Pakistan Analysts Link London Blasts to Afghanistan

KARACHI – Prominent citizens in this country are calling for a deeper understanding of the complex situation that led to the July 7 London bombings as British police confirmed that three of the bombers were of Pakistani descent and probably trained here or in neighboring Afghanistan.

Noted political commentator and author A.R. Siddiqui said he believed British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s initial reaction to the blasts, emphasizing the need to go into the "roots of terrorism," as the right approach to containment.

Siddiqui, a retired brigadier from the Pakistan army said the London bombings were a reaction not to historical conflicts between the West and Islam but to what has been going on in recent years in Afghanistan, a country with extremely close ties with Pakistan.

"Everybody talks of Iraq and Palestine, but they are not comparable with the kind of atrocities that have been committed in Afghanistan, the forgotten front," said Siddiqui adding that the London attacks were essentially political rather than religious in nature.

"The issue is not at all religious but a political statement," opined Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, a legal luminary who has served terms as Supreme Court judge, attorney general, and law minister.

"This may be a political group that thinks it is the guardian of Islamic interests and defines it narrowly," said Ebrahim adding that what was clear, however, was that the "bombers were incensed by what Western governments, especially the United States and Britain were currently doing in large parts of the Islamic world."

"It must be remembered that this [the bombings] is a new phenomenon, tangentially connected with quasi-religious issues and carried out as a political reaction by people who have exaggerated notions of their own devotion to Islam," said Ebrahim.

Fakhruddin said he thought Blair’s reaction as a "hopeful and helpful development" especially since "the modern world happens to present easy opportunities to collect explosives and has technologies to link together organizations into a regular political phenomenon."

One of Pakistan’s best known psychiatrists, Prof. Haroon Ahmed also thought that the bombings in London – as also the earlier one in Madrid, Spain – as political statements, rather than anything to do with religion.

"You are big and powerful. We are militarily weak. Since you have wronged us and have exploited us for so long and are still exploiting our resources, we have no option but to commit terrorist acts. That will harm and hurt you some," is what the terrorists are saying, according to Prof. Ahmed.

Siddiqui did not altogether discount the religious aspect of terrorism and said, "I would not go into Islamic tenets, but the roots of terrorism do lie in Islam."

"Islam’s rise was sudden and frequently occasioned violence. Since Islam established states everywhere and did not produce a commonly agreed system of succession, a certain degree of terrorism was exercised in Muslim countries at different times," he explained.

Siddiqui said, however, that it was important to note that not only did Muslim states come under centuries of Western colonial domination but that there was a perception that their resources have continued to be exploited. "So the reaction could only be terrorism."

Many believe that it was such a background that led well-educated, British-born young men like Omar Sheikh, convicted for the kidnapping and gruesome murder of the U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, to take to the path of terrorism.

Sheikh, who studied at the London School of Economics, was among prisoners exchanged by the Indian government in return for an Indian Airlines plane full of passengers that was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in December 1999 and was afterwards sheltered in Pakistan.

The fundamentalist Taliban was created by Pakistan army intelligence, with funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and manpower drawn from Pashtun tribes that straddle the Pakistan-Afghan border, to fight Soviet troops that occupied Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989.

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said at a press conference in the capital, Islamabad that immediately before the May general elections in Britain, this country provided reports to London of possible bombings.

"Before the general elections in the United Kingdom, we received reports that this sort of situation might arise, and attacks were aborted because of information provided by the government of Pakistan, and arrests were made in various countries and here," Khan was quoted saying.

But ironically Sherpao, a Pashtun leader, has been among the bitterest critics of the intensive bombing campaign against the Taliban carried out by the U.S. in its "war against terror" launched immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, aerial terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"What has been happening in Afghanistan and Iraq is making terrorism more popular in Muslim countries – though this could hurt Muslims far more in the end," said Siddiqui.

That is a view also held by Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who said the London blasts would "impact Muslims all over the world," in reactions made to the press two days after the blasts.

Pakistan bore the brunt of terrorism that was "pouring" out of Afghanistan and faced "horrendous" consequences as a result, said Musharraf, who has escaped several bids on his life, one of them said to have been masterminded by the jailed Briton, Omar Sheikh.

"The greatest threat we [Pakistan] face is religious extremism and terrorism. We have to fight perpetrators of such acts jointly, otherwise the so-called custodians of Islam will ruin us," Musharraf was quoted saying.