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Al-Qa’eda’s new war: The main targets are Shia innocent civilians – by Ahmed Rashid

Sectarian bloodshed, in Afghanistan and Egypt, is a tool to thwart democracy and diplomacy

Lahore, Pakistan

From a distance, the devastating attacks on Shia Muslims in three Afghan cities this week looked like the type of sectarian religious attacks which we got used to in Iraq. The faultline between Sunni and Shia is one of the greatest and most violent in the world, and now and again it divides countries. But in Afghanistan, nothing is ever this simple. For all its woes, it hasn’t seen a sectarian religious attack for ten years. And while the Taleban have had their history persecuting the Shia, it is highly unlikely they were responsible. The more likely ­explanation is less obvious — and even more sinister.

These attacks were intended to kill as many as possible. In Kabul a suicide bomber walking among the crowds detonated his bomb killing at least 54 people and wounding over 150. A similar walking bomber detonated himself in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing four and wounding 20, while a third bomb left on a bicycle in a bazaar in Kandahar missed the procession and instead wounded two policemen.

The timing also made a sectarian point. The attacks took place on the tenth day of the Muslim month of Muharram, the end of Ashura, the holiest ten days in the Shia calendar, when all Muslims, but particularly Shia, commemorate the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. The processions wind their way through city streets all day; young men beat themselves with chains as penance, while many thousands of others walk beside them. All easy targets. The bomb in Kabul went off as hundreds of young Shia were singing at the Abu Fazl shrine.

And there was political symmetry too. The bombs came just a day after the conclusion of an important conference in Bonn where the international community (led by the US and Nato countries) pledged to continue helping Afghanistan for the next decade. The bombings certainly demonstrated the fragile nature of Afghanistan at present, but the Taleban issued a statement to the BBC denying that they were responsible. So who did it, and why?

To understand this requires a little history. Afghan Shia account for no more than a tenth of the population and are largely made up of Hazaras — an ethnic group descended from Genghis Khan and the Mongols. They live in the poorest region, Hazarajat in the centre of the country and zealously guard the Bamiyan Buddhas — massive statues of Buddha — which the Taleban blew up when it was menacing the Shia in 2001. There are large Hazara populations in Kabul and Mazar. For centuries the Hazaras were treated like slaves by the Pashtun kings of Afghanistan, and they are known for their ability to work hard and their love for education — as well as being extremely moderate Shia.

Between 1992 and 2001 the Hazaras were victims of bloody ethnic massacres first by Tajiks and Uzbeks, who fought each other in the bloody civil war; and they suffered again at the hands of the Pashtun Taleban who set out to conquer the country in 1994 and carried with them an ideological hatred for Shia, regarding them as non-believers. But the worst massacres of Shia took place in 1998 when Afghan Taleban commanders were supplanted by Arab fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden. They deliberately sought out Hazaras to kill. The Shia-killers — as the Arabs of al-Qa’eda were called — were joined by Pakistani extremists who slew Shia in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But all that really is just history. When the Taleban resurgence against US forces began in 2003, there were no massacres of the Hazaras or Shia anywhere. The Taleban wanted to show that they were no longer controlled by Arab or foreign sectarian fanatics, and that their ‘jihad’ was to unite all Afghans of whatever faith against the Americans. It was important to them to signal that the Pashtun Taleban were not intrinsically anti-Shia or anti-Hazara. Just last month Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar warned his fighters not to target civilians and told them that if they did, they would face severe punishment.

Meanwhile, the Shia upped the stakes significantly. The powerful commanders of the Hazaras, backed by Iran, had privately warned the Taleban after 2004 not to touch the Shia. If they returned to the bad old days of the late 1990s, there could be retaliatory pogroms against Pashtuns now living in Iran as refugees. It helped that many Hazaras work at Nato camps, and are well-protected by Nato as a result.

For the past eight years — right up until last Tuesday — the threat of mutual destruction and the Taleban’s hands-off approach seemed to be working. Despite all the violence in Afghanistan, there was no prospect of internecine sectarian war. The only people with an interest in plunging Afghanistan into a sectarian bloodbath are al-Qa’eda and its attendant Pakistani extremists. They are desperate to scuttle the secret talks being held between the Americans and the Taleban, thinking they can profit from the resulting chaos.

