The third region of major concern, the (largely) Islamic world, also the scene of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) that George W. Bush declared in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attack. To be more accurate, re-declared. The GWOT was declared by the Reagan administration when it took office, with a fevered rhetoric about a plague spread by depraved opponents of civilization itself (as Reagan put it) and a return to barbarism in the modern age (the words of George Shultz, his Secretary of State). The original GWOT has quietly been removed from history. It very quickly turned into a murderous and destructive terrorist war afflicting Central America, southern Africa and the Middle East, with grim repercussions to the present, even leading to the condemnation of the United States by the World Court (which Washington dismissed). In any event, it is not the right story for history, so it is gone.
The success of the Bush-Obama version of GWOT can readily be evaluated on direct inspection. When the war was declared, the terrorist targets were confined to a small corner of tribal Afghanistan. They were protected by the Afghans, who mostly disliked or despised them, under the tribal code of hospitality-which baffled Americans when poor peasants refused to turn over Osama bin Laden for the, to them, the astronomical sum of $25 million.
There are good reasons to believe that a well-constructed police action, or even serious diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban, might have placed those suspected of the 9/11 crimes in American hands for trial and sentencing. But such options were off the table. Instead, the reflexive choice was large-scale violence- it with the goal of overthrowing the Taliban (that came later) but to make clear US contempt for tentativeTaliban offers of the possible extradition of bin Laden. How serious these offers were, we do not know, since the possibility of exploring them was never entertained. Or perhaps the United States was just intent on trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world. They don’t care about the suffering of the Afghans or how many people we will lose. That was the judgement of the highly respected anti-Taliban leader Abdul Haq, one of the many oppositionists who condemned the American bombing campaign launched in October 2001 as a big setback for their efforts to overthrow the Taliban from within, a goal they considered within their reach. His judgement was confirmed by Richard A. Clarke, who was the chairman of the Counterterrorism Security Group at the White House under George W. Bush when the plans to attack Afghanistan were made. As Clarke describes the meeting, when informed that the attack would violate international law, “the President yelled in the narrow conference room, ‘I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.’ ” The attack was also bitterly opposed by the major aid organizations working in Afghanistan, who warned that millions were on the verge of starvation and that the consequences might be horrendous.
The consequences for poor Afghanistan years later need hardly be reviewed.
The next target of the sledgehammer was Iraq. The US-UK invasion, utterly without credible pretext, is the major crime of the twenty first century. The invasion led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people in a country where the civilian society had already been devastated by American and British sanctions that were regarded as genocidal by the two distinguished international diplomats who administered them and resigned in protest for this reason. The invasion also generated millions of refugees, largely destroyed the country, and instigated a sectarian conflict that is now tearing apart Iraq and the entire region. It is an astonishing fact about our intellectual and moral culture that in informed and enlightened circles it can called, blandly, the liberation of Iraq.
Pentagon and British Ministry of Defence polls found that only 3% of Iraqis regarded the US security role in their neighbourhood as legitimate, less than 1% believed that the coalition (US-UK) forces were good for their security, 80% opposed the presence of coalition forces in the country, and a majority supported attacks on coalition troops. Afghanistan has been destroyed beyond the possibility of reliable polling, but there are indications that something similar may be true there as well. Particularly in Iraq, the United States suffered a severe defeat, abandoning its official war aims and leaving the country under the influence of the sole victor, Iran.
The sledgehammer was also wielded elsewhere, notably in Libya, where the three traditional imperial powers (Britain, France and the United States) procured Security Council resolution 1973 and instantly violated it, becoming the air force of the rebels. The effect was to undercut the possibility of a peaceful, negotiated settlement; sharply increase casualties (by at least a factor of ten, according to political scientist Alan Kuperman); leave Libya in ruins, in the hands of warring militias; and, more recently, to provide the Islamic State with a base that it can use to spread terror beyond. Quite sensible diplomatic proposals by the African Union, accepted in principle by Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, were ignored by the imperial triumvirate, as Africa specialist Alex de Waal reviews. A huge flow of weapons and jihadis has spread terror and violence from West Africa (now the champion for terrorist murders) to the Levant, while NATO attack also sent a flood of refugees from Africa to Europe.
Yet another triumph of humanitarian intervention and, as the long and often ghastly record reveals, not an unusual one, going back to its modern origins four centuries ago.
THE COSTS OF VIOLENCE In brief, the GWOT sledgehammer strategy has spread jihadi terror from a tiny corner of Afghanistan to much of the world from Africa through the Levant and South Asia. It has also incited attacks in Europe and the United States. The invasion of Iraq made a substantial contribution to this process, much as the intelligence agencies had predicted. Terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank estimate that the Iraqi war generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadists attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilians lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third. Other exercises have been similarly productive.
A group of major human rights organizations—Physicians for Social Responsibility (US), Physicians for Global Survival (Canada), and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (Germany)—conducted a study that sought to provide as realistic an estimate as possible of the total body count in the three main war zones [Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan] during 12 years of ‘war on terrorism, including an extensive review of the major studies and data published on the number of victims in these countries, along with additional information on military actions. Their conservative estimate is that these wars killed about 1.3 million people, a toll that could also be in excess of 2 million. A database search by independent researcher David Peterson in the days following the publication of the report found virtually no mention of it. Who cares?
More generally, studies carried out by the Oslo Peace Research institute show that two-thirds of the region’s conflict fatalities were produced in originally internal disputes where outsiders imposed their solutions. In such conflicts, 98% of fatalities were produced only after outsiders had entered the domestic dispute with their military might. In Syria, the number of direct conflict fatalities more than tripled after the West initiated air strikes against the self-declared Islamic State and the CIA started its indirect military interference in the war—interference which appears to have drawn the Russians in as advanced US antitank missiles were decimating the forces of their ally Bashar al-Assad. Early indications are that Russian bombing is having the usual consequences.
The evidence reviewed by political scientist Timo Kivimaki indicates that the protection wars [fought by ‘coalitions of the willing] have become the main source of violence e in the world, occasionally contributing over 50% of total conflict fatalities. Furthermore, in many of these cases, including Syria, as he reviews, there were opportunities for diplomatic settlement that were ignored. As discussed elsewhere, that has also been true in other horrific situations, including the Balkans in the early 1990s, the first Gulf War, and of course the Indo China wars, the worst crime since World War II. In the case of Iraq, the question does not even arise. There surely are some lessons here.
The general consequences of resorting to the sledgehammer against vulnerable societies comes as little surprise. William Polk’s careful study of insurgencies, cited above, should be essential reading for those who want to understand today’s conflicts, and surely for planners, if they care about the human consequences and not merely power and domination. Polk reveals a pattern that has been replicated over and over. The invaders-perhaps professing the most benign motives—are naturally disliked by the population, who disobey then, at first in small ways, eliciting a forceful response, which increases opposition and support for resistance, the cycle of violence escalates until the invaders withdraw— or gain their ends by something that may approach genocide.
Obama’s global drone assassination campaign, a remarkable innovation in global terrorism, exhibits the same patterns. By most accounts, it is generating terrorists more rapidly than it is murdering those suspected of someday intending to harm us—an imperative contribution by a constitutional lawyer on the eight hundredth anniversary of Magna Carta, which established the basis for the principle of presumption of innocence that is the foundation of civilized law.
Another characteristic feature of such interventions is the belief that the insurgency will be overcome by eliminating its leaders. But when such an effort succeeds, the reviled leader is regularly replaced by someone younger, more determined, more brutal and more effective. Polk gives many examples. Military historian Andrew Cockburn has reviewed American campaigns to kill drug and then terror kingpins over a long period in his important study Kill Chain and found the same results. And one can expect with fair confidence that the pattern will continue.
No doubt right now US strategists are seeking ways to murder the Caliph of the Islamic State Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, who is a bitter rival of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The likely result of this achievement is forecast by the prominent terrorism scholar Bruce Hoffman, senior fellow at the US Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Centre. He predicts that al-Baghdadi’s death would likely pave the way for a rapprochement [with al-Qaeda] producing a combined terrorist force unprecedented in scope, size, ambition and resources.
Polk cites a treatise on warfare by Henry Jomini, influenced by Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of Spanish guerrillas, that became a textbook for generations of cadets at the West Point military academy. Jomini observed that such interventions by major powers typically result in wars of opinion, and nearly always national wars if not at first then becoming so in the course of the struggle, by the dynamics that Polk describes. Jomini concludes that commanders of regular armies are ill-advised to engage in such wars because they will lose them, and even apparent successes will prove short-lived.
Careful studies of al-Qaeda and ISIS have shown that the United States and its allies are following their game plan with some precision. Their goal is to draw the West as deeply and actively as possible into the quagmire and to perpetually engage and enervate the United States and the West in a series of prolonged overseas ventures in which they will undermine their own societies, expend their resources and increase the level of violence, setting off the dynamic that Polk reviews.
Scott Atran, one of the most insightful researchers on jihadi movements, calculates that the 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute, whereas the military and security response by the US and its allies is in the order of 10 million times that figure. On a strictly cost-benefit basis, this violent movement has been wildly successful, beyond even Bin Laden’s original imagination, and is increasingly so. Herein lies the full measure of jujitsu-style asymmetric warfare. After all, who could claim that we are better off than before, or that the overall danger is declining? And if we continue, he to wield the sledgehammer, tacitly following the jihadi script, the likely effect is even more violent jihadism with broader appeal. The record, Atran advises, should inspire a radical change in our counter-strategies.
Al-Qaeda/ISIS are assisted by Americans who follow their directives; for example, Ted carpet-bomb ‘em Cruz, a top Republican presidential candidate. Or, at the other end of the mainstream spectrum, the leading Middle East and international affairs columnist of the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, who in 2003 offered Washington advice on how to fight in Iraq on the Charlie Rose show: There was what I would call the terrorism bubble . . . And what we needed to do was to go over there basically, and, uh, take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. And there was only one way to do it . . . What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy we’re going to just let it go? Well, suck on this. Ok. That, Charlie, was what this war was about. That’ll show the ragheads
LOOKING FORWARD Atran and other close observers generally agree on the prescriptions. We should begin by recognizing what careful research has convincingly shown: those drawn to jihad are longing for something in their history, in their traditions, with their heroes and their morals; and the Islamic State, however brutal and repugnant to us and even to most in the Arab Muslim world, is speaking directly to that . . . What inspires the most lethal assailants today is not so much the Quran but a thrilling cause and a call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends. In fact, few of the jihadis have much of a background in Islamic texts or theology, if any.
The best strategy, Polk advises, would be a multinational, welfare oriented and psychologically satisfying program . . . that would make the hatred ISIS relies upon less virulent. The elements have been identified for us: communal needs, compensation for previous transgressions, and calls for a new beginning. He adds, A carefully phrased apology for past transgressions would cost little and do much. Such a project could be carried out in refugee camps or in the hovels and grim housing projects of the Paris banlieues, where, , Atran writes, his research team found fairly wide tolerance or support for ISIS’s values. And even more could be done by true dedication and negotiations instead of reflexive resort to violence.
Not least in significance would be an honourable response to the refugee crisis that was a long time in coming but surged to prominence in Europe in 2015. That would mean, at the very least, sharply increasing humanitarian relief to the camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey where miserable refugees from Syria barely survive. But the issues go well beyond, and provide a picture of the self-described enlightened states that is far from attractive and should be an incentive to action.
There are countries that generate refugees through massive violence like the United States, secondarily Britain and France. Then there are countries that admit huge number of refugees, including those fleeing from Western violence, like Lebanon (easily the champion, per capita) Jordan and Syria before it imploded, among others in the region. And partially overlapping, there are countries that both generate refugees and refuse to take them in, not only from the Middle East but also from the US backyard south of the border. A strange picture painful to contemplate.
An honest picture would trace the generation of refugees much further back into history. Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk reports that one of the first videos produced by ISIS showed a bulldozer pushing down a rampart of sand that had marked the border between Iraq and Syria. As the machine destroyed the dirt revetment, the camera panned down to a handwritten poster lying in the sand. ‘End of Sykes-Picot,’ it said.
For the people of the region, the Sykes-Picot agreement is the very symbol of the cynicism and brutality of Western imperialism. Conspiring in secret during World War I, Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s Francois Georges-Picot carved up the region into artificial states to satisfy their own imperial goals, with utter disdain for the interests of the people living there and in violation of the wartime promises issued to induce Arabs to join the Allied war effort. The agreement mirrored the practices of the European states that devastated Africa in a similar manner. It transformed what had been relatively quiet provinces of the Ottoman Empire into some of the least stable and most internationally explosive states in the world.
Repeated Western interventions since then in the Middle East and Africa have exacerbated the tensions, conflicts, and disruptions that have shattered the societies. The end result is a refugee crisis that the innocent West can scarcely endure. Germany has emerged as the conscience of Europe, at first (but no longer) admitting almost one million refugees—in one of the richest countries of the world with a population of 80 million. In contrast, the poor country of Lebanon has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, now a quarter of its population, on top of half a million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency UNRWA, mostly victims of Israeli policies.
Europe is groaning under the burden of refugees from the countries it hS devastated in Africa—not without US aid, as Congolese and Angolans, among others, can testify. Europe is now seeking to bribe Turkey (with over 2 million Syrian refugees) to distance those fleeing the horrors of Syria from Europe’s borders, just as Obama is pressuring Mexico to keep US borders free from miserable people seeking to escape the aftermath of Reagan’s GWOT along with those seeking to escape more recent disasters, including a military coup in Honduras that Obama almost alone legitimized, which created one of the worst horror chambers in the region.
