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Shoma Choudhury talks to the CIA & Taliban, more or less

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two talks from India's THiNK2013 conference, one about the Taliban and US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the other a tale of India / Pakistan Partition ]
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Here, Indian journalist Shoma Choudhury interviews Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, one time Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and author of the book, My Life with the Taliban, and Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Islamabad in 2001 and later Director of the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center, during the THiNK2013 conference held at the Grand Hyatt in Goa, in a session titled An Afghan Date: The CIA Talks To The Taliban on November 9th, 2013:

I haven’t found a reference to this event in the New York Times or Washington Post, and the video of the event has been viewed less than 1,250 times — so I hope that if any Zenpundit readers have in fact already viewed it, they will forgive me for posting it here. It seems to me to be a remarkable conversation, not least because of Choudhury’s skillful moderation.

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I only know about this conversation because blog-friend Omar Ali pointed me to the video of a reading of Saadat Hasan Manto‘s account of Partition in his satirical short story, Toba Tek Singh at the same conference. The reader is the actor Naseeruddin Shah whom I admire enormously for his stunning performance as “the common man” in Neeraj Pandey‘s A Wednesday — the story is told as written in Manto’s Urdu, with a principal character who “mutters or shouts a mix of Punjabi, Urdu and English” — and most of an English language translation is provided for those like myself who need it, by means of projected background slides.

But that voice, Naseeruddin Shah’s voice!

You can read Toba Tek Singh in Frances Pritchett‘s translation here.

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If these two presentations are anything to go by, the THiNK conference series may be what TED talks could and should have been…

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Raza Rumi: lines drawn & boundaries transcended

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an assassination attempt, a book review -- and a counterpoint of musicians ]
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I have mentioned Raza Rumi only once before on Zenpundit, in Darfur question… and wider Sufi ripples two years ago. This week, however, there was an attempt on his life, and on the 29th, Rumi posted about it on his Jahane Rumi blog:

Finally, I countenanced what I had been dreading for quite some time. Journalists and media houses being under threat is a well-known story in conflict-ridden Pakistan. I had also heard about my name being on a few hit-lists but I thought these were tactics to scare dissenters and independent voices. But this was obviously an incorrect assessment of the situation.

On Friday night, when I had planned to visit Data Darbar after my television show, my car was attacked by “unknown” (a euphemism for lethal terror outfits) assailants. The minute I heard the first bullet, the Darwinian instinct made me duck under and I chose to lie on the back of the car.

This near death experience with bullets flying over me and shattered window glass falling over me reminded me of the way my own country was turning into a laboratory of violence. Worse, that when I saved myself, it was not without a price. A young man, who had been working as my driver for sometime, was almost dead. I stood on a busy road asking for help and not a single car stopped…

As I tweeted when I heard about the attempt, I was distressed to hear of the attack, and wish him well — and Pakistan, too.

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I’ve been a quiet admirer and occasional reader of Rumi’s blog for quite a while now, and am looking forward to reading his book, Delhi By Heart.

The first and final paragraphs from Venki Vembu‘s review of the book confirm me in my wish to do so. They also — and here’s what this post is really all about — show us both the deeply etched lines of division –

In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian subcontinent and cleave their souls. Many of these “shadow lines” are etched in bitter, hand-me-down memories and imaginations, and for that reason are rather more indelible than lines on a map, which can perhaps be redrawn over time.

— and the possibility that such lines and boundaries can be overcome, erased, transcended —

Rumi offers this fascinating narrative as a “faint voice that wants to transcend boundaries and borders and reject the ills of jingoism spun by nation-state narratives.” In form and spirit, this unusual travelogue is like a jugal bandhi: songs of bhakti tradition fuse seamlessly with qawwali strains from the Nizamuddin dargah. It is an enchanting illustration of how the divisive shadow lines of history can be erased when hearts and minds are opened to new experiences.

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Finally, for your listening pleasure: an intricate jugalbandhi or musical dialogue between Zakir Hussain on tabla and Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansuri flute…

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Update on the Ghazwa-e-Hind

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- okay, now Jane's has some detailing on the Ghazwa ]
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When I was eight or nine years old and a schoolboy whose father was a captain in the Royal Navy, a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships was the most desirable — and unattainable — object in the physical world.

