Afghanistan, War On Terror/Global Phenomenon
Al Qaeda – the Universal  - Global Phenomenon

Al Qaeda – the Universal

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

"To say of what is, that it is not, or of what is not, that it is, is false; while to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, is true." – Aristotle

This quote from Aristotle (died 322bc) is taken as one of possible definitions of Universal Truth. An interesting set of definitions for the word Universal given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary say that a Universal can be something ‘done or experienced by everyone’, ‘existing or available for everyone’, ‘existing or true at all times or in all places’,  ‘existent or operative everywhere or under all conditions’, ‘adapted or adjustable to meet varied requirements’.

What is amazing though is the fact that with so much learning, reading and writing humanity has accumulated through the last few centuries, nothing as much as any single Universal Truth has been definitely conceived; all our progress has ended up in losing what little we had. Gone are the days when the Western races, prized for their learning and sophistication, were firmly settle upon a Universal God - who would be everywhere, know everything and would still be there even if everything else that we know of would perish. The Universality of ‘matter’ that the modern scientific thinkers were too sure of, was lost, with ‘light’ losing its crown of having the fastest possible speed - and with the Quantum realm opening the door closed upon non-material reality. Morals and Ethics have been comfortably shifted from strict universal rules to softer ‘relative’ options, depending upon how much consensus can be gathered to legitimize any human state considered as giving happiness to an individual or group. Law has become a constantly changing organism subject to what somebody may think is ‘ought to be right’.

Logic that has been the master of all decisions in the past few centuries has apparently left all major issues that really concern humanity in paradoxes. Letting only the matter-of-fact pass and letting all that is really human be dumped as waste. In the end one can find out that Truth is perhaps not a Universal itself but a ‘relative’, changing with every person and with the reasons that ‘make him/her happy’ or ‘help in his/her progress’. 

What are the things that could be possibly listed into the wish-list of Universal Truths in today’s world, considering the properties listed above? It does seem to be a sarcastic guess, but the most plausible Universal Truth seems to be ‘Terror’ and its brand name - Al Qaeda. 

For many the story of Al Qaeda starts with Osama Bin Laden’s arrival in Peshawar, Pakistan, sometimes between 1988 and 1989. But it would really be a waste to try to comprehend Truth without going a little back into history. In this essay we will try to spread our approach to several geopolitical factors before concluding our picture on Al Qaeda.

 With the end of the 2cd World War and the creation of the United Nations, the world was turned ‘bipolar’ in terms of geopolitics. The United States and Russia had emerged as the two super powers of the world, the former being the upholder of Capitalism and free-market and the latter being the stalwart of the Communist ideal; and a long Cold War started between them.

As the survival of the United Nations demanded that no major war (a relative term) should break out in the world again, the idea of fighting proxy wars and institutionalized covert action emerged as the alternative for the superpowers to secure their interests around the world. Major Powers maximized their funds for developing their spy agencies and ‘special forces’ parallel to their military many time relying more on the former.

In the aftermath of WW2 - as many nations started getting their independence - their former colonialists turned to the new strategy of neo-colonialism to secure their interests in the former colonies and thus the idea of ruling via a proxy ruler or a proxy government became the rule of the day. Understandably the United States did not want the Soviet Union to pursue their interests in any country outside the communist bloc, and any state that would show a pro-USSR bonding would be portrayed, via global news and media networks in their control, as a ruthless regime, undermining human rights of their people.

In the Cold War, the US and its Allies had certain edge over the USSR. Because of being colonialist in 4 continents for the last 2 centuries, the British, French and other European colonizers, had more and more people around the world that understood or spoke their languages - making cultural, ideological and information exchanges between the two possible. This ability to communicate allowed the colonialist to at least gain favor of an elite political class of their colonies that had been taking privileges of the system and also in general of the masses who were being informed of a much greater and prosperous western society than theirs. At the same time the urge to rid of themselves of the imperialistic brunt, more and more people were attracted to communism as the only antidote to the capitalist scourge. But what needs to be understood is that what was being portrayed as a war between two ideologies was really a war between the interests of two sets of allied forces –the reason being that both the capitalist nor the communist models have brought actual prosperity to humanity and the struggle in both models has been only to the point where power had to be secured, after which each of the two models turns into mere status quo.

When Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981, the Russians had already been in Afghanistan for two years now. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, provided a model for Reagan’s new foreign policy, later known as the Reagan Doctrine. This model from the Heritage Foundation targeted nine nations for ‘Rollback’: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. Rollback meant the use of all and any possible means to force ‘regime change’ in Third World states that were tilted towards Russia or its communist ideology.

Previous US governments had been following a more or less similar policy of ‘Containment’, which meant to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading its influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Africa, and Vietnam. When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1979, the Carter Doctrine from President Jimmy Carter was announced - it stated:

‘Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force’.

But with Reagan, the US had to take one step further in the global game of imperialism; it was time to push back the USSR hard and for good. Under the Reagan Doctrine, direct warfare was to be avoided and low intensity warfare was to be pursued with covert aid to any anti-communist resistance movements to rollback pro-communist governments. So while on the face the US pretended to be upholding the highest standards of human rights and progress in Capitalism, incognito it aided small rebel factions in each target state that would force regime change by funding, arming and training them, the tools of support being illegal money transfers, targeted assassinations, kidnapping and torture and the making of terror outfits and death-squads.

Under this doctrine the US aided at many fronts – it aided the Afghan Mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion; the Contras against the Sandinista, who had overthrown the Somoza dynasty, in trying to bring a communist-style revolutionary government in Nicaragua; and supported Angola’s MPLA party against Savimbi's UNITA party, which was striving for an Angola free of foreign influence, with China’s backing. In South Vietnam the Vietcong guerillas were supported against the communist-tilted North; in Cambodia the Marxist-tilted Khmer Rouge were to be crushed; in Laos the communist party of Pathet Lao were to be exterminated and in Ethiopia Mengistu Haile Mariam who had entered the Soviet camp had to be ousted.

Particularly in Muslim states such as Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia the specific mode called ‘jihad’ was supported by the US, Britain and other European Allies throughout the 1980’s and 90’s – all extension of the same US policy.

In the pursuit of all such missions, because conventional warfare had to be avoided, a strategy of inception of a cancerous rebel-warfare, capable of toppling a state from inside, was introduced – a phenomenon that changed the political landscape of the world for good. So much so that today if you need to assert your power transnationally that would depend upon your ability to corrupt the system of that other nation from inside it. War had always been ugly, yet earlier virtue and valor could be associated to its victors and its martyrs, but now war had turn into ‘your own people stabbing you on your back, and your enemy handing the knives to them’ – this has become today’s global culture of outright connivance.

Libya’s case was a little different, Muammar Gaddafi was neither a socialist nor a capitalist but he introduced the Third Universal Theory merging Islam, Arabism, Pan-Africanism and anti-neocolonialism into one ideology. And this was unacceptable to the US foreign policy which offers only two categories to all nations of the world – subordination or enmity. Gaddafi not only refused to serve imperial interests of the US and its allies, but also gathered other African nations under his ideals, thus becoming a genuine threat to US/Allied neocolonial interests in Africa. Gaddafi was constantly portrayed as the world's leading terrorist and Libya a terrorist state and starting from 1969 dozens of attempts on Gaddafi’s life were made that have been traced back to the MI6 and later the CIA. Incognito the US/Allies funded and armed the LIFG, a sub-organ of al Qaeda as early as 1995, when it was officially formed by Al Qaeda affiliates like Abu Laith al-Libi.

In Afghanistan the Reagan doctrine was a success – the major reason for which was Pakistan’s Gen Zia ul Haq. The General perceived the communist threat as entering Pakistan’s borders once they were allowed to settle in Afghanistan. This made the Soviets in Afghanistan common enemy of both the General and Reagan – thus Pakistan was made a conduit providing arms to the Afghan Mujahedeen. Until the Soviets were ousted in 1989, Pakistan backed different Afghan mujahedeen factions while Iran backed the Tajiks of the north, who later formed the Northern Alliance. And there was no mention of anything such as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the General’s time. Because of Iran’s backing of pro-Shiite factions of the North, the General made a strategic move to culture a faction in the South that would be both pro-Sunni and pro-Pakistan, thus the making of the Taliban. The General’s intentions were obvious, he wanted an Islamic future for Pakistan and Afghanistan both and for once he wanted the two countries on the same page – this was the reason for him to put aside the Afghan groups that had fought all along the Afghan War for a comparatively new group, the Taliban, because through them he thought a true generic Islamic state could be evolved.

Gen Zia and Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman, the architect of the Afghan Jihad, were assassinated in a plane crash in 1988. Apparently, after the Geneva Accord for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been signed in April 1988, the General had lost his usefulness for the US, in fact now that the war was ending, Zia with his grip inside Afghan politics, and his desire for a stable, pro-Pakistan Afghanistan rather than a pro-US one, had become a potential nuisance for the US. Perhaps the US foreign policy doctrine was aiming for not a stable independent Afghanistan but an unstable one that would eventually fall into their pocket.

The leaked Wolfowitz Doctrine of 1992, points to this enhancement in US policy, it talks of ‘a 21st century American Imperialism that no other nation can or should accept’. American Imperialism in Afghanistan would be easy to understand – get rid of Zia and make a proxy-deal with either the of the contending Mujahedeen groups. But Wolfowitz Doctrine makes us see better, the Imperialism was not meant just for Afghanistan but for the whole globe. So the Americans don’t want the Taliban or the Northern Alliance but what they want is ‘time’ - time to establish Al Qaeda as a globally recognizable force appearing as being fostered under the Islamist Extremist force of the Taliban.

So the first rhetoric required of breaking is the oft repeated fallacy that the US funded and armed Al Qaeda for supporting the Afghan Jihad against the Russians - Osama bin Laden announced the formation of Al Qaeda in late 1988 when the Soviet withdrawal had already begun. After the withdrawal completed in February 1989, Laden returned to Saudi Arabia and before returning to Afghanistan again in 1996, he had established a terrorist network active in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen (the 3 states would suffer unrelenting terrorism from now on).

Interestingly, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Osama bin Laden visited Bosnia in 1993 and met with Izetbegovic, offering him to provide jihadi for the Bosnian cause. Meanwhile the real man, bound to the work of instilling foreign fighters and funds into Afghanistan was Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian Sunni Islamic scholar and theologian who had come to teach in the Peshawar University.

Azzam had open the Maktab al Khidmat in Peshawar with the aim of attracting Jihadist from around the world to the Afghan cause, but for funding and recruitment the other station of MAK was chosen in the Al Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn and at the Islamic Center in Tucson, Arizona, where Azzam made fundraising tours. The difference between Azzam and Zawahiri, so-called number 2 of OBL, was that Azzam was for an Islamic government in Afghanistan and opposed "fitna" among Muslims, including attacks against governments of Muslim countries, while Al-Zawahiri wanted to use MAK’s assets to fund a global jihad, including the overthrow of governments in Muslim countries deemed un-Islamic. So the first mission assigned to Al Qaeda was the assassination of Azzam in Nov 1989.

Even after the demise of Azzam, OBL was not in Afghanistan for 7 more years. He returned in 1996, in all these years there is no report of Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan either, while he has been reported to have traveled through US on a secret fund-raising tour in 1995. Rather the US indicted him in the suicide attack the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, he was also reported as detained in Russia for six months for trying to recruit jihadists in Chechnya, in 1996. 

Therefore the creation of Al Qaeda had not much to do with the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets, but more to do with the creation of Islamic militancy camps around the world to destabilize Muslim government around the world on the premise that they are ‘illegitimate’ for not practicing true Islam. Prior to 1989, there is little evidence of any major influx of Arab or other foreign fighters into Afghanistan. In fact the 1987, Battle of Jaji, was the first battle in which a few Arab fighters took part. The reason for this may be that Bin Laden’s focus was not the Afghan Jehad, rather his work was to reorganize and relocate foreign jihadists as leaders of future terrorist organizations that would work to topple their own countries in near future. Therefore the fact that the founders of all major terror orgs from AQIM, AQAP, ISIL or Daesh, Al-Qaeda in Somalia, al-Nusra Front Syria, LIFG of Libya, Ansar Dine Mali and numerous other splinter groups were all Afghan-returnees, most of whom were granted asylum in UK and some other European states, whereas some were relocated from Guantanamo.

