The whys and whereofs of the mullah mutation

WHEN the West returned to Afghanistan more than a good decade after turning its back to it following the Soviet retreat, it did not immediately grasp the extent of mutation the mullah factor had undergone. Neither, in ways, did Pakistan, the Islamic nuclear-power which by geo-strategic accident midwifed the birth of the Mujahideen, the ideological forefathers of the Taliban, al qaeda, Hezbul Mujahideen, and the like.

By Shahab Jafry (Pakistan)

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Published: Mon 9 Jul 2007, 8:31 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:13 AM

And judging by the fortunes of the so-called war against terrorism, the West has learnt precious little over the last half-decade or so, while the hardline extremists have spread across much of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The combat-mullahs tend to set up shop wherever the US, UK and nato take their soldiers, be it for occupation, liberation or some other operation. And they do it just for the sake of armed engagement in the way of their self-styled jihad. However, for some time now they’ve been unexpectedly successful in exposing the limits of the notorious nexus of the international military industrial complex, powerful corporations and a pretty hardline administration in the White House itself.

The coalition-of-the-willing had already dislodged regimes in Kabul and Baghdad when signs began to show that the once carefully manufactured Mujahideen had self-perpetuated, mainly by way of forced indoctrination, into one of the most disciplined, committed, well-coordinated, multi-national and multi-ethnic ideological-cum-combat forces in the world. Coming of age after following strict codes in seminaries across Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now beyond, various splinter groups operating at the same time and sometimes at the same place have thoroughly embarrassed occupation forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Interestingly, these developments have not prompted serious analysis into the transformation from CIA-brainwashed soldier-clerics to protagonists of 9/11, 7/7, Bali, Madrid, Glasgow, etc. Instead, little save probable exit strategies and increased troop-deployment-patters have come from think-tanks and official circles in Washington.

Incidentally, the key to understanding the mullah-mutation, just like the phenomenon’s germination, lies in Pakistan. And that makes it all the more important to understand Islamabad’s complicated compulsions. When history and geography first placed General Zia’s Pakistan at the centre of the most pressing geo-political concern of the time – embodied in the proxy confrontation between the two superpowers – Islamabad’s generals’ embrace of America’s partnership-deal made way for the ISI-brainchild militia to engineer the Soviet embarrassment. It took a decade to put it all together, but ultimately the CIA got its mission-accomplished, Zia got his jihad-legacy, his generals got their prized booty and Afghanistan’s pathans got their prized freedom. The text-book success case drew appreciation from the length and breadth of the ‘liberated’ West, but was then put on the shelf as the Americans returned to celebrate and watch the Soviet empire crumble from a comfortable distance across the Atlantic.

Unfortunately for America, Afghanistan and Pakistan alike though, history would prove this withdrawal premature, with chilling, long-term repercussions. Having outlived their prime utility, elements of the Afghan resistance movement that did not stay behind to partake in the emerging civil war returned to Pakistan’s seminaries, which were by then being bankrolled by Saudi petrodollars. That the Wahabi tendencies of the chief-financiers found increasing influence in the madrassas may have been more than a mere coincidence initially. But soon the situation began to change, with numerous commanders from the old Mujahideen corps adding to the momentum of a rapid-rise in the madrassas’ popularity, along with an increasingly stiff tone towards the power that once turned them towards war –America.

The hardliners grew in number and intensity while Pakistan’s polity, left in the cold by the quick American withdrawal, struggled with the ‘decade of democracy’. Post 9/11 findings would later indicate that these were the years of the mutation, when madressa-bred clerics’ lament over suffering Muslims found appeal also in Western brought-up Muslims, even across Europe and America. This process coincided with Osama bin Laden coming out in the open with al-qaeda and presented the most frightening proof of the outreach of the archaic madrassa and its outdated curriculum. By the time an unsuspecting George Bush brought the might of America’s army to Afghanistan, most of the scattered congregations had already gathered under Osama, and formed the most complicated network, spread over four continents, involving sleeper cells and bomb factories, IT technicians and corporate bankers, doctors and pilots. Also, they had perfected, again by way of indoctrination, the weapon at the heart of the coalition’s woes in the terror-war, a form of attack proving impossible to defend completely against – suicide attack.

Now, having been emboldened by their associates’ accomplishments in bringing the West’s might to its knees (read Afghanistan and Iraq), they are vying for a complete takeover of society. Again, this phenomenon is best explained by the situation in Pakistan, where burqa-clad, bamboo yielding women and cleric-police embarrassed the state’s writ to naught in the capital till force had to be used, while Taliban-style moral police hold sway in much of the frontier.

More importantly, they have now developed a strong appetite for state-power. Reports from Washington understandably betray considerable concern about a potential regional catastrophe should the hardliners ever deal General Musharraft what a couple of assassination attempts have already fallen short of. And with Pakistan’s strong clergy, considerable mullah support within the army and their street power – not to mention the suicide-factor-threat – most people in Islamabad are likely to sleep more soundly than the president.

One thing an enlightened world battling with elements from a bygone era – and that too unsuccessfully – must have learned is that they cannot be tamed by ‘bombing them into the stone age’. Failing to appreciate their commitment to their cause regardless of the consequences—drilled into their being right from childhood –would amount to miscalculating the essential calculus of the equation.

At the core of the problem lies an undeniable global reality that can no longer be brushed under the carpet, one that the clerics do a much better job of exploiting to capture their target-market than the West has done to tap its, even with its media-spin and opinion-control. The mullah mutation cannot be effectively countered till circumstances that provide for the emotional lure that precedes the brainwashing are not recognised, and then addressed. In an irony that has changed the nature of modern warfare, these fanatic mullahs that have suddenly popped out of an ancient time portal will continue to mutate and terrorise everything Western till the latter alters its unfair stance towards Muslims, chiefly in Palestine. In choking Muslim elements to advance their own geo-strategic interests, the Americans and their allies are actually providing for the perfect habitat for the mutants.

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