After fleeing from latest war zone, grandfather Haji Abdullah had hoped for a warmer welcome when he reached safety. “When they realise you’re a Mehsud, they treat you like a suicide bomber who’s wearing an explosive jacket,” said Abdullah, one of 120,000 people to have fled an anti-Taliban army offensive in the South Waziristan tribal belt. “It’s simply humiliating,” added the 67-year-old, who travelled from his home in Makin, a Taliban redoubt, with five sons and seven grandchildren. Like many of those fearing for their lives, Abdullah made his way to the city of Dera Ismail Khan where he soon encountered hostility as a member of the same tribe as Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud. Such is the wariness of locals in a town which has endured a history of militant attacks, Abdullah’s family says he was only able to find somewhere to stay three days after one of his relatives put up guarantees. “No landlord was willing to rent out his house to me,” he added. But locals say they have every reason to suspect the uninvited new-arrivals from Waziristan, which lies outside direct government control, and believe many are active Taliban followers who are masquerading as innocent victims. “These people are a security risk as most of them belong to the Mehsud tribe and have strong Taliban sympathies,” said Adeel Shahzad, a shoe shop salesman. “The situation has become very tense in our city because of the arrival of these people,” Shahzad said, accusing them of triggering an increase in crime. A local police commander said his men had received strict orders from the provincial government to keep a close eye out for trouble. “We have clear orders from the government to keep an eye on the displaced persons as the situation may further deteriorate with their arrival,” district police chief Gul Afzal Afridi told AFP. “We have intelligence reports that many of these displaced persons were strong supporters of Taliban,” he said, adding that dozens of new police checkposts have been set up across the city. Police and army personnel can be seen patrolling the streets round the clock in the city, which has a history of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence as well as Taliban attacks. Hospitals and hotels have shut their gates and only people with valid identity documents can enter these places. “We have shut our gates and nobody without proper identification papers can enter,” said Haji Munawar Khan, who works as a manager in a local hotel. The International Crisis Group says the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Waziristan are being neglected in a climate of animosity between Pashtuns from the tribal belt and those from the settled areas. “Few efforts, local or international, have been made to identify their needs or to help them rebuild their homes, schools, shops and places of work once they return,” it said in a policy report published last week. “Most FATA (tribal belt) IDPs have not received adequate assistance or any compensation for the destruction of their properties and livelihoods.” The think-tank accused the military of not allowing camps for Waziristan IDPs on the “unjustifiable grounds that they would offer jihadi groups pools of easy recruits,” forcing Mehsuds to seek accommodation in private homes. “Host families have frequently faced harassment by the security agencies, including the military, paramilitary and police,” said the report. Cleaning the barrel of his gun with a handkerchief, Ghazanfar Ali, a private security guard, blamed lawlessness in his city on Afghans and the Taliban. “The Afghan refugees who migrated to Pakistan in 1980s started the law and order problems in our city and now it’s the Taliban,” Ali said, accusing the Taliban for all the attacks to have rocked the flashpoint city in recent years. Such attitudes infuriate Merajuddin Mehsud, who insists there is no reason for him to be tarred by association with the Islamist hardliners. “I found a house after roaming around for days but still the landlord wanted my national identity card and educational certificates of my son as a guarantee,” said the 45-year-old, who has four children.”We were fed up with the attitude of Taliban in South Waziristan and here it is police and the local population who are creating problems for us.”
[It’s not a “war,” it’s crisis management of a few militants who want to write their own scripts.]
ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Sunday visited Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan Agency, to meet the field commanders and troops deployed in the area.
During the day-long visit, General Kayani appreciated the morale and spirit of the troops employed in the operation Rah-e-Nijat, said a press release of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). General Kayani made it clear that the Pakistan Army was not conducting operations against any tribe or area, but against a handful of terrorists who had not only destroyed peace and tribal traditions of the area but also held the majority of the people hostage to their anti-state agenda.
He reiterated that the operations against terrorists were being conducted by the armed forces without any outside support. On arrival in the area, General Kayani was received by the Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Muhammad Masood Aslam.
Extremist forces are inciting villagers in the Punjab to kill minorities in the name of religion.
By Adnan Adil
|Talib Masih, a Christian street hawker and scrap dealer from a village near Gojra town, Toba Tek Singh, did not know that the wedding celebrations of his daughter would end in grim tragedy: six Christians were burnt alive by Muslims on blasphemy charges later that week. Incidentally, the charge of desecrating the Quran was levelled on a family in another Christian village, while the mob looted and destroyed a different Christian colony, located eight kilometres away from the site of the disputed incident.