Words can hardly capture the US response to the Syrian refugee crisis, at least any words I can think of.
Returning to the opening question, Who rules the world? we might also want to pose another question: What principles and values rule the world?” That question should be foremost in the minds of the citizens of the rich and powerful states, who enjoy an unusual legacy of freedom, privilege and opportunity, thanks to the struggles of those who came before them, and who now face fateful choices as to how to respond to challenges of great human import.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (17 March 1920 – 15 August 1975), was a Bengali politician and statesman. He is the founding father of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. He served as the first President of Bangladesh and later Prime Minister of Bangladesh from March 1971 until his assassination in August 1975.
He was the driving force behind the independence of Bangladesh.
He is popularly known under the title of Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal).
He became a leading figure in and eventually the leader of the Awami League, founded in 1949 as an East Pakistan-based political party in Pakistan.
Mujib is credited as an important figure in efforts to gain politician autonomy for East Pakistan and later as the central figure behind the Bangladesh Liberation Movement and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
Thus, he is regarded Jatir Janak or Jatir Pita (meaning Father of the Nation) of Bangladesh.
An advocate of socialism, Mujib rose to the ranks of the Awami League and East Pakistani politics as a charismatic and forceful orator. He became popular for his opposition to the ethnic and institutional discrimination of Bengalis in Pakistan, who comprised most of the state’s population. At the heightening of sectional tensions, he outlined a 6-point autonomy plan and was jailed by the regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan for treason.
Mujib led the Awami League to win the first democratic election of Pakistan in 1970. Despite gaining a majority, the League was not invited by the ruling military junta to form a government. As civil disobedience erupted across East Pakistan, Mujib indirectly announced independence of Bangladesh during a landmark speech on 7 March 1971. On 26 March 1971, the Pakistan Army responded to the mass protests with Operation Searchlight, in which Prime Minister-elect Mujib was arrested and flown to solitary confinement in West Pakistan, while Bengali civilians, students, intellectuals, politicians and military defectors were murdered as part of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. Despite Mujib’s absence, Bengalis from all walks of life joined the Mukti Bahini and fought and won against Pakistan Armed Forces in Bangladesh Liberation War. After Bangladesh’s independence, Mujib was released from Pakistani custody due to international pressure and returned to Dhaka in January 1972 after a short visit to Britain and India.
Sheikh Mujib became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh under a parliamentary system adopted by the new country. His government enacted a constitution proclaiming socialism and secular democracy. The Awami League won a huge mandate in the country’s first general election in 1973. However, Mujib faced challenges of rampant unemployment, poverty, and corruption. A famine took place in 1974. The government was criticized for denying constitutional recognition to indigenous minorities and human rights violations by its security forces, notably the National Defence Force para militia. Amid rising political agitation, Mujib initiated one party socialist rule in January 1975. Six months later, he and most of his family were assassinated by renegade army officers during a coup. A martial law government was subsequently established.
In a 2004 BBC poll, Mujib was voted the Greatest Bengali of all time.
Born: 17 March 1920; Tungipara, Bengal Presidency, British India (now in Bangladesh)
Died: 15 August 1975 (aged 55) Dhaka, Bangladesh
Cause of death: Assassination
Nationality: Pakistan, Bangladesh
Political party: Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (1975)
Other political affiliations: All-India Muslim League(Before 1949); Awami League(1949–1975)
University of Dhaka
Spouse: Sheikh Fazilat-un Nisa Mujib
Children • Sheikh Hasina: leader of the Awami League and the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh. • Sheikh Kamal: was an organizer of the Mukti Bahini guerrilla struggle in 1971 and received wartime commission in Bangladesh Army during the Liberation War. He was perceived to be the successor to Sheikh Mujib • Sheikh Jamal trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Great Britain and later joined the Bangladesh Army as a Commissioned Officer. • Sheikh Rehana • Sheikh Rasel
The Sheikh Family was under house arrest during Bangladesh liberation war until 17 December, Sheikh Kamal and Jamal found the means to escape and cross over to a liberated zone, where they joined the struggle to free the country. Almost entire Sheikh family was assassinated on 15 August 1975 coup d’état . Only Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, who were visiting West Germany, escaped. Sheikh Mujib is the maternal grandfather of Tulip Siddiq, British-born Labour politician, and member of parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn since the 2015 general election.
Early life and education
Mujib was born in Tungipara, a village in Gopalganj District in the province of Bengal in British India, to Sheikh Lutfur Rahman, a serestadar (court clerk) of Gopalganj civil court. He was born into a Muslim, native Bengali family as the third child in a family of four daughters and two sons.In 1929, Mujib entered into class three at Gopalganj Public School, and two years later, class four at Madaripur Islamia High School. From very early age Mujib showed a potential of leadership. His parents noted in an interview that at an young age, he organized a student protest in his school for the removal of an inept principal. Mujib withdrew from school in 1934 to undergo eye surgery, and returned to school only after four years, owing to the severity of the surgery and slow recovery.
Later, he passed his Matriculation from Gopalganj Missionary School in 1942, Intermediate of Arts from Islamia College (now Maulana Azad College) in 1944 and BA from the same college in 1947. After the partition of India, he got himself admitted into the University of Dhaka to study law but could not complete it due to his expulsion from the University in early 1949 on the charge of inciting the fourth-class employees in their agitation against the University authority’s indifference towards their legitimate demands. After 61 year, in 2010, the expulsion was withdrawn terming it as unjust and undemocratic.
Political activism in British India
Mujib became politically active when he joined the All India Muslim Students Federation in 1940, when he was a student of Islamia College. He joined the Bengal Muslim League in 1943. During this period, he worked actively for the League’s cause of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan, and in 1946 he went on to become general secretary of the Islamia College Students Union. M. Bhaskaran Nair describes that Mujib emerged as the most powerful man in the party because of his proximity to Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy.After obtaining his BA degree in 1947, he was one of the Muslim politicians working under Suhrawardy during the communal violence that broke out in Calcutta, in 1946, just before the partition of India.
Leader of Pakistan After the Partition of India, Mujib chose to stay in the newly created Pakistan. On his return to what became known as East Pakistan, he enrolled in the University of Dhaka to study law and founded the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League. He became one of the most prominent student political leaders in the province. During these years, he developed an affinity for socialism as the solution to mass poverty, unemployment, and poor living conditions.
Following the declaration of Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the 21 March 1948, that the people of East Bengal would have to adopt Urdu as the state language*, protests broke out amongst the population. Mujib immediately decided to start a movement against this former planned decision of the Muslim League. At the same year, 2 March, a conference was held at Dhaka University’s Fazlul Haq Muslim Hall, with leaders of different political parties. In this conference, discussions about the movement against the Muslim League were discussed. From here on, the decision of the constitution of the All-party Parliamentary Council was decided. The strike was celebrated in Dhaka on March 11, 1948, in the call of this council. During the strike, some other political activists including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were arrested in front of the secretariat building. But due to pressure from the student protest, Mujib and other student leaders were released on March 15. On the occasion of their release, Rastrabhasa Sangram Parishad (National Language Action Committee) arrange a rally which took place at Dhaka University. Police had blocked this rally. In protest of police activities Sheikh Mujib immediately announced nationwide student strike on March 17, 1948. On 19 March, he organized a movement aimed at securing the rights of the fourth-class employees of Dhaka University. On 11 September 1948, he was again arrested.
*Jinnah has asked that Urdu should be the lingua franca which is not the state language
The founding of the Awami League
Mujib left the Muslim League to join Maulana Bhashani and Yar Mohammad Khan in the formation of the Awami Muslim League, the predecessor of the Awami League. Maulana Bhashani was elected as President while Yar Mohammad Khan was the treasurer. He was elected joint secretary of its East Bengal unit in 1949. While Suhrawardy worked to build a larger coalition of East Bengali and socialist parties, Mujib focused on expanding the grass-roots organization. In 1953, he was made the party’s general secretary, and elected to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly on a United Front coalition ticket in 1954. Serving briefly as the minister for agriculture during A. K. Fazlul Huq’s government, Mujib was briefly arrested for organizing a protest of the central government’s decision to dismiss the United Front ministry.
He was elected to the second Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and served from 1955 to 1958. The government proposed to dissolve the provinces in favour of an amalgamation of the western provinces of the Dominion of Pakistan in a plan called One Unit; at the same time the central government would be strengthened. Under One Unit, the western provinces were merged as West Pakistan during the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956. That year East Bengal was renamed as East Pakistan as part of One Unit at the same time. Mujib demanded that the Bengali people’s ethnic identity be respected and that a popular verdict should decide the question of naming and of official language: Sir [President of the Constituent Assembly], you will see that they want to place the word East Pakistan instead of East Bengal. We had demanded so many times that you should use Bengal instead of Pakistan. The word Bengal has a history, has a tradition of its own. You can change it only after the people have been consulted. So far as the question of One Unit is concerned it can come in the Constitution. Why do you want it to be taken up just now? What about the state language, Bengali? We will be prepared to consider one-unit with all these things. So, I appeal to my friends on that side to allow the people to give their verdict in any way, in the form of referendum or in the form of plebiscite.
In 1956, Mujib entered a second coalition government as minister of industries, commerce, labour, anti-corruption and village aid. He resigned in 1957 to work full-time for the party organization. In 1958 General Ayub Khan suspended the constitution and imposed martial law. Mujib was arrested for organizing resistance and imprisoned till 1961. After his release from prison, Mujib started organizing an underground political body called the Swadhin Bangal Biplobi Parishad (Free Bangla Revolutionary Council), comprising student leaders, to oppose the regime of Ayub Khan. They worked for increased political power for Bengalis and the independence of East Pakistan. He was briefly arrested again in 1962 for organizing protests.
Following Suhrawardy’s death in 1963, Mujib came to head the Awami League, which became one of the largest political parties in Pakistan. The party had dropped the word Muslim from its name in a shift towards secularism and a broader appeal to non-Muslim communities. Mujib was one of the key leaders to rally opposition to President Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies plan, the imposition of martial law and the one-unit scheme, which centralized power and merged the provinces. Working with other political parties, he supported opposition candidate Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan in the 1964 election. Mujib was arrested two weeks before the election, charged with sedition and jailed for a year. In these years, there was rising discontent in East Pakistan over the atrocities committed by the Pakistani Armed Forces against Bengalis and the neglect of the issues and needs of East Pakistan by the ruling regime. Despite forming a majority of the population, the Bengalis were poorly represented in Pakistan’s civil services, police and military. There were also conflicts between the allocation of revenues and taxation. The 1965 war between India and Pakistan also revealed the markable vulnerability of East Pakistan compared to West Pakistan.
Unrest over continuing denial of democracy spread across Pakistan and Mujib intensified his opposition to the disbandment of provinces. In 1966, Mujib proclaimed a 6-point plan titled Our Charter of Survival at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore in which he demanded self-government and considerable political, economic and defence autonomy for East Pakistan in a Pakistani federation with a weak central government. According to his plan:
1. The constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense on the Lahore Resolution and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a legislature directly elected based on the universal adult franchise. 2. The federal government should deal with only two subjects: defence and foreign affairs, and all other residuary subjects shall be vested in the federating states. 3. Two separate, but freely convertible currencies for two wings should be introduced; or if this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the whole country, but effective constitutional provisions should be introduced to stop the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Furthermore, a separate banking reserve should be established, and separate fiscal and monetary policy be adopted for East Pakistan. 4. The power of taxation and revenue collection shall be vested in the federating units and the federal centre will have no such power. The Federation will be entitled to a share in the state taxes to meet its expenditures. 5. There should be two separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings; the foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met by the two wings equally or in a ratio to be fixed; indigenous products should move free of duty between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries. 6. East Pakistan should have a separate militia or paramilitary forces.
Mujib’s points catalysed public support across East Pakistan, launching what some historians have termed the 6-point movement – recognized as the definitive gambit for autonomy and rights of Bengalis in Pakistan. Mujib obtained the broad support of Bengalis, including the Hindu and other religious communities in East Pakistan. However, his demands were considered radical in West Pakistan and interpreted as thinly veiled separatism. The proposals alienated West Pakistani people and politicians, as well as non-Bengalis and Muslim fundamentalists in East Pakistan.
Anti-Ayub movement Mujib was arrested by the army and after two years in jail, an official sedition trial in a military court opened. Widely known as the Agartala Conspiracy Case, Mujib and 34 Bengali military officers were accused by the government of colluding with Indian government agents in a scheme to divide Pakistan and threaten its unity, order and national security. The plot was alleged to have been planned in the city of Agartala, in the Indian state of Tripura. The outcry and unrest over Mujib’s arrest and the charge of sedition against him destabilized East Pakistan amidst large protests and strikes. Various Bengali political and student groups added demands to address the issues of students, workers and the poor, forming a larger 11-point plan. The government caved to the mounting pressure, dropped the charges on February 22, 1969 and unconditionally released Mujib the following day. He returned to East Pakistan as a public hero. He was given a mass reception on February 23, at Racecourse ground and conferred with the title Bangabandhu, meaning Friend of the Bengal.
Joining an all-parties conference convened by Ayub Khan in 1969, Mujib demanded the acceptance of his six points and the demands of other political parties and walked out following its rejection. On 5 December 1969 Mujib made a declaration at a public meeting held to observe the death anniversary of Suhrawardy that henceforth East Pakistan would be called Bangladesh:
There was a time when all efforts were made to erase the word “Bangla” from this land and its map. The existence of the word Bangla was found nowhere except in the term Bay of Bengal. I on behalf of Pakistan announce today that this land will be called Bangladesh instead of East Pakistan.
