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Tread Softly
But carry big influence
  by: : Nina Shea

In a major speech last year at Kansas State University , Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addressed the importance of “soft power” in the War on Terror. He could have had an attack like the recent Bombay massacre in mind: He warned that “asymmetric warfare” will be the “mainstay of the contemporary battlefield for some time,” and argued that “success will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping behavior — of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.”

After ten heavily armed Pakistani men tore through the center of Bombay , targeting and killing over 160 people and bringing the megalopolis to its knees for half a week, the Bush administration adopted this soft-power approach. When it became clear that the Pakistani Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was responsible, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen rushed to Islamabad for separate, consecutive meetings to pressure Pakistan to cooperate with India ’s investigation.

The U.S. is urging Pakistan to help India investigate and prosecute those behind the attack and move against the outlawed (but still tolerated) LeT. This is a challenge, since some Pakistani factions support LeT, including elements within the very state agencies needed to do the purge.

And as difficult as this it will be for Pakistan ’s government, it’s not enough. Pakistan must also either overhaul or shut down those madrassas and educational centers that create a culture of jihad and serve as the prime recruiting grounds for jihadi groups.

Since several Muslim advocacy groups began condemning as “Islamophobic” any recognition of terrorists’ self-declared religious ideologies, the State Department has shied away from acknowledging such obvious connections. But, as Secretary Gates emphasized in subsequent speeches on soft power, long-term success in the conflict against a “malignant form of terrorism inspired by jihadist extremism” will depend less on military engagements and more on the “overall ideological climate within the world of Islam.”

First, Pakistan must close all schools and offices nationwide of LeT’s charity front, Jamaat-ul-Dawa. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed founded LeT in 1990 and changed its name to Jamaat-ul-Dawa (“Society for Preaching”) after the U.S. froze LeT’s assets and called for it to be banned following a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. At that time Saeed publicly quit the militant wing, but remained head of Jamaat, which functions as LeT’s fundraising, educational, and social-services wing.

Jamaat runs schools and offices in over 60 Pakistani cities, including a 75-acre campus encompassing a university, madrassa, and school in Muridke, near Lahore . This complex and its students, one of whom was among the London Tube bombers, have been implicated in numerous violent attacks. Muridke is Saeed’s main base of operations, and he was reportedly giving public lectures there right up to the day before the Bombay attacks. He is one of 20 Pakistanis whose extradition India now demands.

Since Bombay , Pakistan has raided only one of Jamat’s hundreds of facilities, the Muzaffarabad camp in Pakistani Kashmir where the Bombay jihadis were trained.

Extremist indoctrination was an essential step in LeT’s preparations for the siege. According to press reports, the lone Bombay jihadi arrested, Ajmal Amir Kasab, told police his training began and ended with ideological indoctrination: “At first, it was the recitation of the Koran and lectures about jihad. He was being prepared mentally.” After subsequent military training, Kasab was “briefed” one last time, actually by Saeed himself. According to the Washington Post, Saeed “told them that this was good for the community and the religion, and that they were blessed to be martyrs.” He no doubt drew from one of Jamaat’s publicly distributed instruction manuals, entitled “Why We Are Performing Jihad.”

The brand of Islamist ideology in which Kasab and his Bombay cohorts were indoctrinated is based on Saudi Wahhabism. Pakistan ’s current ambassador to the U.S. , Husain Haqqani, formerly the co-editor of the Hudson Institute journal Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, wrote in 2005 that LeT is Pakistan ’s “most significant jihadi group of Wahhabi persuasion” and is “backed by Saudi money and protected by Pakistani intelligence services.” Saeed founded LeT after returning from Saudi Arabia , where he had been immersed in advanced Wahhabi studies and developed contacts with Saudi sheikhs who supported jihad in Afghanistan .

In turn, Saeed found fertile ground for LeT in a South Asian jihadist movement founded in the 19th century by Sayyid Ahmed of Bareili, who himself, according to Haqqani, had been influenced by Wahhabi ideas during his pilgrimage to Mecca. As Haqqani wrote, Ahmed’s revival of the ideology of jihad became “the prototype for subsequent Islamic militant movements in South and Central Asia and is also the main influence over the jihad network of al-Qaeda and its associated groups in the region.”

Saudi oil riches have increased the influence of Wahhabism exponentially: Legions of people have gone to Saudi Arabia as missionaries, pilgrims, or workers, and returned home with Wahhabi views. In Pakistan , such Wahhabi followers call themselves “Ahle-Hadith” or People of the Prophet’s Tradition. The network of Ahle Hadith seminaries and schools has strong links to LeT and the other jihadi groups. One example is the Darsatul Islamia madrassa in Karachi , where Hafiz Saeed is known to hold his public gatherings. The International Crisis Group, in its 2007 detailed study on Karachi madrassas, reported that when security agencies raided Darsatul Islamia to arrest 19 students in connection with the Bali bombings, Saeed was addressing a gathering in the same hall. Saeed was not arrested, nor was that madrassa shut down.

The Heritage Foundation is one among many think tanks to attest to the connection between Saudi Arabia , Pakistani Wahhabi madrassas, and jihadi groups. As a Heritage scholar testified to Congress last year: “The Saudi Arabian organization, Harmain Islamic Foundation, reportedly has provided substantial financial assistance to the Ahle-Hadith madrassas, which have provided fighters to the banned Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.”

The International Crisis Group calculates that there are 36 Ahle Hadith madrassas in Karachi alone. They are unmonitored and unregulated, but it can be certain that they aim to brainwash Muslim boys. The Wahhabi teachings they employ likely resemble those found in the Saudi government textbooks currently posted on the Saudi Ministry of Education website: Militant jihad against infidels is “the summit of Islam,” “one of the noblest acts,” and “one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God”; martyrdom is a “noble life force”; the clash between the Muslim umma and the Jews and Christians will continue to doomsday; apostates should be killed; etc.

The crucible of America ’s soft power is now in Pakistan . The U.S. must seriously respond to the ideological component of the terrorists’ war against the West. Such efforts cannot be limited to earthquake assistance, public-relations efforts to re-brand America , and hope for the effectiveness of Saudi deprogramming sessions for captured jihadis. Not all of Pakistan ’s 10,000-plus madrassas should be closed. But Pakistan must be pressured to arrest Hafiz Saeed and shutter his Jamaat ul Dawa operation, the Wahhabi Ahle Hadith madrassas, and those other Islamist ideological training centers that in fact function as jihadi feeder schools for a multitude of terrorist organizations. The U.S. must also stop Saudi Arabia from spreading, through financial support, educational materials, and dawa efforts, its noxious Wahhabi brand of Islam.

Unless Pakistan ’s ideological climate changes, the world should brace for continued jihadist terror.

— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Her reporting on Saudi educational texts can be found here.