The trouble began on July 25, 2009, when friends and family of Talib Masih had assembled to celebrate his daughter’s wedding ceremony in the village of Korian, about eight kilometres from Gojra city and 40km from Faisalabad. Korian has a large Christian community with nearly a hundred Christian families living in 60 houses in the village. Muslim friends of the family were also invited to the function. During the ceremony, some children started throwing pieces of paper in the air in a show of celebration. Ostensibly, some Muslims heard these papers were inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran and accused three Christians, namely Talib Masih, Mukhtar Masih and Imran Masih, of committing blasphemy.
Intriguingly, Muhammad Ashraf, the man who lodged a formal complaint with the police, is not even a resident of the village where the incident took place, and what’s more, he registered his complaint on the night of July 30, 2009 – five days after the alleged desecration took place. The burning incident took place on August 1.
Christian rights organisations maintain that on July 26, the day after the accusation was made, a meeting convened by the elders of the two communities, Christians and Muslims, had asked Talib Masih to offer an apology over the alleged desecration and that he had, indeed, apologised and the matter was resolved. However, enraged local Muslims tell a different story. In an FIR against Talib Masih, they say that a conciliatory meeting took place five days after the incident, on July 30, where Talib Masih had refused to apologise and abused the Muslims present at the meeting. They also claim that at this meeting Talib Masih had passed blasphemous remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s sayings and the Quran. Independent observers, however, told the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that a quarrel broke out at the meeting and the Muslims beat up Talib brutally and his wife and daughter had to come to his rescue.
On July 31, which was a Friday, announcements were made from the loudspeakers of local mosques in Korian and the nearby villages, asking the Muslims to assemble at Malkanwala Chowk in Gojra city on August 1, to take action against the Christians for committing blasphemy, which they said was punishable by death. Upon hearing this, most Christians in Korian fled their homes for safety.
After a couple of hours, Muslims arrived on the scene in groups, armed with clubs, firearms and kerosene oil, chanting slogans against Christians and began attacking their houses. First, they broke the electricity wires and water pumps to deprive the residents of the two basic necessities: electricity and water. This is a familiar pattern that was also observed in an earlier attack on Christians in Kasur, on July 1, 2009 in which more than a hundred Christian houses were burnt down in an organised manner. The mob in Korian reduced 57 houses to ashes, after looting valuables such as television sets, cattle and bicycles from the premises. The marauders also attacked two local churches and desecrated Christian religious books. The next day, the police registered a case against 21 arsonists who were identified by the Christian community and a few others.
It is widely alleged that a local cleric Qari Noor Muhammad, connected with a banned sectarian outfit, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), played a leading role in inciting hostility against the Christians. The cleric was not arrested till after the Gojra carnage. As the tension built up, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif anticipating violence in Gojra, had alerted the police and intelligence agencies to ensure public safety. But when the mobs went on the rampage, the police looked the other way – a grim reminder of the civil agencies’ lack of capacity and willingness to handle sensitive and volatile situations, and the state’s inability to protect the citizens from organised and well-armed groups.
According to eyewitnesses, thousands of people, including clerics and local traders, gathered in Gojra as planned. Among them were activists of the SSP, who had travelled from their headquarters in the nearby Jhang district. The procession arrived at a Christian Colony, Chak 95-JB, which had nothing to do with the alleged desecration incident in the nearby Korian village. The police did not take any preventive measures to stop the hostile demonstration near a minority settlement at a time when tempers were running high.
Observers report that the Muslim protesters started pelting stones and stones at the Christians and burnt down the house of Riaz Masih, an old, ailing Christian who died of a heart attack soon after. Following this, the Christians too retaliated by throwing rocks and fired in the air to stop the armed men from marching towards their homes. A few Muslims also sustained injuries. Meanwhile, many Christians fled their homes for safety and some locked themselves inside their houses to protect themselves.