Sixty years on, I’m looking at a 6pp. abridged version of an article in Jane’s Intelligence Review Idownloaded the other day. It is titled Recruitment drive – Islamist groups urge India’s Muslims to join jihad — and I find it’s talking about a topic I feel is easily overlooked — or laughed away — the Ghazwa-e-Hind.

Zen and myself have written about the Ghazwa:

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • Early notes on the first issue of the jihadist magazine, Azan
  • Ahrar-ul-Hind, Ghazwa-e-Hind?
  • The topic is compelling, but what Zen calls the “mummery” of its televangelical proponent Zaid Hamid — blog-friend Omar Ali simply calls it “nonsensical” — tends to obscure the potential seriousness of the idea — backed as it is with variants on the “black banners from Khorasan” hadith favored by AQ recruiters in Afghanistan and invoked as far afield as Somalia…

    So when a Jane’s analyst sees fit to mention it, I perk up.

    **

    Here are the passages from the Jane’s report that mention the Ghazwa:

    The group’s two addresses and Umar’s video have the same Islamic references, citing verses from the Quran and jihadist mythology depicting the “black flag of the Khurasan [a historic reference to parts of Afghanistan and areas of Central Asia]” piercing the heart of India, seemingly indicating that this new anti-India jihadist wave is originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The mythology cites an army from Khurasan waging the Ghazwat-ul-Hind (meaning the ‘Battle of India’ in Arabic) – also cited as Ghazwa-e-Hind in Urdu – for the re-establishment of the khilafa (the Islamic caliphate).

    and:

    Jihadist discourse regarding India frequently cites a hadith (a report of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), stating, “Allah has saved two groups of the Ummah from hellfire; the group that will invade Al-Hind [India] and the group that will be with Isa Ibn-e-Maryam [Jesus] in Damascus.” This seems to be one of the key doctrinal factors behind the renewed jihadist surge against India.

    Proponents of a unified global ummah have long perceived that India, as a geographical and demographical entity, should be part of the khilafa, and Al-Qaeda and other affiliated jihadist organisations fully endorse this view and the Ghazwat ul-Hind concept. The concept is surprisingly unifying when considered across the relevant spectrum of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, from transnational jihadists such as Al-Qaeda to nationalist Islamist actors such as the Taliban, Pakistani sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Kashmir-centric jihadists such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

    In a March 2010 edition of JeM’s Urdu-language weekly publication Al-Qalam , Pakistani cleric Mufti Asghar Khan Kashmiri claimed that the ongoing Ghazwat ul-Hind (referring to the Kashmiri insurgency) was a continuation of a series of battles begun by the Prophet Muhammad. Senior Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HUJI) commander Ilyas Kashmiri vowed in October 2009 to wage Ghazwat ul-Hind against India, before his reported death in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missile strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in June 2011. Similarly, in a February 2011 speech, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed threatened, “If freedom is not given to the Kashmiris, then we will occupy the whole of India, including Kashmir. We will launch Ghazwa-e-Hind.” The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also released a number of statements threatening India. In January 2013, then TTP commander Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud warned that once the group had established an Islamic state under sharia in Pakistan, its focus would turn to India and the establishment of an Islamic state there. One month later, TTP commander Asmatullah Muawiya threatened that Kashmir would become the next battlefield for militants following the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

    What Jane’s doesn’t appear to mention that I find significant, is that the Ghazwa-e-Hind spoken of in the ahadith is essentially an “end times” event, taking place simultaneously with the Mahdist army marching from Khorasan to al-Quds…

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    Oh, and believe me, I have made sure a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War II (cheaper than the $1,000 current issue) has made its way into the hands of my younger son…

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    Between the battle lines: how it works

    Saturday, March 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a follow up to my earlier post Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality, with its Yogi Berra / Andrei Tarkovsky DoubleQuote ]
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    Abdul Sattar Edhi is the subject of a Telegraph piece I read today:

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    Short form, excerpted from this article:

    Born in 1928 and thus now more than eighty years old, Abdul Sattar Edhi “lives in the austerity that has been his hallmark all his life.”

