Muawiya the Umayyad, Imam Hasan and Imam Husain

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.

thumbnail_IMG_1483

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.

By courtesy

thumbnail_IMG_1477

Advertisements

KEY CHARACTERS IN THE LIFE OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD

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 Talibfather 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.

Aliyoung 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.

Hafsahfourth 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.

Juwayriyawife of the Prophet and daughter of the chief of the Beni Mustaliq Bedouin tribe.

Khadijahfirst 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.

Maymunahwife of the Prophet and widowed sister-in-law to Muhammad’s clever banking uncle, Abbas.

Muawiyafounder of the Umayyad dynasty, brilliant politician and army commander. The Caesar of the Arabs. The second son of Abu Sufyan and 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.

Swadahsecond 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 Habibawife 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 Affanthird 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.

Zaynabdaughter 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.

Courtesy of

thumbnail_IMG_1476

KEY DATES IN POLITICAL AND MILITARY HISTORY FOR THE FIFTY YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF THE PROPHET, MUHAMMAD, AD 632-83

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

632

  • 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.

633

  • 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).

634

  • 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.

635

  • Muslim armies occupy chief cities of Syria and Palestine.
  • On Iraq frontier, ibn Harith manages to repel Persian counterattack at battle of Buwayb.

636

  • 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.

637

  • 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.

638

  • Muslim Arab armies push into northern Iraq and advance into Persia and northern Syria.

639

  • Year of plague and famine

640

  • 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.

641

  • Emperor Heraclius dies in February.
  • Byzantine counterattack into Syria and rebellion among Arab tribes of Syrian desert.

642

  • 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.

644

  • 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.

645

  • 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.

646

  • Amr (briefly appointed as commander) leads reconquest of Egypt with second battle of Nikiou and siege and sack of Alexandria.

647

  • 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.

648

  • Arab fleet skirmishes successfully with Byzantine fleet found off Alexandria.

649

  • Muslim occupation of Cyprus in combined operation organized by the Arab garrisons in Egypt and Syria.

650

  • Definitive edition of the Koran completed in Medina.

651

  • Uthman loses the seal of the Prophet.

652

  • Death of Yazdegird.

653

  • After renewed threat from Byzantine fleet, Cyprus is reconquered in second invasion the same year that an Arab army secures Armenia.

654

  • Rhodes raided by Arab fleet.

655

  • Battle of the Masts: Arab fleet wins command of the Aegean in naval battle fought off the coast of Lycia.

656

  • 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.

657

  • 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.

658

  • 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.

659

  • Amr, supported by Muawiya, takes command of Egypt for the third time in his life.
  • Death of Muhammad Ibn Abu Bakr.

660

  • Muawiya renews assault on Byzantine Empire.

661

  • 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.

662

  • Zayyad and Mughira rule over Basra and Kufa as tough-minded governors of Muawiya.

663

  • First Arab raid on Sicily.

669

  • Muslim siege of Constantinople supported by command of the sea route.

670

  • 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.

671

  • Kharijite revolt suppressed by Zayyad.

678

  • 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.

680

  • 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.

681

  • Oqba ibn Nafi reaches the Atlantic coast of Morocco at the end of his legendary ride across North Africa

683

  • 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.
  • Yazid dies

By courtesy

thumbnail_IMG_1477

The Indian Partition Riots

Many Indians and Pakistanis, especially those from the Punjab, associate independence and partition with forced migrations, loss of property and death. This legacy is one of the reasons why the two nations have maintained a bitter distrust of one another in the years since 1947. Some 11.5. million people migrated between India and the two wings of Pakistan in 1946, 1947 and 1948, and of those, 10 million were from Punjab. The pattern was for Muslims to depart for Pakistan and for Hindus and Sikhs to leave the newly designated territories of Pakistan for India. The process was far from peaceful and estimates of those killed range from 200,000 to over a million. Sometimes the scenes of killing in these partition riots were so horrific that even hardened military men and war correspondents were stunned. New York Times reporter Robert Trumbull wrote: I have never been as shaken by anything, even by the piled-up bodies on the beachhead at Tarawa [a bloody World War II battle]. In India today blood flows oftener than the rain falls. Women and children were not spared and were sometimes killed by family members wanting to save their loved ones from defilement.