Mujib’s declaration heightened tensions across the country. The West Pakistani politicians and the military began to see him as a separatist leader. His assertion of Bengali cultural and ethnic identity also re-defined the debate over regional autonomy. Many scholars and observers believed the Bengali agitation emphasized the rejection of the Two-Nation Theory – the case upon which Pakistan had been created – by asserting the Ethnocultural identity of Bengalis as a nation. Mujib was able to galvanize support throughout East Pakistan, which was home to a majority of the national population, thus making him one of the most powerful political figures in the Indian subcontinent. It was following his 6-point plan that Mujib was increasingly referred to by his supporters as Bangabandhu (literally meaning “Friend of Bengal” in Bengali).
1970 elections and civil disobedience
A major coastal cyclone struck East Pakistan on 12 November 1970, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. Bengalis were outraged, and unrest began because of what was considered the weak and ineffective response of the central government to the disaster. Public opinion and political parties in East Pakistan blamed the governing authorities as intentionally negligent. The West Pakistani politicians attacked the Awami League for allegedly using the crisis for political gain. The dissatisfaction led to divisions within the civil services, police and Pakistani Armed Forces.
In the Pakistani general elections held on 7 December 1970, the Awami League under Mujib’s leadership won a massive majority in the provincial legislature, and all but two of East Pakistan’s quota of seats in the new National Assembly, thus forming a clear majority.
The largest and most successful party in the western wing of the nation was the Pakistan People’s Party headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was completely opposed to Mujib’s demand for greater autonomy. Bhutto threatened to boycott the assembly and oppose the government if Mujib was invited by Yahya Khan (then president of Pakistan) to form the next government and demanded inclusion of the PPP. Much of the Pakistani military and the Islamic political parties opposed Mujib’s becoming Pakistan’s prime minister. At the time neither Mujib nor the Awami League had explicitly advocated political independence for East Pakistan, but smaller nationalist groups were demanding independence for Bangladesh.
Bhutto feared civil war and sent a secret message to Mujib and his inner circle to arrange a meeting with them. Hassan met with Mujib and persuaded him to form a coalition government with Bhutto. They decided that Bhutto would serve as President, with Mujib as Prime minister. These developments took place secretly and none of the Pakistan Armed Forces personnel were kept informed. Meanwhile, Bhutto increased the pressure on Yahya Khan to take a stand on dissolving the government.
Establishment of Bangladesh
Following political deadlock, Yahya Khan delayed the convening of the assembly – a move seen by Bengalis as a plan to deny Mujib’s party, which formed a majority, from taking charge. It was on 7 March 1971 that Mujib called for independence and asked the people to launch a major campaign of civil disobedience and organized armed resistance at a mass gathering of people held at the Race Course Ground in Dhaka.
The struggle now is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle now is the struggle for our independence. Joy Bangla! Since we have given blood, we will give more blood. God-willing, the people of this country will be liberated … Turn every house into a fort. Face (the enemy) with whatever you have.
Following a last-ditch attempt to foster agreement, Yahya Khan declared martial law, banned the Awami League and ordered the army to arrest Mujib and other Bengali leaders and activists. The army launched Operation Searchlight to curb the political and civil unrest, fighting the nationalist militias that were believed to have received training in India. Speaking on radio even as the army began its crackdown, Mujib asked his fellows to create resistance against Pakistani Army of occupation by a telegraph at midnight on 26 March 1971:
The Pakistan Army have suddenly attacked the Pilkhana EPR Headquarter and the Rajarbag Police Line as well as killed many innocents in Dhaka. The battle has started in various places of Dhaka and Chittagong. I am asking help to all the nations of this world. Our freedom fighters are valiantly fighting against the foes to save their motherland. In the name of Almighty Allah my last request and order to you all is to fight for independence till death. Ask your brothers of Police, EPR, Bengal Regiment and Ansar to fight with you. No compromise, the victory is ours. Execute the last foe from our holy motherland. Carry my message to all the leaders, activists and the other patriots from every corner of the country. May Allah bless you all. Joy Bangla. – from Shadhinota Shongrame Bangali by Aftab Ahmad
Sheikh Mujib was arrested and taken to West Pakistan after midnight from Tejgaon Airport on a PAF C-130 flight right under the noses of ATC Officer Squadron Leader Khwaja, Senior Operations Officer Wing Commander Khadem ul Bashar and Director of Airport and Flight Security Squadron Leader M. Hamidullah Khan. All were on duty that night due to the state of emergency. Mujib was moved to West Pakistan and kept under heavy guard in a jail near Faisalabad (then Lyallpur). Many other League politicians avoided arrest by fleeing to India and other countries. Pakistani General Rahimuddin Khan was appointed to preside over Mujib’s military court case in Faisalabad, the proceedings of which have never been made public.
The Pakistani army’s campaign to restore order soon degenerated into a rampage of terror and bloodshed. With militias known as Razakars, the army targeted Bengali intellectuals, politicians and union leaders, as well as ordinary civilians. Due to deteriorating situation, large numbers of Hindus fled across the border to the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. The East Bengali army and police regiments soon revolted, and League leaders formed a government in exile in Kolkata under Tajuddin Ahmad, a politician close to Mujib. A major insurgency led by the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) arose across East Pakistan. Despite international pressure, the Pakistani government refused to release Mujib and negotiate with him. Most of the Mujib family was kept under house arrest during this period. General Osmani was the key military commanding officer in the Mukti Bahini, which was a part of the struggle between the state forces and the nationalist militia during the war that came to be known as the Bangladesh Liberation War. Following Indian intervention in December 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered to the joint force of Bengali Mukti Bahini and Indian Army, and the League leadership created a government in Dhaka which was called Mujibnagar Government.
Upon assuming the presidency after Yahya Khan’s resignation, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto responded to international pressure and released Mujib on 8 January 1972. After release from prison, Bhutto and Mujib met in Rawalpindi. In that meeting, Bhutto proposed some links between Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, Mujib said he could not commit to anything until he visited Bangladesh and talked to his colleagues. He was then flown to London where he met with British Prime Minister Edward Heath and addressed the international media at the Claridge’s Hotel. Mujib then flew to New Delhi on a Royal Air Force (RAF) plane provided by the British government to take him back to Dhaka. In New Delhi, he was received by Indian President Varahagiri Venkata Giri and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as well as the entire Indian cabinet and chiefs of armed forces. Delhi was given a festive look as Mujib and Indira addressed a huge crowd where he publicly expressed his gratitude to Indira Gandhi and the best friends of my people, the people of India. From New Delhi, Sheikh Mujib flew back to Dhaka on the RAF jet where he was received by a massive and emotional sea of people at Tejgaon Airport.
Mujib briefly assumed the provisional presidency and later took office as the prime minister. A new country Bangladesh begins with a lot of ‘rampage and rape of Bangladesh economy’ by Pakistani occupation force. In January 1972 Time magazine reported: In the aftermath of the Pakistani army’s rampage last March, a special team of inspectors from the World Bank observed that some cities looked like the morning after a nuclear attack. Since then, the destruction has only been magnified. An estimated 6,000,000 homes have been destroyed, and nearly 1,400,000 farm families have been left without tools or animals to work their lands. Transportation and communications systems are totally disrupted. Roads are damaged, bridges out and inland waterways blocked. The rape of the country continued right up until the Pakistani army surrendered a month ago. In the last days of the war, West Pakistani-owned businesses—which included nearly every commercial enterprise in the country—remitted virtually all their funds to the West. Pakistan International Airlines left exactly 117 rupees ($16) in its account at the port city of Chittagong. The army also destroyed bank notes and coins, so that many areas now suffer from a severe shortage of ready cash. Private cars were picked up off the streets or confiscated from auto dealers and shipped to the West before the ports were closed.
The politicians elected in 1970 formed the provisional parliament of the new state. The Mukti Bahini and other militias amalgamated to form a new Bangladeshi army to which Indian forces transferred control on 17 March. Mujib described the fallout of the war as the biggest human disaster in the world, claiming the deaths of as many as 3 million people and the rape of more than 200,000 women.
Although the state was committed to secularism, Mujib soon began moving closer to political Islam through state policies as well as personal conduct. He revived the Islamic Academy (which had been banned in 1972 for suspected collusion with Pakistani forces) and banned the production and sale of alcohol and banned the practice of gambling, which had been one of the major demands of Islamic groups. In his public appearances and speeches, Mujib made increased usage of Islamic greetings, slogans, and references to Islamic ideologies. In his final years, Mujib largely abandoned his trademark Joy Bangla salutation for Khuda Hafez preferred by religious Muslims. He also declared a common amnesty to the suspected war criminals in some conditions to get the support of far-right groups as the communists were not happy with Mujib’s regime.
He declared, I believe that the brokers, who assisted the Pakistanis during the liberation war has realized their faults. I hope they will involve themselves in the development of the country forgetting all their misdeeds. Those who were arrested and jailed in the Collaborator act should be freed before the 16 December 1974. He charged the provisional parliament to write a new constitution, and proclaimed the four fundamental principles of “nationalism, secularism, democracy, and socialism,” which would come to be known as Mujibism. Mujib nationalized hundreds of industries and companies as well as abandoned land and capital and initiated land reform aimed at helping millions of poor farmers. A constitution was proclaimed in 1973 and elections were held, which resulted in Mujib and his party gaining power with an absolute majority. He further outlined state programs to expand primary education, sanitation, food, healthcare, water and electric supply across the country.
Economic policies The Mujib government faced serious challenges, which including the rehabilitation of millions of people displaced in 1971, organizing the supply of food, health aids and other necessities. The effects of the 1970 cyclone had not worn off, and the state’s economy had immensely deteriorated by the conflict. Economically, Mujib embarked on a huge nationalization program. By the end of the year, thousands of Bengalis arrived from Pakistan, and thousands of non-Bengalis migrated to Pakistan; and yet many thousand remained in refugee camps. Major efforts were launched to rehabilitate an estimated 10 million refugees. The economy began recovering and a famine was prevented. A five-year plan released in 1973 focused state investments into agriculture, rural infrastructure and cottage industries. But a famine occurred in 1974 when the price of rice rose sharply. In that month “widespread starvation started in Rangpur district. Government mismanagement had been blamed for that. During Mujib’s regime the country witnessed industrial decline, Indian control over Bangladesh’s industries and counterfeit money scandals.
Foreign policies After Bangladesh achieved recognition from major countries, Mujib helped Bangladesh enter into the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. He travelled to the United States, the United Kingdom and other European nations to obtain humanitarian and developmental assistance for the nation. Mujib maintained a close tie with India. He signed a treaty of friendship with India, which pledged extensive economic and humanitarian assistance and began training Bangladesh’s security forces and government personnel. Mujib forged a close friendship with Indira Gandhi, strongly praising India’s decision to intercede, and professed admiration and friendship for India. Mujib sought Bangladesh’s membership in the Organization and the Islamic Development Bank and made a significant trip to Lahore in 1974 to attend the OIC summit, which helped repair relations with Pakistan to an extent. On the international stage, Mujib and his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi signed the 25-year Indo-Bangladeshi Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace. Bangladesh joined the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. Mujib was invited to Washington DC and Moscow for talks with American and Soviet leaders. Mujib declared that Bangladesh would be the “Switzerland of the East” and by this declaration he meant that Bangladesh would steer clear from the Cold War and would remain non-partisan in the tug of Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. In the Delhi Agreement of 1974, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan pledged to work for regional stability and peace. The agreement paved the way for the return of interned Bengali officials and their families stranded in Pakistan, as well as the establishing of diplomatic relations between Dhaka and Islamabad. Japan became a major aid provider to the new country. Although Israel was one of early countries to recognize Bangladesh, the government in Dhaka strongly supported Egypt during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. In return, Egypt gifted Bangladesh’s military with 44 tanks. Many Eastern European countries, particularly Yugoslavia, East Germany and Poland, enjoyed excellent relations with Bangladesh. The Soviet Union supplied several squadrons of Mig-21 planes for the Bangladesh Air Force.
Left wing insurgency At the height of Mujib’s power, left wing insurgents, organized by Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal’s armed wing Gonobahini fought against the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in order to establish a Marxist government. The government responded by forming an elite para-military force Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini on 8 February 1972, initially formed to curb the insurgency and maintain law and order. The force began a campaign of brutal human rights abuses against the general populace, including the force became involved in numerous charges of human rights abuse including political killings, shooting by death squads, forced disappearances and rape. Members of Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini were granted immunity from prosecution and other legal proceedings. The force had sworn an oath of loyalty to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
BAKSAL Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL) the only legally recognized party of Bangladesh founded on 7 June 1975 following the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh. Mujib’s government soon began encountering increased dissatisfaction and unrest. His programs of nationalization and industrial socialism suffered from lack of trained personnel, inefficiency, rampant corruption, and poor leadership. Mujib focused almost entirely on national issues and thus neglected local issues and government. The party and central government exercised full control and democracy was weakened, with virtually no elections organized at the grass roots or local levels. Political opposition included communists as well as Islamic fundamentalists, who were angered by the declaration of a secular state. Mujib was criticized for nepotism in appointing family members to important positions. A famine in 1974 further intensified the food crisis, and devastated agriculture – the mainstay of the economy. Intense criticism of Mujib arose over the lack of political leadership, a flawed pricing policy, and rising inflation amidst heavy losses suffered by the nationalized industries. Mujib’s ambitious social programs performed poorly, owing to scarcity of resources, funds, and personnel, and caused unrest amongst the masses. BAKSAL was protested by different groups but they were punished by Sheikh Mujib. It was known that Sheikh Mujib never accepted any criticism against him. Mujib was widely accused for 40000 killings by his Rakkhi Bahini.
