Terrorism: September 25, 2001

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The Unwelcome Guests- During the Russian war in Afghanistan (1979-92, if you count the three years the pro-Russian government hung on after the Russians left), many outsiders came to the aid of the Afghans. The most numerous were Arabs (led by very religious Saudi Arabians) who arrived to join the Jihad against the Godless communists (Russians). There were also Americans, in the form of CIA people to provide weapons (mostly Russian made), equipment (especially things like radios, but also pack animals) and training (on how to use the radios.) The CIA didnt have to show the Afghans how to use weapons (except for the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles) or fight (Afghans had their own tactics that worked quite well.) Other Americans came to supervise the vast aid program for the millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistani camps. When the Russians left, so did most of the Americans (except for the aid workers, much of the aid to Afghan refugees is still paid for by America.) 

Many of the Arab volunteers also stayed, and more continued to arrive. This is where Afghans began to call the foreign volunteers "the Arabs." Not all the foreign volunteers were Arabs, but most of them were. And the most active, prominent and most religious of the foreign volunteers were Arab, usually Saudi Arabian or Egyptian. The Arabs didnt just fight, they also set up religious schools and training camps. The camps taught military skills, they also gave instruction on how to overthrow an unwanted government. This arose because the Afghanistan war was seen as a battle between Islam and infidels. Many in the West missed this shift, as Westerners thought the battle was simply between Afghan's trying to liberate their nation from Russian invaders. It was that early on, but evolved into a clash of cultures. 

Moreover, Afghanistan was never a country, but rather a collection of tribes and cities in a region called Afghanistan. The Russians quickly picked up on this, buying off some of the tribes while going after those that appeared to be the most enthusiastic fighters. The Russian approach was to bomb the targeted tribes, burn their fields and destroy their herds. Lacking food and shelter, these people fled to Pakistan or Iran. These refugee camps proved to be the downfall of the Russians. Unwilling to spread the war to Pakistan and Iran by bombing the camps. The most warlike refugees set up operations in Pakistan (Iran was at war with Iraq during the 1980s, and this limited the movement and activities of Arabs in the Iranian camps.) Aid agencies provided food, shelter and medical care, but the refugees had no work. The men would periodically go into Afghanistan to fight the Russians. Those that survived came back to the camps, rested up for a few weeks or months, and then went off to fight again. 

Life in the camps was boring. For the first time, many Afghans were exposed to the delights (or evils) of Western culture. Western films (VCR tapes or projected in makeshift movie theaters) were available. About half the Afghans were literate, and there was printed material directed the Pushtun population living in Pakistan. It was a whole new world. And then religious fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia entered the camps and began to preach the evils of Western influences and the need for more religion. These men were largely members of the Saudi Arabian Wahabi sect, a two century old version of Islam that stressed strict adherence to certain interpretations of the Koran (many restrictions on women and "foreign influences.") The Wahabi also set up religious schools in the camps. Parents appreciated this, as it kept the kids out of mischief and away from the growing number of criminals operating in the camps. The men saw advantages to the Wahabi approach, as it kept their wives safe while the lads were off fighting. 

When the pro-Russian government fell in 1992, it was thought that the refugees would go home. But the various Afghan factions fell to fighting each other. Some of these factions were more influenced by the Wahabi's than others. But none of the factions was strong enough to win, as when one group seemed to be gaining an edge, the others would gang up. Meanwhile, with the Russians gone, Afghanistan was full of armed men and no law and order. It was chaos, with rape and pillage common. The fighting went on and on until the Wahabi's in the refugee camps began to organize fighting groups from among the students (teenage and early 20s) in the camps. This was the Taliban (from the word for student; "Talib"). 

At first, it appeared that the Taliban were just another faction in the new Afghan civil war. But several important points were missed. First, the Talib were well behaved and incorruptible. They brought a degree of law and order the people of Afghan had not seen since the late 1970s. This was very popular and caused many Afghans to join the Taliban. Second, many of the Taliban were actually Arabs, who had become disgusted with the factional fighting and disorder within Afghanistan. These foreigners left the factions they had fought with and joined the new Taliban units. About the same time (1993) Osama Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan (having been forced to flee his native Saudi Arabia for plotting to overthrow the government.) Bin Laden, himself a wealthy man and from one of the best connected families in Saudi Arabia, promptly began raising money for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan. This bought all sorts of things for the pro-Wahabi refugees, including weapons. Bin Laden supported the conservative Wahabi view of life and became very vocal in denouncing corrupt governments in Moslem nations. The then current chaotic civil war in Afghanistan was denounced as one of those situations that righteous Moslems must deal with. 

By 1996, the Wahabi trained and Bin Laden financed Taliban had defeated all but one of the factions, and occupied most of Afghanistan. The Taliban were actually led by Afghans from Kandahar (in southern Afghanistan), but many of the fighters and key advisers and technical experts were foreigners; "the Arabs." The Taliban quickly revealed themselves to be religious zealots of unflinching adherence to a very rigid interpretation of Islam. They were also hostile to the "corrupt" governments of most Islamic nations. Only three nations recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan (Saudi Arabia; because of the Wahabi connection, United Arab Emirates; because is seemed a good move and Pakistan; because they thought they could use the Taliban to keep the peace in neighboring Afghanistan.) Initially, the Taliban brought law and order, which was much appreciated by all Afghans. Taliban fighters killed bandits who refused to surrender and punished those they did catch. Many weapons were collected from the population (but not all of them, as many more were hidden). The Taliban said they would rule for two years, in order to bring peace, and then allow the people to choose their own government. 

One reason the Taliban remain in power is because non-Pushtun tribes to the north continued to resist. Moreover, many tribes, particularly the Dari (Iranian) speaking ones in the west, did not join the Taliban enthusiastically. Heavily armed drug gangs in the west continued to operate, and neither the Iranian police (and army) or the Taliban could eliminate this drug traffic. One reason for the Taliban forbidding the growing of drug crops two years ago was to weaken the drug gangs. So, in effect, the Taliban's war on disorder continues. The harsh form of Islam enforced by the Wahabi influenced Taliban is increasingly unpopular among the Pushtun tribes. For many of these people, their own traditions (which are often nearly as severe as what the Taliban wants) are dear to them and they resent outsiders forcing them to do otherwise. 

But Afghans note that that strongest Taliban military units are largely composed of "Arabs" (a category that includes other foreigners like Chechens, Pakistanis, Turks, Bosnians and so on). Resistance to the Taliban brings on an intimidating visit by heavily armed "Arabs." What does worry the Taliban is the ancient Afghan resistance to foreigners. Even when outsiders bring welcome things, like law and order, they are not appreciated if they overstay their welcome. 

Afghans know that Bin Laden and the "Arabs" also brought terrorist training camps. No other nation was as safe for Islamic terrorists as Afghanistan and they swarmed in from all over the world. Afghans were also recruited for the cause of world terrorism and Islamic revolution. Now Afghans see their country threatened with invasion by Islamic and infidel nations, all because of the "Arabs" and their terrorist cause. The Taliban know they are losing popular support because of this, and America hopes to exploit the hostile Afghan attitude towards their unwelcome guests to crush the Bin Laden terrorist organization in Afghanistan. 


 

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