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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

‘ISIS’ in Afghanistan: Spectre or mirage?

These names have figured a lot in international news coverage: Islamic State (IS), Islamic State of Iraq and Shams (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and DAESH. These aren't the names of countries or separate political/terrorist groups, they all denote the same entity.
DAESH stands for Daulat Al Islamiya fi al Iraq wa al Shams. Curiously, in Arabic, the letters that compose DAESH –  ‘dal’, ‘alif’, ‘yea’ and ‘shin’ – when put together, mean ‘tramples’ or ‘a trampler’.
The Saudi regime calls the group DAESH, as do Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, and US Secretary of State John Kerry. In fact, Saudi King Salman bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz once referred to the group as FAESH, an expletive.
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, DAESH’s putative leader and self-anointed Caliph, prefers the exalted term ‘Islamic State’. He has prohibited his enterprise being called ‘DAESH’.
It would be surprising if ISIS didn’t covet control over Afghanistan for its inestimable geostrategic and geopolitical importance, for its scope of doctrinal influence, its military power projection and for its financial gains.
Intercontinental overland routes connecting Europe, Russia, Central Asia and China with South Asia have to pass through Afghanistan. Acquiring interdictory potential vis-a-vis these routes affords huge monetary, strategic, tactical and political advantages.
ISIS’s aims include spreading its ideology of reductionism and violent extremism throughout the populations of Central Asian Muslim republics: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, and further afield, in Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Chechnya in the Russian Federation and Chinese Turkestan.
Its location in Afghanistan enables potential targetting of the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Afghanistan is the most convenient geo-strategic location for the pursuance of these aims.  
Furthermore, consider the scale of the mercenary stake involved in the control of cultivation of Afghan poppy and the production, stocking, transport and trade of opiate narcotic derivatives, especially heroin. Just one province of Afghanistan, Helmand, accounts for 90 per cent of heroin consumed in Europe. Afghanistan’s narcotics have a worldwide reach. Afghanistan is rich in minerals, including 13 of the 17 rare earths, cobalt, platinum, gold, silver, and gems of the highest quality.
During the Mujahedeen war, Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud financed guerrilla operations to a substantial extent by selling emeralds and lapis lazuli extracted from mines in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley and Badakhshan Province.
The world’s largest stock of lithium, a key raw material for electronics, is in Afghanistan, as are copper and iron ore of the highest cuprous and ferrous content. Illicit mining, contraband mineral and gems trade, rapacious timber extraction and human trafficking have boomed in Afghanistan.
The Amu Darya basin has substantial hydrocarbon resources. The TAPI project envisages laying a pipeline from adjacent Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
However, the rationale of Afghanistan’s geostrategic and geopolitical value must be equally attractive to others, near and far, who are zealous to gain and retain dominance in Afghanistan.
Whatever the truth about ISIS being in Afghanistan, it is important to understand
that there is a profound conflict and tension between Islam as understood and practised in Afghanistan and ISIS’s ultra-reductionism and violent extremism.
Raising awareness on this score is vital to waging a concerted information war against violent extremism in Afghanistan and in Central and South Asia, China, South-East Asia and even in Europe and North America.
Afghanistan has a millennium-old rigorously conservative Sunni Muslim society, that is now perhaps 87-88 per cent of the country’s population. However, Afghan Sunni Muslims have adhered to Hanafi Sharia ever since Imam Abu Hanifa (who, incidentally, hailed from a Kabul-based family) generated and developed jurisprudence known as Hanafi Sharia (Sharia: literally, the path to the oasis) in the first century following the inception of Islam.
Under the Constitution of Afghanistan, Hanafi jurisprudence is privileged as a residual source of law in the absence of explicit legislation or other constitutional provisions.
Afghanistan also has an age-old Sufi tradition and the belief and practice of Islam in Afghanistan is suffused with Sufism.
Thus, Afghans of all sects regularly visit saints’ shrines, revere spiritual and holy persons, seek their intercession with the divine, and use amulets and other ‘protections’. Sufi saint Hazrat Shaikh Salim Chishti, whose dargah is in Ajmer, was from Afghanistan and his place of rest continues to exert a powerful pull on Afghans.
ISIS and Wahhabism emphatically trample on both the Hanafi Sharia as well as Sufism. Both denounce these as un-Islamic, Kuffr, Haram, opposed to the Quran and the Hadith, and say they must be destroyed and all adherents must be executed without mercy.
The brutality and sadism during the Taliban regime has not been forgotten by the people of Afghanistan.
In the current information age, ISIS is viewed by Afghans to be a worse proposition, advanced by a similar combination of external forces, for similar ends and purposes but on a larger and more alarming scale.
Chinese strategist Sun Tzu (4th century BCE) in his Art of War had enunciated the axiom: “Kill one, frighten ten thousand.”
There is, however, a Pashto saying: “An Afghan may with ease be led into Hell on courteous request, but will fiercely resist being forced to ascend to Heaven.”
Unlike peoples of other nations in the region, Afghans are not easily frightened, not easily subdued and cowed, nor easily dominated. Though riven with tribal feuds and inter-ethnic tension and conflict, they fight back and fight hard against external aggressors.
The masterminds of ISIS, Taliban, or any other such entity invented in the days ahead, even if a stupendously potent threat, will learn that lesson and it will be a costly one.   
Hardnews



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