thumbnail_file4-1

India’s religious diversity had periodically inspired violence in the subcontinent’s history, although incidents were usually small in scale and localized. Aside from overt periods of oppression, such as the late 1600s, when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a devout Muslim, directly targeted Hindu and Sikh practices and customs, the general pattern was for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to live side by side reasonably comfortably, especially in small villages. There, communities often had to share resources and abilities because survival depended on it.

The communal violence that attended partition can be traced to certain aspects of Indian history and village culture, as well as the circumstances of partition itself. First, Great Britain had used a policy of divide and rule in its Indian possessions. After the so-called mutiny of 1857, when Hindu and Muslim soldiers in Britain’s Indian armies revolted against their officers, and British rule in principle, the British purposefully encouraged separation among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Leaders believed that by dividing the communities, order could be maintained and, more important, another large-scale rebellion could be prevented.

Knowingly or not, Indian independence leaders picked up on the practice of divide and rule. Mahatma Gandhi’s actions and sentiments were based in Hinduism despite his belief in the truth and equality of all religions, and many Indian Muslims scoffed at his argument that they did not constitute a true nation but were mostly Hindus who had converted and were therefore fundamentally Indian. Ironically, Gandhi also displeased Hindu fundamentalists. They found him far too open minded with regard not only to Islam but also caste restrictions and the status of untouchables. After the government reforms of 1937, meanwhile, Hindu Congress members who found themselves in important positions often gave precedence to Hindus over Muslims. Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, for his part, stirred up Muslim communal feeling after 1937 with his claims that the British Raj would be replaced by a Hindu one.

The other trend was a shift in everyday relations among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs from 1942 on. The imminence of partition and the encouraging of communal conflict by leaders brought to the surface tensions often ignored or tolerated in the past.  In villages, for instance, Muslims were often indebted to moneylenders for seed, fertilizer and other resources. Since Muslims were forbidden by their religion to engage in money lending, their creditors were invariably Hindus. After the borders were announced in August 1947, Muslim farmers suddenly found it possible to free themselves from debt by forcing the moneylenders to flee to India or by simply killing them. Sikhs, meanwhile, remembered that it was Muslims who had targeted many of their seventeenth-century founders and plotted revenge for these long-ago acts, even though in earlier years few had worried overtly about such distant matters. On an even more trivial level, aspects of life and religion that in other times were little more than objects of curiosity or discussion—dietary prohibitions, dress, festivals—now became reasons to think of others as dangerous and threatening.

Greed also played a part in the partition riots. On both sides of the border, people saw opportunities to seize the property of those leaving. To encourage quick departures, looters and thieves threatened or carried out violent acts. Meanwhile refugees themselves could be targeted by thieves in search of gold, jewelry, cash, and other portable valuables. Often, robbery turned into rape and murder. In some instances, attacks were carried out by organized bands, such as the Sikh jathas, often made up of former soldiers who had been recently demobilized. The Sikhs, especially were afraid that their very way of life was being threatened and were stirred up by radical leaders such as Tara Singh.

The cycle of violence spun out of control, and neither British, Indian, nor Pakistani authorities were able to do much about it until the riots had burned themselves out. Attacks inspired other attacks, as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs vowed revenge for atrocities committed by their enemies. Many found violence an outlet for their frustration and despair over having to leave homelands that, in many cases, their ancestors had lived in and cultivated for centuries.

There had already been small incidents, but the violence of partition truly began on August 16, 1946, the Muslim League’s Direct-Action Day. For that day Jinnah and the central working committee of the League had called for a “universal Muslim hartal” in response to what they saw as British duplicity and an egregious power grab by Congress in setting up an interim government the previous month. A hartal was a distinctly Indian form of protest, used often by the independence movement. It called for a complete stoppage of work, school and other everyday activities. Hartals were supposed to be non violent and, in most of India, this one too. The major exception was Calcutta, India’s most violent city and a place called the city of the dreadful night by Rudyard Kipling, the British imperialist author. There from August 16 to August 19, communal rioting left about 5,000 people dead and 15,000 more injured. Tens of thousands more were turned into exiles or refugees. Officials gradually restored order, but the poorer quarters of Calcutta remained in constant state of tension and insecurity.

