Activist Islam in Pakistan: Post 2

Continuing from where I left off with Al-Muhajabah’s “A field guide to Islamic activists”:

Second, we can look at recent developments in Islamic thought in Pakistan as a whole. Pakistan was created in 1948 as a state for the Muslims of India after India won its independence from Britain. The Muslims had been an active part of this struggle for independence; in fact, the roots of their struggle go back to the 1700s when Britain was first colonizing India. In concert with the political struggle for independence there was a renaissance in Islamic thought, which is popularly associated with the Dar al-Ulum (University of Islamic Sciences) of Deoband, India, and is thus called “Deobandi” (the Deobandis were mentioned briefly above.)

Partition of India into two countries was part of the independence package from Britain in August 1947. I won’t go into the details (or even the desirability) of Partition since Aziz will talk of the “conceit of Jinnah” and Zachary Latif will talk of the greatness of Pakistan as compared to India.

I should mention here that Dar-ul-Ulum, Deoband was not the only school of Islamic thought in India/Pakistan at the time. There were a number of others taking different approaches. I plan to go into some detail of that later.

After Pakistan achieved independence, the Deobandi movement gave rise to a new offshoot. The founder of this was Abu’l-Aala Maududi. Like Qutb, Maududi had his own new vision of Islam. It also was centered around the struggle (jihad) against the oppressive forces. Maududi felt that Pakistan might have escaped the political domination of Britain, but it was still suffering under the cultural oppression of the West (i.e., secularism) and that the struggle must continue in order to establish a truly Islamic state as the Prophet (pbuh) had done. Maududi founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (Islamic Group), a political party dedicated to establishing Islamic law in Pakistan.

Maududi can be considered an offshoot of the Deobandi movement since his education and early affiliation was with them. In the 1920s, he was the editor of two newspapers published by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (Party of the scholars of India), the religio-political party of the Deobandis. He diverged soon however with his writings. [A brief biography is available at the website of the political party he founded, Jamaat-e-Islami. I’ll try to find some better references online soon.] He founded his party Jamaat-e-Islami in the 1940s somewhat before the founding of Pakistan. Originally, it was supposed to stay away from politics. When Maududi decided to take part in politics after Pakistan was founded, a faction of his party, including I believe Dr. Israr Ahmad, broke off.

The word “taliban” is Arabic for “students” and the Taliban are so named because they were students at the religious colleges in western Pakistan. Maududi’s Jamaat-i-Islami had originally established many religious colleges as part of its own struggle against the secularism of Pakistani society, and Azzam had been teaching his militant version of Islam in Baluchistan since the crisis first erupted in Afghanistan, and working among the youth of Afghanistan. It would be a small thing to send them off to Peshawar or Quetta to learn the religious justifications before they came back to begin the actual armed struggle. This is what the Taliban have come out of.

Well, not really. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) hasn’t really been strong in NWFP or Balochistan. They are more of an urban party with support in parts of Punjab (the province with about 60% of the population of Pakistan) and Karachi (the largest city). Plus the Taliban did not come out of Maududi’s madrassas. JI definitely played a role in the Afghanistan war. However, they supported Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami. Remember Hekmetyar? He was the darling of the Pakistani ISI (Interservices Intelligence) liked and provided the most weapons to. After the communists were driven out of power and the mujahideen started fighting each other, the major fighting was between Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masud. Masud controlled Kabul and so Hekmatyar’s forces completely destroyed it by continuous shelling. Finally, Hekmetyar became Prime Minister while Rabbani (leader of Masud’s party) was President and Masud I believe was Defense Minister. The arrangement did not really work. And the Taliban took over soon after. When the Taliban were at their peak, Hekmetyar, much weakened, was part of the Northern Alliance. He parted ways with them over US support in the overthrow of the Taliban (or so he said.)

So where did the Taliban come from? The religio-political party of the Deobandi ulema (scholars), of course. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind became Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) [Party of the scholars of Islam] in Pakistan. JUI has been popular among the Pashtuns since at least 1970. The two factions of JUI, led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Maulana SamiulHaq, have a lot of madrassas in the Pashtun areas of NWFP and Balochistan. That is where the Taliban came from. Obviously, the ISI also had something to do with it. I’ll have more later on the JUI. A good book on the Taliban is Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

The series will continue with an analysis of the different political and religious parties and groups in Pakistan.