After a few hours, a mob of Muslims led by armed, masked men, assembled near the Christian colony and, using petrol and chemicals, set ablaze 68 Christan houses, burning six Christians alive, and shot dead Hameed Masih. The mob also looted valuables from the houses, desecrated copies of the Bible and ransacked two churches. The police, which was present, stood as silent spectators to the gory events. Initially, they even refused to register a case filed by the victims. It was only when the Christian community blocked the Multan-Faisalabad railway track for several hours and refused to remove the coffins of their dead from the track, that the FIR was registered. Later, the Punjab government deputed the Rangers to restore peace in Gojra and announced monetary compensation for the victims.
The Gojra carnage is not a solitary incident of its kind, it is symptomatic of the simmering tension between the two communities following grave acts of provocation against the Christians. In March 2009, a Christian woman lost her life in Gujranwala after a local church was attacked. In April 2009, a mob attacked another church and Christian houses in Karachi’s Taiser Town in which one young Christian man was killed and several others were injured in the firing. On June 30, 2009, a mob attacked Christian houses in the village of Bahmaniwala in Kasur district, destroying more than 50 houses, damaging furniture and household goods and stealing gold jewellery and cash from the premises.
This last incident of violence was triggered off when a Christian Sardar Masih, driving a tractor, asked a Muslim landlord, Chaudhry Muhammad Riaz, to remove his motorbike from the way to allow him to pass. When Riaz refused, a quarrel broke out between the two. Following the incident, announcements were made from mosques that Christians had committed blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), inciting the public to take action against the Christians of Bhamaniwala. Riaz also filed a criminal case with the police against 11 Christians. The next day, a group of angry men, wielding sticks and carrying petrol, attacked Christian homes. They burnt motorbikes belonging to the community and beat up every Christian they could find. The mob also attacked the local church with stones. No loss of life occurred, as most Christians had already fled their homes upon hearing of the planned attack. A Christian rights organisation, the National Commission for Justice and Peace, says a Christian woman suffered a miscarriage when she tried to save herself and a child.
A common thread runs through all the recent incidents of violence against the Christian community. The mobs are led mainly by members of the SSP, which is known to have links with the Taliban; the attacks are well-organised and planned well in advance and the attackers carry petrol and chemicals along, which gives an inkling of their nefarious designs.
It seems that after the army mounted pressure on the Taliban in Swat and the tribal areas, forcing them to retreat to the mountains, they have opened up a new front in the Punjab to create a law-and-order situation in order to divert the attention of the security forces from the tribal region. While jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir has suffered a setback in recent years, those who were trained to carry out jihad in these areas have turned their guns on their own fellow citizens. Meanwhile, the country’s civil administration seems to have no clue of how to tackle this unfortunate situation.
By Ayesha Siddiqa
A few years ago, I met some young boys from my village near Bahawalpur who were preparing to go on jihad. They smirked politely when I asked them to close their eyes and imagine their future. “We can tell you without closing our eyes that we don’t see anything.”
It was not entirely surprising. South Punjab is a region mired in poverty and underdevelopment. There are few job prospects for the youth. While the government has built airports and a few hospitals, these projects are symbolic and barely meet the needs of the area. It’s in areas like this, amid economic stagnation and hopelessness, that religious extremists find fertile ground to plant and spread their ideology.
The first step is recruitment – and the methodology is straightforward. Young children, or even men, are taken to madrassas in nearby towns. They are fed well and kept in living conditions considerably better than what they are used to. This is a simple psychological strategy meant to help them compare their homes with the alternatives offered by militant organisations. The returning children, like the boys I met, then undergo ideological indoctrination in a madrassa. Those who are indoctrinated always bring more friends and family with them. It is a swelling cycle.
Madrassas nurturing armies of young Islamic militants ready to embrace martyrdom have been on the rise for years in the Punjab. In fact, South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism. Yet, somehow, there are still many people in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge this threat.
Four major militant outfits, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), are all comfortably ensconced in South Punjab (see article “Brothers in Arms”). Sources claim that there are about 5,000 to 9,000 youth from South Punjab fighting in Afghanistan and Waziristan. A renowned Pakistani researcher, Hassan Abbas cites a figure of 2,000 youth engaged in Waziristan. The area has become critical to planning, recruitment and logistical support for terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, in his study on the Punjabi Taliban, Abbas has quoted Tariq Pervez, the chief of a new government outfit named the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NCTA), as saying that the jihad veterans in South Punjab are instrumental in providing the foot soldiers and implementing terror plans conceived and funded mainly by Al-Qaeda operatives. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the force that conquered Khost in 1988-89 comprised numerous South Punjabi commanders who fought for the armies of various Afghan warlords such as Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani. Even now, all the four major organisations are involved in Afghanistan.
