Whom you are going"
As we begin to discuss the genesis of suicide terrorism in Pakistan, two things need to be understood at the outset. One, the way the 'mujahideen' of the 1980s turn into the 'jihadis' of the 1990s and 2000s is not just a lexical concern; it contains within itself the entire explanation of the phenomenon we call terrorism. And two, in order to bring an end to terrorism of whatever variety, it is important to know and address the cause.
It is true that Pakistan now faces more suicide attacks than Iraq and Afghanistan and the targets are not just security personnel any more. These extend to Nato convoys to moderate clerics to government and its agents to UN agencies to civilians in market places. Hence the need to understand what constitutes suicide terrorism. But the fact is that while the form may have changed into one that is capable of instilling more fear – more and more people willing to sacrifice themselves -- the ideals remain the same.
Eqbal Ahmad in his last public talks in the United States at the University of Colorado at Boulder in October 1998 made some prophetic and insightful suggestions. Without appearing to offer an apology for what is being branded as terrorism to the world, he pointed out that it emerges from a need to be heard, is an expression of anger, of helplessness and in some cases is a reaction to a sense of betrayal.
This sense of betrayal takes us back to the distinction mentioned earlier between the mujahideen and the jihadis. Our role in the Afghan jihad and the compulsion of having a lawless tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan led us to our present situation.
Suicide terrorism began in Pakistan in 2002 in Karachi near Sheraton Hotel where 14 people were killed including 11 French engineers involved in the sale of Agosta submarines to the Pakistani army. This was followed by sporadic incidents including the attacks on no less than the then president Musharraf himself. But the spurt in suicide attacks which has driven the country to a state of civil war began after the siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007. The connection with Afghan war was felt again because here was the mosque that supported and recruited mujahideen way back in the 1980s. That's when the freedom fighters of yore turned jihadis and against their own people.
Eqbal Ahmad thought terrorism was a political problem that required political solutions. Military solutions, he thought, complicate matters. He didn't live long enough to say if this was equally true for suicide terrorism. Short of a sure solution, we in this country make do with launching military operations and getting the clerics to issue fatwas against suicide bombers.
On a hopeful note, though, the government is extending psychological help to rehabilitate many of these children and young people who were captured before turning into suicide bombers. Various aspects of the phenomenon form today's Special Report.
Multiple-suicide attacks and Taliban's suicidal mission against the security and law-enforcement agencies are the new phenomena
By Shafiq Ahmad
Soon after the US and its western coalition forces attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 and ousted Taliban from Kabul, incidents of suicide bombing increased in the two neighbouring countries. Initially, the suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan were fewer in numbers but, in the last four years, hundreds of suicide bombers have been produced by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and several dozens of them carried out intensified attacks, particularly in Pakistan.
The multiple-suicide attacks and Taliban's suicidal mission against the security and law-enforcement agencies are the new phenomena introduced by the Pakistani militants early this year, when the Punjabi Taliban attacked a Police Training School in Manawan and then attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Since then, the militants have carried out such mission several times in Lahore and Rawalpindi. The same style of suicidal mission was followed by the Afghan Taliban when six attackers stormed the UN officials' guest house in Kabul on October 28 and then killed seven persons including three UN staffers.
The first suicide bombing after the ouster of the Taliban regime from Kabul was reported on November 24, 2001, when a surrendering militant blew himself up with a hand grenade which seriously injured a Northern Alliance commander and killed his two fighters near Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balk province of Afghanistan. The explosive used in this attack was less in quantity and not according to the present-day latest technique of using a suicide jacket filled with explosive materials.
On April 20, 2002, after five months of that incident, pamphlets appeared in wide areas near the Pakistan-Afghan border towns of Chaman and Spin Boldak, urging the Taliban to reorganise and carry out suicide bombings against US-led international forces in Afghanistan.
The first suicide attack against the foreign forces in Afghanistan occurred in Kabul on June 7, 2003, when an explosives-packed taxi rammed a bus carrying German peacekeepers, setting off a thunderous blast that killed four soldiers and wounded 31 others.