Al-Qa’eda in Afghanistan is trying to repeat the formula it used in Iraq: sectarian war as a tool to divide the country, defeat the American occupation and undermine Iranian influence. By killing Shia and prompting a backlash against Sunnis, al-Qa’eda was willing to plunge a majority Shia Arab country — which had never known sectarian killings — into mayhem. It was chillingly successful in its aim.

It wants to do the same thing in Egypt. The Arab Spring has been a deep embarrassment for al-Qa’eda, which has been left behind by the public surge for democracy. So it is trying to make a comeback in Egypt by bombing the minority Christian Copts and their churches, attempting to create a backlash so that the Christians go after Sunni Muslims — and start a sectarian war into which it can insert itself, hoping this war will replace Egyptians’ struggle for democracy.

Pakistan has been suffering from sectarian war since Iran and the Arab Gulf states fought out a proxy Shia-Sunni war for influence in the early 1980s. But the killings escalated dramatically after al-Qa’eda entered the picture and recruited Pakistani Sunni extremist groups to its side. Shia constitute about a fifth of the Pakistani population, and even Iran has been unable to protect them.

In its history, Afghanistan has known all manner of ethnic conflicts, tribes, foreign invasions and poverty. But sectarian war was introduced there in the late 1990s by al-Qa’eda and some extreme Taleban elements. It rapidly subsided after 2001, when the perpetrators were deposed — demonstrating that sectarianism was not deep-rooted. But those who want to destroy any hope of reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taleban before western forces withdraw in 2014 seem now seem to believe that sectarian warfare, and the bloodbath it brings, is their last hope.

Source: The Spectator

About the author

Jehangir Hafsi


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  • All lies, lies, lice, lice. Americans are killing everybody blaming it on Al-Qaeda which never existed!!!!!

  • US envoy: Afghan sectarian conflict unlikely
    Based on reactions of Shia leadership, Crocker says Ashoura attacks will not lead to strife.

    Last Modified: 10 Dec 2011 16:27

    US ambassador Crocker says response of Shia leadership shows no sign of sectarian conflict in Afghanistan [EPA]
    This week’s Ashoura bombings, which killed 59 Shia worshippers in Afghanistan, will not lead to a cycle of Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in Afghanistan, the US ambassador to Kabul has said.

    Saturday’s comments by Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, come after a week of fears that the bombings in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif would turn Afghanistan into Iraq or neighbouring Pakistan where sectarian violence has historically been much more common.

    “Whoever the architects were, they don’t have much Afghan support,” Crocker said of Tuesday’s attacks outside a shrine in Kabul and near the shrine of Hazrat Ali in Balkh province. “I do not see this turning into a sectarian conflict, just looking at the reaction on the part of the [Shia] leadership, calling for calm.”

    In interviews with Al Jazeera hours after the attacks, experts in Kabul and Washington expressed similar sentiments.

    Afghanistan, says Abbas Daiyar, a Kabul-based journalist, lacks “a single militant Shia group … known or involved in any previous sectarian attack” to carry out proportional violent attacks in response.

    The rise of sectarian conflict in Afghanistan would severely stretch security forces as the second phase of tranistion of security to Afghan forces begins and thousands of international troops are set to leave in 2012.

    Alleged links to Pakistan

    Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said after the attacks that Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had claimed responsibility.

    Speaking outside a Kabul hospital where he was visiting victims of the attack in the capital, the Afghan president said he would raise the matter with the Pakistani government. The group, believed to have ties with al-Qaeda has carried out attacks on Shia congregations in Pakistan in the past, but never before in Afghanistan.

    “I’m not in a position to say authoritatively this was carried out by Lashkar-e-Jangvi,” said Crocker, who served as a diplomat in Pakistan and Iraq before taking over for Karl Eikenberry as Washington’s representative to Kabul in July.

    Crocker also told reporters he had seen no evidence that the Haqqani network, which Washington has blamed for a number of attacks in Afghanistan, was involved in the blasts carried out on one of the holiest days for Shias.

    “As we’ve all seen, the Haqqanis have been the most lethal in delivering ordnance on target, but I’ve got nothing that would say they were part of this,” he said, though he added that there is a trend of Afghan strikes having been plotted in Pakistan.

    “Virtually every significant attack I’m aware of … either came out of tribal areas [in Pakistan] or Pakistani Baluchistan,” Crocker said.

    Tensions among the three countries have reached a high point after the United States claimed Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), supported the Haqqani Network in a September attack targeting the US embassy in Kabul and after a NATO strike on a Pakistani border post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last month.

