Myth & reality of Pun­jabi Tal­iban

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - Ak­bar Jan Mar­wat Email:mar­wat.ak­bar­

was no spe­cific mil­i­tant fac­tion that could be called ‘Pun­jabi Tal­iban’: rather mil­i­tants be­long­ing from all hue of Ji­hadi re­li­gious and sec­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion from Pun­jab, come to be known as ‘Pun­jabi Tal­iban’ be­cause of their com­mon eth­nic­ity.

These Pun­jabi mil­i­tants, some of who were even close to the es­tab­lish­ment, fled to the tribal ar­eas and KPK, af­ter the US in­va­sion of Afghanistan. Many of the Pun­jabi mil­i­tants were also fight­ing along­side the Tal­iban in Afghanistan, and fled along with the Tal­iban, when the US took over the coun­try. These Pun­jabi mil­i­tants, took refugee in all the tribal agen­cies in­clud­ing: Ba­jour; Mohmand; Khyber, Kur­ram, Orakzai, and the two Waziris­tan agen­cies, to es­cape the arm of law in their na­tive Pun­jab. These Pun­jabi fighters ac­quired fur­ther train­ing in the use of arms, ex­plo­sives and guer­rilla war­fare. They fought along sides lo­cal Pak­istan mil­i­tants as well as Tal­iban in Afghanistan. The lo­cal tribal mil­i­tants thus started re­fer­ring to them as ‘Pun­jabi Tal­iban’.

The co-ha­bil­i­ta­tion of mil­i­tants of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties also led to the use of col­or­ful Pun­jabi Monikers like ‘Sa­jna’ “for an im­por­tant Pak­istani Tal­iban Com­man­der Khan Said. Then there were dif­fer­ent types of Tal­iban, lit­er­ally mean­ing seek­ers of knowl­edge. The first group of Tal­iban emerged in 1994, un­der the lead­er­ship of Mul­lah Omer in Kand­har Afghanistan. Then the Tehrik-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) was founded by Bait­ul­lah Mehsud in South Waziris­tan in De­cem­ber 2007 as in um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion of all Pak­istani Tal­iban fac­tions. To dif­fer­en­ti­ate the groups, terms like Afghan Tal­iban, and Pak­istani Tal­iban were in­vented.

Sub­se­quently when the Pun­jabi mil­i­tants joined the dom­i­nant groups of Pak­ista­nis Tal­iban, they came to be known as Pun­jabi Tal­iban. It is how­ever, in­ter­est­ing to note, that Pak­istani mil­i­tants were not known as Pak­istani Tal­iban in the man­ner in which the Pun­jabi af­fil­i­ates were known as Pun­jabi Tal­ibans. This per­haps, had to do with the fact that, it were pre­dom­i­nant Pukhtoon ar­eas in which both set of Tal­iban op­er­ated, but only the Pun­jabi ones, were con­sid­ered to be the other or the out­sider, hence a need for nam­ing them by thier eth­nic­ity.

Most of the mil­i­tants, both Pakhtoon and Pun­jabis, knew each other af­ter hav­ing trained and fought to­gether in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Some of the fac­tions of Pun­jabi Tal­iban pub­li­cally called them­selves Pun­jabi Tal­iban. While other only ac­cepted the ti­tle, when the term be­come their iden­tity. Many read­ers would re­mem­ber the ver­bal spar­ring be­tween Rehman Ma­lik, the in­te­rior min­is­ter in PPP’s govern­ment from 2008 to 2013, and Shah­baz Sharif the Chief Min­is­ter of Pun­jab. Mr. Sharif had an­grily ob­jected to Mr. Rehman’s use of the term Pun­jabi Tal­iban, cat­e­gor­i­cally deny­ing that such an en­tity did not ex­ist.

Mr. Sharif may have been only tech­ni­cally cor­rect, that no spe­cific group of mil­i­tants op­er­ated un­der that nomen­cla­ture. But there was no gain­say­ing, in the fact, that mil­i­tants be­long­ing to all hue of ex­trem­ist re­li­gious and sec­tar­ian out­fits, very much ex­isted, and were col­lec­tively known as Pun­jabi Tal­iban. These Pun­jabi mil­i­tants or Tal­iban were an im­por­tant part of the mil­i­tant and ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture of the TTP, which used the ex­per­tise and help of these Pun­jabi Tal­ibans in car­ry­ing out at­tacks in Pun­jab, the fed­eral cap­i­tal Is­lam­abad and other sites in Pak­istan.

The present rul­ing classes mostly from Pun­jab, were gen­er­ally, in a state of de­nial, till the Gul­shan-i-Iqbal bomb­ing took place. Al­though lead­ers like Ma­lik Ishaq of Lashkar­iJhangvi, were killed in po­lice en­counter, but the govern­ment was not in a mood to carry out a full-fledged op­er­a­tion in Pun­jab. It has to be re­it­er­ated, that most op­po­si­tion par­ties as well as the rul­ing par­ties of KPK, Sindh and Baluchis­tan asked for a sus­tain­able mil­i­tary ac­tion against mil­i­tants in Pun­jab.

Af­ter Zarb-i-Azb, it seems the amal­ga­ma­tion of Pun­jabi mil­i­tants known as ‘Pun­jabi Tal­iban’ are now scat­tered and weak­ened just like their pat­tern or­gan­i­sa­tion, the TTP. They have mostly been evicted from FATA; due to mil­i­tary ac­tion and the US drone at­tacks. Some of the Pun­jabi Tal­iban, have dis­persed to Afghanistan, or gone un­der­ground in Pak­istani Cities and vil­lages. The so­called Pun­jabi Tal­iban has thus been weak­ened con­sid­er­ably, but they have not been com­pletely taken out. Many of them are dor­mant in the ma­jor cities of Pun­jab, but can be­come ac­tive with the right stim­u­lus. Many of these Pun­jabi mil­i­tants, who have taken train­ing in firearms and ex­plo­sives, also prove use­ful for newly emerg­ing mil­i­tant groups like ISIS.

The Pak­istani state and its de­fence es­tab­lish­ment also has to make a prin­ci­ple dis­cus­sion of mov­ing against all mil­i­tant or­gan­i­sa­tions based in Pun­jab, in­clud­ing the ones con­sid­ered to be friendly to­wards our deep state like the Ja­mat –iDawa and the Jaish-e-Muham­mad. Be­cause till such time, that all the mil­i­tant and sec­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion are not elim­i­nated, all kinds of mil­i­tants in­clud­ing the Pun­jabi mil­i­tants would be in de­mand and would eas­ily move from one or­gan­i­sa­tion to the other. Even af­ter the killing of Ma­lik Ishaq, and some other lead­ers of Lashkar-jhangvi, the out­fit is still present, and would al­ways be in need of mil­i­tant man­power.

In con­clu­sion it has to be said that, to erad­i­cate mil­i­tancy in Pun­jab, the ide­o­log­i­cal swamps spew­ing rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion lead­ing to ex­trem­ism have to be drained. The ubiq­ui­tous and Mush­room growth of madaris through out Pun­jab have to be strictly con­trolled and if pos­si­ble con­tained. All these madaris may not be pre­par­ing ter­ror­ists and sui­cide bombers, but these madaras are cer­tainly pre­par­ing a mind set which is fa­vor­ably pre­dis­posed to­wards rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, ex­trem­ism and even­tu­ally mil­i­tarism. —The writer is au­thor, cit­i­zen jour­nal­ist and en­tre­pre­neur based in Is­lam­abad.

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