But in comparison to Afghanistan, the first suicide attack in the history of Pakistan took place on May 8, 2002, exactly 13 months earlier than the same kind of assault in the neighbouring country. A suicide bomber riding in a Toyota Corolla drove up to a Pakistan Navy bus near Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, killing 16 people, including 11 French nationals. Eighteen others including 10 foreigners were injured in the attack. The target of the suicide bomber was French engineers and technicians of the French state-owned shipbuilding company, Direction de la Construction Navale, working with the Pakistan Navy on a submarine project at the Karachi Port.
Though, the law enforcement agencies detained more that 1,200 activists of banned militant organisations throughout the country soon after the attack on French engineers, analysts believe that Uzbek and Chechen fighters were the first who used this technique of suicide bombing in the war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"The Uzbeks carried out the first suicide attack on former Pakistani President Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf on December 26, 2003," says Brigadier (retd) Mehmood Shah, who remained secretary of securities of the seven tribal regions and witnessed many peace agreements between Islamabad and Taliban groups. The former military ruler narrowly escaped a two-pronged suicide attack, but that attack claimed lives of 16 people including six police personnel and four army men who were on security duty.
Two days later, a suicide bomber killed four intelligence agents and their driver in Kabul. A Taliban spokesman later told media via phone that the attack was carried out by Abdullah, 35 years old and a citizen of Chechnya.
So, the involvement of Chechens and Uzbeks in these suicide attacks clearly indicates that al-Qaeda's Arab fighters spread their tentacles to Chechnya during the former Soviet Union invasion on Grozny and then they got the support of Afghan and Pakistan militant groups.
Majority of the analysts believe that the present suicide bombing technique was imported from Iraq after the US invasion in March 2003. Taliban sent a group of Afghan fighters to the al-Qaeda suicide bombing training camps in Iraq to acquire the know-how of preparing homicide bombers in their own country. Later, these Afghan fighters trained the Pakistan militants in the tribal region upon their return to Afghanistan in 2005, says Brig Mehmood Shah.
The tactic was rarely seen until 2005. Since then, suicide attacks have become increasingly common in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he added.
"The first suicide training camp was set up by Baitullah Mehsud's group in Badar valley of South Waziristan," says Brig Mehmood Shah. He said Mulla Dadullah Mansoor, the one-legged, slain Afghan Taliban commander and second to Mulla Omar also visited the suicide bombers training camp and addressed the young recruits.
Deela was another place where Mehsud group had established a training camp for suicide bombers. But in the last few years, different Taliban groups established such training camps in different parts of the tribal regions and also in Swat, where Pakistan army conducted a successful military operation and flushed the Taliban out of the valley.
Abu Faraj was the master-trainer of suicide bombers in Swat, who was arrested by the security forces during the operation against Taliban in the valley. "We have dismantled more than three suicide bombers' training camps in Swat," says Lt Col Akhtar Abbas, who is in charge of the army media centre in Mingora city.
Talking by phone, he says, "The Swat Taliban had established these camps in Imam Dheri, the village of local militant commander Mulla Fazlullah, Charbagh and Peochar valley." The security forces also recovered dozens of would-be suicide bombers from these training schools during the operation, he said.
A school and a hospital were used by militants in Swat to prepare children for suicide attacks and for making improvised explosive devices, say sources in the valley.
"We have set up a rehabilitation centre for 85 vulnerable suicide bombers in Malakand, where a top psychiatrist is helping the youth to lead a normal life after their return to homes," the army official said.
Majority of these boys belonged to the poor and extended families and probably these were the main reasons of their vulnerability to the suicide bombing, he opined.
During their training, these suicide bombers learn the skill of bomb-making and firing on targets with small and heavy weapons, says an official sources quoting Sohailzeb Mehsud, who was arrested with two jackets filled with 20kg of explosives and a detonator in Tank on March 8, 2007. Sohailzeb, who was also the cousin of former militant commander Abdullah Mehsud, was later released along with several other detained militants in lieu of the release of more than 270 security officials made hostage by Baitullah Mehsud's fighters in South Waziristan in mid-2007.
In addition to the physical training, Sohailzeb told his interrogators, they were taught three books – Rehber Ki Shanakht (identification of leader), Fidayee Hamlay (suicide attacks) and Tareekh-e-Shiagaan (history of Shias).
