COMMENT: Punjab: the new FATA —Ali K Chishti
Sectarian jihadis, who are now transformed into ‘Punjabi Taliban’ through evolution, are concentrated in the economically backward and feudally dominated agrarian areas of Punjab
A recent survey puts the number of madrassas all over Pakistan around 28,982. The number was 2,861 in 1988 and 246 in 1947. However, the interior ministry estimates put the number of madrassas at 20,000, with over three million students. Of these, 11,000 madrassas belong to the Deobandi sect. Picking up the queue from my previous piece (‘Jihadi public schools?’, Daily Times, May 26, 2010), concentrating entirely on the role played by madrassas in raising jihadis very often tends to obscure a very important social and welfare role these institutions play in Pakistan. While the poor find it difficult to afford the expenses of teaching their children, the madrassas serve as an alternative where children not only learn but are also housed, clothed and fed. Many of the state schools in Pakistan, especially in Punjab, where religious extremism is at its height, are ‘ghost schools’. According to a newspaper clipping, Pakistan Army dug out 4,000 ghost schools and 20,453 fake teachers in Punjab alone, who were milking a huge amount of Rs 1.4 billion each year. Interestingly, Punjab has slowly taken over as the nerve centre of jihad and nearly 50 percent of the jihadis belong to this one province alone. A survey of 10 big jihadi groups has revealed that over 15,000 people from Punjab died in Afghanistan and Kashmir alone. Apparently, out of the 15,000 killed, only 40 percent actually went to the madrassas. A little research proved my point statistically when I discovered that out of 800 ‘martyrs’ of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, only 188 went to madrassas — the rest went to state schools or were dropouts. This obviously means that a majority of the jihadis from Punjab, and more specifically the Seraiki belt, are coming from the state school system and not just from madrassas.
The youth joins such terrorist organisations from these areas because “jihad provides honour, money and adventure”. Apparently what a lot of people do not realise is that Punjab is not only the nerve centre of the jihad now; it is also the province that has been affected by sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shias inside Pakistan. An interior ministry report, which was sent out to Punjab’s chief minister, a copy of which had also been forwarded to the prime minister and the president, enumerated Deobandi madrassas at around 2,512 in Punjab. Their division wise break-up: Lahore 323; Gujranwala 140; Rawalpindi 169; Faisalabad 112; Sargodha 149; Multan 325; D.G Khan 411; and Bahawalpur 883. In southern Punjab, the number of religious madrassas is the highest and that is also one of the reasons why areas constituting southern Punjab are under constant threat of sectarianism. Another important factor is the infiltration of sectarian diehards into government educational institutions since 1984-85 when the Ziaul Haq regime, through an ordinance, decided to induct the graduates from deeni madrassas into the education department as Arabic teachers (BPS-9) provided they possessed a Wifaqul Madaris degree. Posts were created to implement this policy. Every sect has its own wifaq to which all madrassas belonging to its own school of thought are affiliated. Obviously, there is no official regulation or monitoring system and the result is more indoctrination.
Sectarian jihadis, who are now transformed into ‘Punjabi Taliban’ through evolution, are concentrated in the economically backward and feudally dominated agrarian areas of Punjab. While there are 599 madrassas in the four divisions of north and central Punjab, there are 1,768 in the northwest and south. The Punjabi Taliban over the years of fighting as ‘our’ state proxies in Afghanistan and Kashmir have changed sides and now maintain close ties with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and regularly travel to the tribal belt for training and business. The traffic of course is two-way, since the Punjabi Taliban provide safe havens in south Punjab to top Taliban and al Qaeda militants. But it seems that the Punjab government that is trying to play ‘Gandhi’ is deaf, dumb and blind and is in a serious mode of denial. The provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, palpably insists he did nothing wrong when he participated in a by-election and was host to a terrorist militant commander. This state of denial is strengthening the hands of terrorists and jeopardising the security of not just Punjab but the country as a whole.
It is high time the Punjab government realised that the Punjabi Taliban are a reality that cannot be wished away. Forget media reports and listen to the Punjab Police who itself believe that militants operating under the Taliban umbrella are growing in strength. The provincial authorities can no longer dodge this issue and deny the obvious. If they do, many are prompted to ask where their sympathies lie. The PPP’s criticism of the Punjab government may be perceived as an issue of political rivalry, but in actual reality it is a matter of survival.
The writer is a political analyst who can be reached at email@example.com