Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why Hizb ut Tahrir is Unlikely to Have Been Behind the Alleged Coup Attempt in Bangladesh

On the 19th of January, 2012, the Bangladesh army held an unprecedented press conference in order to reveal details of an alleged coup plot involving senior and mid-level officers supposedly linked to Hizb ut Tahrir. However, the alleged choice of Bangladesh for a coup to establish the Caliphate along with the unorthodox and incredibly incompetent manner in which the plot was orchestrated raises interesting questions as to whether it was planned by Hizb ut Tahrir. If so,it exposes the movement to serious questions of intellectual violation and ineptness. However, it seems more likely that either it was the the work of ‘rogue’ army personnel or it was a clever counter-coup operation staged by the Bangladesh army in order to manipulate an excuse to initiate radical measures aimed at eliminating the influence of Islamists from the armed forces. In any case, as I shall point out below,it becomes clear that no understanding as to planning existed between HT members and the officers and both were clueless on how to proceed once the actions had been initiated and communications between the two established. What ensued was simply a blend of naivety and chaos.

It is an open secret that Hizb ut Tahrir chapter in Bangladesh was started from its chapter in the UK and where its members of British origin remain in control of the work in the country. Arguably it is also where British intelligence has achieved its greatest success in penetrating, monitoring and influencing the movement and its members. This of course adds more complexity to understanding the political and operational issues concerning the alleged coup and whether or not the leadership of HT has control over its members and activism in many countries including Bangladesh. Implicit in the army statement was the role of the British chapter according to which;

"Recently, at the instigation of some non-resident Bangladeshis some retired and serving army officers with fanatical religious views and capitalising on others fanaticism led a failed attempt through their ill motivated activities to thwart the democratic system of Bangladesh by creating disorder in the army"

The activism of the members has generally followed a similar pattern to the UK, using a high profile trajectory but in this instance aimed at antagonising the political and military leadership with little patience or consideration for building a popular base and an intellectual leadership over the society as dictated by its own manuals. The consequences have led to a ban on the movement in 2010, leading to its operations being forced underground descending into a cat and mouse situation with the security services. Although, the HT leadership and its chapters in the Muslim countries have been obsessed with urging the armed forces of Muslim countries to mount ‘coups’, the allegations of an attempt by its own members in Bangladesh in order to establish a Caliphate is far removed from its ideational and operational understandings from two perspectives;

Firstly, Bangladesh fails on many levels to meet the criteria laid down by HT itself for assuming power and establishing the Caliphate. These include:
1. The requirement for the Arabic language
2. The leadership of both the party as well as its ideas in the society
3. The ability of the country to sustain itself economically and defend its realm militarily.
4. The ability to command leadership over the Muslim world.

Bangladesh being an impoverished country, with an incredibly weak army, very little authority in the Muslim world and devoid of the Arabic language is far removed from the conditions enunciated above.

Secondly, the manner in which the plot has been described does not conform to the carefully designed coup strategies adopted by HT throughout its history. It is no secret that HT works to penetrate the armed forces in the Muslim world. However, the strategy is incredibly covert and carefully crafted with no connectivity to the public work of its members whilst religiously guarding the identity of its assets in the military. Contrast this with the accounts of how the coup was supposedly orchestrated in Bangladesh.

According to the narrative, HT had openly revealed the identity of and distributed the grievances of the mastermind of the coup, Major Syed Ziaul Haq, which he had posted on Facebook. According to the army press briefing the attempt to create disorder in the army therefore had already been leaked. The army revealed that;

"Against the backdrop of a leaking of partial information about the conspiracy to create disorder in the army and the arrest of some individuals, fugitive Major Zia sent an e-mail to his acquaintances describing an imaginative an incredibly cooked up story of his so called arrest and torture. Later one Abu Sayeed uploaded the e-mail in a blog, ‘Soldiers Fortune’, on the social network Facebook...the banned fanatic organisation Hizb ut Tahrir on January 8, 2012 circulated provocative leaflets based on fugitive Major Zia’s internet message throughout the countr[y]"

In any coup manual, Major Zia would be regarded as a tainted asset and one not to be approached, especially since the alleged coup plan involving other officers had been unearthed by December 13th, 2011 and by December 22, 2011, Major Zia had himself become a ‘fugitive’ having absconded after being recalled to military headquarters. The army alleges that;

"With the motive of creating disorder in the army a retired Lt Colonel on December 13, 2011 instigated a serving Major to join him in executing his malicious plan. The Major instantly passed on the matter through his chain of command and the retired officer was arrested...Another accomplice of the retired officer Major Syed Ziaul Haq on December 22, 2011, met with a serving officer and instigated him to engage in activities subversive of the state and democracy. The serving officer informed the proper authority of the matter, as a result of which leave and transfer order of Major Zia, who had recently completed his long term training, was cancelled. He was informed over telephone on December 23rd, 2011 and immediately ordered to join army headquarters Log Area in Dhaka. Major Zia who was on leave remained fugitive and has been trying to continue ‘subversive’ activities against the army"

Moreover, Major Zia had started to use open and easily monitored channels in order to foment insurrection. According to the press statement;

"Later, the said officer sent out two e-mails containing imaginary and highly controversial contents styled “Mid- level Officers of Bangladesh Army are Bringing Down Changes Soon” through the internet"

Yet despite his abscondment and the discovery of the plot, Major Zia was still attempting to foment a coup by contacting officers using open means of communication. This is all the more problematic considering that the actions seem to descend into fomenting chaos rather than a coup and that since the military authorities had already become aware of the plot, and his specific role in it, the exposure of these officers as positive assets to himself would be an unnecessary risk. According to the statement;

"Some undisciplined and derailed army officers were actively involved in executing the vile conspiracy of fugitive Major Zia by misusing mobile phones and the internet. A court of enquiry was constituted on December 28, 2011...To execute the anti-state conspiracy...Major Zia on January, 9 and 10, 2012, sent copies of two imaginary operation orders to two different serving officers through e-mail. Besides on January 10, 2012 fugitive major Zia contacting some like minded officers, working in different formations or studying in different institutions over the mobile phone, wanted to know about preparations for the so called military coup"

The army account seems to clearly suggest that the coup attempt had clearly failed and that Major Zia had become ‘rogue’ in his actions and heavily monitored. Therefore any serious coup plotters would be well advised to keep clear of him. Yet, in the case of HT this did not happen. Not only did they actively participate in revealing their link with Major Zia and his ideas but according to the army statement they continued to engage with him whilst he was rogue and with full knowledge that his cover had blown and the coup plot had been detected. As seen above Major Zia continued to contact military personnel 18 days after the first detection of the coup and 17 days after his own detection and abscondment. By any measure this was a complete failure, yet not only did HT remain engaged, but according to the statement Major Zia contacted through open channels and British member of HT of Bangladeshi origin, Ishraq Hossein in order to prepare for a post coup situation by utilising the media in Britain and who was at the time ‘outside of the country’. The army states;

"[o]n January 10, 2012, fugitive Major Zia contacted some like minded officers working in different formations or studying in different institutions over the mobile phone, wanted to know about the preparations for the so-called military coup as per their plan and motivated them to execute the plot...On the same night fugitive Major Zia contacted [expatriate] Bangladeshi (no probably in Hong Kong) Ishraq Hossein several times. During conversation they discussed the progress of the coup and the process of implementing it. Fugitive Major Zia asked him to publish news in the media at home and abroad about the army coup in Bangladesh. Ishraq directed fugitive Major Zia to phone him around 2am on January 11 if the coup was completed by then so that he could reach Bangladesh in the shortest time. It is assumed that Ishraq gave this instruction with the aim of taking advantage of conditions in a post-coup situation"

This communication is the clearest indication in the statement that HT may not have been the ones guiding the alleged coup for the following reasons:

1. According to the statement HT distributed its leaflet on Major Zia on January the 8th, exposing his name. On January 10th Major Zia contacts Ishraq Hossein indicating that HT was not directly guiding the Major.
2. Major Zia contacts Ishraq Hossein who happens to be outside of the country indicating that Major Zia had no internal handler or contact. Hossein is likely to have been in contact with Major Zia in terms of advancing general ideas against the regime and HT’s history of seeking power. For this reason the communication had to be open and insecure by phone. Furthermore, Hossein did not commit to coming back immediately, rather he merely wanted to be informed by January 11 if the coup had been successful.
3. The details of what was discussed between Hossein and Major Zia clearly indicate that such information had been exchanged for the first time and no planning had occurred between the two. If planning had been agreed there would be no need for such a conversation. Communication would only be a last resort either to warn of failure or detection.
4. There is no indication of what Hossein’s position was in relation to HT or that he had any authority to back any coup attempt or post coup scenario.