Recently, I have added some weblogs to my blogroll. So I should probably mention them:

Path of the Paddle is Ikram Saeed’s blog who can been present in the comments section here and on a lot of other blogs. Now he has his own blog to pontificate on everything from Islam, War on Terror, Iraq to Canadian politics and frigidity and even nekkid news.

Perverse Access Memory is Ginger Stampley’s blog. She is a liberal blogger from Houston, TX (do they have liberals there??) with interesting thoughts on politics, immigration, gaming, etc. I used to be a regular reader of her old blog before she retired. Now she’s back.

The Talking Dog is Seth Farber’s effort to make a dog talk interestingly. He has had extensive coverage of the upcoming Israeli elections and is a fellow fan of Amram Mitzna (or at least was until Labor collapsed.) He also claims trademarks on Club Med for Dictators and Ten Most Evil Men of the Twentieth Century.

Activist Islam in Pakistan: Post 1

I promised this series quite some time ago, but didn’t get around to doing it. I’ll use Al-Muhajabah’s “A field guide to Islamic activists” as a jumping-off point (Yes, I remember mentioning it earlier and promising a critique of its Pakistan-related items.)

Taliban also need to be understood as a product of the situation in Pakistan. This is not the place to go into a detailed history of Pakistan. We can, however, look briefly at two factors in the creation of the Taliban. First, it helps to understand that the western parts of Pakistan (which were formerly called Baluchistan) are home to the same Pashtun ethnic group that forms the majority of the population of Afghanistan (if you will pay very, very close attention to the reports of unrest in Pakistan in fall 2001, you will find that the rioting took place almost entirely in Baluchistan, not across the whole of Pakistan.) This has a lot to do with why Pakistan is so involved in Afghanistan.

Pashtuns are actually the majority in NWFP (North Western Frontier Province) and the exclusive residents of FATA (Federally administered tribal areas). FATA is basically an area inhabited by Pashtun tribes and ruled by tribal laws, rather than Pakistani laws, on the border with Afghanistan. NWFP and FATA form the northern part of Pakistan’s western border. There are also a large number of Pashtuns in Balochistan (especially its northern part), Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area but smallest in population. The exact number of Pashtuns in Balochistan is disputed but they are probably somewhat less than a majority. Balochistan has a border with Afghanistan as well as with Iran. (In fact, 2% of Iran’s population is Baloch as well.) According to CIA World Factbook, Pashtuns number about 8% (12 million) of Pakistan’s population and about 44% (12 million) of Afghanistan’s. However, Taliban were almost exclusively Pashtun.

Pakistan’s Pashtun population is one reason why Pakistan and Afghanistan have been so much intertwined for a long time. There are others as well. Historically, the Muslim rulers of India usually entered India (which obviously included Pakistan) from Afghanistan. A number of those rulers ruled over parts of Afghanistan as well. When the British ruled India, they finally decided a border between India and Afghanistan, known as the Durand line. After Pakistan was founded on August 14, 1947, the only country that opposed its entry into the United Nations was Afghanistan because it claimed the Pashtun areas of Pakistan and considered the Durand line to be an artificial border and wanted to change it. Hence, the relations between Pakistan and Afganistan (under Zahir Shah until 1973) were never good. The situation was further complicated by Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan who were all over the spectrum from more provincial autonomy to a land for the Pashtuns. Bacha Khan, mentioned here by Al-Muhajabah, is considered a Pashtun nationalist in Pakistan.

Another reason is (you guessed it) India. After all, no discussion of Pakistan can be complete without India. Not India itself really, but Pakistan’s perception of it as an enemy and the number of wars both have fought since independence. Since Pakistan is quite narrow in width, military strategists came up with the hairbrained idea of “strategic depth.” It relied on having a friendly government in Afghanistan. That is why when Zahir Shah was overthrown by Sardar Daud in 1973 and some conservative Pashtun groups (later to be part of the Afghan mujahideen) came to Pakistan, Bhutto offered them help. However, it remained a very small effort until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and Pakistan became a frontline state with a lot of help from the CIA. Somewhere in there though the idea of strategic depth through a friendly regime morphed into one with a client regime.

