Stay away from the Wahhabi-Deobandi alliance in Pakistan, Ms Judith McHale

Ansar Abbasi is a much despised journalist in Pakistani. He is widely disliked by the majority of moderate Pakistanis because of his consistent support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In his distorted and inflammatory news reports, he persistently justifies the Taliban’s acts of violence against innocent Pakistanis on one pretext or the other (for example, his reporting of the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad).

Ansar Abbasi is a Wahhabi by his personal faith, and is ideologically aligned with evil forces such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Taliban and Al Qaeda. Instead of finding friends in the minority Wahhabi-Deobandi alliance in Pakistan, the USA must dedicate its time and resources to build trust with the majority Barelvi (Sufi) population in Pakistan, also bringing on board moderate Deobandis to fight the menace of Wahhabi-Deobandi terrorism in Pakistan and the entire region. Ansar Abbasi and his likes are not a part of the solution; they are a part of the problem.

U.S. Officials Get a Taste of Pakistanis’ Anger at America

Published: August 19, 2009
KARACHI, PakistanJudith A. McHale was expecting a contentious session with Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist known for his harsh criticism of American foreign policy, when she sat down for a one-on-one meeting with him in a hotel conference room in Islamabad on Monday. She got that, and a little bit more.

After Ms. McHale, the Obama administration’s new under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, gave her initial polite presentation about building bridges between America and the Muslim world, Mr. Abbasi thanked her politely for meeting with him. Then he told her that he hated her.

“ ‘You should know that we hate all Americans,’ ” Ms. McHale said Mr. Abbasi told her. “ ‘From the bottom of our souls, we hate you.’ ”

Beyond the continuation of the battle against militants along the Pakistani-Afghan border, a big part of President Obama’s strategy for the region involves trying to broaden America’s involvement in the country to include nonmilitary areas like infrastructure development, trade, energy, schools and jobs — all aimed at convincing the Pakistani people that the United States is their friend. But as Ms. McHale and other American officials discovered this week, during a visit by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, making that case was not going to be easy.

“We have made a major turn with our relationship with Pakistan under President Obama,” Mr. Holbrooke told reporters at a news conference in Karachi on Wednesday. Time and again, Mr. Holbrooke tried to delineate the differences between the Obama administration and the Bush era, painting the new administration as one that wants to see a better life and more business opportunities for Pakistanis.

He said his very presence in Karachi — Pakistan’s largest city and its commercial capital — demonstrated that drone attacks and the hunt for Al Qaeda were not the only American foreign policy activities in the country.

To polite applause, Mr. Holbrooke told local officials at the Governor’s House that the United States Consulate in Karachi would start granting business visas —100 a week — instead of making would-be business travelers to the United States go to Islamabad for the visas, as has been the case.

He stopped at a shantytown in the city to chat with schoolboys crowded into three classrooms, and even visited the home of a local resident, to get a feel for how people in Karachi live. On Tuesday, he met with opposition leaders in Islamabad, including Liaqat Baloch, the secretary general of the anti-American political party Jamaat-e-Islami, and Fazlur Rehman, the leader of another anti-American party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, who is sometimes referred to as the spiritual founder of the Taliban.

In Karachi on Wednesday, Mr. Holbrooke kept bringing up a trade bill that just passed the House, which would set up so-called reconstruction opportunity zones so that textiles and other goods made in Pakistan’s tribal areas could get preferential access to the United States market. And Ms. McHale, whose job is, in part, to try to repair America’s relations with the Muslim world, strayed from his side only when she ventured out on fence-mending missions of her own, meeting with 17 Pakistani journalists, 8 officials of nongovernmental organizations and members of several political parties, all in an effort to deliver one message: America cares about Pakistan.

But Mr. Abbasi’s reaction — a response that, Ms. McHale acknowledged, apparently reflects the feelings of about 25 percent of the population, according to a recent poll — demonstrated just how tough the job is. For all of the administration’s efforts to call attention to the nonmilitary ties that would bind the two countries, America is still being judged by many Pakistanis as an uncaring behemoth whose sole concern is findingOsama bin Laden, no matter the cost in civilian Pakistani lives.

“He told me that we were no longer human beings because our goal was to eliminate other humans,” Ms. McHale said Wednesday, recounting the conversation with Mr. Abbasi. “He spoke English very well, and he said that thousands of innocent people have been killed because we are trying to find Osama bin Laden.”

Following Mr. Holbrooke’s example when he received a similar lashing from Mr. Baloch, Ms. McHale said she argued her points with Mr. Abbasi, points that to many Americans would appear logical, but that often fail to impress over here: Al Qaeda and Mr. bin Laden attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001; the war in Afghanistan, unlike the war in Iraq, is blessed by the United Nations and is a multinational effort; America will always do whatever it takes to defend itself.

