Pakistani-directed Taliban sympathizers have also appeared as far away as Bangladesh, a Muslim country of nearly 160 million, on India’s eastern border. During the Bangladesh independence war of 1971, murder, rape, and despoliation of property were inflicted on the Bangladeshis by the powerful Pakistani jihadist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)--a matter Pakistan refuses to discuss. JI operates in the U.S. through the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), controller of the Alexandria mosque from which six American citizens recently departed to join the anti-American jihad in Afghanistan (see “It Can Happen Here,” issue of December 28, 2009). Another group adhering to the Taliban’s Deobandi ideology, Tabligh-i-Jamaat (TJ or Call of the Community), is based in India, and with millions of members scattered around the globe, has launched a major “Islamic revival” in Bangladesh. TJ first drew the attention of the non-Muslim world thanks to one of its past members, Richard Reid, the unsuccessful “shoe bomber” of 2001 and antecedent of the technologically-similar Delta Air bomb attempt near Detroit on Christmas. Moderate Muslim figures in Bangladesh have called for a stop to the spread of TJ and Deobandism on their soil.
The current war in Afghanistan has stimulated belief that Taliban deserters may form a counterterrorist force comparable to the “Sunni Awakening” that succeeded in Iraq. Unlike the Taliban, the Sunni terrorists in Iraq were mostly composed of Wahhabi fanatics crossing the border northward from Saudi Arabia, and even those Iraqis discontented with the U.S-led intervention resented the extremists as foreigners. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are much more implanted among the local Pashto people, who live on both sides of that border. In addition to recruitment of disaffected Taliban, a strategy for defeat of the Taliban should include support for moderate Muslims in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh who are equally menaced by radical aggression.
Stephen Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam and The Other Islam. Irfan Al-Alawi is executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, based in the UK.