The 1974 famine had personally shocked Mujib and profoundly affected his views on governance, while political unrest gave rise to increasing violence. During the famine, 70000 people were reported as dead.
In response, he began increasing his powers. In 1974, Mujib declared a state of emergency. In 1975, his political supporters approved a constitutional amendment with few other parties of a new system called BAKSHAL. Banning all opposition political parties against BAKSHAL. Mujib assumed the presidency and was given extraordinary powers. According to Time magazine: Under the new system, executive powers are vested in the President, who will be elected directly every five years, and in a Council of Ministers appointed by him. Although an elected Parliament can pass legislation, the President has veto power and can dissolve Parliament indefinitely. His political supporters amalgamated to form the only legalized political party, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League, commonly known by its initials—BAKSAL. The party identified itself with the rural masses, farmers, and labourers and took control of government machinery. It also launched major socialist programs. Using government forces and a militia of supporters called the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, Mujib oversaw the arrest of opposition activists and strict control of political activities across the country.
Assassination On 15 August 1975, a group of junior army officers invaded the presidential residence with tanks and killed Mujib, his family and personal staff. Only his daughters Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Sheikh Rehana, who were visiting West Germany, escaped. They were banned from returning to Bangladesh. The coup was planned by disgruntled Awami League colleagues and military officers, which included Mujib’s colleague and former confidante Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, who became his immediate successor. There was intense speculation in the media accusing the US Central Intelligence Agency of having instigated the plot. Lawrence Lifschultz has alleged that the CIA was involved in the coup and assassination, basing his assumption on statements by the then US ambassador in Dhaka, Eugene Booster.
Mujib’s death plunged the nation into many years of political turmoil. The coup leaders were soon overthrown, and a series of counter-coups and political assassinations paralyzed the country. Order was largely restored after a coup in 1977 gave control to the army chief Ziaur Rahman. Declaring himself President in 1978, Ziaur Rahman signed the Indemnity Ordinance, giving immunity from prosecution to the men who plotted Mujib’s assassination and overthrow.
Tomb of Sheikh Mujibur in Gopalganj; The Bangabandhu Square Monument
Mujib has been depicted in Bangladeshi currency, Taka and is the namesake of many Bangladesh public institutions.
During Mujib’s tenure as the premier leader, Muslim religious leaders and some politicians intensely criticized Mujib’s adoption of state secularism. He alienated some segments of nationalists and those in the military who feared Bangladesh would become too dependent on India. They worried about becoming a satellite state by taking extensive aid from the Indian government and allying with that country on many foreign and regional affairs. Mujib’s imposition of one-party rule and suppression of political opposition with censorship and abuse of the judiciary, also alienated large segments of the population. Historians and political scientists think that it derailed Bangladesh’s development as a democratic state, contributing to its subsequent political instability and violence. The economy also collapsed due to widespread corruption in the same period.
Lawrence Lifschultz wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1974 that Bangladeshis considered the corruption and malpractices and plunder of national wealth unprecedented. Zafrullah Chowdhury asserts that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself was a major impediment to the fulfilment of those aspirations of the liberation, although he admits that he was a great leader.
Following his assassination, succeeding governments offered low-key commemorations of Mujib. Restoration of his public image awaited the election of an Awami League government in 1996, which was led by his eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the party. 15 August has since been commemorated as National Mourning Day. The country keeps it flags lower to half-mast in this day as a sign of mourning. In 2016, the Awami League government passed a law that criminalized any criticism of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Despite controversy and disagreement among politician, Mujib remain a popular figure in Bangladesh. In a 2004 BBC Bengali opinion poll, Mujib was voted as the Greatest Bengali of All Time. The waistcoat coat that Mujib used to wore during his political campaign is called Mujib coat in Bangladesh.
Worldwide After one year of independence and Mujib rule, Time magazine wrote: in sum, Bangladesh had little reason to enjoy a happy first birthday. If it is not the basket case that Henry Kissinger once called it, neither has it become the Shonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) envisioned by Mujib. How much this is the fault of Mujib is a moot question. It is true that he has had little time in which to combat some of Bangladesh’s immense problems. Nevertheless, some critics contend that he has wasted some time playing the role of popular revolutionary figure (such as personally receiving virtually any of his people who call on him) when he should have been concentrating more on serious matters of state. If, as expected, he is elected in March, Mujib will face a clear test of whether he is not only the father of Bangladesh but also its savior.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro compared Mujib’s personality with the Himalayas during the Non-Aligned Summit in 1973.
Time Magazine USA 25 August 1975 wrote ten Days after his death: Mujib returned to the most tumultuous welcome Dacca had ever seen—and a staggering array of problems in probably the poorest (and most densely populated) country on earth. There were virtually no civil servants and little industry. Ports were clogged, railroads destroyed, the educated elite savaged. Worse, what had not been destroyed in war was soon destroyed by a devastating drought in 1973 and floods last year that inundated three-quarters of the country
Sheikh Mujib wrote two volumes of his autobiography, where he expressed his view on politics and described his personal life. Both books were published after his death by his daughter and current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. • The Unfinished Memoirs. The University Press Limited, Penguin Books and Oxford University Press. ISBN 9789845061100. • Karagarer Rojnamcha. Bangla Academy. ISBN 978-0-470-60264-5.
Hasan bent down to kiss his father’s wounded brow. He then went out from the house to announce the death of their Imam to the people of Kufa. It was still Ramadan and so the streets around the great central mosque, and the aisles within, were packed with Muslims listening to the all-night recitations of the Koran that were such a feature of the holy month of fasting. Hasan had been born with a slight speech defect but he had conquered this disability to become a slow but deliberate speaker, whose measured pace was in effective contrast to his quick-tongued and fiery contemporaries. That night he described his father as a man whose acts were unrivalled and would for ever remain so. He reminded the congregation of his father’s bravery and how in battle he had often protected the Prophet with his own life. As his legal legatee, Hasan also formally reported to the people that Ali held no government loans, no treasury hoard of bullion that now needed to be returned, just a purse of 700 dirhams that he had been saving up from his salary in order to be able to acquire a servant. At the memory of the man they had now lost, fit to stand beside Abu Bakr and Omar for the absolute moral rectitude of his administration, the thirty-seven-year old Hasan found himself too moved to continue his speech. The congregation wept for him, and at the end of his father’s elegy, Ubaydallah ibn Abbas stood up and called the people to pledge their loyalty to the grandson of the bringer of good tidings, the son of the warner, the son of the summoner to God (powerful and exalted) and with his permission, the shining lamp. The congregation needed no such prompting, Hasan was adored by all.
He was also, by all accounts, the spitting image of his grandfather, and a charming conversationalist, who never spoke evil of any man. He was also a genuine ascetic, who had already performed the pilgrimage twenty-five times, travelling the whole 250 miles between Medina and Mecca on foot. He was one of the great unsung heroes of Islam, a pacifist, a scholar with a totally independent mind that looked to the true nature of a cause. Typically it was Hasan who had stood guard over Uthman’s door until rendered unconscious by the assaults of the mutineers. For despite his own father’s opposition to Uthman’s last six years of rule, Hasan had always looked beyond the day to day disagreements over policy and appointments. He had appreciated Uthman’s brilliant achievements and also had a personal sympathy for this gentle, clever, scholarly man and could empathise with the personal reticence of his aristocratic and uxorious uncle. Above all, Hasan shared with Uthman an innate understanding that mercy, forgiveness and compassion were at the root of Islam. His Islam was such that he desired neither evil nor harm to anyone and enormously admired Uthman for being prepared to die for his beliefs but not to cause the death of any man. When he preached, he summoned up, out of the teachings of the Koran, not a cause for war but the call for peace. Again and again he stressed that the lesser jihad, the armed struggle, should be just a preparation for the greater jihad which was the lifelong struggle to master oneself. He quoted Sura 2, verse 216, God has prescribed the jihad for you though it is a loathsome duty.
Hasan was ahead of his time in his vision of Islam as religion of peace-perhaps he would still be if he were with us now. The soldiers of the Kufa garrison, the same men who had refused to fight for his father on the fourth day of Siffin and after that tragic day at Nahrawan, now angrily demanded he lead them to war.
Those two decades of endless victories when the Arab armies had conquered half the known world had introduced a very dangerous imbalance into early Islam. For far too many young Muslims had grown used to the idea that their faith would be reflected in military victory. They erroneously saw glorious triumphs in this world, fame, glory and wealth as proofs of the rightness of Islam. They could no longer understand that Muhammad’s message was entirely about the individual’s relationship to God and was not a charmed banner under which they were destined to conquer the world.
In vain did Hasan preach that like all true Muslims they should aspire to abandon worldly ambition, that shame is better than hellfire and that he sought not a worldly dominion but to seek the favour of God, and to spare the blood of the people. Instead the soldiers began to publicly abuse their prince until they had worked up their passions into a riot. Hasan’s house was looted, his prayer mat was ripped from underneath him and his tunic pulled from his shoulders. Only the protection of the mounted warriors of the Rabi tribe, devoted partisans of Ali and his family, stopped Hasan from being martyred that day. The violence only made Hasan absolutely determined to end the schism within Islam and halt any further bloodshed between Muslims.
Muawiya for his part moved with speed and tact, once he began to fully appreciate that Hasan was not indulging in some per-fight propaganda but was genuinely seeking lasting peace. He led his army out of Syria, but showed a gracious forbearance to his opponents as he advanced ever closer to Kufa and Basra. He responded to Hasan’s pious modesty by dropping all his own claims to imposing titles of power, so that the correspondence between the two over the peace was simply addressed between Hasan ibn Ali and Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan. Another chronicler recorded that Muawiya sent his seal already attached to a completely blank draft of the proposed treaty – so that Hasan could fill in whatever terms he desired. These charming gestures may well have occurred, a public duel in chivalry, even if no one was in any doubt of the true issues at hand. Hasan agreed to relinquish all authority to Muawiya in exchange for an agreement not to harm any of the supporters of Ali, and to govern by the book of God and the example of the Prophet. This he would do by letter and by word, explaining to the congregation in the Kufa mosque that he had ceded his right to rule for the best interest of the community and for the sake of sparing blood. Muawiya acknowledged that the reign would belong to Hasan after him (although this would soon be quietly forgotten) and that to avoid all future strife the next Caliph was to be decided by a formal electoral council. Hasan was assured of an annual salary of a million dirhams, with which he could generously support his companions, all the Beni Hashim and the old clients of his father.
In July 661 Hasan and his younger brother Husain rode out of Kufa and took the road back to Medina, Hasan had ruled for just six months
with the skills of the Arabs in my hand, for they were ready to make war on whomever I declared war, yet I abandoned it, seeking instead the face of God.
His enemies would later attempt to blacken his saintly pacific nature by naming Hasan al-Mitlaq,the great divorcer. Tales of his extravagant wedding parties, his boundless generosity and the hundred wives that he took in Medina, some for no more than a night, read like episodes from The Thousand and One Nights. Though the details of these fantasies are a still relished element of popular culture they must also be recognised as the traces of black propaganda designed to discredit this man of peace. Hasan’s seven marriages and descendants are exceptionally well chronicled, for practically all of the thousands of families of Shareefs that claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad trace their descent through one of Hasan’s two surviving sons, Zayd and Hasan.*
* The families who trace their descent from his brother are customarily known as Sayyid.
Muawiya entered Kufa as the sole recognised Caliph of the Arab Empire. He promised forgiveness to all those in the Kufa garrison who immediately came forth to pledge allegiance, though he warned that after three days the season for pardon and protection would be at an end. He also promised the assembled soldiers a vast new horizon for their ambitions: an ever-expanding Arab Empire to be forged from their future conquests. Salaries would be paid punctually from now on, wars would always be fought in the territory of the enemy, with campaigning seasons for border raids set a six months, while for more ambitious conquests the Arab warriors should be prepared for a whole year’s absence from their base camps and their families.
The armies of the Caliphate were soon to be on the march again, further extending the frontiers of the empire. Muawiya had always believed that the way to keep an army of Arabs obedient was to keep it well occupied. At the head of these Arab armies stood a man whom Omar had prophetically described as the Caesar of the Arabs. Muawiya was indeed a prince among the Quraysh, tall, tanned and handsome. He also had the common touch of Caesar, the ability to charm, persuade and delegate rather than merely to command. Muawiya had grown up in the political heart of Mecca with an instinctive grasp of Arab political culture: when it was expedient to listen, when it was time to consult and when to be patient. His most consistent military opponent, the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire, got to know the measure of the man through the constant shuffle of ambassadorial diplomacy. It is therefore especially intriguing that the Byzantine historian, Theophanes chose to describe Muawiya as neither the king if the Arabs nor their emperor but as their first counsellor. For as long as Muawiya could lead and direct the Arab armies to victory there was no doubt that they would accept his counsel. As a commander-in-chief, Muawiya was a near-genius, and the range of his strategic vision is astonishing to behold.
