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