The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore firstname.lastname@example.org
I was surprised a fortnight ago to receive a note from Lahore’s General Post Office saying I had imported a banned book which the Post Office had duly confiscated. The book was Punjabi Taliban by Mujahid Hussain (Pentagon Press, India, 2011) which is available in Pakistan too and advertised by a Karachi bookseller on the internet.
The terrorists are angry at the book. Punjab government has now joined them. The terrorists are scary enough — because the author, who now lives abroad, was once attacked by them. Some years ago, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah denied that south Punjab was a haven of the Punjabi Taliban. South Punjab contains 13 districts with a population of 27 million: Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Bhakkar, DG Khan, Jhang, Khanewal, Layyah, Lodhran, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, and Vehari.
Ex-editor Shireen Mazari who hails from DG Khan in south Punjab wrote in The News (April 29, 2009) “Why military action is not the answer” about the dominance of jihadi madrassas in DG Khan, significantly pointing to the “foreign funding” they were receiving: “In DG Khan, there are 185 registered madrassas of which 90 are Deobandi (with a total of 324 teachers), 84 are Barelvi (with a total of 212 teachers), six are Ahle Hadith (107 teachers) and five are Fiqh-e-Jafaria (10 teachers)”.
She continued: “Of the Deobandi madrassas, Jamia Ataul-Ulum, with 200 boarders and 20 day-students ranging from 5-25 years, and eight teachers, receives donations from Kuwait. Jamia Darul Rehmania offers education up to class eight and has 350 boarders plus 230 day-students and 28 teachers…The total number of Deobandi madrassa students in the DG Khan district is 11,535. Interestingly, in this category, it is the large madrassas… linked to the JUI… that receive foreign funding… almost solely from Kuwait”.
On 10 December 2009, a PPP MNA Jamshed Dasti from DG Khan challenged the claim made by the law minister that there were no terrorist havens in south Punjab and that Barelvi madrassas outnumbered the violent Deobandi ones. He said south Punjab was the main source of the Taliban-linked terrorists and that DG Khan was in the grip of violence encouraged by the state itself. He said the hills of DG Khan were still the training grounds for jihadis patronised by the state.
Bahawalpur division is dominated by the Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Sipah-e-Sahaba. The other two forces in the territory, the feudals and the state, have developed a modus vivendi with them, the latter frequently acting as a bodyguard threatening anyone trying to investigate their activities. The districts have supplied nearly 5,000 warriors to the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan, Waziristan and Swat.
Leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad Masood Azhar was running a training camp of warriors in Cholistan, receiving financial aid from al Qaeda, also protected by the deep state. Thousands of Jaish militants were living in Bahawalpur where Masood Azhar too secretly resided. He frequently visited the Taliban and al Qaeda leaders on the Afghan border. Malik Ishaq, once in jail for killing dozens of people, belongs to Rahim Yar Khan and is leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He used to rule the territory from jail, even talking from prison to the political leaders of Punjab. The case against him was wrecked after witnesses against him got killed and the living ones resiled.
The mastermind of the Mumbai attack Hamid Amin belonged to Rahim Yar Khan. In Bahawalpur, thousands have gone to join the war in the Tribal Areas from Madrassa Usman-o-Ali established by Masood Azhar.
Former governor Salmaan Taseer’s son was kidnapped from Lahore allegedly by Punjabi Taliban and taken to North Waziristan and is being reportedly kept — right in front of the Haqqani camp — by them and their Uzbek cohorts.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.