On the western front, the battle hardened nephew of Amr, Oqba ibn Nafi was dispatched to complete the conquest of North Africa. In 670, to facilitate this, an advance base would be established some 1500 miles west of Fustat in central Tunisia. This kairouan, a temporary halting place of the Arab cavalry army, was well sighted: it not only dominated the good grazing grounds of the steppe but it allowed Oqba to drive a strategic wedge between his two opponents, the walled Byzantine cities of the coast and the fierce Berber principalities of the mountains. Oqba’s halting place would eventually grow into the holy city of Kairouan. There was a setback, for after the death of his old uncle Amr (in Egypt) Oqba would row with the new governor-general and, like his uncle before him, Oqba would be sacked. But like his uncle, he would also return to take command and exact his revenge. In 681 he would make his exploratory ride across the southern steppe lands of North Africa, stopping only when he reached the end of the road, the shores of the Atlantic – known to the Arabs as the Sea of Obscurity. Here he protested that if there was a ford, he would cross it, in order to find new lands to conquer in the name of God. On his ride back Oqba would be killed by a Berber prince, Kusayla, outside the oasis of Biskra (in southern Algeria) after which the witch-queen of the mountains, the priestess Kahina, would raise the Berber tribes in a widespread revolt against the Arab Muslims. With this extraordinary narrative of events, North African Islam created its own historical mythology.
On the northern frontier, the Arab navy that Muawiya had so patiently created over the past two decades was at last given free rein and let loose on the sea lanes of the southern Aegean. Sicily and Crete were both repeatedly attacked and in 672 Rhodes was occupied. An Arab inscription recently found carved into a church floor in Cnidus (on the Turkish coast opposite Rhodes) may date from these swashbuckling years – in which case it is one of the earliest Arabic inscriptions in existence. An Arab colony was then settled on the island of Rhodes and an enterprising merchant from this vanguard community would make a fortune by smelting down the Colossus of Rhodes, the great brazen statue of Helios that had been toppled by an earthquake some 300 years before.
Using Rhodes as an advanced base, Muawiya launched his most ambitious operation, a marine-based assault on the triple-walled city of Constantinople. The siege, a series of attacks by the sea, would last for ten years, from 668 to 678. The mosque that was established at Eyup, the base camp just outside the land walls of Constantinople, would be rediscovered by Ottoman archaeologists in the fifteenth century and restored in magnificent style to become the oldest Muslim prayer hall in Europe. It was an extraordinary achievement to have kept an army in the field for that length of time so far from their homeland. They were entirely dependent on control of the sea route, so that when an Arab fleet was defeated by a Byzantine squadron, at the battle of Syllaeum in 678, Muawiya wisely called off the siege which had been commanded by his first-born son, Yazid. In the process of this orderly withdrawal, a truce was agreed with Byzantium that woulda last for a whole generation. The Muslim world would have to wait another 800 years before it had a leader who could breach the walls of the city of the Caesars. The Byzantine land frontier, embedded with the dozens of stout castles that guarded all the important passes through the Taurus mountains, had remained firmly in place throughout the ten-year siege. On this frontier Muawiya had raised up one of Khalid’s surviving sons, Abdal Rahman, to become governor of Homs and to lead the summer raids of the Arab armies against the mountain redoubts.
In the troublesome east Muawiya would leave nothing to chance. He chose the most resilient power-politicians of the day to govern the two potential trouble spots: the Iraqi cities of Kufa and Basra. So once again that one-eyed rogue Mughira was promoted to rule over Kufa, while his fellow Taif-born protege Zayyad, watched over Basra. Trusting in no one’s good faith, they established the infrastructure of state power complete with a police force (the dreaded shurta) , law courts, prisons, treasury officials and curfews as well as covert agents to report on the mood on the markets and the gossip at the doors of the mosque. Under these two political bosses the two garrison cities of Iraq were made to concentrate their energies ont the coordinated conquest of the far eastern frontiers of Persia. Muawiya had skilfully bound Zayyad into a position of personal loyalty by settling the delicate matter of his social origins (for he was literally the bastard son of a whore), by officially recognising Zayyad as one of his father’s lost sons. Zayyad was no longer to be referred to by the tongue-in-cheek patronymic ibn Abihi, the son of his father, but as the son of the great warlord of Mecca, Abu Sufyan. Later Muawiya would heap further rewards on this new brother by making Zayyad’s son Ubaydallah the governor of the new 50,000 strong garrison city in Khurasan, while Caliph Uthman’s son Saeed was given command of the newly conquered forward post of Bukhara.
Throughout Muawiya’s nineteen-year reign (AD 661-680) the centre of administrative power was firmly located upon Damascus. No longer did foreign ambassadors, confidential agents, officials and delegations make the long and arduous journey across central Arabia to Medina. Instead they once again made their way to the old commercial capital of Byzantine Syria, now doubly glorious as the new political centre of a worldwide empire. There was, however, no attempt to coordinate the vast conquests into a coherent Arabic -speaking-empire. Each conquered province continued to use its own language, it’ own indigenous class of state officials and units of measurement as well as retaining the exact units and shapes of the traditional coinages, the gold dinar of Byzantium and the silver dirham of Persia. The simplicity of the Prophet’s life and rule had now been totally transformed, so that even one of Muawiya’s deputy governors was now surrounded by the panoply of power consciously modelled on the Byzantine and Sassanid courts, and a visiting foreign ambassador could observe a crowd of silver-sticks and lectors, and at his gate 500 soldiers mounted guard.
At the beginning of his rule as Caliph, Muawiya had made the journey from Damascus to the oasis of Medina in order to accept the oath of allegiance from all the old revered Companions of the Prophet who dwelt there. Few came to the mosque to pledge their obedience, for though they might reluctantly accept the efficiency of his administration and the continued success of his armies, they could manage only a passive tolerance of his usurpation and would not give him their active support or blessing. It is remembered that Muawiya tried to take them to task over this indifference. He asked, How come all the people have come to swear allegiance except those from Medina? To which the laconic reply was, We have no riding camels. Muawiya, knowing full well that all the Companions now possessed sizeable herds, replied in the same offhand spirit, But what became of all those camels you used to use for fetching water?They were lamed when we chased after you and your father after the battle of Badr was the derisive reply. To drive the point home further they proceeded to inform Muawiya that the Prophet had warned them of a state of calamity after his death, to which he commanded us to be resigned. That was to be the extent of the loyalty he could expect from all the chief men of Islam-patient resignation. Others in the oasis remembered that Muhammad had predicted that the succession to his prophethood would last for thirty years, to be followed by a biting kingship. These beliefs were to be codified with the pleasing prospect of eternal damnation for the usurper Caliph, by a poet of Medina who sang at this time:
The Prince of the Faithful, Muawiya, we greet him In his message from the Prophet’s own city: We will be resigned till the Day when we meet him, The last Day of Judgement,the Day without pity.
Towards the end of his reign Muawiya would once again try to win over the chief men of Islam to his rule. The empire had been ceaselessly expanded in every direction, their annual stipends had been paid with relentless punctuality and efficiency, but when the leading Muslims of the second generation of Islam heard that Caliph Muawiya was coming again to Medina they voted with their feet. Husain ibn Ali, Abdur Rahman ibn Abu Bakr, Abdullah ibn Zubayr and Abdullah ibn Omar waited until the old ruler was within a few days ride of the oasis before they saddled their camels and rode out of town. They feared that he had come to force them into accepting his son Yazid as a suitable candidate for the Caliphate. It was not just that Yazid was debauched and addicted to hunting that horrified them, for like his father he was also an experienced administrator and a proven army commander as well as being a poet and a patron of learning. What was even more insulting to them was that Yazid was being imposed upon them like a crown prince who had first been hailed by Muawiya’s generals and governors at the sycophantic court of Damascus. The shura, the Council of Companions at Medina, had been brushed aside and with it all their claims to an honoured place in the new society. All the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs had first been acclaimed by the people of Medina but this right and duty had now been brushed aside in favour of the courtiers at Damascus. Muawiya had also broken his solemn pledge to hold a shura, which had been part of the peace agreement with Hasan. None of the previous Caliphs had thought to impose their own sons on the community, and had looked beyond the narrow loyalties of a family towards their brothers in faith. Muawiya was turning a community of believers into a hereditary kingdom to be based on the military power of distant Syria. Rather than accept this ultimate degradation, these young men, the heirs of all the chief Companions of Muhammad and the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs, would each in his own way be prepared to die. This would form the last bitter act in the long-drawn-out tragedy of the Heirs of the Prophet.
In 680 the seventy-seven-year old Muawiya was buried, his body decorated with a carefully hoarded treasury of relics, for the nail clippings and hairs from Muhammad’s head and beard had already acquired a totem-like reverence that would have appalled the Prophet.*
*Though this treasury would be destroyed eighty years later by his dynastic rivals, his tomb can still be found in Damascus’s old cemetery.
In Damascus Yazid was acclaimed as the successor to the Prophet of God by all his father’s loyal placemen, that court of governors, generals, police chiefs and treasury officials that Muawiya had commanded for half a lifetime.
In Medina the mosque was filled with groans and silent tears at the decisive emergence of a dynastic monarchy triumphing over the religion of God. From Kufa streamed a series of messengers, calling upon Husain in Medina to ride north and lead them against the usurpation of the Islamic world by the thirty-seven-year old Yazid and to reclaim his rightful place at the head of the community. Husain, urged on by the chief men of Medina decided to respond and follow in his father’s footsteps by riding out of the oasis to assume the leadership of the true armies of Islam. Having summoned the last grandson of the Prophet to lead them out of slavery, they now failed to honour their own appointment. Watched over by the police and the secret agents of their implacable governor, not a man, not a youth left the teeming garrison city to join Husain on the desert trail. Instead Husain’s young cousin, Muslim, who had secretly journeyed up to Kufa and gone to ground in a safe house to await Husain, was betrayed. He was arrested with his host Hani by the shurta and led away to his death. The governor Ubaydallah (who had succeeded his father Zayyad to both Basra and Kufa) now felt secure enough to order his own army out into the desert. Husain and his small body of devoted followers and family, numbering around thirty horsemen and forty warriors on foot, would not be deterred from their mission. The Bedouin tribes, through whose territory he rode, looked longingly at their potential young Caliph, though none of the chiefs (having heard of the silence at Kufa) would commit to rallying their men to the true cause. A fervent supporter, the poet, Farazdaq, rode out to warn Husain of the treachery of Kufa,
for though the heart of the City is with thee, its sword is against thee.
Still Husain rode on.
A detachment of cavalrymen under the command of Hurr from the Kufa garrison now emerged to bar the direct path to Kufa but also to stop Husain’s small caravan from turning back to Mecca. Then a few weeks later, a much larger force of 4000 cavalrymen issued out from Kufa to surround Husain and his men. They were now forced to make camp at Kerbala,* just above the bank of the Euphrates about 25 miles from Kufa.
* also spelled Karbala.
The commander of this new cavalry force was Amr, one of the sons of Saad ibn Abu Waqqas, the victor of al-Qadisiya. He had been ordered by Ubaydallah to deprive Husain and his supporters of any access to water until they had pledged unconditional submission. Husain for his part asked only to be allowed to meet Yazid face to face; or if that was impossible to be allowed to join the jihad on some forgotten frontier against the enemies of Islam. Despite the crippling thirst imposed upon his young family and his few faithful followers, Husain refused to submit to the unconditional pledge demanded of him. The dignity with which he conducted himself had by now so impressed Amr ibn Saad that he began to waiver in his mission. However, the arrival of Shamir, a confidential agent of Ubaydallah who demanded to take over the command if Amr proved himself incapable of acting, stiffened the resolve of the army. That evening Husain’s little camp at Kerbala, a cluster of tents reinforced by a small fence formed out of brushwood and thorns, was placed under close siege.
Husain now feared the worst, and on the evening of the 9th of the month of Muharram (9 October 680) he ordered his close kinsmen and young family to leave the camp and seek refuge with the enemy. This they would not do, even though Husain’s young son Ali now lay delirious with fever and there was no longer so much as a drop of water with which to relieve the parched lips of the Prophet’s infant great-grandson. That night the muffled cries of the children mingled with the sobs of the women and the soft screech of the whetstone as the small band of desiccated warriors carefully sharpened their swords and their lances for their last battle. In the morning they drew up their battle line, 70 men ranged against over 4000, and again Husain proudly offered his terms. As the small band advanced they were cut down by the massed ranks of archers, who fired shower upon pitiless shower, so that the arrows fell like a hailstorm upon them. Neither Husain’s ten year old nephew Kasim, nor even his infant son, was spared, as one by one the family of Muhammad fell writhing to the ground. Then the members of this mortally wounded clan were trampled into the dust by a cavalry charge, after which their heads were hacked off by swordsmen. Before dusk had settled over the fields of Kerbala, seventy heads had been rolled out from bloodied leather sacks on to the palace floor of the governor of Kufa. As Ubaydallah carefully turned these grim relics over with his staff, the better to make a positive identification, one of the old judges attached to his court cried out, Gently, it is the Prophet’s grandson and by God I have seen those very lips kissed by the blessed Apostle himself.
It is the memory of this fearful day* that unleashes the annual passion of regret and self-recrimination which is the Ashura (the tenth) on the 10th day of Muharram. Acknowledged by both Shia and Sunni as a day of mourning, the passionate commemoration of Ashura is perceived to be one of the distinctive signs of a Shiite community.
*The only survivor among the men was Husain’s son Ali Zayn al-Abidin, who lay transfixed by fever in his tent but would later recover his health.
