Category — southern Punjab
More disturbing evidence that the Taliban have established a foothold in certain parts of southern Punjab has come to light following the lodging of an FIR in Jhang against a former district head of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad. This is the first-ever FIR of its nature in Punjab and reflects a belated but welcome official admission of a serious problem that can no longer be wished away. The FIR, lodged under the Anti-Terrorist Act, suggests that the town, long a hotbed of sectarianism and home to banned outfits such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba, is now a major recruitment ground for the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ fighting in the north and a stepping stone for the group to spread its influence in other districts further to the south and east. Dr Imran, the man named in the FIR, is accused of running the network of the Tehrik-e-Taliban in the area, launching fund-raising drives and sheltering wanted Taliban leaders. Parts of southern Punjab certainly are a fertile breeding ground for militancy. There is a thriving network of religious seminaries dotted across the region and a history of fierce sectarian strife. The area is also extremely backward economically and poverty is widespread.
To make things worse, the provincial government has been accused of turning a blind eye to the growing militancy in the area and sometimes even fanning extremist sentiments for political gain. Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was recently embroiled in a controversy for seeking the support of a banned sectarian outfit during a by-election campaign and of letting off suspected terrorists under pressure. It is time for the provincial authorities to snap out of their collective state of denial and act before it is too late. The utmost vigilance is necessary and an effective intelligence network must be activated to keep tabs on a growing menace that can spread to those parts of the country relatively unscathed by the scourge of extremism. Equally important is to stem the flow of funds and men from the area to the battle zones in the north. With the army heavily deployed in anti-terrorist activities in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it would be unrealistic to expect it to open up another front and launch a full-scale anti-militant operation in the area. It is therefore all the more important that the civilian authorities keep a vigilant eye on elements out to exploit the backwardness of the area to recruit young men to fight for their misguided cause. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=239853
May 17, 2010 No Comments
By Declan Walsh in The Guardian
Islamabad: Pakistan’s army made a stark admission today of the scale of the threat it faces from a nexus of Punjabi, al-Qaida and Taliban militants whose attacks are increasingly coordinated, include soldiers in their ranks and span the country.
The unusually frank assessment, made after the audacious assault on the military’s headquarters this weekend, came as a Taliban suicide bomber struck an army convoy as it passed through a crowded marketplace in a small mountain town near the Swat valley, killing 41 people and wounding 45.
It was the fourth militant atrocity to hit Pakistan in eight days of bloodshed that have killed more than 120 people. One television channel reported that the bomber in Shangla district in North West Frontier province was a 13-year-old boy.
Meanwhile a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the 22-hour gun battle and siege at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, which ended on Sunday morning when commandos freed 39 hostages. Eleven soldiers, three civilians and nine militants died.
“This was our first small effort and a present to the Pakistani and American governments,” a Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, told the Associated Press.
Addressing journalists a few hundred metres from the scene of the gunfight, an army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, described how the 10 attackers came from two different sets of backgrounds. Five of them came from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and wealthy province, he said, while the other five were from South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold at the southern end of the tribal belt, along the Afghan border.
Abbas said the attackers were led by a Punjabi militant named Aqeel, also known as Dr Usman, but the operation was ordained by a Taliban commander based in South Waziristan. Citing an intercepted telephone call, Abbas said commander Wali-ur-Rehman urged followers to “pray” for the attacks after the assault began on Saturday morning.
Abbas said the militants intended to take senior army officers hostage and use them to negotiate the release of more than 100 militants. Other demands included an end to military cooperation with the US and for the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, to be put on trial.
Aqeel, the only surviving attacker, was being treated for serious injuries, Abbas said. He confirmed that the militant was a former army medical corps soldier from Kahuta, a town in the army’s Punjabi recruitment heartland that is home to a major nuclear weapons facility.
Aqeel deserted the army in 2004, he said, and joined Jaish-e-Muhammad, a notorious militant group that in recent years has spawned splinter groups which have become allied to al-Qaida.
The militant attacks come as 28,000 army soldiers prepare to launch an assault on South Waziristan, where an estimated 10,000 fighters are holed up. Yesterday army jets hit Taliban targets in the area for the second day running, in preparation for an offensive the interior minister, Rehman Malik, said was “imminent”.
