Syed Saleem Shahzad: AQ, Khorasan and the Mahdi

[ by Charles Cameron — Mahdism and Khorasan, strategic implications re Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the West ]




Syed Saleem Shahzad, the recently murdered Pakistani reporter (above) profiled by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker a couple of days ago, recently published a book with Pluto Press titled Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11.

Reading the New Yorker piece, I was struck by the explicitly Mahdist tenor of the book’s final paragraph, which Filkins quoted, and a quick glance at pages available on the Amazon site makes it clear that Shazad’s sense of AQ strategy (a) is strongly eschatological, (b) includes India in its scope, and (c) leads from greater Khorasan to Jerusalem.

Since I’ve been harping on (a) and (c) for some while now, and (b) “fits” well enough with a few other loose ends, analytically speaking, I’ll be very interested to read (and hopefully review) the whole thing. For now, I’d just like to draw your attention to the opening and closing paragraphs of the book…

Shahzad begins his Prologue (p. xiii) with these words :

The 9/11 attacks in 2001 aimed to provoke a war in South Asia. The 26/11 Mumbai assaults in 2008 warned that Al-Qaeda was expanding its war to the east, from Central Asian republics to India and Bangladesh, and that many more such actions would follow. In the ideological perspective of Al-Qaeda, this was to be a preparation for the “End of Time” battles which were referred to by the Prophet Muhammad (in what is now known as the Hadith). These pointed to parts of modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia as ancient Khurasan. Khurasan was to be the first battleground for the End of Time battles, before a decisive confrontation against the West, with the last battle being fought in the Middle East for the liberation of Palestine and all occupied Muslim lands.

In the meantime, Al-Qaeda aimed to trap the world’s most powerful states in the impossible terrain of Afghanistan. The aim was to lead them to exhaust their energies there, before the expansion of the theater of war against the West from Central Asia to Bangladesh…

His book closes (pp. 225-26) with these words:

However, the saga of Al-Qaeda’s One Thousand and One Nights tales continues with new strategies and new characters. For Al-Qaeda these are just measures to keep the West running from pillar to post until it exhausts itself and Al-Qaeda can announce victory in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda next aims to occupy the promised land of ancient Khurasan, with its boundaries stretching all the way from Central Asia to Khyber Paktoonkhwa throiugh Afghanistan, and then expand the theater of war to India.

The promised messiah, the Mahdi, will then rise in the Middle East and Al Qaeda will mobilize its forces from Ancient Khurasan for the liberation of Palestine, where a final victory will guarantee the revival of a Global Muslim Caliphate.

Shahzad was not always the most reliable of reporters by all accounts – but certainly one of the most intrepid, and one with unparalleled contacts among the major players. The fact that he pitches his book along so clear a Mahdist through-line should give us all pause.

5 comments on this post.
  1. vanderleun:

    A very compelling review. Took me to the strange Amazon page where it is revealed that this essential 272 page book is priced at $80.00. $80? What can be the reasoning behind such a prohibitive price? 

  2. zen:


    Without speaking for Charles, in my experience, it is the nutty business model of the academic press industry, which revolves around university library and other institutional buyers as their customer demographic. I regularly see texts priced over twice as high as that, which means very few readers buy a copy directly.

    BTW, great post Charles!
  3. Charles Cameron:

    My guess would be that Zen’s pretty much right on this one, though Pluto Press refers to itself as an independent progressive publisher: academic presses seem to set some pretty high hardback prices for libraries, and paperbacks are for people. 
    Princeton UP makes a nice exception to the rule — they’re issuing Will McCant’s book in hb for $35 ($30 via Amazon).
    Thanks, Zen!

  4. Jon Pluto:

    Hi Guys
    Interesting article. Just to point out that you’re linking to the hardback of the book. A pb is here:
    Much cheaper!

  5. Charles Cameron:

    It is good to see a publisher responding to one of our blog posts — and your comment is to the point, and much appreciated.