Based on the army statement alone, the evidence points to either a rogue operation in which officers may have been in touch with HT members and where HT was not the actual planner. It is seems more the case that HT members tried to capitalise on the situation without any clear idea on how to proceed. However, the inept nature of the plot along with the erratic actions of Maj. Zia whereby he exposed not only himself but many other officers through direct contact and insecure communications such as the phone and internet indicates that Maj. Zia might have been part of a counter-coup strategy by the Bangladesh army to root out Islamists including those sympathetic to HT.

Whatever the case, it is not clear what HT aimed to achieve in the temporary chaos that seemed to have ensued in the army. If the alleged coup was authentic and it had succeeded would HT have given its support to any invitation from the coup leaders to establish the Caliphate? In order to do so HT would have had to completely forgo its criteria mentioned above. If not, then the consequences of its high profile actions aimed at the armed forces has demonstrated the potential to not only destabilise the institution but the country as a whole. Its obsession with the military and with coups is a clear sign its failure to demonstrate its commitment to building a popular base. Consequently, the lack of a real leadership over the society merely heightens the prospect of fomenting further chaos and possible civil-military conflict in Bangladesh.

Army Statement source:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Hizb ut Tahrir and the Arab Spring –The Shattering of an Illusion in the Heartland

It was the time that all members of HT had been talking of for 60 years. How a popular revolt against the Western supported dictatorships in the Arab world would demonstrate their affiliation to Islam, the party and the Caliphate. Instead, the advent of the Arab spring brought home some uncomfortable truths for members of HT throughout the world. Having been led to believe since the 1960’s that HT had built a popular base for its ideas and only the support of the armed forces remained absent in its quest to establish the Islamic Caliphate in the Arab heartland, success was seen to be within their grasp. However, the Arab spring shattered this illusion and laid bare the stark reality that no such support existed either in the Arab society or amongst the armed forces. From Tunisia, to Syria to Egypt and beyond, HT was nowhere to be seen and the masses emerged as sheep without a shepherd with only their hatred for the authoritarian regimes uniting them. Further exposure of HT’s dire situation emerged when its members embarrassingly failed to mobilise support in its stated stronghold of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Members of HT remain in denial unable to comprehend the gravity and truth of myth which prevailed only because it was impossible to negate its illusion under the veil of authoritarian leadership. Why was their no leadership over the masses in Syria and Jordan? Why could HT not mobilise support in the Sunni elements of the armed forces in Syria? And why was there no existence of HT in Egypt despite it being a strong Arab country with a history of Islamic activism both amongst the population and its armed forces?

At the heart of these questions is not the ideology of the party but the competence of its leadership. In 1997, the fitness of the leadership was challenged as was the reality of the HT’s leadership in the Arab world. The clash led to the first official split in the party with the breakaway faction recalibrating their position and maintained that HT had a lot to do before it could claim to have developed a popular base amongst the masses and no leadership for the party or ideas existed. As part of its proof it leaked an internal letter by the leader at the time, Abdul Qadeem Zaloom ,wherein he admitted that the masses had failed to respond to HT. However, instead of rectifying this position Zaloom ignored the dogmatic requirement of the party to establish a popular base and instead concentrated all efforts to seek support from the armed forces and influential elements in society in the hope of mounting a coup and directly moving to power. Consequently, no real strategy existed to transform society under the leadership of its ideas and its presence quickly diminished from society. Moreover, the quest for an army backed coup was expanded beyond the Arab world with Pakistan being the first country beyond the Arab realm to be declared a target for power in 2001. It remains to be seen whether its current leader Ata Abu Rishta will reflect on the reasons for HT’s failure in the Arab heartland, change course and capitalise on the wave of Islamist support sweeping the region.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Hizb ut Tahrir’s Call for Power in Pakistan

A Betrayal of Ideals?

On the 9th of May, 2010, Hizb ut Tahrir Pakistan (HTP) the trans-national Islamic party issued in its words ‘a bold statement’ to the people of power , namely the armed forces to support HT in its quest to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the country. The declaration was delivered by HTP official spokesman Naveed Butt via the
web and by another member, Akmal Khan at the press club in Islamabad. The
declaration highlighted the societal and geopolitical problems facing Pakistan focussing the blame on external interference, internal corruption and systemic failure and advancing in return an Islamic solution applied through the state mechanics of the Caliphate. Since it’s public emergence in Pakistan in the year 2000,HTP has focused somewhat exclusively on provoking the armed forces in order to overthrow the secular regime and system in the country. Without doubt the armed forces in Pakistan hold the effective reins of power and according to former senior members from the HT leadership in the UK such as Majid Nawaz ( who now advises the UK government and intelligence services on HT), HTP members have been active amongst members of country's armed forces. However, the obsessive focus by HTP on the armed forces raises crucial questions as to whether it is looking for power in Pakistan purely through the mechanism of military power without effective legitimacy in society.In this article I will argue that despite such ‘bold’ statements, not only does HTP severely lack the authority and popular legitimacy, but its efforts to seek
power in Pakistan also violates its intellectual premises on societal
transformation as well as the location most suitable for the establishment of the Caliphate.


HT was founded by a Palestinian scholar and judge, Taqiudine an Nabhani in 1952, with an explicit and detailed programme to revive Islam in the Muslim world via popular legitimacy and through the institution of the classical trans-national Caliphate with the support of power structures such as the armed forces. With the intent of establishing the Caliphate first in the Arab and then expanding its influence throughout the Muslim world and beyond, HT became truly trans-national with operations now in over 40 countries. However, it is outside of the Arab world such as Central Asia, Indonesia, Europe and South Asia that it has gained most influence and attention. In Pakistan, HT publicly declared itself in the year 2000 and mysteriously broke with its stated policy on the Arab world by declaring Pakistan a Wilayah or place suitable for the assumption of power. However, despite its non-violent methodology, former president Parvez Musharraf banned the movement in 2006 under anti-terror legislation. The ban has not however dissuaded its members
from activism and continued arrests and charges against them have been thrown out by successive courts due to lack of credible evidence and threat to national security.

Rhetoric vs Reality

Despite the media based rhetoric generated by HT in Pakistan and supported by its global media arm in the UK, there is an obvious deficit in popular legitimacy for the party in Pakistan and consequently the credibility of its claims concerning the country’s desire for Islamic law and the Caliphate. This harsh political reality
which seems to have been ignored consistently by HT is that beyond the religious and tribal hotbed of the deobandi orientated North WestFrontier Province (NWFP), the majority of Pakistan remains heavily influenced by apolitical Sufism, whose deep penetration by Indian philosophy renders its adherents doctrinally sterile to the call of Islamic political revival.Consequently, Pakistan’s religious based
political parties despite their adherence to constitutional norms and electoral participation have remained on the fringe of popular support. There can be no better example of the people’s rejection of Islam’s political role than the victory of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in an open election despite the wave of anti-Americanism, upheaval in Afghanistan and the tribal areas and tested failures of the pro-western secular political leadership. The depth of humiliation tendered upon
the Islamic parties was such that they were shunned in favour of discredited and reviled political figures such as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Shareef. There is little doubt that if HT is to be taken seriously it has to demonstrate more than media profile and agitational politics. The public’s anti-Americanism does not translate into a mandate for Islam and without a manifest ideational supremacy in the popular base; HT will remain in fool’s paradise.

