## Ethno-nationalism and Islam: The contest ##
The Muslim countries which became independent after decolonization maintained their ties with their colonizers. They also adopted their influences and attitudes, particularly from European countries, in dealing with their internal as well as external affairs. Thus, their alliances are also guided by their earlier experiences. In this process ‘Islam’ is not always their guiding factor; rather it is the pragmatism and national self-interest which guides them.
Recently, Turkish President Erdogan said that it was his duty to militarily support Government Liberation Army of Libya against Libyan National Army to safeguard and make use of gas and oil reservoirs in that country “which had been part of Turkey for five hundred years.”
This interesting logic would justify the interference of powers in the affairs of their former colonies. It is interesting to note that in Libya, both the armies, government as well as national, are not genuinely representing people. In fact, the rebellion in Libya against Colonel Gadhaffi arose on the basis of tribal conflict although both claim the umbrella of Islam.
In the last fifteen hundred years, the interpretations of Holy Quran abound with the reflections on Islam. The interpretations and commentaries of Islam have resulted in establishing their own schools which are now proper sects. These sects have their followers in every part of world. Some of these sects have even launched their armed struggles to establish their superiority. The old sectarian rivalry among Muslims relate to Sunni and Shia sects where both claim to be within the fold of Islam.
The assertion of ethno-National identity within the fold of Islam is an old story which surfaced with the onset of Umayyads. However, it also lead to divisions and shadowed the political universality and unity of Islam.
When Prophet Mohammad migrated from Mecca to Medina due to the hostile atmosphere back home, a cosmopolitan community emerged comprising Jews, Christians and Muslims. In order to live peacefully with each other, he entered into an agreement with all of them which is known as ‘Salah-i-Hudyba’. It worked well for some time but was weakened due to machinations of some segments. From this phase, Muslim society moved on to Islam and from thereafter ethno-Nationalism assumed the status of greater identity.
It is interesting to note that both these dimensions have been playing concurrent roles from time to time and sometimes overlapping each other. This course has prevented the political unity of Muslim community globally and also created schisms and conflicts. The super powers in the course of their rivalry during the last seven decades have been astutely using these schisms in pursuit of their strategic objectives.
The super power rivalry represented by the US and the then USSR found an open field in Afghanistan to train the militias in engaging them in conflicts and equally use Islam to engage young minds at the cognitive levels towards warfare and mayhem. In fact, the immediate goal of the US and its allies was to drive out Russia from Afghanistan. Hence, the preparations were made accordingly. The literature distributed to young recruits who were designated as ‘Mujahedeen’- an overarching term used for Islamic fighters, was the distorted and out of context Islamic texts. This prescription is still used to train Muslim militias in different conflict zones of the world.
In order to train the Mujahedeen, recruits were engaged from Afghanistan but had some elements from some Arab countries and Central Asia like Uzbekistan as well.
Afghanistan became a laboratory for training recruits in Jihad and use of arms and ammunition. This laboratory was funded by the US, Saudi Arabia and even China with the objective of driving out the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Pakistan wanted to handle the military acquisition part of the training of the young militia but was advised to confine to the training part only.
When US was making these preparations of creating an Islamic militia, the US media asked the US National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, that after these young men had accomplished their mission, where would they go? Brzezinski simply answered that they would go to their home. However, that did not happen. They stayed on and new groups of Mujahedeen flourished including Taliban. It is also a fact that Afghanistan became a nodal point for Jihad and global Islamism. Al-Qaeda emerged as a prominent name which continues to attract the international attention.
Afghanistan has acquired prominent strategic relevance for two reasons. First, the country provided reposition of Islam as the mark of National identity and tried to replace it by ethno-Nationalism. However, at the same time it would place both the identities in parallel or one over the other, depending upon circumstances and convenience. In this context, it is significant to briefly delineate the developments of the contest between ethno-Nationalism and Islam in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan enjoys strong ethnic, linguistic and tribal diversities. Afghanistan became a buffer zone between Russia and British Empire in 1907. Russia held Central Asian Provinces and the British held India. This was the result of the end of Great Game of 1907.