters out of their respective territories.
The Taliban in Pakistan is taking similar steps to make foreign jihadists feel unwelcome; many have now left the northern border region. Wherever they may go, it is likely to be only a matter of time before they become another region’s unwanted guests.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from an article originally published in Le Monde Diplomatique .
What do you think, members of the Atlantic Community? Can the insurgency be incorporated in the fight against al-Qaeda? Will al-Qaeda’s influence in Iraq wane after coalition forces withdraw? And what could this mean for withdrawal strategies? Please feel free to add any comments or policy suggestions you might have below.
Prepared by Tobias Bock
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