December 15, 2015 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 70

MEMRI Scholar Tufail Ahmad To Counter-Extremism Conference In Kabul: 'In Afghanistan, Islamic Reformation Will Begin When You Buy A Bicycle For Your Daughter'

December 15, 2015 | By Tufail Ahmad*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 70

On December 2, 2015, the Regional Cooperation Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan held an international conference on "Counter Terrorism and Extremism in the Heart of Asia Region." Counter-extremism experts from different countries including Russia, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Turkey attended the conference.

Ms. Roya Rahmani, the Director General of Regional Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, welcomed the delegates by introducing the conference as a "step forward" in the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process. The Process, which builds regional cooperation to help Afghanistan, was launched on November 2, 2011 at an Istanbul meeting of foreign ministers of 14 countries from Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and Eurasia. At that meeting, the foreign ministers declared their "readiness to engage in sincere, result-oriented cooperation at all levels, which will not just help Afghanistan, but will also be beneficial to security and prosperity in the region as a whole."

In his speech at the December 2, 2015 counter-terrorism conference in Kabul, Tufail Ahmad, Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project, discussed the nature of the emerging terror threat to Afghanistan and outlined a vision of how to foster the empowerment of Afghan women and build the cause of Islamic Reformation in the deeply religious country of Afghanistan. Ahmad's key argument was that Islamic nations cannot hope to progress in modern times unless women acquire a central place in the public sphere of Muslim societies.

Following is the written version of Ahmad's speech, excerpts from which were delivered at the conference in Kabul:

"As True Muslims, The First Measure To Counter Religious Extremism Is To Teach Our Daughters Mathematics, Economics And Science From Grade 1"; "The Afghan Constitution Is The New Social Contract Among Different Tribes And Linguistic Communities Of Afghanistan"

"1. I am thankful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for inviting me to this conference. I begin by saluting the courage and resilience of the Afghan people; you have lived through the most difficult phase in your life, in the life of your women, in the life of your children, in the life of your elders who are my elders too. In India where I come from, every Indian feels your difficulty and shares your hope. This difficult situation in your nation's life was not created by you. It was created by outsiders: the former Soviet Union, the United States of America and Pakistan. Afghanistan is the worst victim of the Cold War.

"2. I am here to speak on: 'How to Fight Religious Extremism - Globally and Locally' - especially in the context of the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

"3. Terrorist groups like the ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are using religion to lead Muslim youths on wrong paths. Countering religious extremism requires a long-term strategy. As true Muslims, the first measure to counter religious extremism is to teach our daughters mathematics, economics and science from Grade 1. All children, especially girls, must study mathematics and sciences from Grade 1 through 12 standards. All madrassas must be required to teach mathematics, economics and material sciences from Grade 1. The Afghan ministry of education must prepare textbooks to teach these subjects from the primary standards.

"4. The Afghan government should focus on teaching history and ideals of the Afghan Constitution. Teaching history helps us understand who we are. Teaching our children 'who we are' helps in countering religious extremism in the long run. Schools must teach textbooks on Afghanistan's ancient history, Afghan heroes and Afghan identity from Grade 1 through 12. In modern times, teaching democratic ideas enshrined in Constitutions defines 'who we want to become' and shapes our new identity as global citizens. The Afghan Constitution is the New Social Contract among different tribes and linguistic communities of Afghanistan. The rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Afghan Constitution must be taught to children from primary standards."

"Give Free Books, Free Clothes, Free Education And Free Bicycles To All Girls In Schools; Bicycles Are Tools Of Empowerment; Bicycles Empower Girls To Enter Streets And Public Spaces Dominated By Men"

"5. I am aware that Afghanistan is not in a strong economic position but the government's long-term policy should be to give free books, free clothes, free education and free bicycles to all girls in schools. Bicycles are tools of empowerment; bicycles empower girls to enter streets and public spaces dominated by men. If Afghan women can drive cars, they can also ride motorbikes and bicycles. In India, some states like Bihar give free bicycles to all girls who enter Grade 9. Bicycles cause a revolution of ideas; bicycles add wheels to our daughters' aspirations and promote gender equality in public sphere of life.

"6. Women are equal members of society and no Muslim country can hope to progress without women being together with men. Modern civilization is characterized by the growing presence of women in public life. We are more civilized because every day more and more women enter schools and universities, streets and shops, police forces and government departments. In this process of civilization, our efforts must be this: every government department, every shop, every university department must have at least 50% women on staff. This cannot be achieved in one day, but this must be the goal. If you are a shop owner or head of a government department, recruit more women and train them.