The above facts are not unknown to the provincial and federal governments or the army. It was not too long ago that the federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik equated South Punjab with Swat. The statement was negated by the IG Punjab. Perhaps, the senior police officer was not refuting his superior but challenging the story by Sabrina Tavernese of The New York Times (NYT). The story had highlighted jihadism in South Punjab, especially in Dera Ghazi Khan. The NYT story even drew a reaction from media outlets across the country. No one understood that South Punjab is being rightly equated with Swat, not because of violence but due to the presence of elements that aim at taking the society and state in another direction.
An English-language daily newspaper reacted to the NYT story by dispatching a journalist to South Punjab who wrote a series of articles that attempted to analyse the existing problem. One of the stories highlighted comments by the Bahawalpur Regional Police Officer (RPO) Mushtaq Sukhera, in which he denied that there was a threat of Talibanisation in South Punjab. He said that all such reports pertaining to South Punjab were nothing more than a figment of the western press’s imagination. Many others express a similar opinion. There are five explanations for this.
Firstly, opinion makers and policy makers are in a state of denial regarding the gravity of the problem. Additionally, they believe an overemphasis on this region might draw excessive US attention to South Punjab – an area epitomising mainstream Pakistan. Thus, it is difficult even to find anecdotal evidence regarding the activities of jihadis in this sub-region. We only gain some knowledge about the happenings from coincidental accidents like the blast that took place in a madrassa in Mian Chunoon, exposing the stockpile of arms its owner had stored on the premises.
Secondly, officer Sukhera and others like him do not see any threat because the Punjab-based outfits are “home-grown” and are not seen as directly connected to the war in Afghanistan. This is contestable on two counts: South Punjabi jihadists have been connected with the Afghan jihad since the 1980s and the majority is still engaged in fighting in Afghanistan.
Thirdly, since all these outfits were created by the ISI to support General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation process, in essence to fight a proxy war for Saudi Arabia against Iran by targeting the Shia community, and later the Kashmir war, the officials feel comfortable that they will never spin out of control. Those that become uncontrollable, such as Al-Furqan, are then abandoned. This outfit was involved in the second assassination attempt on Musharraf and had initially broken away from the JeM after the leadership developed differences over assets, power and ideology. Thus, the district officials and intelligence agencies turned a blind eye to the killing of the district amir of Al-Furqan in Bahawalpur in May 2009. As far as the JeM is concerned, it continues its engagement with the establishment. In any case, groups that are partly committed to the Kashmir cause and confrontation with India continue to survive. This is certainly the perception about the LeT. But in reality, the Wahhabi outfit has also been engaged in other regions, such as the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Badakhshan since 2004.
Fourthly, there is confusion at the operational level in the government regarding the definition of Talibanisation, which is then reflected in the larger debate on the issue. Many, including the RPO, define the process as an effort by an armed group to use force to change the social conditioning in an area. Ostensibly, the militant outfits in the Punjab continue to coexist with the pirs, prostitutes and the drug mafia, and there is no reason that they will follow in the footsteps of Sufi Mohammad and Maulana Fazlullah, or Baitullah Mehsud. Since the authorities only recognise the pattern followed by the Afghan warlords or those in Pakistan’s tribal areas, they tend not to understand that what is happening in the Punjab may not be Talibanisation but could eventually prove to be as lethal as what they call Talibanisation.
Finally, many believe that Talibanisation cannot take place in a region known for practicing the Sufi version of Islam. There are many, besides the Bahawalpur RPO, who subscribe to the above theory. A year ago in an interview with an American channel, Farahnaz Ispahani, an MNA and wife of Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, stated that extremism couldn’t flourish in South Punjab because it was a land of Sufi shrines. This is partially true. The Sufi influence would work as a bulwark against this Talibanisation of society. However, Sufi Islam cannot fight poverty, underdevelopment and poor governance – all key factors that encourage Talibanisation.
South Punjab boasts names such as the Mazaris, Legharis and Gilanis, most of whom are not just politicians and big landowners but also belong to significant pir families. But they have done little to alleviate the sufferings of their constituents. A visit to Dera Ghazi Khan is depressing. Despite the fact that the division produced a president, Farooq Khan Leghari, the state of underdevelopment there is shocking. Reportedly, people living in the area in the immediate vicinity of the Leghari tribe could not sell their land without permission from the head of the tribe, the former president, who has been the tribal chief for many years. Under the circumstances, the poor and the dispossessed became attractive targets for militant outfits offering money. The country’s current economic downturn could raise the popularity of militant outfits.
