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Islamist Rivals Eyeing Afghan Future As Anti-Sufi Terror Continues in Pakistan

12:55 PM, Nov 15, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Bezhan points out that Iran opened a “massive” religious school, the Khatam al-Nabyeen Islamic University, in western Kabul in 2006, serving Shia Muslims. Tehran spent about $17 million for this Afghan facility, with a mosque, classrooms, and dormitories for 1,000 students. Bezhan described the new, oversized Saudi undertaking as intended clearly to challenge local Iranian influence.

In the past 10 years, Bezhan discloses, Iran has allocated “millions on infrastructure, including roads, power grids, and railway projects [in Afghanistan]. Tehran also leaves its mark through its export of cultural and political views via its strong media presence and funding of religious schools.” Saudi Arabia, by contrast, maintained a low profile in the country after 2001.

Afghan Shias account for about 15 percent of the country’s 30 million citizens, and belong mostly to the Hazara ethnicity, a community of nearly 8 million descended from Mongol invaders, who typically now speak Persian. The Hazaras, concentrated in the high peaks of central Afghanistan, were massacred repeatedly by the Taliban. Their district, known as Hazarajat, continues to suffer economic discrimination, leaving it even more impoverished than the rest of Afghanistan. Many Hazaras have fled to Iran, which repatriates them to Afghanistan. The Hazaras have appealed to the government of Mongolia for sanctuary, although Mongolia is a Lamaist Buddhist country with only about 4 percent of its 3 million people following Islam. The Hazaras have also been targeted for homicidal attacks in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the center of Taliban activity.

Pakistan has, meanwhile, seen renewed attacks on the local spiritual Sufis. On October 28, the shrine of the Pashtun Sufi Kasteer Gul in Nowshera, a suburb of Peshawar in the country’s northeast, was bombed, with three dead and 20 injured. The blast occurred at the gates of the shrine, which was crowded with celebrants, on the second day of Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim holiday at the conclusion of hajj pilgrimages to Mecca. Hundreds of Pakistanis turned out to demonstrate against the atrocity.

Within a week, three more Sufi shrines in the Peshawar and Nowshera region had been assaulted. On November 2, an improvised explosive device (IED), aimed at Muslims attending Friday prayers, was defused at the Mian Umar Baba shrine in Nowshera. The Mian Umar Baba mausoleum had been blown up by the Taliban in 2010. On November 3, a bomb went off in the nearby Phandu Baba shrine. Peshawar and Nowshera have become the scene of frequent extremist outrages. In 2007, the Abdul Shakoor Malang Baba shrine in Peshawar was nearly completely devastated by explosives. The area has been chosen by the radicals as a major theater of terrorist operations because of its numerous Sufi monuments, which are reviled by the fundamentalists.

In March 2008 near Peshawar, the terrorist Lashkar-e-Islam (Islamic Army) killed ten villagers in an ambush with rockets at the 400-year-old shrine of Hazrat Abu Saeed Baba. Next, the Ashaab Baba shrine in Peshawar was bombed. In 2009 the Afghan Taliban blasted the Peshawar tomb of the poet Rehman Baba, and, the next day, devastated the shrine of Bahadur Baba in Nowshera. Soon after, the Shaykh Omar Baba shrine in Peshawar was demolished.

Obama’s rhetoric about bringing peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan may play well among Americans weary of conflict in the Muslim lands. But the Iranians, Taliban, and Wahhabis are merely waiting for the two countries to fall into their hands. And the ordinary, innocent citizens of both look toward 2014, and the Obama scheme for their disposition, with deep anxiety.

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