    Bicycle bomb

    Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a bicycle bomb, resembling the type of bomb used in Tuesday’s attacks in Mazar-e-Sharif, exploded in the northern province of Kunduz on Saturday.

    “Today a bicycle bomb exploded in Kunduz city which killed Sher Mohammad Arab, a Jihadi commander, and a civilian. Sixteen others were also wounded,” Samiullah Qatra, the Kunduz Police Chief, said.

  • “Shias = Iranian agents”: Ahmed Rashid’s dangerous stereotypes may enable further Shia genocide!

    Ahmed Rashid’s false stereotypes about Shias may further enable their massacres in Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

    In his most recent interview (21 March 2012) with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Ahmed Rashis recycles and reinforces an extremely dangerous stereotype of Shia Muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world, i.e., Shia Muslims are stooges and agents of Iranian mullah-regime. This stereotype has been frequently used by Arab dictators in the Middle East, Jihadi-sectarian groups (Al Qaeda, Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Ikhwan-al-Muslimoon etc) in Arab and non-Arab countries to persecute or/and massacre innocent Shia Muslims.
    Lately, Ahmed Rashid’s narrative is a reflection of the 80-20 mixture, i.e., 20% of propaganda camouflaged in 80% of factual analysis. We have noticed similar slants in his previous works which will be shared on these pages shortly.

    On Tuesday’s (21 March 2012) Fresh Air, Rashid discusses the challenges facing Pakistan and Afghanistan in the post-Osama bin Laden era and within this interview spreads adverse and unrealistic stereotypes of Shias.

    GROSS: So I want to change the subject a little bit here. We’ve been talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan. I should bring up Iran with you because the Israelis are considering bombing Iran’s nuclear facility before Iran is able to make a nuclear weapon. There’s some pressure in the United States to have Obama – the Obama administration work with Israel in doing that. If the Israelis were to attack Iran – Iran’s nuclear facility – what impact do you think that would have on the region?

    RASHID: I’m glad you asked me that, Terry, because I think, you know, this has totally been underplayed by the American media. I think the repercussions in the region would be devastating simply because the Iranians would not retaliate in a confrontational war with either Israel or the United States, if there was a bombing of Iran.

    They would launch a guerilla war using their proxy forces all through the Middle East, from Lebanon all the way to India. You know, Iran, as you know, is a Shia country. All these countries have Shia minorities. Many of these Shia minorities have groups which are pro-Iranian and have been armed and funded by the Iranians. These groups would unleash terrorist attacks on Americans and Europeans and Westerners and Israelis. And there would be a real mayhem. And this would particularly affect the neighboring countries of Iran, of which both Pakistan and Afghanistan are. So, Afghanistan and Pakistan are ostensibly allies of the United States, but they’re also neighbors of Iran.

    And they would be placed in a terrible quandary because they would be faced of the possibility of American forces using these territories to launch retaliatory attacks against Iran, Iran retaliating with guerilla attacks and terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities, in Afghan cities, killing Americans, killing Westerners, et cetera.

    And plus the anger, not to speak of the general anger of the Shia minorities in these countries, and the overall anger of Muslims everywhere. Because, you know, this – I mean Muslims would read this as being the third time in a decade that the U.S. has attacked a Muslim country – if we look at, you know, Afghanistan and Iraq as the first two.

    So, you know, it would not just create anger in the Shias, but I think there would be, you know, the growth of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world amongst Sunnis, the mainstream Muslim sect, would also be enormous. And the consequences I don’t even want to think about. I mean, you know, it would be very difficult to push through programs of democratization and liberalization, et cetera, et cetera, once something like this happened.


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    Posted on March 21, 2012 at 9:34 am in Original Article | RSS feed | Respond | Trackback URL

    Tags: Ahmed Rashid, Iran, Misrepresentation of Shia Genocide, Yellow Journalism
    7 Responses to ““Shias = Iranian agents”: Ahmed Rashid’s dangerous stereotypes may enable further Shia genocide!”