According to these sources, Orakzai tribal region is now the main centre of suicide bombers training camps. The main centre is run by Fidayeen-i-Islam, which was established by Hakimullah Mehsud, the present head of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). While Tariq Afridi group and Ghazi Force, which is involved in many recent suicide attacks in Islamabad, have also their training camps in Orakzai.
Qari Hussain, militant commander and the first cousin of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, is the main person who trained and organised most of the suicide bombings in Pakistan, according to military officials and local sources.
Early this year, Qari Hussain released a 40-minute propaganda tape showing the statements of suicide bombers and the aftermath of their attacks inside Pakistan. The tape shows men and youths, some apparently in their teens, addressing the camera about their intention to carry out suicide attacks.
An excerpt (translated from Arabic) from the handwritten document, presumably written by Mohamed Atta, one of the main plotters of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. Titled The Last Night, the document gives an important insight into the psyche of a man on a suicide mission
"One of the Companions said: the Messenger of God ordered us to recite it previous to a raid, and we recited it, took booty and were safe.
1. Mutual swearing of the oath unto death and renewal of (one's) intention…
2. Knowing the plan well – all the angles, together with the (likely) reaction and opposition from the enemy.
3. Reading/recitation of suras al-Taubah and al-Anfal and considering their meanings together with Paradise that God has promised to the believers, especially to the martyrs.
4. Reminding the soul of hearing and obedience that night (the last night) for you will be faced with what will cause it to be less than 100 percent in its hearing and obedience, so spiritually exercise its purification, understand it, subordinate it and incite it (to good works) at that time. …
5. Staying the night (praying), pressing onwards in prayer, divination (jafr), strengthening (oneself), (obtaining a) clear victory, and ease of heart that you might not betray us.
6. Much remembrance (of God)… It is sufficient that it is the Word of the Creator of heaven and earth -- to Whom you are going.
7. Purify your heart and cleanse it from all uncleanliness. Forget and become oblivious to that thing called "this world". The time for play is over and the appointed time for seriousness has come. How much of our lives we have wasted!...
8. Let your breast be open, tranquil to the bounty of God because it is only a few minutes before the happy, satisfying life and the eternal Paradise begins in the company of the prophets, the upright people, the martyrs and the righteous...
9. You should consider… that whatever happens to you would never detract from your (spiritual level) and whatever would detract from you would never happen to you. This is nothing but God's test in order to raise the level (of your martyrdom) and to expiate your sins…
10. Remember the Word of God Most High: "You were yearning for death before you actually met it. Now you have seen it and you are beholding it." [3:143]…
11. Remind yourself of the prayers -- and (those) of your brothers -- and contemplate their meanings…
12. The expectoration (from the soul, into a siphon; and the clothes, the knife, your personal belongings, your ID, your passport and all of your papers).
13. Check your weapon before you leave and again before you leave...
14. Tighten your clothing around you. This is the way of the pious forefathers…
15. Pray the morning (prayer) in a group… and do not leave your apartment without performing the ritual ablutions…
When the taxi is taking you to the airport, then recite the devotional of travel… Make sure that no one of whom you are unaware is following you…
And additionally, do not show outward signs of embarrassment or nervousness, but be joyful and happy… because you are going towards God's welcome and… you will finish with the hurs (women) in Paradise…
When you place your foot into the plane and take your seat, then say the devotionals… Then when the plane starts to move… say the prayer of the traveler, because you are traveling towards God Most High -- and how blessed is this journey! …Do not be afraid to ask God that He would grant you (the rank of) martyr, as you advance without retreating…
At the beginning of the confrontation, strike in the manner of champions who are not desirous of returning to this world, and shout: Allah o Akbar! (God is great!), for this shout causes fear to enter into the hearts of the unbelievers… You should know that the Gardens (of Paradise) have been decorated for you in the most beautiful way, and that the hurs are calling to you... When everything is finished according to what is planned, complete that which you have begun, striking whoever resists in the c(ockpit) or in the p(lane) and the c(abin), remembering that this action is for God, Exalted and Lifted Up."
