LUBP is pleased to publish the following lecture (video) and the associated talk by Dr. Taimur Rahman which presents Laal’s brave, principled stance on religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan and the wider region:
Laal against Religious Extremism!
Many people consider religious extremism to be, merely, a spontaneous response to drone strikes and NATO occupation of Afghanistan. The reality is very different. In fact, the CIA and the ISI deliberately planted religious extremism to fight communism during the Cold War. The truth is that the CIA and the ISI are responsible for the death and destruction we see in Pakistan today.
In April 1978, a socialist revolution lead by the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) swept over the country. The revolutionary government enacted the following reforms:
- Decree number 6 in 1978 dealt with the issue of peasant debt. The PDPA ended the Gerow system and declared that peasants need not make any further interest payments on all lands mortgaged before 1974.
- Landless peasants and labourers (all those owning less than 5 acres of land) were totally exempted from repayment of any debt. This act benefited an estimated 81% of the peasantry. The PDPA created the Woleswali Committee and Provincial Committee to ensure decree 6 would be implemented.
- On 17th October 1978, the PDPA declared Decree number 7 pertaining to marriage laws. A minimum age of 16 for girls and 18 for boys was declared and consent of both partners in a marriage was made mandatory. Furthermore, a restriction of 300 Afghanis was placed on maher (bride price). These laws curtailed the practice of women being treated as commodities.
- In January 1979 the PDPA declared and began to enforce a land ceiling of 15 acres. This dispossessed no more than 400 families but redistributed half the arable land of the country. One could see the enormous monopoly of power of the feudal lords that was shattered by the revolution.
- Decree number 8 abolished the system of mirab (a water manager who was a feudal lord) and water management was placed under the control of peasant committees.
- A literacy campaign was set up to create universal literacy in ten years. Education was made universal, compulsory, and free for all women and men. The syllabus was modernized and student brigades were sent in thousand to villages to educate people. The National Agency for the Campaign Against Illiteracy educated 6,000 army men in the first six months.
This revolution challenged the interests of tribal heads and landlords. To defend their property, these classes raised the slogan that “Islam was in danger”. In fact, Islam was in no danger at all. Only tribalism and feudalism were in danger. However, this slogan became the rallying cry for a counter-revolution.
The CIA began supporting this counter-revolution and on July 3, 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter began “Operation Cyclone”, which went on to become the largest operation in the history of the CIA. Moreover, this CIA intervention began 6 months before the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In fact, it can be argued that the Soviet intervention was a response to CIA’s plans of aggression against the revolutionary government of Afghanistan. Zbegnew Brezinski (National Security Advisor to President Carter) openly accepted that US intervention began with the explicit objective of provoking a Soviet retaliation in order to trap the Soviet Union in an Afghan war. Brzezinski stated: “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24th December 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the Pres in which I explained to him that in my opinion this it was going to induce is Soviet military intervention… That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap… The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War” (Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998).
Declassified documents of the CIA today prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that the United States of America intervened first in Afghanistan, attempted to topple the revolutionary government, and deliberately provoked war and counter-revolution in the region. These declassified documents, featured in the video, are presented below:
Following Carter, President Reagan and Saudi Arabia provided another $3.5 billion to General Zia’s regime to arm and train the Mujahideen in various religious madrassahs. Overall an estimated 40 billion dollars were pumped into Pakistan in the Zia decade to support the jihadi network, making Operation Cyclone the largest and most expensive operation in the history of the CIA. Leading Mujahideen commanders were trained by the CIA in the Brooklyn School in New York and in Virginia. In the video you will see rare footage of the Afghan revolution. You will see W. Webster and Claire George with General Hamid Gul inspecting Mujahideen camps in Pakistan. You will see Jack Devine (CIA Afghan Task Force) in Pakistan. You will see footage of CIA Director William J. Casey in Pakistan. You will see pictures of Gus Avrecotos (CIA regional head). You will see US Congressman Charlie Wilson in Pakistan. You will see Zbegnew Brzezinski in Pakistan. You will see several prominent jihadi and secular leaders that were receiving money from US imperialism. You will see how James Bond and Rambo were used to glorify religious extremism as a great jihad and war of liberation. You will see General Zia meeting with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to facilitate arms for the Mujahideen. You will see these jihadis sitting within the White House. This was when President Reagan declared them the equivalents of the “founding fathers of America” and dedicated the space shuttle Columbia to them. You will see US arms being supplied to the Mujahideen. You will see Johanne Herring, who raised millions through dinners for Mujahideen, visiting Pakistan and giving a signed picture to General Zia. In other words, you will see the truth behind the façade. You will see the real history of how religious extremism developed in Pakistan.
Moreover, it is also clear today that not only Saudi Arabia, but also Israel also financed and armed this counter-revolution undertaken by the Mujahideen (the evidence for this is available in Charlie Wilsons’ biography “Charlie Wilson’s War”). These so-called Mujahideen had no qualms about the fact that their financial support came from the same forces that were murdering Palestinians. They carried out terrorism against the Afghan population while increasing their numbers within Pakistan. Between 1979 and 1990, Jihad-related organisations and sectarian organizations doubled. By 2002, more than 7,000 madrassahs offered “degrees” in higher education. It is estimated that about 22,000 madrassahs reaching over 1.5 million children are active in Pakistan today.
With the withdrawal of Soviet forces, and the final defeat of the Afghan left-wing government in 1992, tribal heads and landlords came back into power. But very soon they began to fight with each other. This clash occurred because the Pakistan army considered Afghanistan to be an area of strategic depth. They wanted complete control over Afghanistan. They supported Hekmatyar against the Rabbani government and this clash resulted in the complete destruction of Kabul. The Pakistan army then prepared a new force called the Taliban. And by 1996 the Taliban, with the help of the Pakistan army, had defeated nearly all its rivals and established a government in Afghanistan.
Let us take a few examples from the regime that the Taliban created in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Here are some of the laws issued by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
- The government declared: “A denier of veil is an infidel and an unveiled woman is lewd.”
- The veil must cover the whole body of a woman
- The veil must not be thin. Women’s clothes must not be thin.
- Women’s clothes must not be decorated and colorful.
- Women’s clothes must not be narrow and tight to prevent the seditious limbs from being noticed.
- Women must not perfume themselves. If a perfumed woman passes by a crowd of men, she is considered to be an adulteress.
- Women’s clothes must not resemble men’s clothes.
- Muslim women’s clothes must not resemble non-Muslim women’s clothes.
- Their foot ornaments must not produce sound.
- Women must not wear sound-producing garments.
- Women must not walk in the middle of streets.
- Women must not go out of their houses without their husband’s permission.
- Women must not talk to strange men.
- If it is necessary to talk, they must talk in a low voice and without laughter.
- Women must not look at strangers.
- Women must not mix with strangers.
- All ground and first floor residential windows should be painted over or screened to prevent women being visible from the street.
- They banned the photographing or filming of women. And also banned displaying pictures of females in newspapers, books, shops, or even the home.
- They changed the names of all places that included the word “women.” For example, “women’s garden” was renamed “spring garden”.
- Women were forbidden to appear on the balconies of their apartments or houses.
- There was a ban on women’s presence on radio, television, or at public gatherings of any kind.
- There was a ban on women riding bicycles or motorcycles, even with their mahrams.
- Women were forbidden from riding in a taxi without a mahram.
- Segregated bus services were introduced to prevent males and females traveling on the same bus.
- On September 30th 1996 the Taliban decreed that all women should be banned from employment. Some 25 percent of government employees were female. All lost their employment. Elementary education of children, not just girls, was shut down in Kabul, where virtually all of the elementary school teachers were women.
- Women were banned from studying in schools or universities.
- Women were not allowed to gather for any recreational purposes.
- Women were prohibited from practicing family planning.
- Male doctors could not treat women.
- A surgical team containing a male member could not operate upon a woman.
- Women were banned from playing sports, or entering a sports center or club.
- A woman could not petition the court directly; her testimony was declared worth half a man’s testimony.
- Women were publicly stoned to death, and executed if accused of having sex outside of marriage.
- Women were forbidden to deal with male shopkeepers, or talk or shake hands with men outside their families.
- There was frequent whipping, beating, and verbal abuse of women not clothed in accordance with Taliban rules, or of women unaccompanied by a mahram.
- A woman could be whipped for having uncovered ankles.
- There was a ban on women washing clothes next to rivers or in a public place.
- They banned the Internet for all Afghans.
- There was a ban on male tailors taking women’s measurements or sewing women’s clothes.
- There was a ban on female public baths.
- There was a ban on flared (wide) pant-legs, even under a burqa.
- The Taliban banned the watching of movies, television and videos, for everyone.
- The Taliban banned celebrating the traditional New Year (Nowroz) and declared it un-Islamic.
- They banned Labor Day (May 1st), because it is deemed a “communist” holiday.
- They ordered that all people with non-Islamic names change them to Islamic ones.
- They forced haircuts upon Afghan youth.
- They ordered that men wear Islamic clothes and a cap.
- They ordered that men not shave or trim their beards, which should grow long enough to protrude from a fist clasped at the point of the chin.
- They ordered that all people attend prayers in mosques five times daily.
- They even banned the keeping of pigeons and playing with the birds, describing it as un-Islamic. They declared that the violators would be “imprisoned and the birds shall be killed”. They also banned kite flying.
- At sports matches, they ordered all spectators to refrain from clapping and instead to shout Allah-o-Akbar to encourage sportsmen.
- They decreed that anyone carrying “objectionable literature” would be executed.
- They decreed that anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion would be executed.
- They ordered that all boy students must wear turbans. They say “No turban, no education”.
- They ordered that non-Muslim minorities must wear distinct badges or stitch a yellow-cloth onto their dress to be differentiated from the majority Muslim population.
Here are some examples of the punishments that the Taliban government decreed.
- In October 1996, a woman had the tip of her thumb cut off for wearing nail varnish.
- In December 1996, Radio Shari’a announced that 225 Kabul women had been seized and punished for violating the Shari’a code of dress. A tribunal handed down the sentence and the women were lashed on their legs and backs for their misdemeanor.
- In March 1997, a married woman, from Laghman Province, was caught attempting to flee the district with another man. The Islamic tribunal found her guilty of adultery and condemned both her and her lover to death by stoning.
- In May 1997, 5 female CARE International employees with authorization from the Ministry of the Interior to conduct research for an emergency-feeding program were forced from their vehicle by members of the religious police. The guards used a public address system to insult and harass the women before striking them with a metal and leather whip over 1.5 meters (almost 5 feet) in length.
- In 1999, a mother of seven was executed in front of 30,000 spectators in Kabul’s Ghazi Sport stadium for the murder of her abusive husband. She was imprisoned for 3 years and extensively tortured prior to the execution.
- When a Taliban raid discovered a woman running an informal school in her apartment, they beat the children; threw her down a flight of stairs causing her to break her leg; and then imprisoned her. They threatened to publicly stone her family if she didn’t sign a declaration of loyalty to the Taliban and its laws.
The legacy of nearly a decade of fundamentalist rule is as follows:
- Up to now, nearly 79% of Afghan women cannot read or write.
- Maternal mortality rates stood at the highest in the world with nearly 1,900 deaths per 100,000 live births. It is the singular achievement of the Taliban that they managed to reach the highest rate of maternal deaths recorded in history in the province of Badakshan: 6,500 deaths per 100,000 births.
- Up to 2004, UNICEF recorded more than 26 attacks against girls’ schools.