"7. Is there a way forward for Islamic Reformation? Is it possible that an entire generation of Muslim youths can abandon ideas inherited from their parents and Islamic scholars? Fortunately, history gives us hopeful lessons: in Italy and Germany, a generation of youths abandoned their parents' beliefs in Nazism and Fascism. In India, Hindu youths abandoned castes and Sati. Christianity and Judaism went through their internal conflicts; the Bible and the Torah are removed from public life. In India, the Manusmriti has been abandoned. Since Islam is the youngest of the Middle Eastern religions, there is hope for social change. The role of religion must be limited to personal life. In Afghanistan, Islamic Reformation will begin when you buy a bicycle for your daughter.

"8. Some Western politicians and Muslim writers argue that change must only come from within, from among Muslims. I do not think this is a valid argument; because throughout history, social change has come from interaction with foreign ideas and foreign societies - through globalization, wars and technologies. Muslim youths must engage with other cultures and other societies, and import new ideas from them. More importantly, each Muslim youth must be his or her own role model, and must use their own mind. The Muslim youths show path to their elders and offer new ideas to build their society.

9. But social change must also come from within Muslims, especially from Islamic scholars. In a deeply religious society like Afghanistan, it is essential to engage Islamic scholars to do ijtihad. Ijtihad means consensus through reasoning by Islamic scholars to offer new solutions to the modern-day problems. Ijtihad should be a continuous process. I am aware that this is not an easy task, but the process of dialogue with Islamic scholars itself should be an end in itself."

"We Must Fight Religious Extremism Politically; Elections Are Festivals Of National Unity And Democratic Ideas"; "The International System Of States Is Failing And Has Become Problematic; "Modern Nation-States Were Born After The Peace Of Westphalia In 1648"

"10. We must fight religious extremism politically. Elections are festivals of national unity and democratic ideas. In Iraq, in Kashmir and in Afghanistan, people have defied terrorists in order to vote in recent years. Elections empower all tribes, linguistic and ethnic communities. Whether you are a Sunni or a Shia, whether you are a Tajik, Uzbek, Pashtun or Hazara, elections help people from different communities to unite in a single purpose. And national unity undermines all forms of religious extremism and terrorism.

"I was sad to see that the last presidential elections in Afghanistan were conflicted. If you are an Afghan politician, please don't do this. Accept electoral defeat gracefully. If you rig elections, you undermine your people's trust and your country's future. Terrorist groups thrive in civil wars; more than any country, you as Afghans experienced it in the 1990s.

"11. Today, ISIS is a bigger problem than any nation-state can deal with single-handedly. One of the reasons why we are witnessing the rise of terrorist organizations like the ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in many parts of the world is because the international system of states is failing and has become problematic. Modern nation-states were born after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This agreement ended the Thirty Years War during which conflicts between the Protestant and the Catholic states had transformed into a war between the Great Powers of the day. The nation-states which emerged after the Peace of Westphalia are based on two principles: sovereignty and non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

"But the global terrorism today cannot be eliminated without some diplomatic and military role in internal affairs of some countries. The emergence of the ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the past few decades shows that the problem of international terrorism is far bigger than nation-states can handle alone. It is essential that the international system of states, currently anchored to the United Nations since the World War II, be reformed quickly. Three points are clear here: One, if the UN Security Council is not expanded to allow for new members, some vacuum in the international state system will continue to exist and lawlessness will continue to prevail in many parts of the world, thereby preventing the ability of large numbers of people to live in peace.

"Two, whenever the United States, as the sole superpower with effective military and diplomatic capabilities, withdraws from the international state system, such conflicts rise sharply. For example, conflicts arose in the 1990s from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Kashmir when the U.S. began withdrawing after the end of the Cold War. And now the White House's reluctance to use some power has led to rise of entirely new forces such as ISIS, though there are additional reasons. Three, if the international state system is not reformed, the global peace can perhaps be maintained by a new hegemonic power, as it is clear from Russia's role in Syria. The emerging scenario appears to be this: militant commanders gaining experience in Iraq and Syria today will go on to threaten peace elsewhere in the next decade."

"What Is The Nature Of The Terror Threat To Afghanistan? I Urge You To Remember The Following Date: April 16, 2011; On This Day, The Entire Top Leadership Of Pakistan Descended On Kabul"; "In Afghanistan, There Is A Definitive Emergence Of ISIS But Most Of Its Cadres Are Afghans And Pakistanis"

"12. I am sorry to note that all panelists have discussed the terrorist threat to Afghanistan without discussing Pakistan. So, what is the nature of the terror threat to Afghanistan? I urge you to remember the following date: April 16, 2011. On this day, the entire top leadership of Pakistan descended on Kabul. The delegation of the Pakistani leaders included: the then Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Defense Minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence. In so many numbers, did they come here to attend a wedding ceremony?

