AfPak: Punjab’s growing militant problem

Conversation with Hassan Abbas in Foreign Policy:

1. Your article in the CTC Sentinel last spring defined the conglomeration of militant groups known collectively as the ‘Punjabi Taliban.' We hear most often, however, about the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militant groups based in the tribal regions. What are some similarities and differences between the two? How has the ‘Punjabi Taliban' developed since your CTC article?

ScreenHunter_05 Jun. 25 13.13 First, I would prefer to tweak the title of the group to ‘Punjabi militants,' for there are many differences between the band of militants operating in Punjab and those based in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province (previously NWFP). Though this classification may sound purely academic, it has policy implications also. These Punjabi militants, who had drifted away from their parent organizations (such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba), had moved towards FATA after 2005 because they considered the area safer to live, train, and operate from. These were called ‘Punjabi' not because they were all ethnically from Punjab province — in fact, a few Sindhi and Urdu speaking militants were also present in this group. Hence, all non-Pashtuns (with the exception of non-Pakistanis like Uzbeks) came to be called “Punjabi Taliban.”

Relations between Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — TTP) and these Punjabi militants were complicated. They never merged and the nature of this collaboration remained restricted to distribution of tasks for a limited number of terrorist attacks in Punjab. Of course, they learned from each other, provided useful information and training to each other but their larger goals remained distinct. The Pakistani Taliban are partly a reaction to U.S. and Pakistani policy in Afghanistan and FATA, whereas Punjabi militants are frustrated from Pakistan's policies vis-à-vis Kashmir. Unacknowledged by India as well as the U.S., Pakistan achieved some success in stopping militants from going towards the Kashmir conflict zone in recent years. There are some exceptions here of course, but by and large, Punjabi militants started challenging the state after getting frustrated that they were abandoned.

More here.