    March 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm
    He is speaking Saudi-ISI’s language:
    March 12, 2012 7:04 pm
    A deal with the Taliban is the only way out
    By Ahmed Rashid
    In an army of 150,000 US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, one rogue soldier who massacres 16 civilians, including nine children, does not necessarily mean that the discipline and morale of the whole force is breaking down. However, when the spate of recent incidents is put together – US soldiers burning copies of the Koran, footage apparently showing US marines urinating on bodies of dead Taliban fighters and a series of accidental killings of civilians during US attacks on the Taliban – the situation looks far more grim. There can be no doubt that the western forces in Afghanistan are facing a crisis of confidence, across the Muslim world and also in their home countries.
    The Afghan people are exhausted by a war that has gone on in one form or other since 1979, when most US soldiers now in Afghanistan were not even born. Increasing numbers of Afghans would agree with what the Taliban have been arguing for almost a decade: that the western presence in Afghanistan is prolonging the war, causing misery and bloodshed. The hundreds of civilians killed already this year across the country are almost forgotten now in the aftermath of the killing of children by a farengi, or foreigner.
    Moreover, faced with an increasingly corrupt and incompetent government, Afghans are seeing fewer improvements on the ground. So-called “nation building” has ground to a halt, simple justice and rule of law is unobtainable and a third of the population is suffering from malnutrition. The people blame not just the Americans but equally Hamid Karzai and his inner circle, which gives him conflicting and contradictory advice, leading him to flip and flop on policy issues.
    The Afghan president’s desire to seek a strategic partnership agreement with the US is becoming more and more unacceptable to the Afghan people. At the same time he also wants to make peace with the Taliban, but they have no desire for a pact with Washington. His dilemma, which he still refuses to understand, is that he can either ask for a long-term US presence or peace with the Taliban, but not both.
    America is clearly also exhausted by the two wars it has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan – the latter becoming the longest war in US history. Officers and soldiers have done several tours of duty in both countries, while the wars themselves have been virtually ignored at home. Neither war has yielded the dividends that Washington once hoped for. Osama bin Laden may be dead but al-Qaeda’s beliefs have spread their net into many more countries since 2001, while the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than western forces could conceive of a few years ago.
    Yet the US military high command has been lobbying in Washington, insisting that some kind of victory in Afghanistan is still possible if only President Barack Obama would not withdraw so many troops so soon and if only Congress would keep the funding flowing. US generals have done their best to delay and undermine the still-weak hand played by the State Department in its efforts to get talks with the Taliban going. But now even the Republicans, many of whom have supported the military and condemned Mr Obama for daring to open talks with the Taliban, appear to be at a loss as to how to move forwards in Afghanistan.
    After the spate of incidents this year, there should be no doubt in Washington that seeking a negotiated settlement to end the war with the Taliban as quickly as possible is the only way out. Mr Obama has to put his weight behind this strategy to ensure an orderly withdrawal and to give the Afghan people the chance of an end to this war. A power-sharing formula with the Taliban, which now appears increasingly unavoidable, and an accord with neighbouring states to limit their interference, will be key.
    In 1989 it was America and Pakistan who refused to allow a political solution to end the fighting because they wanted not just the Soviets gone but also Moscow’s Afghan protégées led by Mohammad Najibullah. Instead he hung on for three years, resulting in a civil war. America cannot again leave Afghanistan with a civil war as its bequest to the Afghans. Washington, and Nato, must seek an end to the war before withdrawing their forces. Despite the tragic death of so many innocent children, this is still possible if there is a concerted diplomatic and political push.
    The writer is author of several books about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, most recently ‘Descent into Chaos’

