Terror in Pakistan’s Punjab Heartland

Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

Rashid Pakistan has taken an awfully long time to understand that it faces an unprecedented terrorist threat that is not a result of conspiracies hatched in Washington, New Delhi or Tel-Aviv, as many in the public believe, but that is the result of the Pakistani state’s nurturing of extremist groups since the 1970s.

Part of the problem is the refusal of the army and the government to accept the fact that Pakistan faces a serious terrorist threat in its populated heartland of Punjab. Just a few days before this latest episode, federal ministers, army spokesmen and Punjab province’s Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif heatedly denied the existence of a Punjabi branch of the Taliban, maintaining therefore that no punitive action against Punjabi militants was required. Yet in recent years, Punjabi Taliban been has been responsible for attacking army headquarters, police stations and offices of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Punjabi Taliban are distinct from the Pashtun Taliban that have been fighting the Pakistan army in the Northwestern tribal areas and attacking US forces in Afghanistan. Although many of the Punjabi groups have developed close links to the Pashtun Taliban and al-Qaeda in the Northwest, they were originally trained in the 1980s by the military to fight Indian forces in Kashmir.

Since that covert war and the Kashmir insurgency wound down in 2004, these groups have been at a loss as to what do with themselves. There has been no disarmament and demobilization program of the Punjabi Taliban because every Pakistani government has denied that they exist.

One major Punjab-based group—the former Lashkar-e-Tayaba—perpetrated the massacre in Mumbai in India in 2008 and nearly bought the two countries to war. The army is now committed to fighting the Pashtun Taliban, but it still does not publicly accept the threat to our Punjab heartland, where many terrorists now operating in the Northwest originate from, and where most of the army’s soldiers are also recruited from.

More here.