Why Pakistan's old jihadis pose new threat – at home and in Afghanistan
In an interview, a jihadi talks about why state-sponsored militants who once fought in Indian-controlled Kashmir are now joining the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
hafizabad and lahore, pakistan
Saeen Dilawar hadn't killed an infidel in years.Skip to next paragraph
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Like many of his friends from Pakistan's Punjab Province, in the 1990s he rushed east to help the Army fight the Indians in Kashmir. When government support dried up in 2002, he returned home to his quiet farming town of Hafizabad.
"Unfortunately, I have not yet killed an American," he says. Shrapnel from enemy shelling broke his left leg and sent him hobbling home, he says.
In recent years, Pakistan has aimed its antiterror offensives at the Taliban network operating in the remote northwestern tribal districts, a largely ethnic Pashtun movement in an area that has long resisted state rule.
But another militant threat is rearing its head in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province and its heartland; home to the country's capital, cultural hub, and military headquarters. Once-dormant Punjabi jihadists like Dilawar are beginning to link up with the Taliban, supplying manpower in battles in the northwest but also bringing the fight to Pakistan's center by carrying out attacks on their home turf.
Some 5,000 former Punjabi fighters have returned to combat as part of what is being called the "Punjabi Taliban," according to Hassan Abbas, a fellow at the Asia Society in New York. More young men could join, spurred by radical madrasas, or religious schools, that dot the province, advocating jihad.
Pakistan's government has shown reluctance to crack down on these militants, many of whom were trained by the state to fight proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But militants are not showing the same restraint for their onetime backers, as evidenced by a slew of attacks in Pakistan this year.
The latest occurred on Dec. 8, when an explosive laden-truck blew up outside a police check-post, killing 12 people. A day earlier, twin strikes in a crowded Lahore market place killed more than 40 people, mostly women and children, and last Friday a coordinated attack in a Rawalpindi mosque also accounted for more than 40 lives, prompting President Asif Ali Zardari to make a rare public appearance at the hospital where the injured are being treated.
Attack on Pakistan's 'Pentagon'
In October, the so-called Punjabi Taliban claimed credit for a 22-hour hostage raid on the Army headquarters in Rawalpindi that left 23 dead. A few days later, a triple strike on an intelligence agency headquarters and two police academies in Lahore brought life to a standstill in the country's once-peaceful cultural hub.
"These militants were backed by both Pakistan and the United States in the past. When they are left alone, some of them do go rogue," concedes a senior Pakistani intelligence chief who asked to remain anonymous.
Sitting among friends at his neighborhood mosque in Hafizabad after early evening prayers, Dilawar recalls his early days as a jihadist.