"The fact that the entire top Pakistani leadership landed in Kabul on a single day means that Pakistan continues to look at Afghanistan with colonial intent. A report published by Tolo News on April 19, 2011 and another report published by Pakistan's Urdu daily Roznama Jasarat of April 20, 2011 noted that the Pakistani leaders handed over, among other things, a written note demanding that Pakistani nationals be appointed in the Afghan government institutions. Such a demand may come as a surprise now but in the 1990s when the Taliban were in power, Pakistani nationals were indeed appointed in Afghan government institutions.

"13. In Afghanistan, there is a definitive emergence of ISIS but most of its cadres are Afghans and Pakistanis. This means that Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) can use some of these militant commanders, thereby expanding the current threat to Afghanistan and India. Over three-plus decades, the ISI has been known for creating, nurturing and using terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and India. There are clear indications that Pakistan's ISI plans to use ISIS against Afghanistan and India. In July, a 32-page document claiming to be from ISIS was handed over to an American journalist [Sara A. Carter]. As per the document, the ISIS expects to build a new terrorist army in Afghanistan and Pakistan and aims to trigger a war in India to provoke an Armageddon-like end of the world.

"My argument is that the document was authored by someone in the ISI, not by the ISIS, for the following reasons. One, the ISIS does not deliver its publications to journalists. Two, terrorist groups publish audio, video and text documents on internet forums and circulate via social media; and in this case this document did not originate via any of these means. Three, the so-called ISIS document was handed by someone based inside Pakistan, which means someone with a larger interest wanted to ensure its publication in the Western media. Four, the document came from a Pakistani citizen who had connections inside the Pakistani Taliban, which means it is not from ISIS, because it is the ISI not ISIS that has deeper roots among the Taliban factions. Five, ISIS has not threatened Armageddon against Afghanistan and India, but it is the ISI that is imagining an Armageddon in South Asia.

"The true extent of Pakistan's support to elements in the ISIS will be clear only post-facto in coming years, but it is known for sure that Pakistani militants from the Taliban and anti-Shia terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (also known as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) began going to Iraq and Syria sometime around 2011-2012 to work as part of ISIS. Therefore, it is certainly like that the Pakistani intelligence will use some of pro-ISIS militants in Afghanistan."

"In Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Region, There Are No Non-State Actors; There Are Only State-Backed Actors - i.e. Terrorists Created, Nurtured And Used By The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Of The Pakistani Army"

"14. In recent years, Pakistani leaders have argued that the terrorist groups are non-state actors. This phrase 'non-state actors' has done great damage to the understanding of international relations. In Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region, there are no non-state actors; there are only state-backed actors - i.e. terrorists created, nurtured and used by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistani Army. And there is no indication of any change in the mindset of the Pakistan Army in using terrorists against Afghanistan and India. The attack on Kunduz was, like other attacks, was planned and executed from Pakistan. Recently, bodies of 41 Pakistani terrorists killed in Afghanistan were taken to Lower and Upper Dir districts of Pakistan and buried there.

"Pakistan Army's Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan was orchestrated to extracts funds from the United States. The timing of the operation is important. From the 30 December, 2009 suicide bombing at CIA's base in Khost, Pakistan confronted all American requests to act against the militant stronghold in North Waziristan. Sometime from the mid-2010, it looked real that the U.S. could fire drones into North Waziristan. It worried the ISI so much that it moved the Afghan Taliban commanders, especially the Haqqanis, to a new sanctuary in Kurram Agency around September 2010. The ISI had adopted the same tactic in October 2009 by moving Mullah Mohammad Omar from Quetta in Baluchistan to Karachi after it feared that U.S. drones could be diverted to kill him.

"As U.S. President Barack Obama's 2014 strategy on Afghanistan came nearer, last year the ISI defined its own post-2014 strategy. And Pakistan army finally launched Zarb-e-Azb operation. Its goal was: to fight the ideologically motivated groups like the TTP and co-opt those from the TTP who were willing to work for ISI. The first indication of the ISI's strategy emerged in September 2014 when the ISI co-opted Asmatullah Muawiya, the Punjabi Taliban chief. Some TTP commanders like Khan Saeed Sajna fell in line (he may have died in a drone strike recently). In August 2014, Pakistani journalist Kahar Zalmay wrote that the ISI engaged Sirajuddin Haqqani to get Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur into its arm. But non-compliant terrorists are removed: for example, on July 28 Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq was killed in a staged police encounter; Ishaq wasn't cooperating with ISI and was ideologically inclined to join ISIS."