Since this post has gotten long, I’ll continue later with the actual discussion of the Islamic activists in Al-Muhajabah’s article .

Keep Your Tinfoil Hat On

An interesting area of research:

Just by pointing his supermagnets at the right spots on your head, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone can make you go momentarily mute or blind.

He can disrupt your working memory or your ability to recognize faces. He can even make it harder for you to say verbs while nouns remain as easy as ever.

Weird, yes. Fringe, no.

Pascual-Leone is one of the premier scientific pioneers exploring a new technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which shuts down or revs up the electrical doings inside the brain by sending a potent magnetic field through the skull.

This is no try-it-at-home parlor trick and no “Relieve your Pain!” magnetic bracelet or insole. Invented in 1985, modern-day magnetic stimulators charge up to 3,000 volts and produce peak currents of up to 8,000 amps — powers similar to those of a small nuclear reactor.

That pulse of current flowing from a capacitor into a hand-held coil creates a magnetic field outside the patient’s head. The field painlessly induces a current inside the brain, affecting the electrical activity that is the basis for all it does.

The promise of TMS as a scientific tool seems similarly powerful. And it has generated a range of intriguing practical effects as well, from improving attention to combating depression, that have been published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.

Via Brad DeLong.

Denial of Service Attack

It seems that some virus/worm is making its way through the net. Access to anything on the internet has been sporadic for the last few hours. My firewall log contains lots of blocked UDP accesses on port 1434. Looking at Matrix NetSystems graphs, it seems that packet loss increased a lot and reachability was reduced somewhere around midnight to 1:00am. I hear it might be an exploit of a MS SQL server vulnerability.

UPDATE: The news story in the media and the virus alert from Network Associates.

Special Registration Questionnaire

AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) has the list of standard questions being asked of all special registrants. Seems fairly innocuous.

Email me from Mt. Everest

A very interesting endeavor:

If the 25-below-zero temperature, howling wind and grim effects of altitude sickness do not make most of those trying to scale Mount Everest feel a world away from home, the near-complete lack of communications on and around Everest surely does.

This year, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of Everest, climbers on the mountain will have the chance to connect with the world below by e-mail. That is because Tsering Gyaltsen, the grandson of the only surviving Sherpa to have accompanied Hillary on that famed climb, is planning to build the world’s highest Internet cafe at base camp.

[…]But in contrast to many climber services, this one does not stand to benefit foreign-run outfitters primarily. Although it is an obvious perk for the climbers, the residents of a nearby town may get Internet access because of it, and the mountain may get a bit cleaner.

The technical challenge is significant. Wireless radios will be positioned on moving glaciers, and gear must be insulated against temperatures far colder than they were designed to withstand.

[…]The network will consist of a small satellite dish, planted about 1,500 feet above base camp, that can provide two-way communications. Because the dish must operate from firm ground, it cannot be used directly at base camp, which is on a moving glacier. The $10,000 satellite dish, which Mr. Gyaltsen purchased with a bank loan and funds from Square Networks, will connect to the cybercafe at base camp over the Wi-Fi radios. The dish will beam data to a satellite in orbit and to an Internet service provider in Israel.

[…]Cisco and Mr. Gyaltsen are working out the seemingly endless bureaucratic requirements for importing the radios to Nepal. Once they have arrived, Mr. Gyaltsen will transport them by plane to Lukla, a town at roughly 9,800 feet, then up by yak train to Namche Bazar (more than 11,000 feet) and on to the base camp (nearly 18,000 feet) before the final leg of the trip.

Mr. Gyaltsen and the pollution committee, which will technically own the radios, are still deciding what to charge users. They are considering a flat fee of $2,000 to $5,000 per expedition, which can number 5 to 20 people. That price might sound steep, but Mr. Gyaltsen says it paled in comparison with the cost of the expedition itself, typically $65,000 a person.