Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States made the first strategic mistake by contributing to the creation of the most dangerous Islamic fundamentalist revival to take place in the twentieth century, or “The Islamic Awakening,” as termed by prominent Islamist scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The American perception of Islamic fundamentalism was shallow and lacking an in-depth look at history, while also being short-sighted with a focus on short-term objectives.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter who emigrated from Eastern Europe, was preoccupied with the Communist threat, unaware that a revival of Islamic fundamentalism would also end up reviving historical horrors that are best forgotten. The CIA, in cooperation with Pakistani intelligence, conducted the biggest operation in its history, with a cost estimated at billions of dollars, to counter the Soviet threat through a revival of Islamic jihad. Pakistani president at the time, Zia ul-Haq, had stipulated that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) should be in charge of the distribution of money and weapons to fighters in the Afghani factions, while forbidding the CIA to enter Afghanistan via Pakistan. These restrictions basically meant that the Pakistani Intelligence was pulling all the strings. The ISI chose its allies from among fundamentalist Afghans such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as well as Afghan students at Wahhabi schools, who were later called the “Taliban” due to their affiliation with Wahhabi schools in Pakistan. Through the ISI the so-called “Afghan Arabs” first emerged, and in later years they became the nucleus of al-Qaeda.
On March 15, 2005 the U.S. State Department website published a report denying any connection between the CIA and the Afghan Arabs or al-Qaeda, and placing the blame squarely on Pakistani intelligence. The report stated that the U.S. did not “create bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but rather helped the Afghans in their struggle to free their country― as did other countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Egypt and the United Kingdom. The United States did not, however, support the ‘Afghan Arabs,’ i.e. the Arabs and other Muslims who came to fight in Afghanistan for ulterior motives. The ISI made the decisions as to which Afghan groups it wished to arm and train, and it tended to favor the pro-Pakistan radical Islamic factions. The Afghan Arabs generally fought alongside those factions, which led to the accusation that they have been created by the CIA.”
Yet, this statement is not entirely accurate. In fact, the U.S. has played an indirect part in the creation of Taliban and al-Qaeda. Back then, a US-Saudi deal specified that in return for every dollar provided by Saudi Arabia in cash, the U.S. offered a dollar in the form of weapons, and both funds and weapons were submitted to the ISI. In his book “The Main Enemy: The Inside story of the CIA’s Final showdown with the KGB,” Milt Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan between 1986 and 1989 who was in charge of covert operations in Afghanistan, referred to this deal: “In 1980, Zbigniew Brzezinski – National Security adviser to President Jimmy Carter – secured an agreement with the Saudi King, under which Saudi Arabia pledged to match the financial contribution provided by the United States to support Afghani efforts. Reagan-era CIA Director Bill Casey kept this agreement in effect for several years” (“The Main Enemy,” p. 219).
The same account was given by Major General Mohammad Yusuf, who was in charge of the ISI Afghan office where he managed the Pakistani classified aid program for the Afghan mujahideen. In his book “The Bear Trap: Afghanistan, the untold story” Major Yusuf mentions the US-Saudi financial pact: “For every dollar provided by the United States, another dollar was added by the Saudi government. The joint funds, which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, were transferred by the CIA to special accounts in Pakistan under the ISI supervision” (“Bear Trap,” p. 81).
No, the United States did not finance al-Qaida or the Afghan Arabs directly, but it created the phenomenon responsible for the emergence of bin Laden and al- Qaeda. CIA and Pentagon experts took a gamble on the circumstantial success of a lethal weapon: armed jihadist Islam. What’s more, they bestowed the title of “freedom fighters” on the Mujahideen. Swiss journalist Richard Labévière called this dangerous game the “Dollars for Terror” in a 1998 book published in French under the same title. Labévière Stated that the U.S. was responsible for creating bin Laden with the approval of Saudi and Pakistani intelligence, not to mention the part it played in the emergence of fundamentalist Presidents such as Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, Sadat in Egypt, and Jaafar Nimeiri in Sudan, who were friends of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and who contributed to the phenomenon of Afghani jihad and to the revival of Islamic fundamentalism.
Of course, al-Qaeda did not content itself with funds and weapons obtained from Pakistani Intelligence but had its own resources, receiving funds from wealthy Arabs and particularly from Saudi Intelligence, under the supervision of Prince Turki al-Faisal. As a result, the organization had substantial funds at its command. Ayman al-Zawahiri confirmed this fact in his book “Knights under the Banner of the Prophet” issued in December 2001, where he mentioned that al-Qaeda had funded Afghan jihad with two hundred million dollars in the form of weapons only in the span of ten years. It is also a well-known fact that al-Qaeda had funded the Taliban takeover of Kabul in December 1996, and killed off Taliban strong opponent Ahmed Shah Massoud.
As expected, magic turned against the magician, and the attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in 1994 should have been a warning to the U.S. of the seriousness of the phenomenon which was partly of its own making. But the American response was lax, even as more terrorist operations followed, with the most serious being the bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998, which left in its wake hundreds of mostly poor Africans dead and wounded. Yet, the Clinton administration dealt with the matter rather leniently, firing several missiles at al-Qaeda camps with little impact that failed to stop the escalating savagery of the militant organization. A few years later, the events of September 11, 2001 took place shaking the United States and the whole world, and revealing the extent of the danger posed by Islamic jihadist organizations.
With the onset of war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, American Think Tanks started to look for non-military alternatives to deal with the Islamic phenomenon and with the countries that export Islamic terrorism. Thus, the notion of an agenda of democracy was put forward in the era of Bush Jr. A connection between tyranny and the rise of religious extremism was suggested, along with the argument that internal repression of the Islamist phenomenon had resulted in the phenomenon being exported to the West. With an agenda of democracy, came an inevitable question: what if democracy actually allowed Islamists to gain power? The answer was provided by Condoleezza Rice, who expressed the U.S. conviction of the importance of dialogue with Islamists in the Arab region, and confirmed that the US did not fear the prospect of an Islamist arrival to power. Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the State Department, confirmed that the U.S. did not fear the arrival of Islamists to power as a substitute to the repressive Arab regimes which have muzzled their people, thus triggering the outbreak of terrorist acts, provided that Islamists gain power through democratic means and adopt democracy as a means of government.
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