September Issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

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.

This post is part of a bigger article: see Terror’s Training Ground.

The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter