January 5, 2008

REMOVING A MALIGNANCY OFTEN REQUIRES TEARING THE BODY APART:

Next-Gen Taliban (NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE, 1/06/08, NY Times Magazine)

In Quetta, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, who is 62, sat on the madrassa’s cold concrete floor wrapped in a wool blanket as he leafed through a newspaper. Speaking in Pashto through an interpreter, he said that Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the J.U.I. chief, had visited three times in the previous few weeks to persuade him to enter the election. Muhammad claimed to have refused each time because he believed the J.U.I. had drifted from its core mission: to lead an aggressive Islamization campaign and provide political support to what he referred to as the mujahedeen, a term for Muslim fighters that can shift in meaning depending on who is speaking. “Participating in this election would amount to treason against the mujahedeen,” he said. I asked about the others in the party who had decided to run for office. Muhammad shook his head in disappointment and explained how, following the government operation against the Red Mosque rebels in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, in July, President Musharraf put religious leaders under tremendous pressure. “Musharraf threatened to raid several madrassas,” Muhammad said. “The political mullahs got scared.”

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is exactly the sort of “political mullah” whom Muhammad portrayed as running scared. In the past year, the J.U.I. chief has tried to disassociate himself from the new generation of Taliban wreaking havoc not only across the border in Afghanistan, as they have for years, but also increasingly in Pakistan. At the same time, Rehman has been trying to persuade foreign ambassadors and establishment politicians here that he is the only one capable of dealing with those same Taliban. (Rehman told me that he never offered Muhammad a chance to enter the election; he even added that the J.U.I. had already expelled the Taliban guru “on disciplinary grounds.” ) In the process, some Islamists maintain that Rehman has sold them out. Last April, a rocket whistled over the sugarcane fields that separate Rehman’s house from the main road before crashing into the veranda of his brother’s home next door. A few months later, Pakistani intelligence agencies discovered a hit list, drafted by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, with Rehman’s name on it.

“The religious forces are very divided right now,” I was told by Abdul Hakim Akbari, a childhood friend of Rehman’s and lifelong member of the J.U.I. I met Akbari in Dera Ismail Khan, Rehman’s hometown, which is situated in the North-West Frontier Province. According to this past summer’s U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, approved by all 16 official intelligence agencies, Al Qaeda has regrouped in the Tribal Areas adjoining the province and may be planning an attack on the American homeland. “Everyone is afraid,” Akbari told me. “These mujahedeen don’t respect anyone anymore. They don’t even listen to each other. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a moderate. He wants dialogue. But the Taliban see him as a hurdle to their ambitions. ”

Rehman doesn’t pretend to be a liberal; he wants to see Pakistan become a truly Islamic state. But the moral vigilantism and the proliferation of Taliban-inspired militias along the border with Afghanistan is not how he saw it happening. The emergence of Taliban-inspired groups in Pakistan has placed immense strain on the country’s Islamist community, a strain that may only increase with the assassination of Bhutto. As the rocket attack on Rehman’s house illustrates, the militant jihadis have even lashed out against the same Islamist parties who have coddled them in the past.

Western audiences might find news about Islamists fighting among themselves rather appealing. But jihadi wars, at least since the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan, have tended to spill over borders, all the more so since Sept. 11, 2001. And within Pakistan, the struggle for supremacy between those Pakistani Islamists who want to gain power democratically and those who want to abolish democracy altogether could well tear the country apart.


From whence derives this odd notion that tearing a dysfunctional country apart in order to defeat extremism is a bad thing? Lincoln didn't mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 5, 2008 12:00 AM
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