"Al-Qaeda Is Practically A Branch Of The ISI"; "Pakistan Army Carries Out Operations In The Tribal Region, But The Real Hideouts Are Quetta, Rawalpindi, Muridke, Bahawalpur And Muzaffarabad; Pakistan Army Will Not Act Against These"

"15. Pakistan's foreign policy has always been based on a duality. The ISI plays a double role. It continues to advocate peace talks with Afghanistan and simultaneously sponsors the Taliban and other militant groups. It engages the United States and sends the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. When Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was holding peace talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in 1999, Pakistan Army chief General Pervez Musharraf was simultaneously planning the Kargil war against India. When General Musharraf was holding talks with India under U.S. pressure, his government was planning the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The ISI of Pakistan has always maintained this duality: hold talks, promote terrorism. I am happy that President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has finally understood it.

"If you look at the nature of 9/11 and 26/11 terror attacks, some interesting characteristics emerge. Both appear to have been planned by a single person or organization. On 9/11, the terrorists launched airborne invasions of U.S. cities. On 26/11, they launched a seaborne invasion of Mumbai. They used GPS technology to guide planes and boats to reach their targets. This pattern was demonstrated for a third time on September 6, 2014 when the AQIS (Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) attempted to take over Pakistani frigate PNS Zulfiqar in order to use it to attack U.S. and Indian warships on the high seas. Even if you look before 9/11, in 1993 when Al-Qaeda was relatively weak, that year's attacks on the World Trade Center and the CIA headquarters in Virginia were planned from Pakistan. Some American officials have classified the ISI as a terror group.

"Although led by Arab terrorists initially, Al-Qaeda is fundamentally a Pakistani organization; it was formed in Pakistan in 1988 on the watch of ISI when ISI had emerged victorious in Afghanistan; it is from Pakistan that it spread to the Middle East. Al-Qaeda is practically a branch of the ISI, which views itself as the ideological guardian of the Islamic state of Pakistan: both Al-Qaeda and the ISI share the same ideological objective - establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, with the only difference being that ISI wants Pakistan to be the head of such an international caliphate. Evidence in public domain demonstrates that the ISI and Al-Qaeda function in close cooperation. The ISI protected Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar; it continues to protect Ayman Al-Zawahri and Mullah Mansoor, and Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Muhammad and Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other terror groups.

"Pakistan army carries out operations in the tribal region, but the real hideouts are Quetta, Rawalpindi, Muridke, Bahawalpur and Muzaffarabad. Pakistan Army will not act against these terror headquarters because these are branch offices of the ISI. Looking into the next decade, it appears that terror organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaatud Dawa and Jaish-e-Muhammad will become the part of Pakistani state apparatus formally."

"[Responding To OIC Ambassador] Why Should The OIC Not Give Membership To India...? India Is Going To Have The Largest Muslim Population By The Year 2050, And The OIC Discriminates Against Indian Muslims And Is Therefore A Racist Organization"

"16. I see hopeful signs for Afghanistan. Afghans are openly protesting against terrorists. There is a vibrant radio and print media in Afghanistan. There is a nascent and promising women's movement emerging in Afghanistan. Your parliamentarians are aware of their responsibilities; your army and police are doing a fantastic job in some of the most difficult circumstances. We have watched Afghan women, men and the elderly turn out in large numbers to vote, defying terrorist threats. The worst is over. Thank you.

"17. [During Question-and-Answer session:] Yes, Islamic militants should be called Islamists, jihadists or Islamic militants. If you have cancer, but take medicine for blood pressure, it is not going to work. But we must remember that not all Muslim fighters are called Islamists, jihadists or Islamic militants. I can give you examples from Pakistan itself. In Pakistan, Baluch rebels fighting for the independence of Baluchistan are not called Islamic militants or Islamists because they do not want to impose Sharia rule. But the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants are called Islamists and jihadists because of two reasons: first, they describe themselves as jihadists; and second, they advocate the establishment of Islamic Sharia rule.

"[Regarding a point questioning the argument that the role of religious scriptures should be limited to personal life, to OIC ambassador in Kabul Mr. Aydin Nurhan:] I can answer you by asking a reverse question: why should the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] not give membership to India despite the fact that India has nearly 180 million Muslims? India is going to have the largest Muslim population by the year 2050, and the OIC discriminates against Indian Muslims and is therefore a racist organization."

Share this Report: