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Afghan Mujahidin

The Afghan Mujahidin are guerrilla fighters who formed their groups in opposition to the communist government after the April 1978 coup. The Mujahidin movement is divided into an array of political parties, each following a different set of ideological, ethnic, clientelist, and sectarian loyalties. The first cleavage among the parties is based on ideological commitment: the Islamists advocate an Islamic revolution, and the “moderates,” although committed also to the implementation of shari `ah, rely on traditional elites and oppose the idea of Islamic revolution.

The Sunni Islamist movement, influenced by the ideas of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of the 1950s, was active in the late 1960s on Kabul college campuses. An urban movement, it recruited mostly among young intellectuals who considered Islam more a political ideology than a religion. This movement split into three parties: the most radical party, Hizb-i Islam!, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Pashtun and a former engineering student; a regionally influential party, also named Hizb-i Islam!, led by Yunus Khales, a Pashtun mullah; and the relatively moderate party that is popular among Persian speakers, Jam`iyat-i Islalmi, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani (Burhan al-Din Rabbani), a Tajiki theology professor. From 1979 onward, the Islamist militants reentered Afghanistan (they had left in 1975) to lead the spontaneous armed rebellion that broke out after the communist coup of April 1978 and the subsequent Soviet invasion of December 1979.

The moderate parties were created after the communist coup: the Harakat-i Inqilab (Revolutionary Movement), led by Muhammad Nab! Muhammadi, a cleric, which recruits mostly among traditional Pashtun or Uzbek clerics; the Mahaz-i Mill!-yi Islam! Afghanistan (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan), headed by Pir Ahmad Gaylani, a secular but charismatic leader of a Sufi order, which recruits among traditional tribal, mainly Durrani, leaders; and the Jabhah-yi Nahzat-i Mill! (National Salvation Front), led by Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, a scholar and cleric from the Sufi Naqshbandi order, which recruits among local traditional notables.

A seventh party, the fundamentalist Ittihad-i Islam! (Islamic Union), led by `Abd al-Rabb Sayyaf, came into existence in 1982 as a front party for Arab Wahhabis and Muslim Brotherhood groups. It has no sociological or ethnic base, because it recruits mainly by distributing weapons to local low-level commanders, whatever their party of origin.

These seven parties are all Sunnis and have been united since 1985 in a loose Seven-Parties Alliance, based in Peshawar, Pakistan. This alliance constituted the core of the anti-Kabul Afghan Interim Government created in February 1988. The Jami`at slowly shifted toward the moderates, and the Hizb-i Islam! of Hekmatyar has fought all the other parties, trying to seize power for itself through an alliance with the hardcore communists and Pashtun nationalists.

Sanusiyah Sufi order in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya). He came from the `A’ilat Farhat branch of the Minifiyah, an independent client tribe. `Umar studied at the lodge of Zanzur, moving on to the Sanusi capital and university of Jaghbub in 1887, then moving with the leadership to Kufra in the Libyan desert in 1895.

Two years later he was appointed shaykh of the alQasflr lodge in western Cyrenaica, in the territory of the unruly `Abid tribe. `Umar was successful in solidifying the authority of the order in the region. His success noted, he was again called south in 1899, when the order was expanding into Borku (northern Chad). He was appointed shaykh of the `Ayn Qalakkah lodge. Here he had his first military experiences fighting the French forces. In 1903 he moved back to al-Qasflr as shaykh of the lodge.

When the Italians invaded Libya in 1911, `Umar led the `Abid in the ensuing jihad. By the time the first war ended in a truce in 1917, `Umar had gained great influence with the new leader of the Sanusiyah, Muhammad Idris. In 1923, the Italians reopened hostilities. Idris went into exile in Egypt and appointed `Umar as one of the leaders for the campaign in Cyrenaica. Already more than sixty years old, as na’ib al-`amm (general representative) he became a charismatic figure who inspired the tribes to join and maintain the struggle.

`Umar displayed considerable tactical skill and was able to lead the mostly tribal units in a campaign that for more than six years confounded the Italians in spite of their great numerical and material superiority. Eventually the guerilla forces started to be worn down, and in 1929, after a series of defeats, `Umar asked for truce negotiations. They led nowhere, and after three months he resumed fighting. But Italian superiority was now evident, in particular after they in 193o began rounding up the bedouin population into concentration camps and cut off supply lines by closing the Egyptian border with barbed wire. `Umar’s fighters became hunted groups, and on 11 September 1931, `Umar himself was captured in a chance encounter. He was brought to Benghazi and, after a summary trial, hanged on 16 September. After his death the resistance crumbled, ending within three months.

What made `Umar al-Mukhtar such a charismatic leader was a combination of religious authority and personal skill. While the forces he led were largely tribal, he himself came from a relatively minor, client tribe. His first military power was based on the `Abid tribe, among whom he was the leader of the Sanusi Sufi lodge.

With this basis he could use his political and military skill, which combined with a personal reputation for uprightness and incorruptability formed a power strong enough to stand up to the Italian forces for almost a decade.

[See also Libya; Sanusiyah.]


Del Boca, Angelo. Gli Italiliani in Libia. 2 vols. Rome, 1986-1988. Thorough study of the period from an Italian point of view. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. The Sanusi of Cyrenaica. Oxford, 1949. Still the major study of the period in English.

Santarelli, Enzo, Giorgio Rochat, Romain Raniero, and Luigi Goglia. Omar al-Mukhtar: The Italian Reconquest of Libya. London, 1986. Concentrates on the last years of the war, using Italian sources in a critical perspective.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/afghan-mujahidin/

  • writerPosted On: September 9, 2014
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