In recent history, the gap created due to the non-performance of Sufi shrines and Barelvi Islam, or the exploitative nature of these institutions, has been filled partly by the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith madrassa conversion teams and groups, such as the Tableeghi Jamaat, and militant outfits. This alternative, unfortunately, is equally exploitative in nature. Sadly, today the shrines and Barelvi Islam have little to offer in terms of “marketing” to counter the package deal offered by the Salafists for the life hereafter, especially to a shaheed: 70 hoors (virgins), a queen hoor (virgin queen), a crown of jewels and forgiveness for 70 additional people. This promise means a lot for the poor youth who cannot hope for any change in a pre-capitalist socio-economic and political environment, where power is hard to re-negotiate. Furthermore, as stated by the former information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani, who had been a jihadi from 1984-90, a poor youth suddenly turning into a jihadi commander is a tremendous story of social mobility and recognition that he would never get in his existing socio-economic system. More importantly, the Deobandis and Ahl-e-Hadith offer a textual basis for their package, which is difficult for the pirs to refute due to the lack of an internal religious discourse in the Islamic world. The modern generation of pirs has not engaged in an internal discourse to counter this ideological onslaught by the Salafis. The main belief of Salafism is that all Muslims should practice Islam as it was during the time of Prophet Muhammad. The religion at that time, according to them, was perfect. Salafism – which pre-dates Wahhabism – is often used interchangeably with Wahhabism, which is actually an extension of Salafism.
Punjab offers a different pattern of extremism and jihadism. The pattern is closer to what one saw in Swat, where Sufi Mohammad and his TNSM spent quite a few years indoctrinating the society and building up a social movement before they got embroiled in a conflict with the state. South Punjab’s story is, in a sense, like Swat’s in that there is a gradual strengthening of Salafism and a build-up of militancy in the area. The procedure of conversion though, dates back to pre-1947. Still, the 1980s were clearly a watershed, when both rabid ideology and jihad were introduced to the area. Zia-ul-Haq encouraged the opening up of religious seminaries that, unlike the more traditional madrassas that were usually attached with Sufi shrines, subscribed to Salafi ideology. In later years, South Punjab became critical to inducting people for the Kashmir jihad. The ascendancy of the Tableeghi Jamaat and such madrassas that presented a more rabid version of religion gradually prepared the ground for later invasion by the militant groups. Two reports prepared around 1994, firstly by the district collector Bahawalpur and later by the Punjab government, highlighted the exponential rise in the number of madrassas and how these fanned sectarian and ideological hatred in the province. These reports also stated that all of these seminaries were provided funding by the government through the zakat fund.
The number of seminaries had increased during and after the 1980s. According to a 1996 report, there were 883 madrassas in Bahawalpur, 361 in Dera Ghazi Khan, 325 in Multan and 149 in Sargodha district. The madrassas in Bahawalpur outnumbered all other cities, including Lahore. These numbers relate to Deobandi madrassas only and do not include the Ahl-e-Hadith, Barelvi and other sects. Newer estimates from the intelligence bureau for 2008 show approximately 1,383 madrassas in the Bahawalpur division that house 84,000 students. Although the highest number of madrassas is in Rahim Yar Khan district (559) followed by Bahawalpur (481) and Bahawalnagar (310), it is Bahawalpur in which the highest number of students (36,000) is enlisted. The total number of madrassa students in Pakistan has reached about one million.
Everyone has been so focused on FATA and the NWFP that they failed to notice the huge increase in religious seminaries in these districts of South Punjab. According to a study conducted by historian Tahir Kamran, the total number of madrassas in the Punjab rose from 1,320 in 1988 to 3,153 in 2000, an increase of almost 140%. These madrassas were meant to provide a rapid supply of jihadis to the Afghan war of the 1980s. At the time of 9/11, the Bahawalpur division alone could boast of approximately 15,000-20,000 trained militants, some of whom had resettled in their areas during the period that Musharraf claimed to have clamped down on the jihad industry. Many went into the education sector, opened private schools and even joined the media.