The news of Kerbala sent a ripple of horror around the entire Islamic world. In Medina and Mecca, Abdallah ibn Zubayr now openly led defiance against those officials of Muawiya who sought to enforce the rule of his son Yazid. To complete the mortal tragedy perpetuated at Kerbala, there was now to be a physical defilement of the Holy Cities. Three years after Kerbala, in 688, an army sent out from Damascus, bolstered by regiments of Christians from Syria, first slaughtered the defenders of Medina in a battle fought out in the volcanic landscape of the Harran hills and then sacked, looted and raped its way through the capital of Islam for three days. Then holy Mecca itself was besieged. Two months into this offensive, the Kaaba was burned down to the ground when it was accidentally hit by the naptha-treated arrows launched by the besiegers. The sacred black stone that had been set into the Kaaba wall during the manhood of the Prophet Muhammad was fractured into three pieces by the heat of the blaze, like the torn bosoms of mourning women. This stone believed to be the altar of Abraham would henceforth be held together only by rivets of silver. At about the same time, the forty-year old Caliph who had ordered this conflict expired in his isolated hunting palace in the Syrian desert. A creative Persian poet commemorated his death with the immortal lines
the dead body of Yazid lying in his pleasure palace at Hawwarin with a cup next to his pillow and a wineskin whose nose was still bleeding
When the news was brought to his army, they halted the siege and prepared to return to Damascus.
It was just fifty years since the death of Muhammad. A vast empire had been conquered from out of which poured an annual tribute of millions upon millions of gold and silver coins, which first filed into the coffers of the Caliph’s treasury in Damascus and from there flowed out to support a salaried ruling class. A hundred thousand Arab warriors now dwelt in half a dozen garrison cities, housed in comfort, equipped with the finest weapons, armour and horses cared for by the labour of slaves in a manner beyond the wildest dreams of their grandfathers. In Mecca the house of God was a burned-out ruin and in a neglected field at Kerbala the headless corpses of the murdered family of the Prophet of God lay buried. It was as if the things of this earth had been won but in the process the kingdom of heaven had been forgotten.
All Muslims feel the horror of this transformation, the gradual corruption of the moral rule of God as established by the Prophet Muhammad to a mere temporal empire ruled over by Muawiya’s heirs, the Umayyad dynasty. This forbidding example helps explain the political fatalism that is so often encountered among Muslim communities. If it was just fifty years after they had buried the Prophet of God that the godly rule of the saintly Companions was so decisively overthrown, what hope have we in this even more corrupt and less religious age? Did not the Prophet himself declare, No time cometh upon you but is followed by a worse and that The best of my people are my generation; then they that come after them; then they that come after them? Is it not true that this world is for the likes of Muawiya, Mughira, Amr and Zayyad rather than the saints?
To make a safe haven of the brief period of the true Islam on earth, the majority of Muslims continue to look back upon the rule of the first four Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and Ali, 632-661) as the Eden of good government before the fall from grace. This is the Sunni position. Others see even this period as a flawed and corrupted version of true Islam, and instead like to imagine the shape of a Muslim state if the true spiritual heroes, Ali and his sons, had been the leaders of this community of faith. That is the difference between how the Sunni and the Shia regard the story of the Heirs of the Prophet. From this small but passionately important detail, two distinct paths of Islam would develop, each with its own history of who is the true heir of the Prophet. There is no group within the vast body of Muslims, either now or back in the seventh century, who see the triumph of Muawiya and his brilliant team of political operators, Mughira, Amr and Zayyad, as other than a profound tragedy.
Those who have been born outside the Muslim heritage of faith are free to honour both pathways and to remember that two rival narratives can yet become one. For while the Sunni version tells of how the Prophet Muhammad died on the lap of Aisha, and while the Shia tell of how the Prophet Muhammad died leaning on the shoulder of Ali, we know that both versions may be literally as well as figuratively true.
Ten days before he had died the Prophet Muhammad had prayed over the tombs of the dead, Peace be upon you, O people of the graves. Rejoice in your state, how much better is it than the state of men now living. Dissensions come like waves of darkest night, the one following hard upon the other, each worse than the last. It is a dispiriting testimony from a brilliantly successful leader at what is otherwise considered to have been the triumphant conclusion of his life. But then the future leadership and political organisation of mankind was never his purpose. As the Koran so clearly states (Sura 42:15), God is our Lord and your Lord. We have our words and you have yours. There is no argument between us and you. God will bring us together, for the journey is to him.
If one looks to find a true Heir to the Prophet Muhammad, look not for thrones, or through dynastic lists of kings, look not to the triumphant progress of a great conqueror or at the beaming smiles and promises of a popular politician. Look out for on who journeys towards God.
Note: Arabic names usually indicate both whose child you are and who are your children. Abu translates as ‘father of’, ibn or ben as ‘son of’, bint as ‘daughter of’, Umm as ‘mother of’. A clan or tribe can be described as the Beni (or Banu), as they are ‘children of’ their common ancestor – for instance, the Beni Hashim or the Beni Umayya, who are also referred to as the Hashemites or the Umayyads.
Al-Abbas – the wealthy and influential paternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad, half brother to Abu Talib and from whom the Abbasid dynasty claims its descent.
Abdallah ibn al-Abbas – the son of Al-Abbas and so a first cousin of Ali. Abdallah was a key supporter and adviser to Ali during his Caliphate but was ultimately dismissed from the post of governor of Basra.
Abd al Muttalib – beloved grandfather of Prophet Muhammad, successful merchant and sheikh of the Beni Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe.
Abder-Rahman ibn Awf – early convert to Islam and one of the Companions who formed the inner committee of six that elected Uthman, Caliph in 644.
Abdullah ibn Ubbay – one of the principal chieftains of Medina before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad.
Abu Bakr – father of Aisha; acclaimed first Caliph after the Prophet’s death. Arguably the first adult male convert to Islam, and a close colleague and devout disciple of Prophet Muhammad. The only man to accompany Muhammad when he escaped from Mecca. He was chosen to lead the prayers by the Prophet in the last week of his life, which gave him a critical edge to become his acknowledged successor.
Abu Jahl – ‘Father of Ignorance’, important figure in pagan Mecca and key early opponent of Muhammad.
Abu Lahab – ‘Father of Flames’, one of Muhammad’s half-uncles, but the one least well disposed to him.
Abu Musa al-Ashari – revered and pious commander of Arab armies on the Persian front and sometime both governor of both Basra and Kufa. Chosen by the army to be the representative for Ali after the battle of Siffin in 657, when he was outwitted by Amr ibn al-As.
Abu Sufyan – nobleman of Mecca who for ten years commanded the pagan opposition to early Islam after Muhammad’s migration to Medina. After his acceptance of Islam, prepared for by the marriage of his daughter Umm Habiba to Muhammad, he would become a loyal ally of the Prophet. He would serve as a provincial governor in the Yemen for the first two Caliphs and is traditionally considered to have fought at Yarmuk. Legitimate father of Yazid and Muawiya and possibly to others, such as Amr and Zayyad.
Abu Talib – father of Ali and the uncle of Muhammad who cared for and protected his young orphan nephew until his last dying breath, though he never accepted Islam.
Abu Ubaydah – chosen to be supreme commander in Syria by Omar, and would have been trusted with the Caliphate by Omar if he had not died during the plague of 639.
Aisha – beautiful young daughter of Abu Bakr and Umm Ruman who married Muhammad three years after the death of his beloved first wife, Khadijah. The most passionate, jealous and wonderfully animated of the Prophet’s many wives, a vital oral source and a key political figure.
Ali – young cousin of Muhammad (the younger son of Abu Talib) who was brought up in the Prophet’s household. The first man to publicly accept Islam, a hero of the early Muslim community both as a warrior and as an inquiring champion of a living faith. The Prophet’s son-in-law through his marriage to Fatimah, father of Hasan and Husain, fourth Caliph in the Sunni hierarchy, sole Imam and only true Heir of the Prophet according to the Shi’a tradition.
Aminah – daughter of Wahb of the Zuhrah clan of the Quraysh and mother of Muhammad.
Amr ibn al-As – influential Meccan nobleman who fought against the Muslims in Medina but would later embrace Islam and rise quickly through its ranks. He was appointed by Abu Bakr one of the three commanders that led the first Muslim armies out of Medina for the conquest of the Holy Land. In 640 he led a raid that would lead to the conquest of Egypt, which he would conquer and rule over on three separate occasions. Dismissed by Uthman, he would regain his old position by a political alliance with Muawiya.
Barakah (also known as Umm Ayman) – slave girl whom Muhammad inherited from his father. Cherished figure of Muhammad’s childhood to whom he gave freedom on the day of his marriage to Khadijah. Many years later she became one of the wives of Zaidi ibn Haritha and although she must have been around twenty years older than her husband, they would have a child, Usama.
Bilal – Abyssinian slave and early Muslim convert. Much abused by his pagan master until Abu Bakr bought his freedom. Selected as the first muezzin (prayer caller) of Islam.
Cyrus – catastrophically incapable Byzantine official who ruled over the province of Egypt as both civil governor and Greek Orthodox patriarch.
Dhul Qina – ‘the Man of the Veil’, charismatic, Yemeni warlord who led the pagan resistance to Islam in the immediate aftermath of the death of Prophet Muhammad.
Fatimah (often spelled Fatima) – one of the four daughters of Muhammad and Khadijah.Wife of Ali, mother of Hasan and Husain, and a key early believer. Her patience, modesty and devotional practice provide an alternative Muslim female role model to Aisha.
Hafsah – fourth wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Omar. Hafsah’s first husband died at the battle of the wells of Badr, leaving her an eighteen-year old widow. Known to be fiery tempered, literate and independent minded. She possessed the first written prototype of the Koran, the basis for the great compilation later achieved by Uthman.
Halimah – foster mother of Muhammad, of the Hawazin clan of the Beni Saad tribe of Bedouin.
Hamza – Muhammad’s boisterous uncle. A great fighter, hunter and wine drinker, around whom in later centuries the Persians would collect a whole cycle of legends.
Hasan (sometimes spelled Hassan) – first son of Ali and Fatimah, grandson of Muhammad,fifth Caliph of Islam. A heroic practitioner of Islam as the true religion of peace.
Hashim – Muhammad’s great-grandfather, whose numerous descendants would form the Beni Hashim clan – hereditary guardians of the Kaaba in Mecca for centuries and from whom the Hashemite dynasty would emerge.
Husain (sometimes called Hussein) – second son of Ali and Fatimah, grandson of Muhammad. After the death of his elder brother, Hasan, he took on the mantle of the Alid cause and, would respond to the call of the people of Kufa to lead them back into freedom. Abandoned by his own supporters, he chose martyrdom at Kerbala rather than dishonour.
Ibn Hadith, Muthana – chief of the Beni Bekr who had fought against the Persians as a young man and became military ally of Khalid in the first raids on Iraq. Fought at battles of Ullais, Al-Jisr and. Buwayba.
Jabala ibn al-Ayham – last prince of the Ghassanid dynasty who loyally fought for the. Byzantine Empire at the battle of Yarmuk in 636.
Jafar – young cousin of Muhammad, son of Abu Talib and one of the early believers who took refuge in Christian Abyssinia and who would be killed alongside Zayd, at the battle of Mutah in 629.
Juwayriya – wife of the Prophet and daughter of the chief of the Beni Mustaliq Bedouin tribe.
Khadijah – first wife of Muhammad, his senior in wealth and years. Mother of four daughters (Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah) and two boys (both of whom died in their infancy). Chief confidante and colleague in Muhammad’s early search for religion and the first person to recognize him as Prophet of God.
Khalid ibn al-Walid – pagan Meccan nobleman who fought against the Muslims in Medina before converting and taking his place as the most talented general of early Islam, saluted and promoted by even the Prophet himself. A succession of three victories during the Ridda Wars culminated in his inspired manoeuvres during the conquest of the Holy Land which led to his ultimate achievement, the decisive victory at Yarmuk. He would later be reduced to the ranks by Omar and prosecuted into disgrace.
Mariyah or Marya or Meriem – Coptic concubine sent to Medina as a gift to the Prophet from Muqawqis, a ruler of Egypt. She was given her freedom after she gave birth to Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim, though she was never given the honour of being addressed like the Prophet’s other wives as a Mother of the Faithful.
Maymunah – wife of the Prophet and widowed sister-in-law to Muhammad’s clever banking uncle, Abbas.
Muawiya – founder of the Umayyad dynasty, brilliant politician and army commander. The Caesar of the Arabs. The second son of Abu Sufyanand Hind, he may have briefly served Muhammad as a secretary after his submission to Islam in the last two years of the Prophet’s life. He rose to prominence when he assisted his elder brother Yazid in the conquest of the Holy Land, and would take over his command after Yazid’s death from plague. His outstanding military and organizational talents were recognized by Omar and Uthman, who both left him in command of Syria. Ali’s refusal to renew Muawiya’s command was one of the key motivations behind the civil war that would conclude with. Muawiya’s triumph.
Mughira ibn Shuba – renegade from the Thaqif tribe of Taif who greatly benefited from a timely early conversion to Islam. Despite his moral failings, his political insights made him an indispensable adviser who served both the Prophet and Omar and would seek to serve Ali before defecting to Muawiya’s camp during the civil war. He would die in office as Muawiya’s feared governor of Kufa.
Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr – last-born child of Abu Bakr who would grow up in the household of his beloved stepfather Ali. One of the assassins of Caliph Uthman; appointed governor of Egypt by Ali.
Musaylama – prophet of the Beni Hanifa tribe of eastern Arabia who would be killed during the battle of Aqraba during the Ridda Wars.
Omar ibn al-Khattab (often spelled Umar) – second Caliph of Islam is a major figure in the development of Muslim civilization who supervised the installation of Abu Bakr as the first Caliph as well as the victories over both the Byzantine and Persian Empires, He was the father of the Prophet’s wife Hafsah, an implacable puritan and the architect of the whole political shape of the Islamic Empire.