Ideology vs Material Power

HT’s very superficial approach in Pakistan is all the more surprising considering the fact that it has laid out an understanding of considerable intellectual substance on how to bring Islamic revolution within society. On paper, HT outranks by far all the Islamic movements in terms of its revolutionary theory, Islamic scholarship, details of an economic, political and social programme being the only movement to have put forward a comprehensive Islamic constitution and blueprint for
a Caliphate. However, its prowess in the intellectual field has not translated into an effective popular base and seizure of power which until the death of its founder an-Nabhani was focused exclusively on the Arab world.

The reason for Pakistan’s inclusion into HT’s majaal or place suitable for the power has never been properly explained by its leadership, especially since a delegation sent to the country in the 1960’s rejected the suitability of its society based on the weakness of the people’s Islamic doctrine stemming from the deep penetration of
primarily Indian philosophy and culture. The only explanation so far has been forwarded by Maajid Nawaaz (who spent some time with HT in Pakistan), claiming that it was Pakistan’s nuclear declaration which tipped the argument for its inclusion. If so this reasoning does not correspond to an-Nabhani’s argument in that consideration should only be given to the strength of the Islamic ideology existent in the society and not to any material factors. In a leaflet dated 7 March 1962, Nabhani makes this point explicitly,

"The establishment of the Caliphate is not like building a house, measuring and judging according to the material possibilities. In contrast, the Caliphate is a political entity resting on an intellectual basis. Wherever this entity matures it will arise naturally and inevitably, regardless of the site or the material
conditions of the location" (leaflet Min al kahata al fadih al zann bi-anna-l-amal fi qutr min aqtar al hizb)

Therefore, as an analogy, the strength of the Soviet Union originated in its Communist ideology and despite its military power and nuclear capability the seizure of the ideology to command popular conviction lead to its inevitable collapse. Therefore, according to HTP’s own basis, Pakistan’s nuclear and conventional capability has no merit without the Islamic ideological engine driving the society, something which cannot be manufactured even if the armed forces of Pakistan were
to respond to HTP’s call.

Location, Location, Location - Intellectual Abdication

More fundamentally, according to HT’s own consideration, Pakistan is absent the very tool required for a strong ideology and sustained Islamic revival ie the Arabic language. According to HT the Arabic language is inextricably tied to the strength of Islamic understanding.This is based on the premise that without the Arabic language, the sources of Islam, primarily the Qur’an, the hadith and Islamic
jurisprudence cannot be properly understood or appreciated. In addition to the political factor HT regards the neglect of the Arabic language as critical to its evaluation of Islam’s decline and ultimately the root cause of the Caliphate’s demise under the Ottoman’s in 1924. Consequently, HT’s literature is absolute on the Arabic language as central to the society where the Caliphate should be established. In its adopted book Takkat-al-Hizb (Party Structuring) HT states;

"The entire world is suitable for the Islamic da’wah (Islamic work);however, since the people in the Islamic lands are Muslims, the da’wah must start there. Also, since the people in Arab territories (being part of the Islamic world) speak Arabic, and since Arabic is an essential part of Islam and its culture, the priority must be given to the Arab territories"

So much so, that its first official communiqué in 1953 was dedicated to the importance of the Arabic language and subsequently the Arab world in HT’s conception of the ideal geography for the resumption of the Caliphate. According to the communiqué;

"Hizb ut-Tahrir makes the starting point the Arab land as part of the Muslim land and views the Islamic State in the Arab land as a nucleus"

HT confirms its priority of the Arab societies over the non-Arab again in the book Concepts of HT (Mefahim HT, 1953)

"Carrying the Islamic da’wah (work) and the political struggle for its cause can be undertaken only in the society which the party has defined as its area for activity (majal).. it takes the Arab lands that are a part of the Islamic lands as a starting point. It considers the establishment of an Islamic state in the Arab countries as a nucleus for the Islamic state as a natural step"

No changes have as yet been made to HT’s adopted literature and no explanation has been provided officially by the leadership of HT as to why Pakistan has been afforded wilaya status. The adoption of Pakistan as a suitable society seems to be in apparent violation of its own rationale.

Legitimacy through Coup'detat - Methodological Abdication

Moreover, even if we ignore the discrepancy over the Arabic language, the political struggle outlined above and the call by HTP to the armed forces in the absence of a popular base violates the very premise of how HT understands the components of society and its transformation based on the life of the Prophet Mohammed and its rationalisation detailed in the book Takkatul Hizb which HT claims to follow. In
Takkatul Hizb there is no mention of ‘military coups’ because the concept dictates a popular revolt under the leadership of HT and its ideas. The military is seen as part of the interaction process which can either protect the party and/or cement the popular base. To seek the takeover of society with the help of the military without the popular base stands against the very premise of intellectual leadership HT claims it stands for. The objective is not intended to be the pursuit of power but revival of Islam through the society and state which requires popular legitimacy. Yet HTP seems to deliberately or otherwise ignore this obvious reality in its surreal claims concerning the heartbeat of the Pakistani society. HTP’s obsession with the Pakistani armed forces is a far cry from HT’s decision in 1958 to refuse an offer of leadership by the Iraqi army which according to its publication AL Fajr (1990) was based on the grounds that HT’s ideas had not taken root and therefore the Iraqi society was not ready to shoulder the burden of governance.

Media vs Human Interaction - Societal Abdication

The reality of HT in Pakistan is quite apparent. Its obsession with the military and its media spin masks the legitimacy deficit it faces in the country. Despite its hyperbole and agitational politics the lack of interest in HTP from the society has been continually exposed from the miniscule responses it has received for its many reactionary demonstrations and conferences. The hype surrounding Pakistan has in no
small measure been promoted by the UK branch of HT where along with Bangladesh; the focus of HT represents more a nationalist representation of its membership and one where its Arab membership and issues pertaining to the Arab world (which conceptually should form the centre of its focus) have been deliberately marginalised. HTP seems to be under the false impression that a recipe of media hype and agitational politics connected with Pakistani society’s emotional
connection with Islam and strong anti-Americanism will secure the support of the armed forces and overcome the patience required to deeply penetrate society and build popular legitimacy for its ideas.Moreover, other radical movements which have roots in religious seminaries such as the Taliban have rejected the Caliphate model and like themselves in Afghanistan, there is little indication that Pakistani society, its armed forces and religious figures are open to accept a leadership from an essentially Arab lead party. More critically for HTP, even with artificial attempts at mass contact, it is unlikely to affect the apolitical india-centric Sufism practised by the majority of people in power centres such as Punjab and Sind. Also having prematurely provoked the state security apparatus in Pakistan without protection or popular support, its political struggle will continue to be conducted within the confines of the media and through a cat and mouse game with the security services.

Noman Hanif is lecturer in Political Islam at Birkbeck, University of London

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Hizb-ut-Tahrir Strategy and the Caliphate Conference in Indonesia

Published: August 15, 2007

On the 12th of August, 2007, the transnational Islamic movement, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), staged in Jakarta, Indonesia, what is undeniably the largest conference ever held on the subject of 'reviving the Caliphate'. The conference was the biggest in a series of events organised on the same subject in many different international locations. An estimated 80,000 people attended the event at the HGelora Bung Karno Stadium, with invited speakers from HT around the world, as well as Indonesian personalities such as television icon Abdullah Gymnastier, former Muhammadiya head, Prof. Amin Rais, Ma'ruf Hussein from Nahdlatul Ulama, including its board chairman, Din Syamsuddin, current leader of Muhammadiyah, Habib Riziq Shihab, General Chairman of the Islam Defending Front, FPI and Zainuddin MZ (Reform Star Party, PBR). On the day however two of the HT speakers, Imran Wahid from the UK and Sheikh Ismail Al Wahwah from Australia were banned entry into Indonesia. Whilst other speakers such as Abu Bakr Bashir, leader of Gemaa Islamiya, who was cleared of the Bali bombings by the Indonesian courts was according to some media reports requested to stay away by the police, citing security concerns. Hence, most of the speakers for varying reasons were unable to attend.

However, despite the inevitable euphoria created by HT, searching questions have arisen as regards the political circumstances surrounding the Indonesian Caliphate conference and the strategy of HT. This is because despite the big bang approach, HT is still a newcomer onto the Indonesian public scene yet on paper represents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Indonesian regime and Western security in the region. Despite this it seems that HT has been given the green light by the Indonesian government, the armed forces, the government sponsored Council of Ulema, co-opted by the Indonesian Islamic movements and allowed free reign without Western pressure. This article endeavours to understand some of the reasons for this perplexing political landscape by situating the conference within the context of contemporary HT strategy.

No Longer Arabian Knights

The conference in Indonesia forms part of a continuum of change in strategy by HT away from the Arab world. This is despite the fact that according to its literature, the Arab world forms the priority location for the establishment of the Caliphate. This position was firmly adhered to under its founder Sheikh Taqiudine-an-Nabhani until his death in 1977. According to Nabhani, the Arab countries were natural and necessary support points because of the historical strength of Islam in the region, the linguistic qualities of the Arabic language (it being the language of Islam and the Koran) and what he defined as the leadership characteristics inherent in the nature of the Arab people. Nabhani recognised the need for some activity outside of the Arab zone, but only from the point of expansion, not establishment. With Jordan as the hub, extensive work was targeted in Syria, Iraq and Egypt amongst others. Military coups were attempted in these countries during the 60's and 70's. Nabhani demonstrated no interest in establishing a presence in the Western world despite the presence of HT members in the West as students and asylum seekers. This position seems to have undergone a radical change under the leadership of his successor Abdul Qadeem Zaloom, who rode the wave of Islamic political revival instigated by the events of Iran in 1979. Under Zaloom, HT unsuccessfully approached Khomeini for support to transform the Iranian sentiment into a Caliphate. Bearing in mind the Iranian Shia doctrine, its Safavid history of hostility towards the Sunni world and its underlying Persian pride, the rejection by Khomeini would have been inevitable. The trend under Zaloom to focus away from the Arab world continued with success and expansion in Central Asia as a result of a vacuum following the collapse of the Soviet Union and with further moves into Pakistan and Bangladesh. The HT presence in the West evolved rapidly with branches in the UK, Australia, Germany, Holland, Russia and Denmark. The UK's co-option of HT for its own policy aims allowed it to develop a base for its global media. Indonesia, being the largest Muslim populated country was naturally warm to HT as an Islamist movement because of its unique history of having responded to the expansion of the historical Islamic Caliphate in allowing conquest through invitation. Yet despite this geographical expansion by HT, the Arab world remains elusive to it with its presence and influence in the core countries of the Middle East next to negligible. With no effort being afforded to focus on the Arab world and instead a monumental push the spotlight onto outside regions, the question arises as to whether there has been an unwritten strategy which has moved away from what was adopted by Nabhani. Indonesia represents the ideal model to evaluate this point. HT in Indonesia does not suffer the hallmarks of repression as in the case of Central Asia and thus inevitably provides a more fertile environment for its activity. Also as the case of Iran and the consistent calls for support amongst the armed forces in Pakistan and elsewhere demonstrate, the seeking of power in the absence of a party presence or leadership of society does not seem to be an obstacle for HT in the post-Nabhani era.

Bandwagoning to Power

In fact the post-Nabhani leadership has moved away from the dogmatic exclusivity of approach and instead embraced a co-operative process in the form of bandwagoning on the influence of other movements. The pre-occupation with the media and with continuous conferences and demonstrations outside of the Arab zone despite its lack of presence in society is indicative of a failure to build a popular base in the Arab countries and a leadership for its movement. Despite HT's failure in what it terms as the stage of interaction within which the leadership for its thoughts and movements is required as a pre-requisite to seizing power, no attempt has been made to scale back its position. Instead, its members insist that it remains in the process of seeking 'nusrah'(support for power) and that the general sentiments of the 'ummah' (Islamic nation) for Islam are sufficient to seize power. By adopting these vague criteria for mass leadership, HT has effectively abandoned the interactive stage of its methodology through which it envisioned exclusive leadership for the thoughts and the movement. In order to bypass building the popular base, HT has been forced to co-opt popular movements for legitimacy and through media spin promote the term of the Caliphate as a populist concern. The Indonesian Conference forms a perfect example to illustrate this point. Unlike in Central Asia, HT does not command a dominant following in Indonesia. The likely pull for the 80,000 or so attendance in Jakarta would have been from the ingrained organisations such as the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiya which alone claim to command more than 30-40 million members. HT has attempted to bandwagon on the backs of these movements based on the least common denominator, the agreement on the term 'Caliphate'. However, beyond concurrence on the term, HT has very little in common with these movements and individuals. This again is a radical shift away from Nabhani who in his book 'The Islamic State' had warned against abandoning the hard graft work of building a real popular base built on deeply held convictions instead of attempting to build an artificial movement towards the Caliphate through conferences etc. For Nabhani the popularisation of terminology and even of HT as an organisation meant nothing without a deeply held conviction in Islam as a political ideology dominant within society. Contemporary members of HT argue as they usually do, that the conference is a means and a style to advance the interaction of its ideas with the population. On this point Nabhani was categoric in his warning towards the dangers of using certain means and styles. Nabhani considered that unless HT was in the last push to seize power, large rallies and conferences would be counter-productive as they would simply release the frustration and anger of the masses, the cumulative effect being the loss in motivation, morale, confidence and even belief in the return of the Caliphate.

"...It therefore follows that holding conferences on the issue of the Khilafah would not of itself lead to the establishment of the Islamic State, nor would a federation of countries ruling Muslim peoples be a legitimate method to establish the Islamic State, nor would congresses of Muslim peoples help in the resumption of the Islamic way of life. None of these, nor anything similar to them, should be considered correct, instead they would merely represent rhetoric aimed at soothing the anger of the Muslims..." (Nabhani, Islamic State, p97)

One of the few times Nabhani did authorise a mass rally was in the 60's in order to ascertain the strength and support of the Party in Jordan for the purposes of evaluating a move into the stage of interaction with society. Hence in the context of the conference in Indonesia, having bandwagoned on the big movements to pull in the crowds, a distorted picture would have emerged as regards understanding the strength of HT in Indonesia, but more importantly in raising the spectre of a Caliphate in such a manner, it has attempted to promote a strength of societal leadership which in turn has raised the expectations not only amongst the masses, but also its membership. Unless, HT is planning something spectacular, how it perceives delivering on its promises through a contemporary strategy of media spin, conferences and band-wagoning on movements with whom it shares no ideological or political affiliation is open to question.

Sleeping with the Enemy

In this regard, it was clear that HT in the context of Indonesia was not concerned whether or not ideological and/or political convergence existed. A good example of this was the inclusion on its website of a statement by an Indonesian government minister promoting the conference upon a non-contextualised position of unity. Thus, in order to gain the support of the crowd and the invited movements and individuals, the emphasis of the speeches in the conferences was an attempt to provide confidence in the Caliphate as an institution. Interestingly, the basis of this confidence was promoted from the perspective of the Caliphate being a representative government, as well as an economic, social and political stabiliser. Why this is interesting is because it represents an attempt to market the Caliphate on a systemic level and not a doctrinal one which Nabhani regarded as the basis upon which the masses should connect and move for the Caliphate. In other words the Caliphate was being packaged on the acceptance that the Western model was lucrative to the masses and they may not necessarily respond to some of the comparative solutions to governance thrown up by HT's conception of the Islamic doctrine with that of the democratic model which HT rejects. This is reflective in its association with the Indonesian movements such as the Muhammadiya and the Nahdlatul Ulama which have a starkly different conception of Islamic governance to that of HT.

