Rehman Chishti is the MP for Gillingham and Rainham and a former Adviser to Benazir Bhutto
I make it clear from the outset that I supported the Prime Minister in arguing for a No Fly Zone in Libya, which had the aim of saving innocent lives from the murderous actions of Gaddafi, who we know had been exporting terrorism abroad for the past forty years as well as oppressing and murdering his own people at home in Libya. I fully endorse the excellent work of the National Transitional Council: however, I fear that extremism may seep into the fabric of the new Libyan government if it is not nipped in the bud straight away.
I start by referring to the comments of secretary of state Hilary Clinton that the NTC must stand firm against violent extremism. I echo these calls, as it is vital for long term stability in Libya and the wider region that extreme elements both within the NTC and the wider country must be dealt with. It is striking to look at some of the reports which suggest that many rebel fighters had previously fought in Afghanistan – in particular, at the case of the rebel military commander Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was in charge of the successful offensive on Tripoli and has previously fought in Afghanistan with the Taliban (originally in the late 1980s against the Soviets). Mr Belhadj was also a suspect interrogated by the CIA as an Islamist terrorist and former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, held to be an illegal terrorist group by both the UK and the US.
It is also important to note the consequences of former fighters in Afghanistan, then termed the Mujahedeen when fighting the Russians. They became the Taliban post 9/11. We need to look at what happened when they moved to other parts of the world after Afghanistan. In Pakistan, we saw radicalisation spread from across the border from Afghanistan following the end of the Soviet invasion. We are now seeing the destabilising effects of these people in Pakistan illustrated by the situation in Swat, where they tried to impose their extreme values, and were only defeated by the Government of Pakistan using the army.
These extreme elements are the ones behind the regular bombings and sectarian violence in the country.
In Benazir Bhutto’s two terms in office, it was these extreme elements that conspired to assassinate her by stating that, as a woman, she should not be the head of an Islamic state. We now know it was these extreme elements that were linked to her assassination in 2007.
There are numerous examples of the dangers of extreme tendencies which have been developed in Afghanistan, which were united by the concept of using extreme violence and extreme teachings to achieve political goals. They include:
- Mohamed Atta, the alleged ringleader behind the 9/11 attacks, had previously served time in Afghanistan.
- In late 2010, Ryad Hannouni was arrested in France in possession of bomb-making equipment, having returned from Afghanistan.
- In Morocco, fighters returning from Afghanistan in 1990s to Morocco founded the Islamic Group of Moroccan Fighters, an Islamist group linked to al Qaeda.
- In 2000, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen stated that they had arrested suspects from Al Jihad returning from Afghanistan.
- In one week alone in 2007, over 200 Saudi and foreign, seasoned, Islamist fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq were arrested.
The threat posed by those who have trained and fought in Afghanistan is well attested by history. In Saudi Arabia, we have seen the setting up of the deradicalisation programme which has been well regarded by the UN and by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who visited the country to see how it has worked in deradicalising violent extremists. The NTC can learn from this programme.
It is imperative that the NTC progresses with an inclusive and representative democracy – a true expression of the makeup and will of the people. This includes those of all backgrounds and faiths and those with Islamic beliefs naturally have a strong part to play in Libya’s future. I am worried by reports that extreme elements in Libya, such as the Islamic Fighting Group (Al-jamma-Islamia Al Mugatela), are in alliance with the NTC. The NTC must not give in to the pressures of rogue and extremist forces within their community, or allow them to hijack and redirect the governance of the Libyan people. I urge the NTC to implement the words of the Secretary of state Hilary Clinton and stand firm against violent extremists.