TNS speaks to a number of people extending psychological help to youth and children"Change is imminent" TNS speaks to a number of people extending psychological help to youth and children
The News on Sunday: Could you tell us about the social profile of the potential suicide bombers that you have met? Also their age bracket, their ethnicity etc?
Answer: It's probably a complex array of factors that makes one come under the influence of a miscreant and/or may become a miscreant eventually. I want to clarify that not all these children are suicide bombers but could have been compelled and/or agreed to become suicide bombers. Some were abducted, joined voluntarily or were influenced by the indoctrination of the Taliban by family members or relatives. Most of the children apprehended so far are native to Swat. Their age bracket is 12 to 18. Majority of them come from low socioeconomic strata, and most belong to very large families.
TNS: What has your experience been like? What is it that makes an ordinary person a suicide bomber? What is their motivation?
A: Experience is an eye opener. There was a tremendous source of remorse on the realisation that we as a society had alienated ourselves from Swat (or, for that matter, Waziristan or Balochistan). We heard the stories but distanced ourselves from them or the reality. It took bombings close to Islamabad or in Islamabad to wake some of us. The rest still think that it is a distant scenario.
TNS: Do you think it is religion or social injustice and inequality or some psychological disorder that drives people towards terrorism?
A: These children are not compelled by religious ideology. Their understanding is simple: jihad to instill Sharia law in Swat and, ultimately, Pakistan via Islamabad.
TNS: What are the brainwashing techniques or motivating tools used by their trainers?
A: These teenagers or adolescents were mostly recruited during the peace accord in February this year. They are a God-fearing and religious lot but they do not understand the true concept of jihad. They were brainwashed into believing that the army against which they were retaliating was not 'Pakistani'.
TNS: What percentage of people you interviewed is driven by revenge?
A: Coming from poor backgrounds they do not have enough substance in their present and, therefore, cannot see a future in this life. Hence a promise of a glorious afterlife -- life after death -- must have surely been attractive.
TNS: What is the therapy used to cure them and how effective it is? Is there a way out for them?
A: Change is imminent if the determination is there from all of us to intervene where we can, to take responsibility for this nation which is ours to make not theirs (the army, the politicians or powers beyond our borders). The institutions that prevail are there because we have nurtured them and compromised our own lives and that of our children.
The life and times of Qari Hussain
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
There could be a number of trainers of suicide bombers in Pakistan but Qari Hussain is the most well-known. However, he has managed to retain his reputation as a shadowy character by avoiding the media and refusing to be photographed.
Qari Hussain is the master trainer of suicide bombers. It is not for nothing that he is referred to as the "Ustad-i-Fidayeen," or the mentor of the suicide bombers. In their parlance, a suicide bomber is described as a "fidayee," the one who is sacrificing his life for a cause. And Qari Hussain despite being a relatively young man is the "ustad," or teacher of the "fidayees."
Some time back, Qari Hussain phoned this writer and lectured him about the righteousness of the cause of Pakistani Taliban. He said their "jihad" was originally against the US and its Western allies who had occupied Afghanistan and other Islamic countries and were involved in a crusade against the Muslims. He regretted that the Pakistan government and armed forces made an alliance with the US in the so-called 'war on terror' and brought this war to Pakistan. "Now we are defending ourselves in the war being waged by Pakistan's security forces in our homes and villages at the behest of the US. We are also retaliating outside the tribal areas with bombings, including suicide attacks," Qari Hussain argued.
The mention of suicide bombings prompted this scribe to ask him why he was sending bombers to launch attacks in Pakistani cities that often kill and injure civilians. Qari Hussain defended suicide bombings and referred to a "fatwa", or decree, given by some clerics justifying the tactic. When reminded that the decree came from Afghan clerics and concerned Afghanistan where the Taliban are fighting against US-led coalition forces made up of mostly non-Muslim soldiers, he maintained that Pakistan's military too had joined hands with the Western armies and was killing its own people.
There was no use arguing with a commander of the militants known for his strong views and commitment to his cause. But Qari Hussain wanted to continue talking about suicide bombings. It appeared to be his favourite subject. He didn't want a formal interview, but was keen to explain how he motivated young men to become suicide bombers. And then he dropped a bombshell. "Yusufzai sahib, you aren't young. But you need to sit with me for half an hour and I am sure I can convince you also to become a suicide bomber!"
