Rise of Saudi-funded Caucasian Salafist fighters in West Asia - II
by Ramtanu Maitra on 04 Apr 2015 0 Comment

Why were they bred? :  Following West’s successful campaign in defeating the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s with the help of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, Britain and Pakistan, with the tacit approval of the United States, began to weaken Russia to break up the Federation further. The weapon they chose to use in their new venture was the fanatical Sunni Muslims imbued with Salafism and Wahhabism and their pent-up anger over the years against the Godless Soviets aka Russians.


The principal objective of the West, and its Sunni allies, was to unhinge the newly-found and structurally-weak Central Asian nations from the long-established Russian influence. Oil and gas in that area provided the added incentives to this anti-Russia mob, who did not want Russia to emerge in the future becoming a major competitor to their geostrategic control over oil and gas supply to a vast part of the world.


Within Russia, some of the Chechens, Dagestanis, Ossetians and other North Caucasians saw in this external support lent by the British-Saudi-Pakistani trio an opportunity to rev up irregular warfare against Moscow. Since these Caucasian secessionists were eager to seek all kinds of help to undermine Russia, a vastly superior power, they developed links with the British, Saudis and Pakistanis. One of the conduits they used was the Saudi-funded al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden. They picked up arms and the Saudis, Pakistanis and the west moved in to help them. This happened in the 1990s after the now-deceased Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda had set up bases inside Afghanistan and all along the Afghanistan-Pakistan borders.


It was the time when the mujahideen groups, who were involved in defeating the Soviet troops in Afghanistan on behalf of the West, were engaged in an internecine warfare trying to seize control of Kabul. None of these mujahideen groups had the firepower or the military skill to do so, nor could they join hands with each other to develop a formidable force because of their internal in-built animosities and little concern about the Afghans in general.


At that point in time, Pakistan, with the help of Saudi cash, actively launched a project with the intent of gaining virtual control over Afghanistan by helping to install a pro-Islamabad government in Afghanistan. While the West gave the Saudi-Pakistani duo the proverbial green light, Saudis poured in money. Deobandi madrassas, that preached a version of orthodox Islam akin to the Wahhabi version propagated by the Saudis, were set up to indoctrinate young  Afghans and Pakistanis and to impart them with arms training to make them ready to capture Kabul. That objective was achieved in 1996 with the help of Pakistan soldiers playing a significant role in helping those Wahhabi-indoctrinated military neophytes to march into Kabul. As Pakistani analyst Ahmed Rashid pointed out later, Pakistan’s Deobandi madrassas played a major role in educating the Taliban leadership that captured Kabul in 1996.


But the plan to create Taliban and seize control of Kabul was part of a much larger project that ensured a long and a broader war in the region. Saudis heavily funded the Britain-based Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT), an international group of white-robed Salafi preachers whose ties with the terrorists have led to their being banned in many countries, to propagate the Wahhabi-version of Islam in the most-populated areas of Central Asia, such as the Ferghana Valley. Ahmed Rashid pointed out that a major success of this project in Central Asia showed up in the civil war in Tajikistan (1992-97). That was the first testing ground for the reinterpretation of Islam in Central Asia.


Today, Islamic movements such as Hizb ut-Tahrir al Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) pose the greatest threats to the Central Asian regimes and stability in the region. Well armed and well financed, highly motivated, and with extensive support from the wider world of Islamic radicalism and drug smuggling mafias based in Afghanistan, these are pan-Islamic and pan-Central Asian movements. (The Fires of faith in Central Asia: Ahmed Rashid: World Policy Journal, Spring 2001). But proselytizing of the HuT in Central Asia was always a facade. Their wide-ranging presence in the distant parts of Central Asia was meant to indoctrinate and then recruit individuals who were ready and had the skill to adopt violent means in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia - the stated objective of the HuT.


A similar account of events occurring in that region at the time is also available in the book, Serpent’s Tail, penned by Mark Curtis, former Research Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), widely known as the Chatham House. In his book, Curtis said: “In the early 1990s it was not only Saudi Arabia that bolstered the rise of radical Islamist groups which emerged from the Afghanistan war... Islamabad undertook a new wave of operations by using Pakistani, Afghan and other Sunni jihadists to promote its foreign policy goals both in Kashmir and across Central Asia - a big push the consequences of which are still with us.


“Moreover, Britain armed and trained the Pakistani military at this time while deepening commercial relations. London not only turned a blind eye to the Pakistani push but conducted covert activities of its own, its eyes set on new oil and gas reserves in the Central Asia region. Just as Britain had sponsored Islamic radicals to destabilize the Soviet regime in the past, now Pakistan’s backing of these forces was useful to Britain in countering communist governments that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet empire, and to reduce Russian influence in the region. Islamabad’s surge in Central Asia coincided with a new jihad in Bosnia from 1992, backed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as Britain and the US ... These concurrent episodes constituted a second wave in the development of global terrorism after the first wave in Afghanistan the previous decade.


“Even after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Muslim volunteers for jihad continued to flow into Pakistan and Afghanistan. Throughout the early 1990s Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, trained around 20,000 militant volunteers at a special training school north of Peshawar... The school’s founder was Abdul Sayyaf, the pro-Saudi mujahideen leader during the Afghan war, and its funders were mainly Saudi Arabia and Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan’s secret services also continued to run some of the Afghan training camps, and funded training by another mujahideen commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, of militants from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) groups. It was from this infrastructure of terrorism that the Taliban would soon emerge and which Bin Laden would draw on after arriving back in Afghanistan in 1996...


“During the 1990s, some groups operating in Kashmir with ISI support turned to terrorism in places such as Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and the Philippines... The Pakistani strategy to ‘recover’ Kashmir was part of a broader campaign to exert influence over the Central Asian Silk Road to China, which would benefit the country economically and enable it to act as a strategic power between Iran and China. It soon involved covert operations in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to Pakistan’s north, and the Russian republic of Chechnya to its west. By 1994, the military under Benazir Bhutto’s government was training hundreds of Chechens, Uzbeks and Tajiks at camps in Afghanistan in techniques of guerilla warfare, the aim being to export Islamist revolution in the region and reduce Russian influence,” Curtis detailed in his book.


Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, the network of Chechens, Uzbeks and Tajiks got disturbed and it began to scatter. Many stayed in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) while some others moved out. With the help of Islamist charities, many traveled to the Pankisi Gorge, a mountainous area in northern Georgia. In December 2003, for example, an Azeri military court convicted the leaders of Revival of Islamic Heritage, a Kuwaiti humanitarian organization, for sending Azeri recruits to the Pankisi Gorge on their way to fight in Chechnya.


According to Georgian officials, in early 2002, some sixty Arab computer, communications, and financial specialists, military trainers, chemists, and bomb-makers settled in the gorge. The group used sophisticated satellite and encrypted communications to support both Ibn al-Khattab’s operations in Chechnya and terrorists planning attacks against Western targets. The “Pankisi Arabs” later tried to buy explosives for what Georgian security officials believe was to have been a major attack on US or other Western installations in Russia. (How Chechnya Became a Breeding Ground for Terror:  Lorenzo Vidino: Middle East Quarterly:  Summer 2005)


(To be concluded…)

This article appeared in the Jan-Mar 2015 issue of Agni, a Journal of the Forum for Strategic & Security Studies    

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