Both these movements have acted largely in concert with the Indonesian government for decades even acting as king makers in times of political crisis. This point is aptly demonstrated by the comments of the chairman of Muhammadiyah, who said that any implementation of a caliphate would have to conform to the state ideology of Pancasila, (the philosophy of the Indonesian state modelled on Buddhist conception of ethics), the principles of which are set forth in the preamble of the 1945 Indonesian constitution. The five principles enunciated by former President Sukarno and in the order given in the constitution are: belief in one supreme God; humanitarianism; nationalism expressed in the unity of Indonesia; consultative democracy; and social justice.

This concept of governance was put forward with the sizeable Hindu and animist sectors of the population in mind. Hence, the NU and Muhammadiya conceptualised Islamic governance within this framework. Thus according to Din Syamsuddin, invited Chairman of Muhamadiyya, "Khilafah shouldn't undermine the inclusivism and pluralism of the nation," (Christian Science Monitor 13th August 2007). He added that non-Muslims did not have to be afraid of the discourse on Khilafah as it was part of the democratic process. Furthermore, it was the Nahdlatul Ulama which was the first major organisation to formally make the Pancasila instead of Islam its sole foundation. The clause in the statutes stating that the NU was based on Islam was replaced by 'based on Pancasila'.

The point being that these two co-opted Indonesian movements did not perceive as antagonistic to Pancasila, the manner in which the Caliphate argument had been presented by HT. This is despite the fact that apart from the belief in one supreme God, HT ideology seems to be in direct conflict with all the other principles of Pancasila. Again, this strategy of HT is a rapid departure from that of Nabhani who maintained that in order to preserve the purity of the ideology, the clarity of its message and the political distinctiveness of HT, sharing of platforms with organisations which were deemed to espouse non-islamic concepts such as democracy, social justice and nationalism and/or were linked to governments were to be completely shunned.

In the post-Nabhani era, pragmatism has now become a hallmark of HT throughout its global branches, even extending to the extremes of sleeping with the enemy. This point is more ironic considering that Abdurrahman Wahid former head of NU who became Indonesian president was labelled by HT as a 'freemason' and an 'American agent'. The history of the Indonesian Islamic movements is testament to the fact that it is not their aim to undermine the status of the Indonesian state or its stability. This being the case, it begs the question as to what is the rationale for the NU and Muhammadiya in co-opting HT and allowing it mass exposure on its back.

Unification or Entrapment?

HT's pragmatism towards the movements in Indonesia who are relatively liberal Sin comparison, is similar to its stance in the UK. Just like in the UK, HT in Indonesia is exhibiting a conformist approach towards other movements in order to gain support and legitimacy. Here lies the problem for HT. HT's co-option by the Indonesian movements coincides with the policy brief put forward by the US Rand Corporation entitled 'Building Moderate Networks', which argues that the US has failed to move the Arab world away from radicalism and thus a strategy of mobilising moderate Islamic opinion from weaker countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and even the Western world is the way to effect change in the Arab world. The paper argues that in order to achieve this, the US must co-opt the 'liberal', 'moderate' and 'modernist' movements such as the NU and Muhammadiya in order to prevent and fight Islamic radicalisation based on the model of the Cold War. There already exists a fluid relationship between the US and the Indonesian movements including the NU and Muhammadiya through US-Indonesia forums and democratisation projects sponsored by the US administration through the Asia foundation and Ford Foundation. In fact former Muhammadiya Chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif and Muhammadiyah Youth Central Board Chairman Abdul Mu'ti were key contributors to the RAND policy report. The report outlines the hostility within the liberal sections of these movements to the concept of an Islamic state and promotes them as ideal candidates to further the democratic liberal agenda.

"Network-building efforts in Southeast Asia should incorporate NGO work with the moderate traditionalist Indonesian organization Nahdlatul Ulama, with its 15,000 affiliated pesantren, and with the modernist organization Muhammadiyah and its network of higher education and social welfare institutions. Both Islamist and liberal sectors coexist in Muhammadiyah: Islamist elements can be found in the organization's Religious Council, which is charged with da'wa, while liberals have a home in the Center for the Study of Religion and Democracy, established to promote a liberal agenda within and outside the organization." (Building Moderate Networks, RAND, p139)

This would put HT in direct confrontation not only with US policy but also with the strategy of the NU and Muhammadiya. HT may have bandwagoned on the support base of these movements but beyond the rhetoric of the term 'Khilafah' there exists very little in common. In fact HT fits quite neatly into the pluralist framework developed by the NU and Muhammadiya. If any lessons can be learned from the relationship of the UK government with HT's new strategy of co-option, it is that HT can be manoeuvred to moderate its position and even serve policy goals. (The Future of HT in Britain, It could be argued that HT's inclusion into the pluralistic framework would serve as an entrapment mechanism which would seek to moderate and degrade HT's radicalism. This point is strengthened by the fact that neither the Indonesian nor US governments have intervened or put obstacles in the way of this approach between HT and the movements. This paints a complex picture and a perplexity as to the nature of the relationship between HT, these movements and US policy in the region. Bearing in mind the established position of these movements with US strategy and the Indonesian government, the question is whether HT as a result of its new pragmatism has walked into a US political trap with the acquiescence of the Indonesian government, NU and Muhammadiya.

The Theory of the Phantom Caliphate

There is no doubt that the idea of the Caliphate is becoming a worldwide phenomenon. On paper, HT's call for a Caliphate is the most dangerous one for the current regimes and Western security in the Islamic world. The manner in which HT have constructed the ideology of the Caliphate clearly demonstrates a brutal position towards Western civilisation and its adherents. For this reason US think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation have labelled HT in Central Asia as the "greatest threat to US interests". Bearing this characterisation in mind why would the US and the Indonesian government have allowed the Caliphate conference to have gone ahead in Indonesia. Due to its location, the US has maintained a strong strategic relationship with Indonesia.

The stability of the Indonesian government is of paramount concern for the US and for Australia. For this reason, the US is a major supplier of military hardware to Indonesia as well as the Indonesian army's biggest training provider through the IMET exchange scheme. The US has been engaged with successive Indonesian regimes, maintaining stability and influence through the loyalty of the armed forces. Hence it is ironic that despite the objective of HT to replace regimes in the Islamic world with a Caliphate, no pressure was exerted by the US or the Indonesian military/government to ban the conference. There was no bigger advertisement for the Caliphate and HT than the conference in Indonesia.

Bearing in mind the RAND reports suggestion of US failure to derail political Islam in the Arab world and with the ever critical threat of regime collapse, the theory of the Western powers being forced to install a pliant Phantom Caliphate in order to suck the life out of the Caliphate movement has some resonance and may even explain the events in Indonesia. It is in this regard that the allowance of a major Caliphate Conference by the UK in 1994 and now by the Indonesian government with the acquiescence of the US is suggestive of a possible plan to utilise HT's successful marketing of the 'Caliphate'. This suggestion may seem extremely fanciful and conspiratorial at first, but it does have precedent.

The exact idea was in fact toyed with by Britain in the last stages of the Ottoman Caliphate and detailed in what is known as the MacMohan-Hussein correspondence of that period. The strategy was based on the notion that the Islamic world considered the Caliphate as the only legal form of Islamic government and hence in order to absorb the aftershocks of the breaking up the Ottoman state, an Arab Caliphate pliant to British interests would be established under Sherif Hussein of Mecca. The idea was abandoned because maintaining the idea of a Caliphate was considered too dangerous. The theory of a phantom Caliphate is actually quite well recognised amongst the members of HT. In fact according to internal sources the US may have contemplated using the position of HT in Central Asia to bring about a Caliphate in order to cause enormous problems for Russia and China. However, the members insist that the US shelved this plan because of fears that the Caliphate may ignite an uncontrollable fire in the Islamic tinderbox surrounding Central Asia. What is interesting in this theory is that the members consider HT as being the only group which the US can use to bring about this scenario.

If one was to follow this logic then the hands off approach by the US and the Indonesian authorities towards HT's expansion in Indonesia is indeed a cause for contemplation as is the allowance of HT by the NU and Muhammadiya to bandwagon despite major contradictions between them. Indonesia would no doubt be an attractive location geographically to establish a Phantom Caliphate as it is far away from the crucible of the Islamic world in the Middle East and Central Asia. The idea of leadership over the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Arab world would be another issue of contention. The idea of staging a temporary Phantom caliphate and its fomenting a quick collapse would no doubt cause a major haemorrhage in the Islamic world and set back the movement for the Caliphate for decades.