The Great Calcutta Killings started a pattern that was to be repeated for many months. Calcutta Muslims had used the occasion of the hartal to target local Hindus and Sikhs. The latter groups then sought retaliation against Muslims. When on September 2, the Congress dominated interim government took office, a new wave of riots broke out in Bombay and other cities as Muslim activists turned the day into one of mourning. Attacks in Calcutta continued, and they indicate clearly the back-and-forth nature of the communal killings. During September, 162 Muslims and 158 Hindus were killed there.

The British viceroy, Lord Wavell, feared complete collapse in public order and grew increasingly pessimistic about India’s future. He seemed to take to heart Gandhi’s warning that if India wants her blood bath she shall have it.  Muslim League representatives were eventually brought into the interim government, which quelled the violence for a while, but Wavell was not reassured. He told the British Cabinet towards the end of the year that he did not believe that the colonial government or its armed forces could hold India for another 18 months as Prime Minister Attlee hoped. He had also been drawing up plans for the evacuation of British personnel in the event of a large-scale outbreak of violence. Wavell’s attitude left Indian leaders in a troublesome position; it seemed the British could do little about the spread of violence but, because the Indians did not control the country yet, they could do little, either.

The next large-scale outbreak of violence occurred in the Noakhali and Tippera districts of eastern Bengal. It was a region with a long history of communal tension because of the large gap in wealth between the Muslims peasant farmers and Hindu landlords and professionals. In a wave of attacks orchestrated, apparently, by a powerful Muslim League official who used both hired thugs and elements of the League’s paramilitary wing, the Muslim National Guard, Noakhali erupted in a series of thefts, rapes, forced conversions and murders. Thousands of Hindu refugees fled westwards to Calcutta and the province of Bihar, a bit farther west, bringing with them their stories of horror.

In a continuation of the increasingly familiar pattern, Hindus responded to Noakhali with attacks on Bihari Muslims, and the violence even spread to Uttar Pradesh, the province to the west. In the Bihari case, the radical Hindu paramilitary group, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Personal Service Society), sometimes took part. In the last weeks of 1946, Hindu groups killed about 7,000 Bihari Muslims, an estimated 75% of whom were women and children. A horrified Jawaharlal Nehru, the head of the interim government, nearly resigned in despair at the news of Noakhali and Bihar.

Mahatma Gandhi, unhappy with India’s partition and distressed by the turn to violence, adopted the restoration of peaceful Hindu-Muslim relations as a personal crusade. He travelled to Noakhali in the aftermath of the violence there, and walked from village to village, visiting hundreds of Hindu and Muslim families and often asking them something to eat and a place to sleep. Along the way, he begged these ordinary people to end any support for radical activists, and he tried to convince community leaders to sit down with one another and make their peace. He later visited Bihar, where he announced that the sins of Noakhali Muslims and of the Bihar Hindus are of the same magnitude and are equally condemnable. Although Gandhi was usually received peacefully by villagers, he suffered occasional abuse from Muslims and from Hindu radicals.

Vast outbreaks of rioting in the Punjab formed part of the context in which the Congress Party, the Muslim League, and British leaders devised their partition plan in the spring of 1947. By the time Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived to replace Wavell as viceroy and use his personal drive and charisma to move the process forward, the Punjab had erupted. The coalition government in the province, representing Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims not affiliated with the Muslim League was dissolved in March. This created an opening for radical Sikh separatists who, led by Tara Singh, hoped to carve out their own independent state out of the Punjab. With Tara Singh calling for blood, Sikh activists attacked Muslim League representatives in Lahore, Amritsar and other Punjab cities and towns. Muslims reacted in kind, and the riots, murders, robberies and rapes spread from the towns to the countryside. Hindus were inevitably caught up in the violence. An incident there illustrates how small problems became the inspiration for large-scale communal violence.

Soon after Mountbatten took office, he received a message from the British governor of the Punjab citing a small, domestic spat outside of the city of Rawalpindi: A Muslim’s water buffalo had wandered on the property of his Sikh neighbour. When its owner sought to reclaim it, a fight, then a riot, erupted. Two hours later, a hundred human beings lay in the surrounding fields, hacked to death with scythes and knives because of the vagrant humours of a water buffalo.

Mahatma Gandhi: A One-Man Boundary Force

As the Punjab exploded into violence in the months before and after partition, many feared that the city of Calcutta would erupt as well. India’s most violent city, Calcutta had been the centre of the first major outbreak of partition riots, the “Great Calcutta Killings” of August 1946, which had left about 5,000 people dead.

In 1947, however, Calcutta remained mostly peaceful. The main reason was the presence of Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual leader of India’s independence movement and a man willing to risk his own life to preserve peace in India, In the decades following the World War I era (1914-1918), Gandhi had staged actions ranging from mass marches to hunger strikes to daily prayer meetings to move India towards independence. Also, an advocate of non-violence, he was horrified at the partition riots. In a manner keeping with his patterns of public action, he went to Calcutta in August 1947 to stage a hunger strike to keep the peace. On the tensest day, August 15, the day of independence, he was joined by Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Leander of Calcutta’s Muslims and the sort of corrupt politician whom Gandhi disliked. That day, peace held in Calcutta and the two gave up their hunger strike. Lord Mountbatten, Britain’s last leader of India, called Gandhi a one-man boundary force. It was a reference to the other, official boundary force, a unit of 55,000 troops that was, even then, failing to maintain order in the Punjab.

Over the following weeks, as the Punjab jab erupted even more violently, Gandhi stayed in Calcutta, which remained peaceful. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Calcuttans- Hindus, Muslims and Sikh-gathered in the city’s central open space, the Maidan, to try to catch a glimpse of the Mahatma as he went to his daily prayer meetings. By September, several incidents and misunderstandings had brought communal violence to Calcutta. To stop it, Gandhi now proclaimed a fast unto death. After more than three days of eating nothing, the Mahatma received a pledge from Calcutta’s Hindus, Muslims and Sikh leaders promising to stop any further communal violence. He ended his fast, and the communal leaders were true to their word Calcutta’s peace held.

At the end of July 1947, Mountbatten took steps to form a Punjab Boundary Force to try to restore order to the region. It was to be led by a British officer but be mostly composed of Indian troops, many of them Nepali Buddhist Gurkhas, rather than Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.  Numbering 55,000 altogether, the force would be advised by both Indian and Pakistani authorities both before and after the independence. Although the force hastily took the field, it could do little. There were simply not enough troops to cover the territory, a problem that was compounded by the fact that most of the violence was taking place in the countryside rather than the cities. In addition, the force could count on little local cooperation. Even the police, who generally came from the regions they patrolled, often took part in or ignored the communal violence.

The Punjab was still in flames when independence arrived. One British official wrote: The Punjab is an absolute inferno and it is still going strong. Thousands have been murdered and tens and hundreds of thousands of refugees are streaming about. There has been a lot of arson. It will take generations of work to put things straight.

Mountbatten remembered looking down in despair from his airplane at the fires burning in towns and villages as he returned from the independence celebrations at Karachi to those in Delhi on August 15. On August 14, Nehru heard from associates that in Lahore, a city he loved, fires were burning, and women and children seeking water were cut down by Muslim mobs. He said, how am I going to talk tonight? How am I going to pretend there’s joy in my heart for India’s independence when I know Lahore, our beautiful Lahore, is burning?”

A British soldier at the scene spoke much more directly. He remembered that in parts of Lahore,

Corpses lay in the gutter. Nearby a posse of Muslim police chatted unconcerned. A British major. . . had also arrived. He and his driver were collecting the bodies. Some were dead. Some were dying. All were horribly mutilated. They were Sikhs. Their long hair and beards were matted with blood. An old man, not so bad as the rest, asked me where we were taking them. “To hospital,” I replied, adding to hearten him, “You’re not going to die.”

“I shall,” he said, “if there is a Muslim doctor.”

The violence in the Punjab was at its worst that August and September when, with the borders known, the great migrations began. Millions set out, carrying whatever they could. There were caravans of refugees miles long, with one containing an estimated 800,000 people leaving West Punjab for India. The numbers could provide protection against attackers, but not from shortages of food and water, nor from disease, and refugees suffered greatly.

Amongst the grimmest episodes of violence were those on the trains that traversed the region especially those that travelled the short distance between Lahore and Amritsar. For refugees, trains were far quicker than walking, especially given the heat and the shortages of fresh food and water, but each train was overcrowded. For attackers, however, it was easy to judge who was on the trains simply by the direction they were travelling. They learned to stop the trains, sometimes with as simple a measure as placing a cow on the tracks. Then they would rob, rape, and murder with impunity. It was common for trains full of corpses to reach the station in Lahore and Amritsar, as well those of smaller towns. During these deadly weeks, there were periods of four or five days at a stretch during which not a single train reached Lahore or Amritsar without its complement of dead and wounded.

An Indian army officer, K.P. Candeth recalled, I remember seeing a train come in from Pakistan and there wasn’t a single live person on it; there were just bodies, dead and butchered. Now, that train entered India and the people saw it. And the next Pakistan-bound train that came, they set upon it, and the slaughter was terrible. These ghost trains in the words of novelist Khushwant Singh in his story of the period, Train to Pakistan, have become part of the common memory of the era of partition.

thumbnail_file-2

As fall turned to winter, the violence wound down, even in the Punjab and in Delhi itself, now a city crowded with angry and hungry refugees. Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel convinced Mountbatten, now serving as India’s Governor-General, to head an emergency committee designed to restore order in the Punjab, while Indian leaders undertook the same effort in Delhi. Edwina Mountbatten took a leading role in refugee relief efforts and, as peace returned, some emphasized the blessing that, outside of the Punjab, both India and Pakistan had remained mostly peaceful.

The violence of partition had mostly burned itself out when, in early January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi settled in at Birla House in Delhi, the home of a wealthy industrialist who contributed much to the Mahatma’s causes. He started another hunger strike there on January 12, demanding not only the end of communal violence but complete peace between India and Pakistan. This fast brought him near death, but he ended it when a settlement was negotiated between India and Pakistan; its main feature was an agreement by the Indian government to pay Pakistan forty million pounds that the Pakistanis claimed was theirs by right from the partition settlement.

On January 30, on the grounds of Birla House, Gandhi was on his way to his daily prayer meeting when he was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist named Nathuram Godse. Alerted Mountbatten quickly reached the scene. Like all other leaders, he was afraid that the event would spark a new and even more brutal wave of violence, especially if a Muslim had pulled the trigger. As he entered the grounds of Birla House, and in response to a voice claiming that a Muslim had shot Gandhi, Mountbatten shouted, without knowing whether it was true: You fool! Don’t you know it was a Hindu?

Gandhi’s death was a turning point. According to journalist Mark Tully and Zareer Masani, more than other event, Gandhi’s death purged the country of communal hatred. Nevertheless, memories of the violence were long lasting and bitter, and they further separated two nations already divided by artificial borders. In future years, the two nations were to carve out separate and often conflicting paths.

Courtesy: 

thumbnail_file6-1

 

Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination

THE MASTERMINDS 

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 

  • Afghanistan
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina  
  • Chechnya.

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.”
———————————————————————————————————————–

 

BB1

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.

BB3

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.”

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Eos explores the evidence unearthed during the investigation into the former premier’s assassination.

The writer is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is also a producer of BBC’s podcast series The Assassination presented by Owen Bennett-Jones. He tweets @ZiadZafar

Courtesy of : Dawn, EOS, December 24th, 2017