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Movement Offers Ideological Alternative to Taliban

The Bread Guy

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As hopeful as this sounds, am I too pessimistic to think that once the first two or three movement members show up at meetings with their heads cut off, others might be discouraged from joining?  ALso, interesting quote on how the West is building up gov't institutions, while not-so-philanthropic countries are building up ideological movements in the country.

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Joshua Kucera, EurasiaNet Insight, 8 Feb 07
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A new political movement is taking shape in Afghanistan that is pro-Western in orientation and seeks to present Afghans with a clear ideological alternative to the vision offered by the resurgent Taliban movement. The movement’s leader maintains that a "great" number of Afghans want to move in a democratic direction.

The movement, Fedayeen-e-Sul, or Sacrificers for Peace, is led by Hamed Wardak, the 31-year-old son of the current defense minister of Afghanistan, Abdul Rahim Wardak. The younger Wardak is a graduate of Georgetown University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in Britain.

The movement aims to be pan-ethnic, reformist and democratic. Wardak said he acted to establish the movement after traveling around Afghanistan, speaking to local elders and painstakingly building a network of respected local leaders. "The more I deal with elders, I realize the potential for democracy in this country is so great. The type of ideals that we have, they also share, they just express it in different ways," he said.

In his talks with elders, Wardak said he often refers to the important role that women played in the life of Mohammed. "What we’re pitching is that al Qaeda is un-Islamic," he said. "We’re using Hadith and quotations from the Koran and we have our own mullahs working on this."

Wardak discussed the movement’s origins and aspirations during a January 31 forum in Washington, DC, hosted by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at The Johns Hopkins University.

There are about 30 members of parliament who are ready to affiliate themselves to Fedayeen-e-Sul, but at present not all of them want to be publicly identified as such, according to Wardak. He couldn’t provide a specific figure for the rank-and-file membership, but asserted that it is "in the thousands." The movement currently does not take money from foreign groups, but Wardak did not rule out the possibility of it doing so in the future: "The question is, when is that appropriate?"

In Afghanistan’s nascent democracy, there are few well-defined political movements or entities operating within the system, other than a Communist Party, a legacy of the Soviet occupation, and a loose confederation between militia leaders from the South and former leaders of the Northern Alliance. That lack of political organization has hurt the parliament’s ability to get things done, said Marvin Weinbaum, an Afghanistan expert at the Middle East Institute, who also spoke at the CACI event.

"We’re finally seeing what we should have seen earlier, the formation of political groups," Weinbaum said.

"What you have in effect [today] are 249 different parties … so it [parliament] has not functioned as a legislature, but as a forum to register complaints," Weinbaum added, referring to the legislature’s 249-seat lower house.

In the economic sphere, Fedayeen-e-Sul advocates free markets, low taxes and reducing the influence of drug traffickers and militia leaders in Afghanistan, Wardak said. In addition to his political activities, Wardak was a founder of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce.

The new political movement aims to enlist help of the United States and European Union in its political competition with Islamists, who Wardak asserts are supported by Iran. "Right now our allies, the Americans and our European friends, focus on state institution development, you don’t have anything politically. But our neighboring countries, particularly Iran, are focused on creating a movement, a political apparatus on the ground," he said.

"Our movement believes that the American and allied long-term presence is vital and desirable for building a stable and democratic order," he added.

The United States is interested in fostering moderate Islam in countries that are majority Muslim, and Wardak appears to be positioning Fedayeen-e-Sul to conform to the US notion of the religion-state relationship. "Our group wants to co-opt Islamic names and symbols," he said. The movement chose carefully the word "fedayeen," which is usually associated with militants, and also speaks of "jihad" in terms of personal or collective struggle to do good.

"Our point is to cleanse these names from [their association with] Islamic radicals. We don’t want to go in a rabid secularist direction, we want to say we’re comfortable with Islam, these Islamic ideals don’t belong to you [radicals]," he said.

Wardak claims inspiration from a wide spectrum of thinkers, political leaders and civil rights activists. Among the personalities who exerted influence over Wardak’s political outlook are: Jeane Kirkpatrick, the conservative former US ambassador to the United Nations and long-time Georgetown professor, whom Wardak called "my guiding inspiration;" Ahmad Shah Durrani, the 18th-century Afghan king; and Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, who all feature in non-violence videos that Wardak shows to tribal elders.

Wardak spoke critically of the current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who he said has made "compromises with the devil" by cooperating with militia leaders, Islamists and drug traffickers. "Hamid Karzai is a patriot trying to do the best for his country, but I fundamentally disagree with some of his policies and feel that he has chosen many bad allies.

"These policies and bad allies can jeopardize our young democracy," Wardak continued. "It’s also distressing to our movement that many Americans and Western observers believe that only President Karzai is a bulwark against the Taliban. To us, this is an insult to our country, our long history and our new democracy."

Editor’s Note: Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
I see this as great news.

Victory in Afghanistan, complete victory, where a democratic government is able to maintain the country with stability, is a long way away.  To achieve this aim, in many ways an ideology within the country needs to be developed so that the government and its citizens have a strong foundation in which to flourish.

Though this particular movement may not be the exact answer we seek, it shows a willingness within the country by its citizens to develop and live in a country that is much better off than what they have.

The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other radical groups will always be able to exist and operate within Afghanistan, in some form, as long as there is an ideology that allows it to exist.  The people of Afghanistan need to be educated, the country developed, so that people like the taliban are simply no longer accepted, and thus not supported enough to be able to function.

I agree that having a pro-Western alternative is good for the future of AFG pluralism in general - funny how these guys don't appear to be getting too much MSM attention.  Then again, why report the meat when you can report the sizzle, right?  ;)

I guess I'm pessimistic only because at this stage of the game, it seems the Taliban have a lot more opportunity to keep the more tolerant movements from expanding (note even the MP's don't want to be publicly associated with the movement yet). 

Those who want only talk-talk, instead of using force where needed, should keep this in mind when saying, "Ya know, I don't think we really need all this military stuff as a solution."  Without enough of the "military stuff", applied and sustained to the point where it's no longer worth the Taliban's while to disrupt people's lives, they get to keep disrupting lives.
I completely agree with your last post.

Sadly, violence is a crucial and required means of removing the taliban.  We need to remove their influence with force as much as possible before an ideology will be able to grow.  I believe the development of an ideology, such as the movement you brought up, will play an important role when NATO has a stronger hold on the country.

It's something that will have to be instilled when the Taliban is almost completely removed, simply to help insure that Afghanistan itself can keep them out.
The hardest part will be for the new party to gain acceptance from the Afghan people. If that can be done, then they are well on their way to doing something strictly for Afghanistan, which in turn gives them more credence . Good luck ( and hope the Western interests keep their fingers out of it....preception is everything)