These madrassas play three essential roles. First, they convert people to Salafism and neutralise resistance to a more rabid interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah in society. Consequently, the majority of the Barelvis cannot present a logical resistance to the opposing ideology. In many instances, the Barelvis themselves get converted to the idea of jihad. Secondly, these madrassas are used to train youth, who are then inducted into jihad. Most of the foot soldiers come from the religious seminaries. One of the principles taught to the students pertains to the concept of jihad as being a sacred duty that has to continue until the end of a Muslim’s life or the end of the world. Lastly, madrassas are an essential transit point for the youth, who are recruited from government schools. They are usually put through the conversion process after they have attended a 21-day initial training programme in the Frontier province or Kashmir (see box “A Different Breed”).
State support, which follows two distinct tracks, is also instrumental in the growth of jihadism in this region. On the one hand, there has generally been a link or understanding between political parties and militant groups. Since political parties are unable to eliminate militants or most politicians are sympathetic towards the militants, they tend to curb their activities through political deal-making. The understanding between the SSP and Benazir Bhutto after the 1993 elections, or the alleged deal between the PML-N and the SSP during the 2008 elections, denote the relationship between major political parties and the jihadis. Currently, the SSP in South Punjab is more supportive of the PML-N.
The second track involves operational links between the outfits and the state’s intelligence apparatus. As mentioned earlier, some of the outfits claim to have received training from the country’s intelligence agencies. Even now, local people talk of truckloads of weapons arriving at the doorstep of the JeM headquarters and other sites in the middle of the night. While official sources continue to claim that the outfit was banned and does not exist, or that Masood Azhar is on the run from his hometown of Bahawalpur, the facts prove otherwise. For instance, the outfit continues to acquire real estate in the area, such as a new site near Chowk Azam in Bahawalpur, which many believe is being used as a training site. Although the new police chief has put restraints on the JeM and disallowed it from constructing on the site, the outfit continues to appropriate more land around the area. Junior police officials even claim seeing tunnels being dug inside the premises. The new facility is on the bank of the Lahore-Karachi national highway, which means that in the event of a crisis, the JeM could block the road as has happened in Kohat and elsewhere. Furthermore, the outfit’s main headquarters in the city is guarded by AK-47-armed men who harass any journalist trying to take a photograph of the building. In one instance, even a police official was shooed away and later intimidated by spooks of an intelligence agency for spying on the outfit. Despite the claim that the SSP, the LeJ and the JeM have broken ties with intelligence agencies and are now fighting the army in Waziristan, the fact remains that their presence in the towns of South Punjab continues unhindered.
Is it naivety and inefficiency on the part of officialdom or a deliberate effort to withhold information? The government claims that Maulana Masood Azhar has not visited his hometown in the last three years. But he held a massive book launch of his new publication Fatah-ul-Jawad: Quranic Verses on Jihad, on April 28, 2008, in Bahawalpur. Moreover, JeM’s armed men manned all entrances and exits to the city that day – and there was no police force in sight. The ISI is said to have severed its links with the JeM for assisting the Pashtoon Taliban in inciting violence in the country. Sources from FATA claim, however, that the JeM, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and LeT are suspected by the Taliban for their links with state agencies.
In addition, intelligence agencies reportedly ward off anyone attempting to probe into the affairs of these outfits. In one case, a local in Bahawalpur city invoked daily visits from a certain agency after he assisted a foreign journalist. Similarly, only six months back, a BBC team was chased out of the area by agency officials. In fact, intelligence officials, who had forgotten about my existence since my last book was published, revisited my village in South Punjab soon after I began writing on militancy in the area and have gone to the extent of planting a story in one of the Urdu newspapers to malign me in my own area. In any case, no serious operation was conducted against these outfits after the Mumbai attacks and the recent spate of violence in the country. Hence, all of them continue to survive.
The Deobandi outfits are not the only ones popular in South Punjab. Ahl-e-Hadith/Wahhabi organisations such as the Tehreek-ul-Mujahidden (TuM) and the LeT also have a following in the region. While TuM, which is relatively a smaller organisation, has support in Dera Ghazi Khan, the LeT is popular in Bahawalpur, Multan and the areas bordering Central Punjab. Headquartered in Muridke, the LeT is popular among the Punjabi and Urdu-speaking Mohajir settlers.