Whatever the theory of a phantom Caliphate, what is certain is that HT has laid down the gauntlet and raised exponentially the hopes of the faithful regarding the immediacy of the Caliphate's return. The common rhetoric espoused by the speakers of the various HT conferences was the notion that the Islamic world was on the brink of the Caliphate. No doubt injecting motivation and confidence into its own membership to keep on board would have been a key determinant. Indeed, if the Caliphate Conference in Indonesia and the multiple other rallies in different parts of the world were intended as a final push before seizing power then this view may hold. In its absence, HT is walking a fine line with its rhetoric, on the basis of a failure to deliver and more fundamentally by seeking power in the absence of a popular base.

In conclusion, having withdrawn effectively from the key countries of the Arab world, HT has not availed its dominant situation in Central Asia. If power is being sought outside of the Arab world then Central Asia is strategically better located to the rest of the Islamic world than Indonesia. Instead Central Asia remains irrationally suspended in a mindless political struggle producing intolerable suffering for its members as a result of the brutality of the regimes. What exactly are HT objectives for Indonesia is unclear. The conference was no doubt a very loud political statement, but to whom?

There is no unified opinion amongst the membership as to the reasons for the multiple conferences. One predominant view is that it provides confidence to the 'ummah' and acts as a catalyst for the Arab world. This argument is somewhat infertile considering the fact that no popular base exists for HT in the Arab world and that the heat of large conferences are only temporary and are connected more to the location within which they are staged. Another point against this argument is that HT's media activity is obsessed not with the Arab world but a new strategy encompassing non-Arab territories. Whether this is in actuality a clever political ploy to divert Western attention away from the Arab world or it is evidence of desperation remains to be seen.

Noman Hanif is lecturer in radical Islam and International terrorism at Birkbeck, University of London. He is currently researching the Global Politics of Hizb-ut-Tahrir

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Pakistan’s Tableeghi Jamaat and Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Central Asia

Published: July 24, 2007

According to a report in Eurasianet on 23rd July 2007, the Pakistan based Islamic movement, Tableeghi Jamaat has been the one of the most active entities proselytizing in Central Asia, especially in Kyrgyzstan. Shamsibek Zakirov, an advisor of the head of the State Agency for Religious Affairs under the Kyrgyz Government stated that "it is not a secret that Islamic radicals from Pakistan are actively working among the Muslims in Central Asia, especially in Kyrgyzstan. The Tablighi Jamaat is the most active organization of all foreign Islamic missionaries."(

The unhindered growth of the movement in Central Asia bearing in mind the nature and position of the Tableegh vis-vis Pakistan raises some interesting questions as to the underlying reason of its presence in Central Asia. Traditionally, the landscape of Central Asia’s post Soviet space has been dominated by two movements, primarily that of the global Islamic movement, Hizb ut Tahrir or Liberation Party and to a lesser degree that of the IMU or Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Out of the two HT commands a greater ideological presence and influence throughout the region. Due to its political nature and the call to replace the ex-Communist regimes with an Islamic system and a Caliphate, HT has been banned by all the countries of Central Asia. It has been described as the greatest threat to US interests in the region by center right and right wing think tanks in America.

The threat of HT continues to shadow US policy towards the Caspian oil region and the energy corridor between Central Asia and Pakistan. The number of HT membership in the region has been estimated to run into many thousands with many filling the prisons of Central Asian states for being mere members. There are three contributing factors to HT’s success in the region, firstly the nature of its ideology which constructs classical Islam as a modern intellectual paradigm and hence was naturally capable of filling the ideological vacuum left by Communism and responding to an ideologically based society.

Secondly, leaders like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov manufactured a threat to the stability of Central Asia through HT in order to gain support and maintain favour with Russia, China and the West. Thirdly, the economic conditions, corruption and ineptitude of the regimes coupled with the brutality with which HT and political Islam in general was targeted generated the conditions for HT’s expansion. The situation at present is the failure of Russian, Western and Central Asian policy to halt the juggernaut of HT. It is within this context that the study of Tableeghi Jamaat must be situated.

The Tableeghi Jamaat or Islamic Missionary Movement was started in the 1920’s by Maulana Iliyas with the aim of changing society through applying a model of individual spiritual and moral change based on the Prophet Mohammed and his disciples. Due to its position of eschewing politics and refraining from criticising governments the movement has been tolerated and even welcomed in many Islamic countries as a counter-balance to radical Islam. The missionary nature of its work has even afforded it a reception in Israel. The tableegh now centres’ itself largely in Pakistan where its headquarters are to be found in former Pakistani Prime Nawaz Sharif’s home town of Raiwind near Lahore in the Punjab.

However, despite its apolitical nature, the reality of the Islamic movement in Pakistan is that it is heavily infiltrated and influenced by the state and especially the Pakistani intelligence agency the ISI. One of the biggest gatherings in the world from amongst the Islamic movements is held annually by the TJ in Raiwind. Amongst its followers are many from the armed forces, political elites and the intelligence services. Because it espouses no desire to engage politically, regimes feel safe from the movement. Yet despite this the Pakistani intelligence and by default the US, fed heavily off the movement as regards recruitment for the Afghan and Kashmiri jihad during the 1980’s whilst it internally engaged to depoliticise the masses.

It was also through the Pakistani intelligence that the US policy towards Central Asia was active including the Caucuses in Chechnya. The covert support for the ISI backing of the Taliban along with its destabilising influence on Russia and China also fitted in with the US involvement in the Great Game in Central Asia. However, due to an understanding between the US and Russia in 1994 whereby Russia agreed support US action in the UN over Iraq if the US agreed not to interfere in Chechnya by supporting the Chechen fighters started a change in the architecture of US involvement in the region. Despite this, the conflictual dynamics of energy security, strategic presence and political Islam kept the US firmly engaged.

In the post Soviet space however, it was political Islam which provided the greatest threat to energy security and strategic presence in the region. Hence, with the excuse of 9/11, the US launched a diplomatic offensive in European capitals, Moscow and Beijing aimed at overtly justifying an alliance against a vague conception of a war on terror built on a commonly perceived threat of political Islam.

Covertly, the war on terror was a political trap to justify US military expansion in order to secure energy corridors and strategic positions. Hence Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan questioned the need for US bases in Central Asia as well as the strategic positioning of its military bases in Afghanistan which he claimed logistically had nothing to do with the Pak-Afghan border and the War on Terror and judging by the positioning of the bases more to do with the encirclement of Central Asia. (

The Pakistani involvement in Chechnya was confirmed by General Parvez Musharraf whose first priority upon receiving the green light from Washington to seize power was to dismantle the Pakistani link with the Chechen cause. The aim was to remove the threat of radical Islam from the theatre of Central Asian politics. Initially, Russia had turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s insertion of Wahabist’s into the Chechen cauldron as the Sufi doctrine of the Chechen’s would inevitably collide with the anti-sufist Wahabist’s with the hope of igniting a civil war amongst the Chechen’s. However, the Wahabist inclination toward’s jihad undermined this strategy. The war on terror also enabled Musharraf to allow the US to remove the Taliban which was being used indirectly by the US to foment Islamic radicalism in Central Asia. The nexus which had once been fostered by the US and Pakistan between Central Asia and Pakistan threatened to unify a movement from Central Asia to Northern Pakistan. This nexus had to be broken, hence the crackdown by Musharraf on Central Asians studying in the madrassas of Pakistan and the agreement with the Northern tribals to co-operate on the basis that foreigners including Central Asian’s were removed. Furthermore, intelligence reports suggested that the pro-government elements of the Taliban had started to breakaway from the Central Asian elements causing fissures within the Taliban itself.(