Laughing, this writer told Qari Hussain that this won't happen. But he was adamant and said he had turned so many normal guys into suicide bombers. He gave an invitation for a meeting somewhere in his lair, which at the time kept changing from South Waziristan to Kurram Agency to Orakzai Agency. The meeting never took place and now Qari Hussain is on the run after having fled the military operation that was launched against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in South Waziristan on October 16.
Qari Hussain is a cousin of the TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced Baitullah Mehsud who was killed in a US drone attack on August 5. Both belong to Kotkai village, located near the former TTP stronghold of Srarogha, and now under army control.
Qari Hussain studied at a madrassa in Karachi and speaks Urdu along with his mother-tongue Pashto. He used to be an activist of the sectarian organisation, Sipah-i-Sahaba, and is known for his strong anti-Shia views. Later, he drifted towards the TTP and is now one of its top commanders.
As a most wanted man, Qari Hussain has been the target of attacks by the security forces and his tribal enemies. But he has been a great survivor. He was declared dead a few times, once by the army authorities when the troops in January 2008 advanced up to his village, Kotkai, and heavily bombed the area. During the latest military action in the Mehsud tribal territory in South Waziristan, Qari Hussain managed to escape along with Hakimullah Mahsud and Waliur Rahman and reportedly took refuge in another tribal area, possibly North Waziristan or Orakzai Agency. These three top TTP commanders carry a head-money of Rs50 million each.
Though Qari Hussain's suicide training camp at Kotkai is no longer operational, it seems he and other TTP commanders run more than one such centre. Suicide bombings in the country's cities and against military convoys and installations have continued despite the eviction of the militants from most of their South Waziristan strongholds. This could mean that suicide bombers who were trained earlier and tasked to carry out attacks have already embarked on their mission, searching for targets and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Besides, it doesn't require a vast place or sophisticated equipment to motivate potential suicide bombers, prepare suicide vests and stuff vehicles with explosives.
There were reports before the start of the present wave of suicide and car-bombings that more than 20 vehicles and motorcycles had been readied and stuffed with explosives in Khyber, Orakzai and Darra Adamkhel. If true, most of these vehicles and motorbikes have already been used to carry out devastating bombings, including suicide attacks. Still the number of suicide bombers seems to be quite large as there is no end to bombings. Many would-be suicide bombers have been captured and sometimes government officials claim their networks are being busted. But we haven't yet seen any appreciable drop in the number of suicide attacks. Rather, the militants are now increasingly resorting to spectacular suicide missions involving groups of bombers comprising up to 10 men and ready to die after occupying the targetted place and taking hostages. In case of failure to get their demands accepted, the suicide bombers then detonate their explosives-filled jackets and blow up everything. This obviously requires elaborate planning and more suicide bombers and the sponsors are somehow able to provide the required number of volunteers.
One militant commander who could be described as the motivator of the biggest number of suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan is none else but Mulla Dadullah. The Afghan Taliban commander was killed some two years ago in a US military operation after being betrayed by his own men who were allegedly in the pay of the Americans. He prepared videos in which he is seen addressing would-be suicide bombers, overseeing their training and bidding them farewell before heading for their mission. At one point, Dadullah claimed he had over 2,000 suicide bombers. Dadullah has become an inspiration for the new generation of Taliban militants. In Pakistan it seems Qari Hussain has followed in his footsteps, mass-producing suicide bombers by motivating young and impressionable men willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause that they consider true and holy.
Though Qari Hussain supplied his suicide bombers to TTP chapters in other tribal areas and districts after training them in South Waziristan, it seems some bombers were also enlisted and trained elsewhere in places like North Waziristan, Orakzai, Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur, Darra Adamkhel and even Swat. The Swat Taliban commanders gave the Pashto name 'patangan,' meaning moths, to the suicide bombers to glorify their sacrifice. Though they didn't have a large pool of bombers, there have been several suicide bombings in Swat including one recently in which Dr Shamsher Ali Khan, a member of the provincial assembly belonging to the ruling ANP, was killed.