The army’s admission of ever stronger links between the Taliban, al-Qaida and Punjab-based militant groups was rare public confirmation of a trend analysts have observed for years. “We’ve seen this troika nexus in many major terrorist attacks – on the Marriott in Islamabad, on the navy headquarters in Lahore, and on the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency],” said Amir Rana, a terrorism analyst.
In some instances, Rana said, al-Qaida provided the financing, the Taliban logistics and training support, and Punjabi militants executed the operation.
The growing importance of the Punjabi factor in local and international militancy has placed the army under pressure to extend its crackdown beyond the tribal belt. At the weekend a spokesman for the North West Frontier province government said that even if a South Waziristan offensive succeeded, militants could still get help from Punjab.
Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman from last November’s Mumbai massacre, comes from a small village in southern Punjab. Jaish-e-Muhammad operates a giant madrasa on the edge of Bahawalpur, a dusty city in southern Punjab notorious for its hardline madrasas.
The army rejected suggestions that a military operation would solve the problem. “Yes there are terrorists in southern Punjab, and these groups have links to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” said Abbas. “But it’s a very different environment. It’s well developed, it has a communications infrastructure and a huge security force presence. It’s very different from what was Swat, and what [we see] in South Waziristan.”
In Lahore, a court freed Hafiz Saeed, a prominent extremist cleric whom India accuses of playing a major part in the Mumbai attacks. A prosecutor said the extremist charity he heads, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, had not been officially banned.
The turmoil spooked investors on Pakistan’s main stock market, which tumbled 1.3 per cent. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/12/pakistan-army-taliban-militancy-threat
October 13, 2009 No Comments
LONDON: The attack on the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi has highlighted not only the threat from the Taliban in the Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, but also from those based in Punjab.
Security officials said some of the militants involved in the attack on the GHQ appeared to have links to Punjab. “South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism,” analyst Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in a magazine article last month. “Yet, somehow, there are still many people in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge this threat,” she wrote.
Security officials said a militant arrested after the attack and hostage-taking at the GHQ was believed be a member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Some hostage takers’ phone calls were intercepted and they were speaking Punjabi, another security official said. However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said it is too early to say whether Punjab-based groups were involved.
Separate danger: NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain called on Saturday for the elimination of militant bases in Punjab as well as South Waziristan. But targeting all of the country’s militants at once could create an even more dangerous coalition by driving disparate groups closer together, analysts say. The army also draws many of its recruits from Punjab, making any efforts to root out militants there all the harder.
“Deploying the military is not an option. In the Punjab this will create a division within the powerful army because of regional loyalty,” wrote Siddiqa. But the police force in the province is inadequate and unlikely to be able to take on the thousands of armed men belonging to different militant groups. Complicating the picture further are pressures from both the US and India, which want Pakistan to target the groups directly in conflict with them.
Pakistan has focused largely on acting against groups representing a direct domestic threat, leading some analysts to suggest it may want to retain groups like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to be used as “strategic assets” against India. But defence analyst Brian Cloughley said the attack on the army’s headquarters showed how little support militants had in the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\10\12\story_12-10-2009_pg7_8
October 12, 2009 No Comments
PESHAWAR, Oct 10: The NWFP government has called for an early “Swat-like” military operation in South Waziristan and southern Punjab, where it believes “terrorists are trained and sent to other parts of the country”.
The provincial information minister said at a press conference on Saturday that the bomb blast in Peshawar the previous day was aimed at forcing the government to call off the South Waziristan operation.
“How can we stop terrorist activities in settled areas when the supply chain is intact,” Mr Iftikhar Hussain wondered.
“Elimination of terrorists requires dismantling their organised networks in Waziristan and southern Punjab.”
He said that after the Peshawar bomb blast and the terror attack on the GHQ on Saturday the time had come for a decisive action against militants.
Asked if the Peshawar bomb blast was a riposte to the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the minister said “this factor cannot be ruled out”. http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/nwfp-for-army-action-in-southern-punjab-109
October 12, 2009 No Comments