Oqba ibn Nafi – nephew of Amr and an almost legendary figure of conquest and exploration from the annals of the first Muslim conquests. He participated in the conquest of Egypt, commanded the raids that would penetrate the Libyan Sahara, and was repelled from the Sudan before founding the city of Kairouan as an advance base for the conquest of North Africa.
Ruqayyah – daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and Khadijah, and wife of Uthman; died in Medina the day that the battle of Badr was won.
Saad ibn Abu Waqqas – early convert to Islam who was among the first seventy believers to migrate to Medina and the first to draw blood in the subsequent ten-year war against the pagans of Mecca. He commanded the vast Arab army that achieved the decisive victory over the Persian Empire at the battle of al-Qadisiya, and would be among the group of six close Companions chosen by Omar to elect the next Caliph.
Saad ibn Ubadayah – chieftain of Medina’s Saidah clan who was a passionate early supporter of the Prophet and who called the meeting of the men of Medina after the Prophet’s death.
Safiyah – wife of the Prophet. She was the daughter of Sheikh Huayy, leader of the Jewish-Arab Bani Nadir clan of Medina, and the widow of another great Jewish sheikh who was executed during the siege of Khaybar.
Swadah – second wife of the Prophet who came into his household after the death of Khadijah as a thirty-year old widow and a stepmother to his daughters. She had been one of the first Muslims to escape persecution by pagan Mecca and emigrate to Ethiopia.
Shurahbil ibn Hasana – one of the three army commanders appointed at Medina by Abu Bakr for the conquest of the Holy Land, alongside Yazid, son of Abu Sufyan and Amr ibn al-As.
Sophronius – Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem who would organize the surrender of the Holy City to Caliph Omar.
Talha ibn Ubaydallah – cousin of Abu Bakr, one of the early believers who would be chosen by Omar to sit in the committee of six that elected the next Caliph and who would with Zubayr join Aisha in her revolt against Ali.
Umamah – Muhammad’s granddaughter, the child of his daughter Zaynab and Abu al-As, the son of Rabi.
Umm Habiba – wife of the Prophet and daughter of Abu Sufyan, great sheikh of the Quraysh tribe that dominated pre-Islamic Mecca.
Umm Salamah – wife of the Prophet. She was the widow of Muhammad’s first cousin, Abu Salama, who had died of wounds received in the battle of Uhud. She had been in exile in Ethiopia and brought her young children into the protection of the Prophet’s household. It was her sage advice that broke the spell of disobedience at Hudaibiya.
Usama – Muhammad’s grandson through his adopted son Zayd. He won Aisha’s friendship by supporting her in her hour of need and would (somewhat controversially) be placed in command of the Muslim army by the Prophet Muhammad in the last month of his life.
Uthman ibn Affan – third Caliph of Islam and the man who supervised the editing of the first written edition of the Koran. A wealthy, clever, scholarly early convert to Islam who was descended from one of the most important noble clans of Mecca. He would be trusted to marry two of the Prophet’s daughters and would be chosen as third Caliph in 644 owing to his skill as an administrator. His great failing was too great a dependence on his own family and clan, which may have been due to his personal failing as a warrior; he would yet redeem himself in the manner of his death.
Yazdegird – last Sassanian to rule over the Empire of Persia and its Zoroastrian faith.
Zayd ibn Harithah – captured in a Bedouin raid as a boy and brought to Mecca’s annual fair of Ukaz as a slave boy. He was bought at auction and give to Khadijah by one of her wealthy nephews. She in turn, gave Zayd to Muhammad as a wedding gift. Muhammad later offered Zayd his freedom and formally adopted him as a son and would give him Barakah as his first wife, from who he had a son, Usama. Zayd was one of the most devoted followers of Muhammad and latter rose to become one of the key military commanders of early Islam until his death at the battle of Mutah.
Zaynab – daughter of Muhammad, married to one of her mother’s favourite nephews, the handsome Abu al-As, who remained a pagan in Mecca until almost the last. Mother of Umamah.
Zaynab – daughter of Khuzaymah, the fifth wife of the Prophet was the daughter of an influential Bedouin chieftain of the Amir tribe. She was widowed after her first husband died at the battle of the wells of Badr. Famously generous to the poor; died eight months after her marriage to the Prophet.
Zaynab– Jewish sorceress at Khaybar who attempted to avenge her community by trying to poison the Prophet.
Zaynab bint Jaysh – cousin and sixth wife of the Prophet, first married to Muhammad’s adopted son, Zayd. This marriage was ended and she was given (as recorded in a Koranic verse) to the Prophet as an additional wife to bring his household in Medina up to five women.
Zayyad – shrewd political operator who, like Mughira, was from the Thaqif tribe of the city of Taif. As the bastard of a prostitute owned by a foreign merchant, he had no social status or clan allies to help him through life but he would nevertheless rise to become a trusted secretary, then governor, and finally governor of both Basra and Kufa and all Persia for Muawiya. Zayyad was officially adopted into Muawiya’s family and his sons were awarded lesser governorships within the regime which helped bind his family into total loyalty to the Umayyads. It was one of Zayyad’s sons, Ubaydallah ibn Zayyad, governor of Kufa, who masterminded the chain of events that led to the tragedy of Kerbala.
Zubayr ibn al-Awwam – early believer who would be placed in charge of an army of reinforcements sent by Omar to support Amr ibn al-As’s raid into Egypt. He would win renown among his men by leading an assault on the Byzantine fortress of Babylon. One of the committee of six chosen to select a Caliph after the death of Omar, he joined Aisha in her revolt against Ali.
Please note that the dates of all the key battles of the conquest cannot be definitive and may vary by as much as four years
Death of the Prophet, Muhammad, as an army under the command of Zayd’s young son, Usama, is mustered for a raid to avenge the defeat at Mutah in Syria in 629.
Accession as Caliph of Abu Bakr, who decides that the paying of the charitable tithe will remain the defining test of which tribes have accepted Islam; widespread opposition.
Death of Fatimah, leaving Ali to care for their two children, Hasan and Husain.
The Ridda Wars – the so-called War against Apostasy.
Abu Bakr appoints Khalid, army commander, who wins three victories: a. Battle of Buzakha-defeat of Ghatafan tribe and allies. b. Battle of Aqraba, day of the garden of death-defeat of Beni Hanifa tribe and death of their prophet Musaylama. c. Battle of Ullais, ‘river of blood’ (against Arab tribes loyal to Persian Empire).
Invasion of the Holy Land by four Arab armies, three advancing from Medina, one from the Iraq front under the command of Khalid. Three military victories in Palestine, Wadi al-Arabah, Ajnadayn and Dattin, and one in Syria, Marj al-Suffar.
Death of Abu Bakr in August; accession of Omar to Caliphate.
On Iraq front, Persian army defeats Muslim force at battle of al-Jisr just outside Hira.
Muslim armies occupy chief cities of Syria and Palestine.
On Iraq frontier, ibn Harith manages to repel Persian counterattack at battle of Buwayb.
Arab armies evacuate all their territorial gains in Syria and Palestine as full force of Byzantine Empire sent into battle.
In mid-August, Khalid destroys the Byzantine field army at the decisive battle of Yarmuk and speedily reoccupies all of the Near East.
Counter-offensive by imperial army of Sassanid Persia. Yazdegird’s (last Sassanian emperor) experienced commander Rustam drawn into four-day of al-Qadsiya.
In the aftermath of victory, Muslims occupy all of Iraq, while Sassanian forces withdraw into Persian mountains.
Surrender of Jerusalem by Patriarch Sophronius to Caliph Omar.
Muslim Arab armies push into northern Iraq and advance into Persia and northern Syria.
Year of plague and famine
Caliph Omar presides over conference of army commanders at Jabiyah.
Amr ibn al-As leads raid into Byzantine Egypt while bulk of Muslim forces engaged in advance on Anatolia and Persia.
Victory against Byzantine army in Egypt at battle of Heliopolis.
Amr advances north into Nile Delta, fights battle of Nikiou and attempts siege of Alexandria.
Emperor Heraclius dies in February.
Byzantine counterattack into Syria and rebellion among Arab tribes of Syrian desert.
Surrender of Alexandria to Amr by Cyril. Amr establishes Fustat as new garrison/administrative centre for Egypt.
Muslim victory at battle of Nehawand in Persia.
Assassination of Omar by Abu Lulu Firoz, a disgruntled prisoner of war/slave.
Election of Uthman by council of six leading Companions.
Amr and his nephew Oqba ibn Nafi return in triumph to Fustat having raided and conquered parts of Libya and the Sahara.
Widespread revolts against the Muslim Empire throughout Persia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and in Egypt, aided by the arrival of the Byzantine navy. General Manuel reoccupies the Nile Delta.
Amr (briefly appointed as commander) leads reconquest of Egypt with second battle of Nikiou and siege and sack of Alexandria.
Uthman’s governor of Egypt leads a 40,000 strong army out of Egypt into the west, defeating army of Byzantine governor of Tunisia at battle of Sbeitla.
Arab fleet skirmishes successfully with Byzantine fleet found off Alexandria.
Muslim occupation of Cyprus in combined operation organized by the Arab garrisons in Egypt and Syria.
Definitive edition of the Koran completed in Medina.
Uthman loses the seal of the Prophet.
Death of Yazdegird.
After renewed threat from Byzantine fleet, Cyprus is reconquered in second invasion the same year that an Arab army secures Armenia.
Rhodes raided by Arab fleet.
Battle of the Masts: Arab fleet wins command of the Aegean in naval battle fought off the coast of Lycia.
Assassination of Uthman in Medina by dissidents from army garrisons in Fustat, Kufa and Basra.
Ali acclaimed fourth Caliph in Medina.
Aisha plots rebellion in Mecca backed by Talha and Zubayr. Aisha and her confederates seize control of army garrison in Basra. Ali’s son, Hasan, takes command of garrison at Kufa.
Battle of the Camel outside Basra. Talha and Zubayr are killed and Aisha is returned to Medina having recognized Ali as Caliph.
Ali’s candidate, Muhammad ibn Bakr, becomes governor of Egypt.
Ali marches on Syria to depose Muawiya from the governorship of Syria.
Four day battle of Siffin culminates in a surprise decision to seek arbitration.
Schism as Kharijites attempt to secede from Ali’s Caliphate in fury at the decision to arbitrate.
Farcical chicanery at arbitration conference in Jordan as Amr outwits Abu Musa.
Muawiya is proclaimed Caliph by his supporters in Damascus.
Ali forced to fight militant Kharijites at battle of Nahrawan.
Amr, supported by Muawiya, takes command of Egypt for the third time in his life.
Death of Muhammad Ibn Abu Bakr.
Muawiya renews assault on Byzantine Empire.
Ali is assassinated in Kufa.
Ali’s son, Hasan acclaimed as Caliph but in order to halt bloodshed surrenders his title in Muawiya’s favour.
Zayyad and Mughira rule over Basra and Kufa as tough-minded governors of Muawiya.
First Arab raid on Sicily.
Muslim siege of Constantinople supported by command of the sea route.
Foundation of Kairouan as the advance base for the conquest of North Africa by Amr’s nephew, Oqba ibn Nafi.
Merv established as the new advance base for the conquest of Central Asia and Khorassan by drafts from Basra and Kufa.
Hasan dies at Medina.
Kharijite revolt suppressed by Zayyad.
Defeat of Arab fleet at battle of Syllaeum requires that the Arab siege of Constantinople be lifted.
Thirty-year peace is made between the two empires.
Muawiya dies and is succeeded to the Caliphate by his son Yazid.
Husain responds to calls of soldiers of Kufa garrison to lead them in revolt against this new hereditary monarchy. Abandoned by those whom he had come to aid, he and his band of followers are killed at Kerbala.
In Medina and Mecca, Abdallah, son of Zubayr leads revolt against Yazid.
Oqba ibn Nafi reaches the Atlantic coast of Morocco at the end of his legendary ride across North Africa
An Umayyad army marches from Damascus to Medina. It wins the battle of Harran, sacks Medina, then advances and places Mecca under siege. The city’s Kaaba is accidentally burned to the ground.
Osama bin Laden has issued orders for the assassination of President Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. According to the information, Bin Laden planned to send the explosives through a Pakistani national called Musa Tariq who was en route to Dera Ismail Khan. Citing the intelligence, the document also claims that “Osama bin Laden is personally supervising the operation and for this purpose has moved to Afghanistan.”
Abu Ahmad Al Kuwaiti, Bin Laden’s trusted courier and one of the few people who had access to him in the last days. Kuwaiti was a Pakistani whose real name was Ibrahim Saeed. A speaker of Arabic and Pashto, Saeed lived with Bin Laden for many years in the Abbottabad compound and was his only link to the outside world. It was Saeed’s phone calls that inadvertently led the US to Bin Laden’s lair, where Saeed was also killed alongside his master.
Mustafa Abu Al Yazid aka Sheikh Saeed al Masri(Abu Obaidah, Sheikh Abdul Hameed as Ameer-e-Khuruj [Leader of the Revolt], Sheikh Abdul Hameed aka Abu Obaidah al Masri) : Al Qaeda’s chief paymaster since the 1990s. The most crucial piece of evidence linking Al Masri to the assassination was recovered from Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad after the raid. The document seen by Eos contains a memo delivered to Bin Laden just two days after the assassination. The memo from Al Masri, delivered via courier, refers to the ‘special task’ and informs Bin Laden of the successful “operation in ‘Pindi”, confirming it was his men who murdered Benazir. “More good is to come in revenge for our brothers and sisters in Hafsa and Lal mosques,” reads the memo.