There are obvious sociological reasons for LeT’s relative popularity among these people. The majority of this population represents either the lower-middle-class farmers or middle-class trader-merchants. The middle class is instrumental in providing funding to these outfits. And the support is not confined to South Punjab alone. In fact, middle-class trader-merchants from other parts of the Punjab also feed jihad through their funding. This does not mean that there are no Seraiki speakers in Wahhabi organisations but just that the dominant influence is that of the Punjabis and Mohajirs. The Seraiki-speaking population is mostly associated with the SSP, LeJ and JeM, not to mention the freelancing jihadis that have direct links with the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP).
The LeT’s presence in South Punjab is far more obvious than others courtesy of the wall chalkings and social work by its sister outfit, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Despite the rumours of friction between the LeT and the JuD leadership, the two segments operate in unison in South Punjab. Three of the favourite areas of recruitment in South Punjab for all outfits are Cholistan in Bahawalpur, the Rekh in Dera Ghazi Khan, and the Kacha area in Rajanpur. The first two are desert areas known for their poverty and underdevelopment, while the third is known for dacoits. However, another known feature of Kacha in Rajanpur is that the clerics of the Lal Masjid come from this area and have partly managed to push back the dacoits. Local sources claim that the influence of the clerics has increased since they started receiving cooperation from the police to jointly fight the dacoits.
Organisations such as the LeT have even begun to recruit women in the Punjab. These women undergo 21 days of ideological and military training. The goal is to ensure that these women will be able to fight if their menfolk are out on jihad and an enemy attacks Pakistan.
The militant outfits are rich, both ideologically and materially. They have ample financial resources that flow from four distinct sources: official sources (in some cases); Middle Eastern and Gulf states (not necessarily official channels); donations; and the Punjabi middle class, which is predominantly engaged in funding both madrassas and jihad for social, moral and political ends. With regard to donations, the militant outfits are extremely responsive to the changing environment and have adapted their money-collection tactics. Gone are the days of money-collection boxes. Now, especially in villages, followers are asked to raise money by selling harvested crops. And in terms of the Punjabi middle class, there are traders in Islamabad and other smaller urban centres that contribute regularly to the cause. These trader-merchants and upcoming entrepreneurs see donations to these outfits as a source of atonement for their sins. In Tahir Kamran’s study “Deobandiism in the Punjab,” Deobandiism (and Wahhabiism) is an urban phenomenon. If so, then the existence of these militant outfits in rural Punjab indicates a new social trend. Perhaps, due to greater access to technology (mobiles, television sets, satellite receivers, etc), the landscape (and rustic lifestyles) of Punjab’s rural areas has changed. There is an unplanned urbanisation of the rural areas due to the emergence of small towns with no social development, health and education infrastructure. Socially and politically, there is a gap that is filled by these militant outfits or related ideological institutions.
Fortunately, they have not succeeded in changing the lifestyles of the ordinary people. This is perhaps because there are multiple cultural strands that do not allow the jihadis to impose their norms the way they have in the tribal areas or the Frontier province. This is not to say that there is no threat from them in South Punjab: the liberalism and multi-polarity of society is certainly at risk. The threat is posed by the religious seminaries and the new recruits for jihad, who change social norms slowly and gradually. Sadly nothing, including the powerful political system of the area, which in any case is extremely warped, helps ward off the threat of extremism and jihadism. Ultimately, South Punjab could fall prey to the myopia of its ruling elite.
So how does the state and society deal with this issue?
Deploying the military is not an option. In the Punjab this will create a division within the powerful army because of regional loyalty. The foremost task is to examine the nature of the state’s relationship with the militants as strategic partners: should this relationship continue to exist to the detriment of the state? Once this mystifying question is resolved, all militant forces can be dealt with through an integrated police-intelligence operation.
This, however, amounts to winning only half the battle. The other half deals with the basic problems faced by the likes of those young jihadis-in-training from Bahawalpur who said, “We don’t see anything” in our futures. Presently, there is hardly any industrialisation in South Punjab and the mainstay of the area, agriculture, is faltering. The region requires economic strengthening: new ideas in agriculture, capital investment and new, relevant industries. This is the time that the government must plan beyond the usual textile and sugar industries that have arguably turned into huge mafias that are draining the local economy rather than feeding it.