    60 years ago, he stood on a street corner in Karachi and begged for money for an ambulance, raising enough to buy a battered old van. … Gradually, Mr Edhi set up centres all over Pakistan. He diversified into orphanages, homes for the mentally ill, drug rehabilitation centres and hostels for abandoned women. He fed the poor and buried the dead. His compassion was boundless. [ ... ]

    Just 20 years old, he volunteered to join a charity run by the Memons, the Islamic religious community to which his family belonged. At first, Mr Edhi welcomed his duties; then he was appalled to discover that the charity’s compassion was confined to Memons. He confronted his employers, telling them that “humanitarian work loses its significance when you discriminate between the needy”. So he set up a small medical centre of his own, sleeping on the cement bench outside his shop so that even those who came late at night could be served. [ ... ]

    Mr Edhi placed a little cradle outside every Edhi centre, beneath a placard imploring: “Do not commit another sin: leave your baby in our care.” … Once again, this practice brought him into conflict with religious leaders. They claimed that adopted children could not inherit their parents’ wealth. Mr Edhi told them their objections contradicted the supreme idea of religion, declaring: “Beware of those who attribute petty instructions to God.”

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    All that is by way of context for the three paras that really interest me here, which describe the impact of his non-sectarian, non-partisan — one moght almost say non-dual — approach to the fractured world in which we all live:

    Mr Edhi did not distinguish between politicians and criminals, asking: “Why should I condemn a declared dacoit [bandit] and not condemn the respectable villain who enjoys his spoils as if he achieved them by some noble means?”

    This impartiality had its advantages. It meant that a truce would be declared when Mr Edhi and his ambulance arrived at the scene of gun battles between police and gangsters.

    “They would cease fire,” notes Mr Edhi in his autobiography, “until bodies were carried to the ambulance, the engine would start and shooting would resume.”

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    There’s the narrative itself, there’s the face so beautifully carved by the living of that narrative — and there’s the insight which propels both.

    For the current work of the Edhi Foundation, see here: EF provides free treatment to 3,104 patients

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    Ahrar-ul-Hind, Ghazwa-e-Hind?

    Thursday, February 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in which the "second shoe" of Islamist eschatology will land on India ]
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    Bill Roggio, over in Long Wars Journal a day or two ago, posted an article titled Pakistani jihadists form Ahrar-ul-Hind, vow to continue attacks. In it, he introduces the group, Ahrar-ul-Hind:

    A new global jihadist group that is unwilling to negotiate with the Pakistani government has announced its formation and vowed to continue attacks in the country despite the outcome of ongoing peace talks. The group, which is calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind, said its goal is the establishment of sharia, or Islamic law, and that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan are still “our brothers” despite separation from the group.

    Ahrar-ul-Hind emailed two statements to The Long War Journal on Feb. 9: one from its spokesman, and another that outlined its “aims and objectives,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which translated the communiques. Ahrar-ul-Hind has also posted both statements on its Facebook page.

    He has much more to say about it, but what caught my eye was one observation in particular:

    In the statement announcing its “aims and objectives,” Ahrar-ul-Hind threatened to wage war on the “Indian subcontinent” and beyond, with the ultimate goal of imposing sharia worldwide.

    “We aim to carry an armed struggle on the Indian subcontinent with an aim to establish Islamic Shariah in the whole world,” one bullet announced.

    A final, significant detail:

    Mansour identified Ahrar-ul-Hind’s emir as Maulana Umar Qasmi

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    Readers of Zenpundit will be familiar with the idea of a Pakistani jihad aiming to take over India — the Ghazwa-e-Hind, about which we have written, among other posts:

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • In the last of those I quote from a discussion Ambassador Haqqani had with Bill Roggio:

    And then the other part is this famous Ghazwa-e-Hind, and the Pakistani groups use it – actually, just as jihad is the war, a holy war or war for religious purposes, ghazwa is a battle — and there is ostensibly a saying of prophet Muhammad that before the end times, the final, biggest war between good and evil and between Islam and kufr is going to take place in Hind, which is India, which is the land east of the river Indus.

    So Khorasan takes care of what is today Afghanistan and some parts of central Asia, and all of that – it means a lot to people who believe in it, these end times prophecies etcetera. So one of the unwritten books it has been my desire to write, I wrote a piece on it once, an article I think, which said, that, you know, Americans pay a lot of attention to their own end time prophecies, but getting into that whole theater, they have totally neglected this.

    And so far as recruitment is concerned I am totally agreeing with you, that failure in Afghanistan is going to be a big boon for both. The TTP — the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — and the Pakistani groups are going to start saying, Right, now is the time to start recruiting, and fighting in that famous Ghazwa-e-Hind –let’s get ready for that. And the Arab groups are going to say, Ah, salvation is coming by joining up with the folks who are fighting in Khorasan.