Thus the insertion of the Tableeghi Jamaat into Central Asia has to be seen in the context of a US policy aided by the Pakistani regime in combating radical/political Islam in Central Asia and more specifically the threat of HT. Although the arrival of the TJ in Central Asia was in 1991, its concentration on the Ferghana Valley considered the hub of radical activity amongst HT and the IMU gives a clear indication of its professed target. The hand of Pakistan and by default the US seems apparent. According to Igor Rotar;

“Virtually all of the Tablighi members active in Central Asia are locals who have undergone training in either India or Pakistan” ( 23rd July, 2007)

It is this very Pakistani factor which has aroused suspicion amongst the Central Asian regimes as to the political reality of TJ in the region and the role of the US. Having failed to detach states such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan away from the Russian orbit and the involvement with Pakistan over the Taliban, suspicions of the US hand in TJ would be inevitable, especially since the training of its members is occurring in Pakistan. In contrast to HT in Kyrgystan whose membership derives more from the Uzbeks, TJ’s is more indigenously Kyrgyz. Yet despite its official sanction in contrast to HT, the Kyrgyz authorities remain suspicious of it. According to Igor Rotar

“While Zakirov admitted that all available evidence indicates that the Tablighi Jamaat continues to adhere to an apolitical stance, he nevertheless adopted a skeptical stance toward the group” (, 23rd July, 2007)

For this reason Uzbekistan has formally banned the TJ and Kazakhstan frequently picks up their members for questioning. It is the likely the position of the US that Central Asian regimes especially those of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan can be persuaded to overcome the alternate Islamic deficit by heavily promoting TJ as an alternative to the threat posed by HT and changing their current policy towards it by arguing the interests of stability and security. However, a number of obstacles remain in it way. Firstly, the Central Asian regimes possess an ideological, economic, political and security credibility deficit amongst their populations which neutralises the apolitical idea of TJ. Secondly, HT provides a more superior and comprehensive understanding and vision of Islam and politics that TJ does not possess. This is something well understood by the US as its own think tanks such as the Nixon Center, Brookings Institute, Hudson Institute and the Heritage foundation have detailed the ideology of HT.

Hence the idea of the US promoting the TJ as an altruistic policy for Central Asian stability is not one shared especially by the Kyrgyz religious Affairs minister. Rather it seems the sentiment remains that through Pakistan and the TJ, the US is looking for another channel to open up influence in the Central Asian Islamic theatre. Thus says Zakirov;

“"Many Tablighi members are uneducated and very fanatical. I don’t think that importing the Pakistani version of Islam will promote the stabilization of Central Asia.”

Zakirov’s comments reflect the difference in understanding over HT and TJ. Firstly that HT commands a membership from all strata of society including from the academia and intelligentsia and secondly HT and its ideology is not considered indigenous and not linked to any foreign state. More succinctly it identifies a characteristic amongst the TJ which was utilised by the Pakistani ISI and the US in Afghanistan, Kashmir and even in the Balkan’s. The susceptibility to jihadism because of the “fanaticism” and “Pakistani version of Islam” is an emotional characteristic within the Pakistani psyche which the US through the Pakistani ISI have become adept at manipulating for policy goals. It is thus the wider political dynamic within which TJ has operated which is likely to be causing concerns for the Central Asian regimes.

In contrast HT does not follow a militaristic methodology to bring about change and hence has no history with jihadism or violence against the regimes but more pertinently the involvement of its members with state crafted policy. In essence this is the paradox of HT, radical but non-violent. Attempts by US think tanks to insinuate a link between HT and terrorism in order to frame it under the war on terror have conclusively failed.

The history and contemporary activity of TJ in Pakistan and its use by the intelligence services alludes to a potential whereby TJ members can and have been involved in recruiting for jihadism. Hence, the US through the double edged sword of the Pakistani TJ has the capacity to destabilise the Central Asian regimes. The potential nature of this threat to its own situation seems to be lurking in the back of the regimes minds in Central Asia.

According to Igor: “Although Tablighi members claim that they converse only about God, we are not certain that they are not agitating our youth to go to Iraq and Pakistan for battle,"(

Noman Hanif is lecturer in Radical Islam, International Terrorism and Energy Security at Birkbeck, University of London

Copyright © nomanhanif 2007

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Hizb ut Tahrir Pakistan – The British Dimension

Noman Hanif

On the 5th of July, 2009, the British media indicated for the first time the extent to which British intelligence may have penetrated the local and Pakistani branch of the Islamic party Hizb ut Tahrir or Liberation Party including an insight as to why the UK political establishment may have resisted enormous pressure for its proscription. Nicola Smith’s article in the Sunday Times entitled ‘British Islamists Plot against Pakistan’ suggested that British members of HT had been operating throughout Pakistan’s institutional set up and especially the army in order to foment a bloodless coup geared towards bring about an Islamic Caliphate. Although Smith’s article provides little in terms of new understandings concerning HT’s ideology or its methodological recourse to the levers of power, it is the nature of the information provided in the article and its timing which raises the most important questions. Smith’s article for the first time identifies Imtiaz Malik as the key personality in Pakistan and departs from the conventional analysis of media representative Naveed Butt as being the central leadership. If so, then knowledge of Imtiaz Malik would have been known to British intelligence and to the media for some time considering their relationship with HT defector Maajid Nawaz whose counter extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, has full financial and political backing from the UK foreign office. With Nawaz’s open endorsement of his relationship with the British government, it would be safe to assume that his cooperation fully extends to the intelligence services. Maajid Nawaaz was privy to the HT set up in Pakistan and HTB’s relationship with it having been a member its leadership committee in the UK and part of the team which travelled and emigrated to Pakistan in order to assist HT operations in the country. Smith’s assertion that; ‘HT is believed to have been set up in Pakistan in the early 1990s by Imtiaz Malik’ and that in ‘1999 a call was sent to British Hizb ut-Tahrir members to move to Pakistan’ which ‘prompted the movement of some of the UK’s “top quality” activists to south Asia’ clearly seems to have been sourced from Maajid Nawaz who is also quoted in the article claiming that the global leadership of HT had ignored Pakistan until it announced itself as a nuclear power. The crunch point however in Smith’s article was the revelation by an ‘insider’ that in 2003, four army officers were arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of being linked to extremist groups, although the groups and men have not been named. The ‘insider’ claims they were recruited by the organization’s “Pakistan team” whilst training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS), UK. If this information is reliable then it seems to have been gleaned separately from Maajid Nawaz who had left Pakistan by this time and who allegedly was imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities during this period. Bearing in mind the hierarchical and cellular nature of HT’s organizational structure, knowledge of such a secretive team would only be known to its leadership in either Pakistan or the UK. The fact that the alleged arrests of the Pakistani army officers trained at RMAS have never been acknowledged nor publicized by the Pakistani authorities is also suggestive that the UK intelligence may have had a role in deliberately leaking this information through Smith’s article. This is reinforced by the timely nature of the article as it coincidentally follows a trip to Pakistan by Maajid Nawaz paid for by the UK foreign office and provided publicity through the government’s media bastion the BBC through its news programme, Newsnight in July, 2009. The question of HT Britain (HTB) being infiltrated by British intelligence has been suspected because of its open door policy towards recruitment in the UK and more poignantly attempts by the HTB leadership to break rank and to reach out to the British government exemplified by its acceptance of an invitation by UK member of Parliament, Claire Short to speak to other Parliamentarians at Westminster in 2007. The open door policy was also extended to journalists who were provided open access to members and to the internal operations of HTB. This suspicion has been further compounded by the continuous refusal by the British Labour party to ban the movement despite the application of aggressive pressure by the opposition Conservative party. What the cases of ex- HTB whistleblowers Shiraz Maher, Ed Hussein and Maajid Nawaz have clearly demonstrated is that British intelligence is likely to have been embedded within the movement for some time. The level of infiltration seems to have been within the senior echelons of HTBs’ leadership exemplified by the fact that it has been confident enough to risk these assets becoming public without fear of losing its influence internally. Therefore, inevitably it would have full knowledge of the British origin members who are alleged to have helped set up and run the HTB originated structure in Pakistan. Maajid Nawaaz’s open declaration of his close association and collaboration with the UK Foreign Office would mean that most if not all of the British Pakistani HTB members sent to Pakistan would have been known to the British intelligence services including Imtiaz Malik at least since 2005. The burning question is why the HT global leadership has not moved to quarantine its leadership in the UK and its members who travelled to Pakistan considering the obvious security risks posed to it.