    March 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm
    Over the past fifteen years, Ahmed Rashid, has made himself the authority on the Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum. Via series of books and articles, he has made himself the ‘go-to’ person on the problems posed by the troublesome and wretched region. Anyone who is interested in acquiring any deep knowledge of these two countries, must acquaint himself with the writings of Ahmed Rashid. With all that being said, I for one am not in the least taken-in by the current line that he has been trumpeting these past two to three years, that negotiations with the Taliban, with or without International participation will be the only possible ‘solution’ to the War in Afghanistan. I say this, as someone who looks forward to the almost complete withdrawal American and Western forces in the region. Why then do I say this? Simply put, there is absolutely no evidence that the Taliban, who have so far shown themselves completely unwilling to come to terms with either Afghanistan President Karzai or the Americans, while the latter and their allies have approximately one-hundred and fifty thousand troops in the country, will use the occasion of the withdrawal of said troops to come to some sort of modus vivendi with the former. There is absolutely nothing in the modus operandi of the Taliban in either past or present to suggest that they would see the occasion of the withdrawal of the Western forces as a time to come to reasonable terms with the current regime in Kabul. Based upon past form, it is evident to me, that the Taliban will use the occasion of the withdrawal of Western ground forces to launch a major offensive to destroy the existing Aghan government in Kabul.
    With that being said, I for one do not advocate that there be a total withdrawal of American & Western forces from the country. Certainly ‘special forces’ and air squadrons, as well as drones, need to remain in Afghanistan. As well as a limited number of trainers and advisers in the various ministries. Recognizing of course that the latter element will remain at risk, as has been seen most recently. Unlike I presume Rashid, I believe that even sans Western ground forces, the Karzai regime, with the Western assistance outlined and with financial assistance continuing, and with the backing of the non-Pashtun majority of the country, can indeed remain in power over perhaps two-thirds to half of the country. Enough, I believe to prevent the Taliban from regaining power and possibly turning the country once again into a hotbed of International terrorist outrages and violence `a la 1997-2001. The real issue then is not ‘negotiating with the Taliban’, which essentially means negotiating terms of surrender. What has to be done, with or without Western ground forces is ensuring the survival of the Karzai regime and the maintenance of a semblence of stability. As Wadir Safi, a lecturer in law and political science at Kabul State University, thus providing a ‘grounds eyes view’ of the situation (unlike the safely residing in Europe, Rashid):
    “The Americans must determine if they have fulfilled their job or not,” Safi says. “The U.S. must think if they can really leave in 2013 or 2014. If they leave without reaching an agreement with the government and the insurgents, what will be the consequences of a withdrawal? If we can reach an agreement now, I would ask the Americans to go tomorrow, but if not, then they must stay here until they are sure that things will not become worse than they were 10 years ago, before they came.” Leaving behind chaos in Afghanistan “will show that the U.S. is not a superpower” 1.
    1. Quoted in: John Wendle, “Afghanistan: Rising Anger over American’s rampage, but also fear of US departure.” Time. 13 March 2012, in
    posted by Charles Giovanni Vanzan Coutinho, Ph.D

    Twitter Monitor
    March 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm
    Huma Imtiaz ‏ @HumaImtiaz
    Zing. Ahmed Rashid on BB in 07: “This time Zardari has been told to stay home in Dubai and mind the kids.”
    18 Mar Huma Imtiaz ‏ @HumaImtiaz
    I have a terrible feeling I’ve wasted $13 on the new Ahmed Rashid book.
    16 Mar Asad Munir ‏ @asadmunir38
    What Ahmed Rashid has written about FATA, 2001-2003 in “Decent into Chaos”,believe me there is not an iota of truth in that, all fiction
    Huma Imtiaz ‏ @HumaImtiaz
    Halfway into Ahmed Rashid’s book. Convinced its a rant by a bitter man waiting for the bijli to return and who’s mali has stolen the mangoes
    Azmat Khan ‏ @AzmatZahra
    Indian media: In his new book, Ahmed Rashid writes that Panetta wanted “parallel intel org” in Pakistan hidden from ISI
    Shashank Joshi ‏ @shashj
    So Ahmed Rashid’s new book seems to be a dud. What are the most readworthy, recently-published books on Pakistan then?
    3h Abdul Nishapuri ‏ @AbdulNishapuri
    “Shias = Iranian agents”: Ahmed Rashid enables #ShiaKilling
    View media
    3h Aisha Sarwari ‏ @AishaFSarwari
    “There’s no investment, no money, there’s no energy — I live in Lahore. We’ve had no gas for six months” Ahmed Rashid –
    3h Aisha Sarwari ‏ @AishaFSarwari
    Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid – “There could be a major terrorist attack in the US or Europe which is traced back to Pakistan” (NPR)
    Mohammad Taqi ‏ @mazdaki Close
    @Laibaah1 Since Ahmed ‘Balaach’ Rashid launched attacks on US oil in Balochistan his understanding of guerilla war has become rusty @mehmal

    Baqi Khan
    March 22, 2012 at 8:16 am
    Ahmed Rahid was also a a part of the ISI-sponsored Jinnah Institute’s pro-Strategic Depth Foreign Police elite’s report on the future of Afghanistan.
    For the last two or three years he has started receiving pay cheques from Aabpara. A double cross like Saleem Shahzad.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:13 am
    Shia-Sunni fight is what the aim of all these ISI sponsored puppets. The page Karbala-e-Quetta from facebook clarifies and answers why do Iran not throw in some supportive statements for the Shia killings – An answer for the sparrow sized minds who criticize Iran’s Leader’s neutrality towards religion rather than ethnicity.