The suicide bombers always record a message before embarking on the mission. And invariably the bomber asks his parents and family members not to cry over his death. They seek forgiveness of parents and urge them to celebrate their 'martyrdom.' Some of the videotapes follow the suicide bombers on their mission, showing them attacking and blowing up the target. Inspirational religious and patriotic Taliban chanting is record and played as the suicide mission proceeds and every attack is celebrated as a huge success. Nobody is able to know in most cases as to how the families of the young suicide bombers cope with the tragedy.
A deadly tale
Although some researchers have reported suicide attacks in India under the British rule in the armed resistance of 1857, it appears that large-scale suicide attacks became popular in the Muslim world in the 1980s
Some call them "suicide attacks", while others refer to them as "martyrdom operations". Those committing such acts are seen by many as 'terrorists' while many consider them martyrs and freedom fighters. However, there is a consensus among the scholars working on the subject that martyrdom operations are relatively a new phenomenon in the Muslim warfare and were never seen as a legitimate tool for the religious or militant groups or outfits. Over the last few decades, more and more armed movements and organisations, a majority of them following the Muslim faith, are resorting to suicide attacks while referring to them as martyrdom operations, primarily because taking one's own life is not permitted according to the religious tenants.
It is also interesting to note how the meanings of a word change with time. The term 'terrorism' first became popular during the French Revolution. As opposed to its contemporary usage, it had positive connotations at that time.
The system or régime de la terreur of 1793-94, from which the English word came, was adopted as a means to establish order during the transient anarchical period of turmoil and upheaval following the 1789 uprising. Thus, unlike terrorism as commonly understood today, that means an anti-government or revolutionary or independence-seeking activity undertaken by non-state or sub-national entities, the régime de la terreur was an instrument of governance exercised by the state. It was designed to consolidate the new government's power by intimidating all those whom the regime considered 'enemies of the people'.
During the French Revolution, the Committee of General Security and the Revolutionary Tribunal were, therefore, accorded powers of arrest and judgment and public execution by guillotine of persons convicted of treason. In this manner, a powerful message was conveyed to all who might oppose the regime.
Terrorism in its original context was also closely associated with ideals of democracy. In the words of a revolutionary leader, "Terror is nothing but justice -- prompt, severe and inflexible."
In the late 1700s, revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre announced that he had, in his possession, a new list of traitors. Fearing that their own names might be on the lists, extremists joined forces with the moderates against the regime. Robespierre and many of his followers met the fate they had afforded to more than 40,000 people. Thereafter, 'terrorism' became associated with abuse of office and power and those resorting to it were labeled terrorists.
Similarly, an incident where suicide bombers were used to achieve a target can be traced back to the late 1800s. In March 1881, a group succeeded in assassinating Tsar Alexander II after eight failed attempts. The initial failures led the group to resort to extraordinary measures to ensure success. The group deployed four volunteers with bombs along the routes from where the Tsar was expected to pass. One of the terrorists hurled his bomb at the passing entourage missing the target and in the process injured bystanders. The soldiers seized the culprit. But, as the Tsar descended from his sleigh to check on the bystanders, a second bomber emerged from the crowd and detonated the bomb, killing both himself and the Tsar.
Since September 11, attacks on the US, followed by the war on terror, the frequency of occurrence of suicide attacks has been on the rise, especially in the Muslim world, Pakistan and Iraq topping the list. These operations have their roots in classical jihadi literature but, fundamentally, are seen as a by-product of widespread frustration and perceived humiliation on the part of the Muslims.
One should also note that "martyrdom operations" are fundamentally different from other activities permitted in warfare. Such operations differ from 'classical' jihad in that they necessitate a greater degree of reliance upon factors such as the intention of the attacker in order to judge the purity of the motivation. Similarly, in the recent past, a majority of such operations have been directed towards non-military targets, which is in direct conflict if we look at them from the perspective of the jihadi literature.
