- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

President Bush called the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s chief operative in Iraq, “a victory in the global war on terror.” He took care, however, to remind Americans of the “tough days ahead.” It’s important to remember that plenty of tough days have yet to come in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda’s aim is to create a single Muslim state and to wage a jihad against the West in order to hold Judeo-Christian imperialist powers responsible for exploiting Muslim countries’ natural resources and for keeping them underdeveloped. Al Qaeda has declared a “religious war” against both the Western world and the Muslims who don’t follow its Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. The Arab Muslim “Islamic states,” which claim authority over Islam, have never really challenged al Qaeda or the radical Islamist ideology that leads to bloody murders in the name of God. They don’t fight anti-Americanism in their countries.

Meanwhile, the United States is trying to persuade the Muslim world that it is not waging a war against Islam. And when Mr. Bush or others in government use religious terminology, like when Mr. Bush called the war on terror a “crusade,” it creates a storm. Deep down, the Muslim world is not clear on whether the war is targeting Islam. Therefore, they seem to be hesitant to fully fight against radical Islam.

At the same time, both ordinary and intellectual Afghans blame the United States for the Taliban coming to power, as well as for Osama bin Laden finding safe haven in their country. After all, none of the September 11 hijackers was Afghan.

“We never said the U.S. directly funded or helped Osama,” said Abdul Hamid Mobarez, former deputy minister of information and culture, in an interview at his house in Kabul. Mr. Mobarez said the environment that the United States created in Afghanistan led to the rise of Taliban. He points to Iran a generation ago, when the shah’s secular government was overthrown by the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini — which he called “the greatest mistake of the U.S.” Mr. Mobarez said he believes that America is repeating its mistake again in Iraq. “Mr. Bush destroyed a secular regime in Iraq and replaced by fundamentalist Shia regime,” he said.

That, however, is not the environment that caused the Taliban’s rise to power, he said. The rise to power began when the Red Army gathered at the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. “The policy was that the Red Army should enter Afghanistan so it finds its Vietnam,” Mr. Mobarez said, adding that to fight the Communists, Zia ul Haq — Pakistan’s U.S.-supported leader — formed Islamic parties. He said the United States sided with Pakistan in order to keep the resistance in the hands of the mullahs. He explained that once those Islamic parties started to form, they all had the support of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. “Afghanistan was a Sunni Hanefi. Arabs came to change it to Wahhabi,” he told me. “[The] 1990s was the period to help the fundamentalist here to defeat the Soviet Union. They did not know what would come after this.” And they now wonder if anyone would care about what’s happening in Afghanistan if September 11 hadn’t happened.

Wahid, an Afghan I met in Kabul, talked to me about bin Laden. “Why are they not taking the ‘big tourist’ out?” he asked. ?You know why? Because they will use him as an excuse to attack other Muslim nations. They don’t care what happens to us!”

I ran into this sentiment often in talking with ordinary Afghans. Now with Zarqawi out of the game, I remember Mr. Mobarez saying, “It’s a strange thing that the U.S. cannot find Osama and Mullah Omar. But the reason for me is that Pakistan does not want to hand them to U.S. Pakistan educates our Taliban … in their madrassas.” When I asked him why, he replied that when the borders were drawn, the British created two buffer states to protect British India. The crucial one is the area called Pashtunistan — an autonomous tribal area. Mr. Mobarez said that now Pakistan is in the process of pressuring the United States to leave Afghanistan so they can claim the authority over the area. More importantly, the gas lines go through this region.

In the midst of this game, everyone seems to believe that the United States once used Islam “radically” to watch its interests against the Soviets, and now they are unsure of Washington’s intentions. The American failure to clarify this issue keeps even the moderate Muslims away from the real fight — against the radical factions in Islam, and, needless to say, breeds anti-Americanism. In this environment, even the death of Osama bin Laden will not bring the peace that we are all looking for.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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