- Enrollment as of 2004 was still at the dismal figure of 9% due to Taliban attacks, propaganda and assassinations of teachers.
- 57% of women are married off before the age of 16
- 72% do not know of any form of contraception, nor any way of delaying pregnancy.
- Even during conducting the sham elections, registration of women voters recorded the lowest levels in the south of the country: Zabul (9%), Helmand (12%), and Kandahar (27%): precisely the areas that were, and now have again fallen, under Taliban control.
- 97 percent of women surveyed show symptoms of major depression.
- 75 percent of the women say their health had declined.
- Opium is being taken by the women to ease the pain from inadequate health care.
The Tehreek e Taliban in Pakistan (TTP)
Following in these illustrious footsteps the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other fundamentalist parties have also undertaken the campaigned destruction across Pakistan. Over 1000 schools have been destroyed in Pakistan. They have undertaken public punishments, including gruesome torture and amputations that are a throw back to medieval practices. They have bombed the Islamic University, the Shia processions, Moon Market of Lahore and many other civilian targets. The inquiry of the elected government has implicated the TTP in the December 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. They killed the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and the minister of minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. They attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team. They have killed countless tribal leaders in the northern areas. For instance, they claimed responsibility for the November 6th, 2008 attack that killed 16 tribal elders and injured 31 others in Bajour. The TTP claimed responsibility for the coordinated strike in Lahore against the buildings used by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Manawan Police Training School and the Elite Police Academy on March 30th, 2009. They have killed many NGO workers. For instance, they took responsibility for an attack against the UN’s World Food Program Islamabad office on October 5, 2009. In Lahore they attacked two mosques of the Ahmedi community in May 2010. On March 8, 2011 they blew up a gas station in Faislabad that killed at least 32 and injured another 125 innocent people. On April 4, 2011 they attacked the Sufi shrine during the time of the annual Urs in Dera Ghazi Khan killing more than 50 and leaving more than 120 injured. Similarly, they attacked Data Darbar causing mass casualties. They attacked Baba Fareed’s mazar in Pakpattan. And they attacked Rehman Baba’s shrine. They have targeted the homes, families, and even the funeral processions of their opponents. The government estimates that more than 37,000 people have been the victims of terrorism in Pakistan (30,000 of these are civilians). Hence, it is clear that religious fundamentalists are in an all out war with the rest of society and the march of history.
This extreme brutality has turned the Pakistani public against them. Public opinion has rapidly shifted against the Taliban. This swing in public opinion had the potential of turning the population against religious fundamentalism in all its manifestations. To counteract this swing in public opinion, right wing forces within the Pakistani mainstream media have very successfully convinced large segments of the Pakistani population that these attacks are not being carried out by religious fundamentalists or by the Taliban but by the intelligence agencies of India, Israel, and the United States. This deliberate confusion has dissipated the energy of the masses that would otherwise have been directed against the religious fundamentalists.
What can we do?
Firstly, we have to fight against the confusion created by right-wing forces. Arguments such as “this is America’s war”, “the Taliban are fighting US occupation and should be supported”, “opposition to Taliban is an elitist, pro-imperialist, NGOist demand”, “opposition to the Taliban means opposition to Islam”, “let the Americans fight the Taliban, why should we” fail to understand that the increasing power of religious fundamentalism, implies proportionately decreasing power for the people.
US imperialism or the Armed Forces of Pakistan are interested only in fighting those religious fundamentalist groups that are no longer under their control. They are not interested in fighting religious fundamentalism as a whole. If they are able to come to an agreement over the spoils of exploitation, they will be at peace with each other as they were during the Cold War.
For the people it is different. In order to emancipate ourselves, we must confront and defeat religious fundamentalism as a whole. We must recognize that behind the façade of religion are the class interests of tribal heads and jagirdars. We must recognize that behind the façade of fighting US occupation of Afghanistan is a history of collaboration with imperialism. We must recognize that today these forces have become the most important impediment to the emancipation of the people.