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.
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"You sometimes have to tolerate the little things," says the Pakistani intelligence chief. "We don't want to create a new Lal Masjid," a reference to the violent backlash that resulted when the Army stormed the extremist Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad two years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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Publicly, the Punjabi government has sought to play down the threat of a "Punjabi Taliban." The province's law minister, Rana Sanaullah, insists that organized terror does not exist in Punjab.
Privately, however, some officials admit deep concern. Jehanzeb Burki, a key adviser on law and order to Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, says the government is taking the threat very seriously "because they are targeting us."
Asked whether the government may be giving a free pass to militants from Punjab who operate outside the country, he says: "As far as the government of Punjab is concerned, our first priority is to deal with those groups focused on Punjab itself."
Are madrasas breeding grounds?
Though much of the discussion on Punjabi militancy has focused on the poorer, less-developed southern part of the province, evidence shows that militants are being drawn from other parts as well.
The masterminds behind the Army headquarters attacks in October came from Rawalpindi and Faislabad, in the north of the province, says Ashar Rehman, Punjab bureau chief of Dawn, a leading English daily.
Suspects in other high-profile attacks – such as Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman of the Mumbai attacks – also came from Punjabi areas outside the south.
Some of the madrasas spread across the region are fueling hard-line views. Punjab is home to more than 6,000 of the country's 8,000 madrasas. With the help of funding – mainly from Saudi Arabia – they have grown exponentially since Pakistan's independence in 1947, when the number of madrasas nationwide was 137.
Only a handful of the schools are worrisome, and "not all students in these madrasas will become fighters," says Mr. Burki, the government adviser. "But some problematic teachers will keep an eye out for the raw minds they feel they can work upon, perhaps two or three from each batch."
At the Jamia Muhamaddia madrasa in Lahore, a school for 400 students, young men undergo vigorous religious training in the Ahl-e-Hadith doctrine, an orthodox strain of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia.
The school's principals, Khawar Rasheed and Hafiz Ata-ur-Rehman, deny that their institution preaches war against America or intolerance for other sects.
These claims seem to be contradicted by the school's monthly magazine, Sawt-ul-Haq ("Voice of Truth"), which, on the subject of jihad, notes: "God shows his wrath for those who shy from Jihad. Jihad is one of the reasons God is kind to Muslims. They who deserve His mercy are they who engage in Jihad."
Jihad can also refer to the internal struggle Muslims must undergo to improve themselves morally.
But in the brochure, jihad seems to mean violence: "In this day and age, Jihad has been incorrectly labeled terrorism and militancy. Our rulers are trying to please the non-Muslims … on America's command."
Outside the madrasa, Asif, a teenager who joined the madrasa at age 11, contemplates his future. He wants to complete the remaining seven years of his religious education.
Then, he says, "I will do the work of Islam, by fighting Islam's enemies in Afghanistan and Kashmir."