Shura is an Arabic word meaning consultation. Muslim clergy decreed it’s the duty of a ruler to command by shura. The Qur’an says: ‘Those who conduct their affairs by counsel are praised.’
June 23, 2008
A slow-moving, olive-drab Land Rover bounced along a single-track, rutted road on the outskirts of a dusty crossroads town in Baluchistan Province. It had taken over an hour for the British-made, sports-utility vehicle to make the journey from Quetta, ten miles south. The driver was an Afghan guerrilla fighter from Qandahar. The two passengers were Abu Mahmoud Rahman, head of the Jihadist Front’s military wing, and Sadiq, a Jihadist Front commander.
In the enclave, Abu Mahmoud would lead a shura, following a centuries-old tradition. Initial stages for a multi-directional, two-continent jihad already were in place. Abu Mahmoud had placed satellite calls to Tajikistan and to the port at Karachi. Another call had gone to Jihadist Front followers in Oman. But Abu Mahmoud needed his twelve “field” commanders to approve the plan. It would give them all a stake in the jihad’s success.
Inside a Pakistani military tent, Abu Mahmoud began the discussion. He spoke mainly in Pashto, but emphasized and clarified his positions in guttural Arabic. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters have risen up long ago to battle the American occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We have been fairly successful in driving out the infidel crusaders from our fatherland of Afghanistan. The remaining invaders from the North Atlantic alliance are to soon leave.
“American President Morris, however, appears not to have learned the lessons we taught his military that invaded our land in 2001. His invading forces remain in Iraq only to safeguard Western oil installations. My brothers, the armies from the West are there now inflaming a civil war between our Sunni and Shia cousins and those barbaric Kurds. The treacherous Morris wants to
make sure all Shia and Sunni leaders are eliminated. He believes the Kurds eventually will give up the fight and go back to their homes in the north. The Americans then will let the Turks deal with their Kurdish problem.”
“But supreme leader, hear me,” a commander from Lashkar Gah, west of Qandahar, said in Pashto. “We have the duty under Shariah to use any means possible to evict all American forces. Must we not help our brothers in Iraq and kill the Americans and make them bleed in the sand?”
“I understand your desire to join the fight with our brothers in Iraq,” said Abu Mahmoud, “but we are too few. We have too few rifles and too few missiles. I know of the American military’s firepower. They are cowards behind their tanks, helicopters and bombers that fly high in the sky. They do not want to fight with us on the battlefield of holy Islam. They hide behind their Christian myths and lies and deceit.
“I have before you a plan to strike the Americans in ways that will make sure the infidels in their fifty states will suffer for years. We will not see their blood. But they will die. This battle plan will force the hand of U.S. President Morris to withdraw infidel forces from the holy land of Iraq.”
Abu Mahmoud had convinced the twelve commanders the battle would begin before Morris left office. He wanted them to think that. But he believed the plan would have a better chance of success after January. A new U.S. president would be unsure of his powers, possibly unwilling to use them. A new and different complement of American military and political leaders would be overwhelmed in the chaos of the Jihadist Front strikes.
Abu Mahmoud would not return to Afghanistan. He would remain in hiding in Pakistan, under military protection, until he launched his personal jihad.
The former commander of mujahidin forces in southern Afghanistan had ridden out of Qandahar on horseback in late 2001. A pack mule carried his water, food and meager personal belongings: two changes of clothes, a heavy lambskin coat, wool hats, a pair of Soviet combat
boots, rudimentary toilet articles and five hard-cover books that had been translated into English. They were biographies of Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap and Mao Tse Tung; Sun Tzu’s Art of War; and Carl Von Clausewitz’s On War. Decades before, Abu Mahmoud had become an ardent admirer of their military tactics and strategy. He followed their advice when he led his mujahidin against the Soviets. And he planned to copy their moves in battles against the Americans and their allies.
He narrowly had escaped the American assault on the Taliban, Afghanistan’s rulers at the time. The U.S. military invasion had another aim as well: to hunt down and kill Jihadist Front fighters and their leaders. The American government had blamed the Jihadist Front, labeling it an international terrorist ring, and Abu Mahmoud Rahman, in particular, for the attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the government’s Pentagon building across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
It had taken Abu Mahmoud nine days to reach Quetta in early January 2002. On arrival he and Sadiq received Pakistani military protection, with ten soldiers assigned to the pair around the clock. The protection also was assured when they traveled anywhere in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military government long had recognized Abu Mahmoud for his battlefield
leadership and success during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now, though, the government was apprehensive about him and his Jihadist Front foot soldiers, fearful they would undermine Pakistan’s military regime. To stem that fear, the regime decided it would provide Abu Mahmoud safe haven and keep him out of reach of the Americans. If Abu Mahmoud were handed over to the Americans, Pakistan’s government would fall virtually overnight. The U.S. military desperately wanted to capture Abu Mahmoud to interrogate him. That’s what an American ambassador had told Pakistan’s leader after September 11, 2001.
In return for the safety of Abu Mahmoud and his lieutenants, Pakistan’s military elite would receive millions of dollars skimmed from the sale of heroin processed from Afghanistan’s opium
poppy fields. Despite the American invasion of Afghanistan, the heroin trade and its worldwide distribution flourished. It did so because of the Jihadist Front’s past alliance with the Taliban. The subsequent Afghan government led by Samidullah Omar secretly renewed the alliance when he was elected president under American occupation. The alliance has continued indefinitely and without condition, unbeknownst to the American government and its military.
Abu Mahmoud was determined to wage jihad against Americans and their “hypocritical and arrogant” civilian rulers. He held U.S. President Morris personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians after the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. And Abu Mahmoud had no respect for the American soldier. As instruments of misguided civilian rulers, it would be necessary to eliminate them on the battlefield. He believed each one had volunteered to go to Afghanistan to kill Muslims and occupy the land of Islam. His rage was stoked further when American forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 to pillage its abundant petroleum resources.
Abdul Mohammed Aziz, a Shiite Muslim, also had traveled by horseback and mule in late 2001. He left, though, from the Afghan capital of Kabol through Jalalabad and then over the Kyber Pass to Peshawar in Pakistan. Aziz had been overall commander of mujahidin forces in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. He too had dreams of worldwide jihad, establishing the Jihadist Front a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
It took Abdul Aziz nearly a year, until the fall of 2002, to travel the length of Pakistan: north from the Chinese border through Rawalpindi and Lahore to the central cities of Multan, Bahawalpur and Sukkur and then south to Sehwan and Hyderabad until he reached the port of Karachi on the Arabian Sea. Along the rugged journey he recruited a core of fighters for another battleground on his native soil in Iraq, now controlled by the Sunni forces of Saddam Hussein.
Before arriving in Karachi he stopped in Jacobabad, a railhead city in Pakistan’s Sind Province. For two days and nights he conferred with the leader of the Jihadist Front’s military wing,
Abu Mahmoud Rahman. Aziz ordered Abu Mahmoud to devise a plan to destroy commercial and
industrial complexes in the West. Arab nations considered too friendly with the United States or Europe also could be considered as targets. Abdul Aziz told Abu Mahmoud several Arab states had lost their Islamic fervor and must be destroyed.
Abdul Aziz reached Al-Basrah in southeastern Iraq in late February 2003, less than a month before American and British forces invaded his homeland. Carrying out his plan of “some magnitude” would have to be delayed for now. He had hoped the plan, code-named Qandahar, could have been activated on September 11, 2003.
Late May through October 2008
Abu Mahmoud had come to the capital of Baluchistan Province after solidifying a relationship of convenience with resurgent Taliban militias in Afghanistan. Seven years after the U.S. invasion, Afghanistan had become a back-and-forth conduit for Jihadist Front weapons and opium poppy. Abu Mahmoud had dismissed as a pinprick the weak U.S.-backed Afghan military and government, its chaotic rule extending no further than the boundaries of Kabol, the Afghan capital. NATO forces, wherever they were based in Afghanistan, also had posed no long-term threat to his Jihadist Front mujahidin. Intelligence operatives living in many Afghan communities since late 2001 were able to provide sufficient advance warning of impending NATO and U.S. military attacks. Over the years, Jihadist mujahidin easily found a safe retreat in Pakistani mountain caves within view of the bleak and desolate Afghan border.
But the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan for five years until the end of 2001, wanted desperately to re-impose its political and economic stranglehold on the country and its capital city.
To do so required the Islamic fundamentalists hooking into the Jihadist Front’s network of arms suppliers. Taliban leaders had told Abu Mahmoud through intermediaries they needed more weapons, such as rifles, pistols, mortars and RPGs, to fight the U.S-backed Afghan government.
Abu Mahmoud had to deal with the Taliban leaders as diplomatically as possible. He’d said
during a meeting with them in Qandahar in late 2007 that the Jihadist Front’s fight was not with the pro-American Afghan government. “Our fight is not solely for Islam, nor is it for any material gain of property or money. It is for control of world resources to feed Islam’s starving peoples throughout the Middle East and beyond. We cannot be concerned solely with your fight in Afghanistan. We have the rest of the world as our responsibility. You must understand this.”
Taliban leaders long had been wary of Abu Mahmoud. They believed he was far more radical than even they were during their brief five-year reign. But they could count. The Jihadist Front under his leadership in Afghanistan had grown to twice the size of the Taliban forces. “We feed the starving and clothe the poor in towns and hamlets and cities of Afghanistan,” a Taliban leader had said. “Can you not give us a pittance from your vast storehouse so we may continue our good work?”
Abu Mahmoud had to yield something to the Taliban to make sure his arms shipments would pass through Afghanistan without being stopped on their way to Pakistan and that his poppy fields and their interconnected distribution networks were not destroyed in a fit of fundamentalist Islamic rage. Without the poppy fields, no funds could be accumulated to purchase weapons.
His chief arms procurer was a talented smuggler and a high Defense Ministry official in Tajikistan. The arms, whether assault rifles or heavy weapons, came through Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe, about 125 miles from Afghanistan’s northeast frontier, solely controlled by the Taliban.