Benazir was not directly involved in the Red Mosque siege, though she was the only politician who had openly supported the operation against it. In this context, however, the reference to the Red Mosque is a wide-ranging pretext for all operations against the Pakistani state and its leaders.
Despite a career in militancy spanning three decades, relatively little is known about the man who would lead Al Qaeda’s revolt in Pakistan. No photograph of Abu Obaidah exists, but disparate pieces of information come together to form a clearer picture. Al Masri was originally from the Sharqia governorate in the Nile Delta in Egypt, but is thought to be a Sudanese citizen. Described as a ‘journeyman fighter’ from the first generation of jihadis, he was a veteran of the wars in
Al Masri was a seasoned operator in Pakistan. According to intelligence sources:
• he was a key planner in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in November 1995 which killed 17 people.
His mentor Ayman Al Zawahiri masterminded the attack. Benazir Bhutto was prime minister at the time and said the attack was “retribution for the extradition of Ramzi Yousef”, an Al Qaeda militant who had been handed over to the US.
Twelve years later, Al Masri would be back in Pakistan to kill Benazir Bhutto. Bin Laden needed an experienced and dedicated head of operations in Pakistan to lead the new strategy. He appointed an Egyptian called Sheikh Abdul Hameed as Ameer-e-Khuruj [Leader of the Revolt] to direct the war inside Pakistan. Sheikh Abdul Hameed aka Abu Obaidah al Masri, the man mentioned in Major Haroon’s confession as the planner of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Al Masri was already the head of Al Qaeda’s external operations and responsible for
• the London bombings • near-successful attempt to blow up 18 transatlantic airliners mid-flight.
It was now time to turn their guns on their host country. In the months that followed, Al Qaeda was to shake Pakistan to its foundations.
Abu Obaidah al Masri: died within last two months of April 2008, probably of hepatitis. – Saleem Shahzad; assassinated journalist and terrorism expert.
Sarwar Khan struggled to breathe as he opened his eyes in the suffocating darkness. Only a few hours earlier he had been at his desk in Islamabad finishing up an ordinary day’s work. Now the Ahmadi businessman was nailed inside a coffin, gasping for air. His captors had injected him with sedatives and were attempting to transport him out of the city in an ambulance, disguised as a corpse — but the dose was wearing off, giving way to Sarwar’s blood-curdling screams. As the kidnappers stopped to subdue their human freight, a taxi driver on the highway witnessed the suspicious activity and called the authorities.
The police action that followed that day in February 2009 led to the capture of one of the most influential Al Qaeda strategists and ideologues in the organization’s history. Major Haroon Ashiq was arrested from the outskirts of Peshawar while trying to smuggle Sarwar Khan into the tribal areas. A former Special Services Group (SSG) commando, Haroon had left the army after 2001 and joined hands with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) before graduating to the highest ranks of Al Qaeda’s network in Pakistan.
Major Haroon, it emerged, had been a mastermind of the Mumbai attacks the previous year and also a key player in some of the most spectacular militant operations in Pakistan in living memory. These included: • a sustained campaign of attacks on NATO supply lines, • the murder of a former head of the elite SSG Major General Faisal Alvi • the kidnapping of Karachi-based filmmaker Satish Anand.
Haroon’s role in Al Qaeda was not merely operational but also strategic and visionary. He was one of the only Pakistanis to be elected a member of the organization’s Shura (council) and is credited with reviving its flagging fortunes after 2003 in a massive overhaul of the group’s organizational structure and tactics. Kidnapping for ransom was also a new tactic developed under him to help Al Qaeda out of a severe financial crunch.
Major Haroon admitted his role in all these acts but one of the most important pieces of information he gave to interrogators was about a case in which he claimed not to have been involved at all: the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The morning after the assassination 10 years ago, as the country convulsed with grief and chaos, the government of Gen Musharraf announced that secret agencies had intercepted a phone call to Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which indicated that the former prime minister had been assassinated by Mehsud’s men.
Major Haroon’s confession: Haroon told his interrogators that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was ordered by Osama bin Laden and that Baitullah Mehsud had been tasked to carry out the plan. Haroon claimed the emissary between Bin Laden and Mehsud was a militant called Abu Obaidah Al Masri who was in charge of Al Qaeda’s Pakistan operation. Haroon said he was given this information by Ilyas Kashmiri. Kashmiri, himself a former SSG officer surged through jihadi ranks to become one of Bin Laden’s closest lieutenants and was also tipped by US counterterrorism experts to replace him as leader of Al Qaeda after the Abbottabad raid.
Kashmiri and Major Haroon were the principal architects of the Mumbai attacks and worked closely together on a number of operations. Eos has obtained a confidential FIA document containing details of Haroon’s confession in which he confirms that the October 18th assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto was also masterminded by Abu Obaidah al Masri and carried out through Baitullah’s men. The same network succeeded in assassinating Bhutto two months later in Rawalpindi.
In the document, Haroon also comments on the ‘superb’ planning and execution of the attack from an operational point of view and says he knew she would be vulnerable based on his assessment of her public rallies. “Benazir Bhutto was daring and bold lady and he (Haroon) was confident that she would definitely give chance to the assailants and that what she did [sic],” reads the report. Major Haroon is currently incarcerated in a special security block in Adiala Jail where he is considered one of the prison’s most fearsome inmates.
These revelations did not come as a surprise to officials close to the investigation who had long suspected an Al Qaeda link in Benazir’s murder, but were unable to establish it as part of the official investigation because of lack of evidence. Investigators who eventually brought the case against eight accused in the Benazir murder readily admit they were unable to prosecute the masterminds of the assassination, only nab the low-level operatives.
“By the time the investigation came to us the evidence was destroyed, links broken,” says a senior member of the FIA-led JIT that worked on Benazir’s murder case speaking on condition of anonymity. “But the conspiracy began even before she set foot in Pakistan. The intelligence chatter was loud and shattering. It was the Arabs in the northwest…the Mirali/ Miranshah group who were entrenched there. The TTP was working for them.” The investigator is convinced that there was a strong Al Qaeda link. “I believe Beitullah did [it] at the behest of the Arabs.” ———————————————————————————————————————–
In August 2009, the Benazir murder investigation was transferred from the Punjab Police to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the wishes of President Asif Ali Zardari. The Punjab Police inquiry under Additional IG CTD Chaudhry Abdul Majeed had been severely criticized for its incompetence by the UN Inquiry Commission among others. The new probe under DIG Khalid Qureshi of the FIA was able to piece together a much more detailed picture of what happened at the lower level of the plot. According to investigators, there were at least five tiers in the planning hierarchy of the assassination. At the top of the pyramid were the masterminds, then came the planners, followed by the facilitators, then the handlers and lastly, the bombers themselves. In all, at least nine people are thought to have been involved. Another three people are accused of having knowledge of the plot. The perpetrators at each stage did not know the conspirators higher up and were only in touch with the cell directly above them. “You have to understand these people are the best in the world,” says an FIA official who worked on the investigation. “Many of them have been trained in clandestine operations and know the protocols. There are natural ‘cut-outs’ built into the plan.” According to the official charge sheet, a key part of the attack was planned in Madrassa Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak by former students of the seminary: • Nadir alias Qari Ismail, • Nasrullah alias Ahmed • Abdullah alias Saddam. It is alleged that these facilitators were being run by a senior planner: • Ibad-ur-Rehman alias Farooq Chattan who also provided the suicide jackets. The Haqqania trio collected the suicide bombers • Bilal • Ikramullah from South Waziristan and brought them back to Akora Khattak.
Nasrullah then took the boys to Rawalpindi where they linked up with the handlers, locally based cousins • Hasnain Gul • Muhammad Rafaqat
who were later arrested. Copies of the sworn confessions of Hasnain and Rafaqat obtained by Eos reveal details of how the two 15-year-old bombers were transported to Liaquat Bagh and how the handlers conducted the reconnaissance of the venue earlier the same day. Forensic analysis of call data records of the accused, corroborated through mobile tower geofencing, confirm Hasnain and Rafaqat’s accounts of their movements on 27th December, the two bombers present in Liaquat Bagh on 27th December. Bilal alias Saeed and Ikramullah. These names are corroborated by the confessions of the handlers Hasnain and Rafaqat. In the end, investigators maintain that only one individual detonated his explosives and that this was Bilal alias Saeed. The other would-be suicide bomber, Ikramullah, escaped from the scene and has been declared a proclaimed offender. DNA reports, however, appear to contradict the claim that there was only one assailant. Personal effects of the bomber recovered from the house of handler Hasnain Gul including a shawl, cap and pair of joggers, were tested against the remains of three individuals found at the crime scene. The DNA profiles of two individuals found on the shawl and in the joggers, match the remains of two individuals from the crime scene. In effect, this means that another individual who came into contact with the shawl and joggers found from Hasnain’s house, perished in the blast. Eos has obtained exclusive access to DNA reports that prove the existence of this possible third attacker.
The report was prepared by the FBI’s DNA laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, at the request of the FIA-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT). Its findings were originally included in an initial version of the challan submitted to the court, but this was later dropped without explanation. This version of the charge sheet states: “Comparison report of FBI Lab has corroborated Hasnain Gul’s confessional statement by confirming that 02 terrorists who left shawl and pair of joggers and cap in Hasnain Gul’s residence were killed in the blast on crime scene in Liaquat Bagh on 27-12-2007.”
Sources close to the investigation say the report lost evidentiary value because representatives from the FBI refused to come to Pakistan to testify before the court, rendering the report inadmissible under Pakistani law of evidence.
Another reason it became untenable was because Pakistani investigators could not establish a ‘chain of custody’ relating to the human remains which were first collected by officials of another agency, who were later untraceable by the FIA. “It is possible that the identity of Bilal and Saeed, has been collapsed into one individual,” said one journalist who has followed the case closely.
Evidence for the existence of a third bomber comes from two other sources. The phone call between Baitullah Mehsud and one Maulvi Sahib, intercepted by the security agency, contains a reference to three bombers. The conversation makes a clear distinction between Bilal and Saeed. Elsewhere, in a document prepared by the Interior Ministry, Saeed is referred to as Abdullah alias Saeed ‘the long-necked one’.
The document claims that Abdullah alias Saeed, along with Bilal, Ikramullah and Nasrullah was also part of a failed plan to kill Benazir Bhutto in Arbab Niaz stadium in Peshawar on the 26th of December, a day before the assassination. The assailants were not able to get close enough to Ms. Bhutto’s vehicle because of tight security and decided to move overnight to Rawalpindi where they were picked up by local handlers Hasnain Gul and Rafaqat. The account relating to an attempt in Peshawar the previous day is corroborated by Hasnain Gul’s confession who says he was told by Nasrullah that they had tried to launch but failed in Peshawar. However, there is no mention of Abdullah alias Saeed in any of the confessions in which the handlers admit to receiving only two bombers. The ‘long-necked one’ appears to vanish from the face of the earth. Some speculate that a third, hitherto unknown, terrorist cell could have been used to transport the third bomber to Liaquat Bagh.
The other men standing trial are Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman and Rasheed Ahmed Turabi, all three accused of having knowledge of the conspiracy. Aitzaz Shah, then a 15-year-old boy, was arrested from Dera Ismail Khan in January 2008. Police say he admitted to knowing about the plot to kill Benazir Bhutto and was prepared as a suicide bomber to target her if the first plan failed. He also identified the voice of Baitullah Mehsud on the phone call intercepted by the security services in which he (Mehsud) is told of the successful operation by one Maulvi sahib. Though not made part of the challan, intelligence sources believe that Maulvi sahib is a man called Azizullah, also a prominent upper-tier planner. Another individual, Maulvi Naseeb, a former teacher at Madrassa Haqqania, was also involved in ‘preparing’ the boys ‘for jannah’ in Akora Khattak. His role has also not been established in the challan. Both Azizullah and Naseeb have been reported killed.
Nasrullah and Qari Ismail were killed at a check post in Mohmand agency, on the 15th of January, 2008, as they tried to flee from police. They were transporting a 15-year-old suicide bomber who blew himself up in the car. Qari was killed instantly and Nasrullah died a few days later in hospital. Investigators say he (Nasrullah) was a key figure in the conspiracy with Al Qaeda links who knew the identities of people higher up in the chain. Analysis of call data records from Nasrullah’s phone show he was constantly in touch with a number that was used in the ransom negotiations of Karachi-based businessmen Satish Anand and Aqeel Haji. Major Haroon Ashiq and his close comrade Ilyas Kashmiri were involved in these kidnappings.
Ibad-ur-Rehman alias Farooq Chattan, the alleged chief planner, was killed in a drone strike in Khyber agency on 15th May, 2010. Officials says his case is particularly confounding as he always remained a step ahead of police despite solid intelligence about his location. It is also pointed out that he was killed in the first-ever drone strike in Khyber Agency.
Abdullah alias Saddam was killed while handling an explosive device on 31st May, 2008 at Mamad Gatt, Mohmand Agency and he was buried in his native village Lakaro in Mohmand Agency.
Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike on 5th August, 2009 in South Waziristan during a conjugal visit with his second wife.
Former Interior Minister Rehman Malik: informant in Miranshah, “There were reports that six people had been sent down from FATA to carry out the attack. That corresponds to the information we were subsequently able to gather about the bombers and their handlers.”