Investment in social development is desperately needed. A larger social infrastructure that provides jobs and an educational system that is responsive to the needs of the population can contribute to filling the gaps. The message of militancy is quite potent, especially in terms of the dreams it sells to the youth, such as those disillusioned boys from my village. Jihad elevates youngsters from a state of being dispossessed to an imagined exalted status. They visualise themselves taking their places among great historical figures such as Mohammad bin Qasim and Khalid bin Waleed. It is these dreams for which the state must provide an alternative.
Militants from South Punjab tend to be better educated and more ruthless than those from the NWFP.
By Ayesha Siddiqa
The Punjabi jihadis are different from their counterparts in FATA: the former are comparatively more educated. There are many, such as Maulana Masood Azhar, who were educated in the Banuri town madrassa in Karachi and completed their dars-e-nizami – an eight-year course in religious ideology that inculcates the significance of jihad in the pupil. There is a constant flow of students from religious seminaries in South Punjab to Karachi. There are also those who have a secular education and are given responsibility for further education or conversion, and not just jihad. Additionally, there is also a reverse flow of militant religious scholars from South Punjab to other parts of the country. A prime example is Lal Masjid’s Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and his wife, who hail from Dera Ghazi Khan.
Besides being relatively more educated, the Punjabi jihadis are also distinguishable from the Pashtoon jihadis in terms of their style of fighting. A lot of the fidayeen (suicide bombers) come from the Punjab and are reputed to be much more brutal in their handling of victims. Frontier Governor Owais Ghani says some of the more ferocious commanders of the Taliban forces in Waziristan and Swat are South Punjabi jihadis and are much more difficult to crack than their Pashtoon counterparts. They have no emotional ties with people up north, he states, and are mainly ideology-driven, just like their Arab and Uzbek brothers-in-arms. So, as one freelancing jihadi confided, Uzbeks chop off a victim’s head with extreme precision and fight with an enviable commitment. The Punjabi jihadis want to avenge the rape of Muslim women in Chechnya, Bosnia, Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan by waging a war against non-Muslims. Militant groups show films of the killing of Muslims in these conflict zones and the rape of women to draw potential warriors. The preachers assure the fighters that a holy war is not only sanctioned by Islam but is a must for every able-bodied Muslim male.
So, it does not really matter that the territories mentioned above are not connected with the immediate social reality of the fighters. Unlike the Pashtoons, the South Punjabis are not motivated to wage war because they have lost one of their own in the war on terror. Instead, they are willing to give up their lives (or offer others in their family) because they are highly motivated about higher, selfless causes. Jihad provides an immediate sense of empowerment to people who now begin to see themselves as being capable of helping helpless women in far away lands. Those who are sent are even given Arab names to inculcate in them a sense of history.
U.S. efforts in Romania and Bulgaria are part of a global redeployment strategy started in the early years of the Bush administration to shift U.S. forces out of Germany and move them eastward.”
“The number of US military men at the two bases is not going to be large, but who can say that it will not be doubled, tripped or quadrupled in the future? Furthermore, the appearance of NATO bases on the Black Sea coast will come as an addition to the US military [deployments] in the Baltic region. As a result, Russia will find itself trapped.”
“[T]he new land, sea and airbases along the Black Sea will provide much improved contingency access for deployments into Central Asia, parts of the Middle East and Southwest Asia.”
Last week was an eventful one in Eastern Europe.
The two top foreign policy veterans in the current U.S. administration, Vice President Joseph Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visited the capitals of Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia. Biden was in Warsaw, Prague and Bucharest to recruit all three nations into the new U.S.-led, NATO-wide interceptor missile system and to make arrangements for the deployment of American Patriot missiles and troops to Poland, the first foreign soldiers to be based in that nation since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact eighteen years ago.
Gates was in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, for a two-day meeting of NATO and partner states’ defense chiefs which also focused on the establishment of a missile shield to encompass the entire European continent as well as the unparalleled escalation of the U.S.’s and NATO’s war in Afghanistan.
A few days earlier the U.S. armed forces publication Stars and Stripes announced that the Pentagon will spend an additional $110 million to upgrade two of the seven military bases in Bulgaria and Romania it acquired the use of in agreements signed in 2005 and 2006.
The report led to political fallout in the two host countries with Bulgarian and Romanian officials scrambling to qualify the news and pretend that somehow their own subservient governments would retain control over the expanded bases. Sofia and Bucharest have no more say in how the Pentagon and NATO have used and will intensify the use of air fields and other bases in their nations than they do in determining which war zones their nations’ troops are deployed to, which of late include Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. (read here)