    You might say there are two “shoes” to the end times jihad — one foot marching from Khorasan / Afghanistan with Jerusalem its objective, the other marching from Pakistan to take India. We have discussed the “army with Black Banners from Khorasan” theme, too, in these pages:

  • Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan…
  • Ali Soufan: AQ, Khorasan and the Black Banners
  • The matter of the Black Banners and Benghazi
  • Twitter combat, al-Shabaab, black banners, Tahrir and more
  • An army in Sham, an army in Yemen, and an army in Iraq
  • Those black banners / AQ flags, revisited
  • and pointed to Aaron Zelin, writing on al-Wasat:

  • On Flags, Islamic History, and al-Qa’ida
  • I am always on the alert for news of that second shoe…

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    Many people treat Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid, the loudest proponent of the Ghazwa, as a joke — there’s even a satirical blog attacking him — but our blog-friend Omar Ali put things in perspective in a comment here not so long ago:

    The major mistake of Western (and Western educated Pakistani left-liberal academics) is to regard this nonsense as so nonsensical that no sane person could possibly take it seriously.

    Manan Ahmed, a Pakistani historian blogging at Chapati Mystery, describes him as having:

    from most accounts, secured a niche similar to Glenn Beck in Pakistani media – combining ultra-nationalism with a taste for finding Zionist or Hindu involvement in the Pakistani sphere.

    And the “500 Most Influential Muslims” listing for 2013-14 includes him:

    One of the most influential television personalities in Pakistan, Zaid Hamid is a security consultant and strategic defence analyst by profession. He is also a popular political commentator, and is the founder of Brass Tacks, a Pakistani think tank on global politics. Hamid also hosts ‘BrassTacks with Zaid Hamid’ on News1 Channel Although he has been deemed by some as a conspiracy theorist, he maintains a substantial audience.

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    It is unlikely that Zaid Hamid would be enthusiastic about Ahrar-ul-Hind, since they are a TTP offshoot and Hamid has decried the TTP as khwarijites, ie sectarian extremists — and also because Hamid clearly sees himself as the leader of the Ghazwa, and Maulana Umar Qasmi, the emir of Ahrar-ul-Hind, is not Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid.

    Nevertheless, the appearance of a group specifically not affiliated with Hamid, but preaching the Ghazwa, may in fact represent a more serious and bdeadly version of Hamd’s vision — for as Omar Ali notes:

    What Zaid Hamid is saying is just an extreme version of the mainstream Paknationalist framework.

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    Also of possible note in this context is the late, brilliant, not always reliable Syed Saleem Shahzad‘s interview with Ilyas Kashmiri in Asia Times [Note: 2 pp.], in which the following exchange took place:

    “So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?” I [Shahzad] asked.
    “That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future,” Ilyas replied.

    Once again, Bill Roggio noted this particular exchange (making this a triple hat-tip) — though his focus was more on Kashmiri’s interest in the American “far enemy” — in his report on LWJ, Asia Times interviews al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri.

    Addendum:

    Tying Ilyas Kashmiri and AQ’s 313 Brigade more closely into the “Ghazwa e-Hind” context from an Indian perspective, we have this article from Rediff News in 2009:

    Ilyas Kashmiri’s Ghazwa-e-Hind plans to spread terror in India
    Last updated on: October 16, 2009 20:47 IST

    Dreaded terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri runs Al Qaeda’s 313 Brigade. A few weeks ago the United States declared that Kashmiri had been killed in a drone attack. However, Kashmiri resurfaced with an interview to Asia Times this week, declaring he had survived the attack.
    In the interview Kashmiri said the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were nothing compared to what was really planned. While India has maintained that the attacks were masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Kashmiri’s statement has come as a surprise.

    Syed Saleem Shahzad, chief of Asia Times’s Pakistan bureau who interviewed Kashmiri, told rediff.com that the 313 Brigade is Al Qaeda’s commando force which trains youth for terrorist operations.

    Indian Intelligence Bureau sources suspect Kashmiri is planning terror strikes on the lines of the Mumbai attacks, but much larger in scope.

    Kashmiri’s statements indicates that the 313 Brigade was involved in the Mumbai attacks. Indian intelligence sources believe that while the Lashkar undertook a major part of the operation, including identifying the terrorists who participated in the attack, the 313 Brigade was also involved.

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