Interestingly, it is rare to find examples of Muslims who committed suicide. In the Islamic history there is no equivalent to the `noble suicide' tradition, as is found in modern Europe or Japan, where there is a widespread cultural understanding, if not religious, of the people who take their own lives. No one tries to justify such suicides, but everyone is familiar with the incidents of senior government officers or businessmen committing suicide as a result of professional or political failure or as a result of some scandal. However, it has no equivalent in the Muslim history and until the contemporary times it is difficult to point out even a single prominent Muslim who committed suicide for personal failure. Abdul Hakeem Amer, the commander of Egyptian army in the 1967 war against Israel, is one such exception. He committed suicide following the defeat of his forces, but some researchers dispute the fact, claiming that Amer committed suicide to avoid a treason trial.
In the modern history, Muslim groups have used suicide attacks as a weapon since the early 1980s. Although, some researchers have reported suicide attacks in India under the British rule in the armed resistance of 1857, it appears that large-scale suicide attacks became popular in the Muslim world in the 1980s.
Lebanon is one rare example where suicide attacks resulted in achieving the goals of the perpetrators of the acts. The Shia resistance groups in Lebanon introduced the 'tool' in 1983 against the American and Israeli troops. These attacks continued for over a decade until the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Lebanese occupied territories in the year 2000. Still, suicide attacks or suicide martyrdom activity was seen as a marginal, predominantly Shia weapon and not a legitimate tool for the Sunnis. However, in the years to come, one finds that suicide attacks conducted by Shia groups were against military targets while a majority of attacks carried out by the Sunni organisations have focused largely on civilian targets.
Among the Sunni groups, in 1994, the Islamic Jihad followed by Hamas in West Bank and Gaza started using "martyrdom operations" against the Israeli forces and civilians. Later, the practice spread to militant groups in Algeria, Kashmir, Chechnya etc with remarkably little or no religious or legal opposition. Pakistan-based organisations including Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, have carried out suicide missions in Indian-held Kashmir and other parts of the country. In the past few years Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan have faced a wave of suicide bombing carried out by transnational organisations having the support of local militant outfits.
It is also an interesting fact that none of the jihadi literature that came out from Afghanistan during the `jihad' against Russian forces speaks of "martyrdom operations". Also, a few other groups including the Kurds in Iraq and Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka have used suicide attacks.
Suicide attacks, according to a research, are qualitatively different from other attacks in that they preclude any form of retribution against the attacker. Thus, the population absorbing the attacks is denied any form of action that could channel its anger into an institutional form, with a likelihood of provoking a revenge attack.
"Martyrdom operations" do not occur in an intellectual vacuum, explains Albert Bergesen, Professor of Sociology at University of Arizona. They have some basis in all the Abrahimic religions. "In my opinion," he says, "it would be helpful to find ways to deal with the situation if we all accept the fact that Jews, Christians and Muslims have, to some degree, utilised terror in different periods of their history to further their cause."
The history, he continues, has failed to explain the phenomenon of people willing to take their own life for achieving their goals. "Earlier terrorists, like the Ismaili Assassins, understood that they would probably be captured and killed. In that sense, we can consider such operations as suicide missions while the Kamikaze pilot missions were certainly suicidal ones." Although, he adds, it seems more a tactic than an act of desperation, the psychology of the person who volunteers or is selected or motivated to carry out a suicide mission isn't fully understood at all.
Suicide bombing, Prof. Bergesen says, can only be understood if we look at the phenomenon from the point of rational choice theory. "Plane hijacking was once a favourite tool of terrorist organisations but the act became highly challenging and, at one point, impossible following the introduction of metal detectors and other security measures. This led to the increase of kidnapping and hostage-taking incidents. In the present scenario, it requires only a limited amount of resources to arm a militant with explosives and send him on a mission with a high probability of achieving the target."
The use of suicide bombers, he adds, appears to be a rational choice of many organisations as it reduces the cost of carrying out the operation, limits the chances of the perpetrator being captured alive to divulge information about his accomplices, leaves the targeted individual or group in a permanent state of fear.
A number of researches over the years point that the jihadi literature, throughout its history, has portrayed Muslims as the ones empowered by God to conquer the world. As a proof, they cite the astounding military successes Islam had in its first several hundred years. Most literature attributes the present state of affairs to diversion from the fundamentals of the religion, most importantly jihad, which is seen by many as the foremost and most prestigious expression of faith.
Another significant fact about jihad is that most of the jihadi literature produced in the early times was by the rulers and most prominent religious figures and rulers in Islam participated in jihad as volunteers. Thus, it can be said with confidence that the writings of such figures are not merely theoretical but practical guides to one of the most important components of their religious experience.
The jihadi literature dwells heavily on the injunctions of the Holy Quran. One such verse referred to in innumerable documents is from Al-Taubah that says, "Allah has verily bought the souls and possessions of the faithful in exchange for a promise of Paradise. They fight the cause of God, and kill and are killed. This is a promise incumbent on Him, as in the Torah, so the Gospel and the Quran. And who is more true to his promise than God? So, rejoice at the bargain you have made with Him; for this will be triumph supreme. (Quran 9:110)"
Another injunction referred to frequently is Al-Anfal which is used by the authors of jihadi literature to ensure that the 'mujahideen' hold their ground till death. The Surah reads: "For any one who turns his back on that day, except to manoeuver or rally to his side, will bring the wrath of God on himself, and have Hell as abode; and what an evil destination. (Quran 8:16)"
The classical definition of jihad, according to many experts on Islam, is closely regulated warfare enjoined by God upon the Muslim community with the express purpose of either expanding or defending the community, and the right attitude of the fighter is to seek death as the goal, not because of a hatred of life but because of the reward to be gained by passing through it. The only regret to be felt is that one cannot die a martyr over and over.
Hence, since seeking death as a martyr is considered virtuous while seeking death for its own sake is not, the issue of who is a martyr is significant in the discussion about jihad.
Many scholars have affected the recent history of jihadi ideology especially the writing of Abdullah Azam, who is also considered the mentor of Osama bin Ladin. In one of his works, titled Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations, he writes, "History does not write its lines except in blood. Glory does not build its lofty edifice except with skulls. Honour and respect cannot be established except on a foundation of cripples and corpses. Empires, distinguished peoples, states and societies cannot be established except with examples. Indeed those who think they can change reality or change societies, without blood, sacrifices and invalids, without pure, innocent souls, they do not understand the essence of this deen…"
The message, according to many scholars, seems too stark when compared with the overall magnificence of Islamic civilisation and history, and it completely ignores the spiritual heritage of Islam. Nonetheless, it is a popular view among many radicals for whom "martyrdom operations" are one way of overcoming the despair.
The question of intention is of core importance for the justification or not of a "martyrdom operation". It is only at the point of intention that a "martyrdom operation" differs from other types of suicides. Intention is also mentioned as the first point in the document supposedly written by Muhammad Atta, one of the hijackers of the planes that hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. If the intention is to uplift the word of God, one scholar says, the action falls under the category of jihad and the actor is a martyr. But he failed to explain how blowing up the UN headquarter in Iraq, shopping malls, schools, imambargahs and mosques in Pakistan, civilian commuters in Israel or the World Trade Center in the US would uphold the word of God.
At present, Prof Bergesen says, it remains to be seen whether the larger Muslim community would expunge or legitimise the "martyrdom operations" as a weapon. "And this is not a small choice because of the nature of the weapon and its approach which is reactionary in attitude towards the widely accepted Islamic teachings."
The increasing trend of suicide operations, he says, would not stop with the issuance of religious edicts from the Imam of Kabah or the Mufti of Jamia-al-Azhar; its opposition must come from scholars in Chechnya, Kashmir, Pakistan etc. A scholar in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, or any other location in the core Muslim lands, simply does not have the moral authority that one in Chechnya or Palestine or Pakistan does. He feels that when there is a disagreement among these different scholars, the feeling one gets from contemporary radical literature is that the former are viewed as representing.
In case of Pakistan, the situation is more complicated. There appears to be a visible divide among the scholars when it comes to issuing edicts against suicide bombings. Several prominent scholars of the Barelvi school of thought have declared suicide missions as contrary to Islam and, resultantly, faced the wrath of militant organisations. On the other hand, frantic efforts by Interior Minister Rehman Malik have not succeeded in extracting even a single edict against suicide bombing from any noteworthy Deobandi scholar whose words carry more legitimacy in the eyes of the militants.