The recently launched ‘sanitization’ operations by the Afghan National Army along the border with Pakistan have been hailed by Pakistani Army generals as an important step in countering cross-border terrorism.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have grappled with the problem posed by the porous border they share and the conduit it provides to militants on either side to escape, regroup, recruit and re-strategize.
Origins: The Soviet era
The notorious border area has played a more crucial role in the birth and rise of Takfiri militancy in the region, and it takes us all the way back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Once the Soviets invaded, Pakistan suddenly became a strategic pawn in the anti-Communist West’s efforts to thwart the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union. Then-military ruler Gen. Zia ul Haq allowed camps to be set up on Pakistani soil, which, aside from guerilla training, indoctrinated young men with the very ideology that spawned al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the Haqqani network, and later al-Nusra Front and even the ISIL among others.
Madrassahs were set up on both the Afghan and Pakistani side in collusion with the CIA. These ad hoc seminaries were funded by Saudi Arabia’s booming oil wealth, and had less to do with true Islamic teachings or scholarship, and more to do with the all-divine goal of waging (un)holy war against the infidels of the time. The Wahabi/Takfiri ideology exported by Saudi Arabia to these madrassahs espoused a warped interpretation of Islamic teachings steeped in violence, intolerance and ignorance. It glorified a blood-thirsty regime of terrorism that knows no bounds, has no mercy and recognizes no limits; an ideology that doesn’t hold human life sacred and has no room for religious discourse, understanding and peaceful coexistence.
Even though the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan, the Saudi funding of these madrassahs has continued. Using its petrodollars, the House of Saud has pushed to gain moral and ideological authority in the Muslim world through propagating its own version of Islam. The madrassahs and mosques preaching Wahhabism have spread from South Asia to the Caucasus, and the Takfiri doctrine has influenced formal Islamic teachings in various Muslims countries, including those in the Middle East, with the Saudi government splurging at least $100 billion over the past three decades in this regard.
These madrassahs and mosques continue to operate without any regulation and oversight by the governments of their host countries. Their allure is that they give meaning and direction to thousands of youth who have been marginalized and disenchanted by systems of governance that continue to overlook them. In Pakistan alone, there are tens of thousands of such madrassahs grooming millions of young minds.
Post-Soviet era and Takfirism
The continued funding of these madrassahs in the post-Soviet era has served multiple purposes for the Al Saud. Right on the doorsteps of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran had undergone an Islamic revolution, driven by an ideology quite different from Wahhabism. The Saudi kingdom viewed the Islamic Republic of Iran as a growing political threat to Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region, and a threat to its Takfiri ideology. By keeping these madrassahs running in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia has been trying to keep Iran’s influence out, all the while trying to ensure that these countries harbor no room for the revolutionary ideals of true Islam that Iran has embraced.
Meanwhile, over the course of years, Saudi-funded madrassahs have given the Saudi kingdom its own proxy force of fanatical Takfiri militants, ready to fight the (un)holy war against all those who oppose their ideology. The approach has proven successful for Saudi Arabia in Libya, Yemen, and more recently in Syria, where Takfiri militants, including those from the ISIL, of various nationalities are committing atrocities to achieve the Saudi Kingdom’s desire of removing President Bashar al-Assad from power.
From the madrassah to the West and back again
On another front, these madrassahs and mosques haven’t just produced militants, but they have also produced preachers who continue to travel far and wide to spread Wahhabism. These Takfiri preachers are funded through various obscure private donors, all traced back to the House of Saud. They have turned sacred places of worship into institutions indoctrinating impressionable minds, both in the East and the West.
The presence and activities of these Wahhabi preachers in the West play a crucial role in the affairs of the Muslim world as they stand today. As witnessed in Syria, these preachers are grooming and sending a steady stream of what the West calls ‘home-grown’ terrorists to join the ranks of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and the ISIL. This has continually been done with the full knowledge of Western governments and intelligence agencies, as the recent terror attacks in France, Australia and even the US have shown. Despite the West’s rhetoric against terrorism, it continues to sign multi-billion dollar arms and trade deals with Saudi Arabia and considers it a key ally in the region.
And when these battle-hardened militants return home, the blow-back fits in neatly with the Islamophobic sentiments Western governments have capitalized on to get support for their invasions and attacks on Muslim countries, for achieving their own goals. Instead of fighting the very ideology that drives these Takfiri militants, the stage is set for military interventions to preserve Western freedoms. These wars, invasions and attacks create the very socio-economic conditions on the ground that breed hatred and resentment, and result in the alienation of a segment of the population, ready to be swept away at the first chance of retribution.
In walks Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism. With blazing guns and explosive vests.