At least three more arms shipments had to be smuggled from Tajikistan across Afghanistan into Pakistan. Abu Mahmoud was ready to deal. He and the Taliban agreed on a cash sum of US
$20 million, which he’d said the Taliban could use as it pleased. Abu Mahmoud knew the Taliban
were no more going to feed the starving than the Jihadist Front. The Taliban and the Jihadist Front were in the business of war to kill perceived enemies, whether infidels, or political or military rivals, rather than feed and clothe the Muslim poor and hungry.
Abu Mahmoud never divulged the identity and location of his arms supplier or the vast
supply network used by his Tajik connection. “I work my satellite phones with the Chinese, the
ones in Hong Kong,” he told the Taliban, deliberating misleading the radical clerics. “They are smarter and know the product ever so much better. I suggest you use them for your arms. But they are expensive. So, continue to use your contacts in Pakistan. For your purposes, they would be the most reliable of suppliers.”
The US$20 million fee paid to the Taliban was minuscule, less than ten percent of the Jihadist Front’s annual opium and heroin sales. Abu Mahmoud was not going to risk losing his trusted arms suppliers over something as insignificant as a difference of opinion with the Taliban. The Taliban would stay away from his supply routes through Afghanistan and never see the trail of arms shipments heading to Quetta for transshipment to the port of Karachi.
Abu Mahmoud used his satellite telephone quite often with his exclusive supplier in Dushanbe. That supplier had arranged for the purchase of seven ships, which sailed from Hong Kong and Macao to the Karachi dry docks. Arms and ammunition shipments came from manufacturers in Sweden, Russia, Japan and the United States. A heroin shipment, along with stolen Japanese motorcycles and cars, had been traded for 72 Omega inflatable boats. The boats were trucked to ports at Savannah, Georgia and Miami, Florida. Two Indian-flagged ships transported them directly to Karachi. Another heroin shipment was traded in Tokyo for the Yokosuka outboard engines. A container ship had dropped them off at Karachi in early September.
American- and Swedish-made weapons and ammunition bound for Karachi were shipped from their manufacturers to warehouses in Portsmouth, England and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Indian-flagged ships then picked up the weaponry for transport to Karachi. The heavy weapons –
machine guns, rocket launchers, Stinger missiles – were wrapped in canvas sacks and packed in oversized wood crates labeled in English and French: “Agriculture Equipment from the United Nations.” Pistols were packed in crates labeled “canned goods.”
Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and Chinese-manufactured AK-47 assault rifles went overland through Afghanistan to Quetta by truck. The drivers would stay overnight and leave the following morning for Karachi, arriving at dockside warehouses without once having been
stopped and checked by Pakistani border guards or police.
Abu Mahmoud would pay for it all with a deposit of US$800 million from the Jihadist Front’s account at the Pakistan National Bank branch in Quetta. The money had been raised entirely from the sale of Afghanistan’s major crop: opium poppies, refined into heroin.
The Jihadist Front’s military commander never saw himself as an Islamic zealot. He was a warrior, a guerrilla fighter, with an aim to eliminate infidels by disrupting Western capitalism. But to do so he had to consolidate his own power base after the Soviets left Afghanistan. Afghan warlords vied for military power through civil war to wrest control of a weak central government based in Kabol. Abu Mahmoud wanted no part of that. He didn’t want to control any one government. He wanted to spark jihad worldwide.
Toward the end of 1986, Abu Mahmoud and a mujahid from Iraq, Abdul Mohammed Aziz, established an arms network based in Pakistan. Abu Mahmoud and Sadiq Haqqani made frequent trips to Peshawar, Quetta and the docks at Karachi to receive ammunition and weapons delivered through third-party front companies based in the United Kingdom, China and the United States. Without a large supply of American-made shoulder-fired, ground-to-air missiles, the Afghan mujahidin would have been powerless against heavily armed Soviet forces.
After the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, Abu Mahmoud and Abdul Aziz traveled through underground channels to front operations in Arab countries responsible for delivering Western-
made weaponry to the Afghan guerrillas. Those companies, located in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, made it possible for arms shipments to continue to Jihadist Front camps in Afghanistan. Abu Mahmoud and Sadiq recruited Muslim fighters from those countries and trained them in Afghanistan. Weapon caches also were used to bribe Pashtun, Uzbek, Hazare and Tajik warlords, leaving them alone to fight for control of Afghanistan after the Soviets left.
Throughout the early 1990s, the warlords and militia leaders ruled Afghanistan through extortion and kidnappings. But the Taliban, which means “students” in Persian, gained ascendancy
over the disorganized warlord militias through arms supplied from the network established by Abdul Aziz and Abu Mahmoud. The Taliban later garnered political and economic support from Islamic leaders and officials in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city fell, to the Taliban in 1995. A year later it captured the nation’s capital at Kabol. After the Taliban consolidated its power over Afghanistan in 1996, Abu Mahmoud opened training camps in and around Qandahar and at Nangalam, along a stretch of the Hindu Kush mountain range bordering Pakistan. He imported weapons through his arms network and sent Sadiq and others to recruit fighters from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, Syria and Lebanon. The Jihadist Front mujahidin involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States initially had been trained outside Qandahar.