Copyright Noman Hanif

Friday, 4 July 2008

Hizb-ut-Tahrir UK Uses European Court Appeal to Cover Rapproachment with Britain

On the 25th of June 2008, Hizb-ut-Tahrir UK or HTUK gave a press conference outlining their plan to submit an application to the European court with the express aim of overturning the German government's banning of the Party in 2003 on the basis of anti-semitic activity.Representing HTUK was Jamal Harwood (legal representative UK), Taji Mustafa (media representative UK) and Shakir Ahmed(media representative Germany). According to the press release, HTUK had recruited the services of Barristers Chambers and the team includes Keir Starmer QC (Doughty Street Chambers) Matthew Ryder, Keiron Beal (both of Matrix Chambers) and Tayab Ali (McCormacks Solicitors). The use of such legal methods, institutions and persons close to the British government is unprecedented in HT history.

It is my argument that the appeal by HTUK is a figleaf for a covert channel of engagement between HTUK spearheaded by Jamal Harwood and the British government through MATRIX chambers. Previous overt engagements have occurred between HTUK and the British political establishment through Claire Short with an invitation at Westminister.British intelligence has been successful in fully infiltrating HTUK with CIVITAS claiming that intelligence is "all over them". A glimpse of this infiltration was demonstrated through the efforts of Ed Hussein and his recruitment of Maajid Nawaz and Rashad Ali, both of whom were high level within the HTUK structure. They now run a British government inspired covertly funded foundation known as the Quilliam Foundation. Despite its claim to fight extremism in general there is no doubt that its specific agenda is Hizb ut Tahrir. Therefore British intelligence seems to have to been successful in playing both groups with the help of some interesting manouvres by the UK government through the threats of a ban. The ban has not materialised under Labour because the government was still in the process of monitoring and influencing not only the internal structure but all operations emanating from HTUK which were instrumental in establishing cells in Europe, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and others. Majid Nawaz who was privy to much of this information and has publicly stated his direct role in Pakistan and Denmark would have been further debriefed by the intelligence services.
The response of HTUK has been to threaten legal action. Such action has no legitimacy according to its understanding of Islamic jurisprudence. It seems the move by the government was to provide the leadership of HTUK with the cover to engage the government. However, the ban never materialised under Labour but is likely under a predicted Conservative government. For this reason HTUK have undertaken the German concern in order to lay the foundations for the covert channels with the Conservative government before the ban comes into place.

According to the press release: "The HT legal team led by Keir Starmer QC has highlighted the following points in the submission:

1. The silencing of HT re expression of its views publicly in Germany despite it being well known that HT is a non violent political party based on Islam.

2. The refusal of the German Constitutional court to hear the German appeal of HT citing that HT is a foreign association despite the fact that many of its members are German nationals, its clear existence in Germany for several decades, and despite the fact that the lower German courts banned the activities of HT in Germany (banning the Party in one court and not recognising it in another).

3. The rejection of the appeal of 21 members of HT resident in Germany, some of which have been expelled from the country and had their assets confiscated or frozen and despite several being German or EU nationals.

4. Banning of activities due to the supposed non-agreement with the “idea of International understanding” a principle which is insufficiently articulated to be readily ascertained. Furthermore, to ban an organisation’s activities on this basis is wholly disproportionate.

I would like to highlight a few points on this appeal:

1.There was no effort by HTUK, its representatives at the press conference or by Jamal Harwood in his interview with Islam Channel to outline the Islamic legitimacy upon which this appeal is based. This is a crucual point because HT follow a fundamental understanding of Islamic jurisprudence which states "every action requires evidence(from Islamic sources)".

2. According to HT understanding as outlined in its books, it recognises no legal mechanism, principle or law which is derived from outside what it considers the legal sources of Islam which are the Koran, Traditions of Mohammed, Consensus of the companions of Mohammed and Qiyas or legal analogy. It henceforth follows the jurisprudential principle which states "that which agrees with Islam is Kufr(non-Islamic) and that which disagrees with Islam is kufr" ie whatever is derived jurisprudentially from outside of the sources of Islam are invalid and prohibited.

3. Henceforth, HT does not recognise the legitimacy of laws, systems, governments, constitutions which are not derived from Islam. This is further based on its understanding of the verses of the Koran which states "Whoever does not judge by whatever Allah (God) has revealed are fasiq(wrongdoers), zalimoon(evil doers), kafiroon(non-believers)

4. The approach to seek judgment from courts, authorities, governments where no Islamic legitimacy exists is prohibited. This is how it understands the verses of Koran which prohibit the approach to bodies and institutions whose basis of legislation is not from the sources of Islam. One of the verses of the Koran states, "Have you seen those who say they believe in the revelation, yet they turn for their disputes to the Taghout (interpreted by HT as a body/instituion legislated from outside of the Islamic sources).

5.On the above basis HT's founder Taqiudine -an-Nabhani applied for the registration of the Party in Jordan in 1952 under the existing Ottoman law of association. However, it was not an application for legitimacy but a declaration of the party and hence it did not seek any legal address because it considered the Jordanian government, consitution and system as illegal.

6. The points raised by the HTUK have been purely on the considered illegality under European Human Rights Convention relation to the freedom of expression and association both principles which HT attacks in its literature as well as the principle of Human Rights.

7. Jamal Harwood argued that the German ban was based upon its own governments admission on the fear of the spread of HT and its success amongst the youth in Germany. He argued that nowhere else in Europe was this ban on HT. Hence the aim according to Shakir Ahmed was to expose the contradictions of Western capitalism and its notions of freedoms and democracy. This is while both Jamal Harwood and Shakir Ahmed state that HT does not work to establish Islam i=outside of the Muslim world but looks to protect and lead muslim communities in the West only and does not politically engage with the government.

Here there is a contradiction. The challenge to ideology of the German government is by nature political action and an engagement because it relates to the manner in which the German government looks after the affaisr of its citizens which includes Muslims. The engagement of societies outside of the muslim world is outside of the remit of HT. In actuality even the idea of working to build Muslim communities outside of the Muslim world for a post Caliphate period is a violation of its jurisprudential understanding that the work to establish Islam "in the muslim" world and "the instituion of the Caliphate" is a vital life and death concern according to the understanding of HT that the companions of the Prophet Mohammed delayed the burial of the Prophet Mohammed until after the election of a Caliph despite the conflict with the Islamic rule that a Muslim must be buried immediately.

It is important to note that Taqiudine an Nabahani did not put any consideration or value to the presence of Muslims or members of HT living/ working or studying in the West throughout his leadership of the Party for 30 years.The concentration of collective action was solely related achieving power in the Arab world as a primary objective with the expansion of the party members and influence of societieslimited to the rest of the Muslim world.

8. HT declares Britain as the nation which harbours the greatest hatred towards Islam based on its history with Islamic power and its success in infiltrating, destabilising and ultimately bringing down the Ottoman Caliphate. Accordingly it also regards Britain as the most politically cunning of all the nations and the one best in intelligence. Hence according to its draft constitution it is considered an "enemy" state for Muslims. In practical terms there is to be no relationship, link, approach or any form of contact with the British political/intelligence establishment or its surrogates. Any such contact is considered "poison" for any Islamic movement.

Yet HTUK has coveted the British political establishment through Claire Short at Westminster and now through MATRIX chambers which is strongly embedded with the British political establishment having been used by intelligebce to provide a statement of illegality for the Iraqi invasion and the US/UK position in order to indirectly embarrass the US. It was no coincidence Cherie Booth, wife of Tony Blair is also part of this chamber and UK intelligence is fully co-opted on all high profile cases. This connection has been highlighted by the HTUK itself in its lierature on Iraq.