She said that even though she knew that she did not sway Mr. Abbasi, it was good to hear what he thought because she wanted to try to understand the source of much of the anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, Mr. Holbrooke continued to push an agenda of soft power, telling business leaders that the United States wanted to invest in energy projects in Pakistan. But he acknowledged that some of the projects that Karachi technocrats put before him, with their complex ownership structures, would never get approval in the Congress.

The trade bill, now before the Senate, has labor provisions that are unlikely to get past free-trade Republicans, whose support is needed for it to pass.

And on top of that, in a concession to the United States textile industry, the bill would not include imports of cotton tops and pants, items that are made in abundance in Pakistan.

Pakistan must confront Wahhabism

As the Saudi-financed Wahhabi Islam supplants the tolerant indigenous Sufi Islam, its violent creed is inspiring terrorism


Despite the recent offensive by the Pakistani army in the Swat Valley and by Nato in Helmand province, the “Talibanisation” of both Afghanistanand Pakistan proceeds apace. Vast parts of the Afghan south and a large region in western Pakistan are still under de facto control of Taliban militants who enforce a violent form of sharia law.

Western responses oscillate between calls for a secular alternative to the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban and attempts to engage the moderate elements among them. Neither will solve the underlying religious clash between indigenous Sufi Islam and the Saudi-sponsoredWahhabi extremism. The UK and US must change strategy and adopt a policy that supports the peaceful indigenous Muslim tradition of Sufism while thwarting Saudi Arabia’s promotion of the dangerous Wahhabi creed that fuels violence and sectarian tension.

As Afghanistan goes to the polls this week, western political and military leaders now recognise that stability and peace in the country cannot be created by military force alone. Like the “surge” strategy in Iraq which reduced suicide bombings by driving a wedge between indigenous Sunnis and foreign jihadists, the US and its European allies will try to separate the Taliban from al-Qaida fighters who infiltrate Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan. By combining “surgical” strikes against terrorists in the Afghan-Pakistani border region with a political strategy aimed at “moderate” Taliban, President Obama hopes to save the US mission from disaster.

The problem is that those Taliban who would be prepared to talk have little leverage and those who have influence feel that they have little incentive to compromise, as they have gained the upper hand. Unlike many Sunnis in Iraq, most Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have embraced the puritanical and fundamentalist Islam of the Wahhabi mullahs from Saudi Arabia who wage a ruthless war not just against western “infidels” but also against fellow Muslims they consider to be apostates, in particular the Sufis.

Sufi Islam is not limited to the southern Pakistani province of Sindh on the border with India. It also exists elsewhere in Pakistan and has been present in Afghanistan for centuries, as exemplified by the 18th-century poet and mystic Rahman Baba whose shrine at the foot of the Khyber Pass (linking Afghanistan and Pakistan) still attracts many Sufi faithful from both sides of the border.

All this changed in the 1980s when during the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion, elements in Saudi Arabia poured in money, arms and extremist ideology. Through a network of madrasas, Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi Islam indoctrinated young Muslims with fundamentalist Puritanism, denouncing Sufi music and poetry as decadent and immoral. At Attock, not far from Rahman Baba’s shrine on the Khyber Pass, stands the Haqqania madrassa, one of the most radical schools where the Taliban leader Mullah Omar was trained. Across the Pakistani border, the tolerant Sufi-minded Barelvi form of indigenous Islam has also been supplanted by the hardline Wahhabi creed.

This madrassa-inspired and Saudi-financed Wahhabi Islam is destroying indigenous Islam in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Crucially, it is imposing a radical creed that represents a distortion and perversion of true Islam. Wahhabi followers beheaded a Polish geologist in February (as revenge for Polish troops in Afghanistan) and blew up a century-old shrine dedicated to Rahman Baba in the Pakistani town of Peshawar in March.

The actions of the west and its Afghan and Pakistani allies are making matters worse. By causing civilian deaths through aerial bombings, the US is driving ordinary Afghans and Pakistani into the arms of the jihadi terrorists. By declaring sharia law in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat region to appease the local Taliban and by using Islamism in the ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir, Pakistan’s government is emboldening the extremists and undermining Sufi Islam.

What is required, first of all, is to prevent Saudi Arabia from playing a duplicitous game whereby the authorities in Riyadh help the Afghan President Karzai in his attempts to woo moderate Taliban while promoting the violent creed of Wahhabism across this volatile region. The west should call Saudi Arabia’s bluff and not surrender to Riyadh’s threats of ending security co-operation and information exchange on international terrorism which thrives on Saudi-exported Wahhabi ideology.

The west and Muslim countries such as Jordan should also put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to confront Wahhabism by expelling Saudi hate preachers, closing the Wahhabi madrassas and establishing schools that teach the peaceful Islam of Sufism.

By itself this strategy will of course not be sufficient to eradicate violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But without an alternative policy based on religion, this religious conflict will further escalate.