- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

Five years after the horrific September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, many Americans are still asking questions, trying to understand what happened that fateful morning, and why. And five years after the attacks, a great many unanswered questions remain.

In a speech to the nation Tuesday, President Bush tried to explain. He said Osama bin Laden had a multiphased strategy which was to have been carried out in the months and years after September 11, with the ultimate aim of reestablishing the Muslim Caliphate.

• The first stage, the president said, was to have been to expel the Americans from Iraq.

• The second stage called for establishing an Islamic authority, or emirate, which would be developed until it achieves the level of the Caliphate.

• The third stage would be to extend a jihad wave to the secular countries that border Israel.

• And the fourth stage would be a clash with Israel.

Said Mr. Bush: “We must not, and we will not, give the enemy victory in Iraq by deserting the Iraqi people.”

Much in line with what the president said, the following are excerpts from a United Press International story titled “The potentate of the Super-Stan,” written by this author on Sept. 19, 2001 — only eight days after the attacks:

Like any revolution that needs to survive, Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda movement must continue to grow, or it will die. In his quest for Muslim expansion, bin Laden would like to see the “Balkanization,” or in this case the Islamization, of Central Asia. Maybe Islamization is the wrong word because there is little that is Islamic about his ways, which, says Professor Akbar Ahmad, chairman of Islamic Studies at the American University’s School of International Studies in Washington, D.C., “are not Islamic at all.”

“What makes it worse for Muslims is that the West is equating the Taliban’s un-Islamic acts with Islam. This is a double affront to Muslims,” Mr. Ahmad told UPI. “The first step the West needs to undertake is to better understand Islam.”

Nevertheless, bin Laden is using Islam, much like Adolf Hitler used National Socialism, and Pol Pot communism. Had he been politically active in the 1960s or 1970s, he would just as easily have adopted communism as a platform in order to propel his cause. But mix in religious fervor and any revolution becomes all the more potent, and dangerous.

“It’s a very complex situation,” said Mr. Ahmad. This pan-Islamic movement “may be called Taliban in one country, and it is called something else in others.” Several intelligence sources say bin Laden’s network extends to more than 60 countries.

The Taliban’s main aim, according to Mr. Ahmad, is to “shake up the West’s structure.” While bin Laden and the Taliban are not openly talking about a greater Islamic entity, others, such as Al Muhajeroun, a group based in Britain, and with whom bin Laden enjoys close ties, are talking about a Caliphate.

Bin Laden’s first step was to hijack Islam to fit his cause, passing himself off as a fervent religious man. That, of course, is meant to win him the support of hordes of fanatics who know little, if anything, of the Koran. On the other hand, as the chief executive officer of terror, he knows exactly what he is doing and where he wants to go.

Anyone with his mindset would clearly not be content to remain holed up in the bleak caves of Afghanistan. So the question, of course, is what next?

In order to better grasp bin Laden’s long-term thinking you will need to look at a map of Central Asia.

Afghanistan, where bin Laden had set up camp, is a desolate country without much of an infrastructure, reeling under a heavy burden following years of Soviet invasion, war and a disastrous civil conflict — a perfect place from which to launch a revolution. Much of the terrain is inaccessible, except by horseback, making the task of modern armies impossible. Just ask the Russians.

To the south and east of Afghanistan lies Pakistan, another country that sits on the fence of Muslim fundamentalism. The Taliban have warned Pakistan that siding with the United States would bring down the wrath of the Muslim world upon it.

Pakistan, an Islamic country, is in a most precarious situation. The percentage of the population that supports the fundamentalists is in question, but some analysts believe the Taliban enjoys strong support in the army and the intelligence services.

This gives the country’s ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a very fine line to tread. It also makes him an important friend of the United States and any Western coalition.

“The situation for Pakistan is very difficult,” said Mr. Ahmad. “Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place. Musharraf is sitting on a tiger,” said Mr. Ahmad. “You either ride it or you are inside its belly.”

With its nuclear capabilities, Pakistan would represent an ideal asset for bin Laden and the Taliban, should it fall off the fence and into their hands. Think of the consequences.

Regardless, bin Laden’s next step would be to extend the reach of his Muslim fundamentalism. Tajikistan, to the northeast, Uzbekistan to the immediate north and Turkmenistan to the northwest — all three are former Soviet republics with whom Afghanistan shares a border and a common religion.

Besides geographic expansion, giving them greater power in numbers (a combined population of more than 35 million), these countries offer a wide range of natural resources. Turkmenistan borders the Caspian Sea, a short hop to Azerbaijan, another former Soviet republic, and a Muslim country. Given that scenario, the new Muslim empire, or Caliphate, governed by bin Laden or the Taliban would encircle Iran, itself a Muslim nation, also rich in oil and other natural resources.

Look at the map again and see the implications for the rest of the oil-rich Arabian Gulf. Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman are only a small step and a revolution away. Remember the old domino effect theory much feared by the West — especially the United States — during the Vietnam War?

Now look at the map again; we are back in the Middle East. Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are the natural extension for bin Laden’s Caliphate.

Think this is an unbelievable scenario? It was done a few centuries ago. Bin Laden is far too astute to content himself with the caves of Afghanistan. Read between the lines of his communiques and the picture will become much clearer.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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