Apart from these al Qaeda also tried to infiltrate in existing rebel groups such as the GSPC of Algeria, Boko Haram of Nigeria, SPLA of Sudan, adding another dimension to the reach and universality of al Qaeda. As for Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, it had more to do with prolonging the war in Afghanistan, especially by neutralizing stability factors like Azzam and Ahmed Shah Masood. After the US invasion in 2001, al Qaeda’s task in this region was reoriented as orchestrating innumerable terrorist attacks in Pakistan and around the world.

In Pakistan alone over 400 suicide bombings have killed and injured over 20,000 people starting from late 2000. While the bulk of the terror campaign of Al Qaeda were orchestrated mainly in Yemen, Somalia, Tunisia, Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other Muslim countries, the bulk of their funding and recruitment centers have been in Western cities such as London (Finsbury Mosque), Hamburg (Hamburg cell), Montreal, Brooklyn (MAK office), the Madrid al-Qaeda cell and the list goes on. Surely most of these recruitment centers were mosques but their locations point to the fact that they had ease of funds, training and media access in the Western countries. 

The question raised by this analysis is that the US’ declaration that they indeed created Al Qaeda, but only to support the Afghans against the Soviets is a lie. The Pak- Afghan border, being a hub of several Mujahedeen factions at that time, was easily used by Al Qaeda campaigners as their prime safe-haven, and pretending to be mujahedeen the Al Qaeda gained the confidence of the Taliban, who did not have much expertise in international diplomacy. Thus it may be concluded that al Qaeda used the non-apprehensive Taliban, a totally local entity, as a cover for its global aims.

So Bin Laden strategy before 1989 can be resumed as founding a network of like-minded extremist thinkers that would act as jihad-preachers cum recruiters and laying down the framework for possible logistic and monetary support. All this is done under the patronage of a nexus between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabi cult extremists, the CIA and the MI6. In the phase from 1989 to 1996, Bin Laden established stations in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, while also spreading a web of jihadi fighters from Tunisia to Yemen and from Egypt to Nigeria. From 1996 when he returned to Afghanistan, to 2001, he was busy in selecting and training potential extremist as future rebel leader in different states. For instance Nasir al-Wuhayshi who made Al Qaeda in Yemen was in Afghanistan from 1998 to 2001 and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who made al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in Iraq in 1999 which later became ISIL, was in Afghanistan from 1999 to 2001. All this time al Qaeda entered another phase of using terror bombings to establish a global presence. The 1993 WTC bombing, the 1992 Yemen Hotel Bombings, the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya were all part of this phase. From 2001 to 2011 al Qaeda pursued a bombing spree in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan along with major bombing plots around the world, this was a phase where al Qaeda was the straw man the US and its Allies were fighting, as they occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.

2011 was the year when Bin Laden was shot dead by a joint intervention of a CIA and JSOC team inside the sovereign territory of Pakistan, it is also the year when South Sudan was separated from Sudan and the year when the whole belt of Arab nations fell in the sway of the Arab Spring.

With the Arab Spring, Al Qaeda entered yet another phase, perhaps of a ripe in its power of destruction. Egypt fell directly in the lap of the Muslim Brotherhood, Libya was occupied by UK installed LIFG, Yemen was toppled into a situation of polarization between the government, the Houti and al Qaeda forces under Wuhayshi, Syria was turned into a battle ground for ISIL and Nusra Front, both creations of al Qaeda, and France allowed itself to intervene in Mali on the pretext that the rebel Tuaregs and the Ansar Dine were going to take over Mali.

Today there is scarcely an Islamic country not infested by al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. All wars al Qaeda can be associated with are prolonged and seem to be never-ending and al Qaeda can be seen as the only unifying factor midst all the chaos. A truly universal but surely not an absolute one in time, as it will necessarily evolve into a new phase or be replaced by an even more mind-boggling phenomenon – because the reason for it being a formidable weapon for those who are using it, is not its physical force but its ability to confuse people as to what it really is and its power to bewilder human conscience –and as soon as these qualities are neutralized its usefulness will be wasted.