Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dawn: Militancy in Punjab

Militancy in Punjab
Dawn Editorial, March 17, 2010

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has been excoriated by all right-thinking individuals across Pakistan for his shocking comments about the PML-N sharing a common cause with the Taliban.

But away from the politics of the war against militancy, on the security front alarming new trends are emerging in Punjab. Here’s what is known. Earlier this month, the names contained in the FIA’s ‘red book’, a list of the country’s most-wanted criminal suspects, were made public: 25 of the 119 names on the list were of suspects from Punjab, the highest number for any province.

The key suspects in many attacks on security targets in recent months are southern Punjab-based members of four militant groups: Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Mohammad, Sipah-i-Sahaba and Harkatul Jihad al-Islami. The increase in fidayeen-style attacks (in which death is likely but not inevitable as with suicide attacks) has in particular caught the eye of investigators. Fidayeen attacks are the bread-and-butter tactic of Punjabi militants. Then in the last two days alone several tonnes of explosive materials and other weapons favoured by terrorists have been found in raids in Lahore.

Everything points to the terrifying reality that Punjab has a home-grown terrorism problem that appears to be growing by the day. And yet some elements have mischievously tried to play down the Punjab-militancy nexus by pointing to the fact that the groups involved are not ‘Punjabi’ because they have members who belong to other provinces too. There is no doubt that the other provinces also have a terrorism problem in their midst and they need to beef up counter-terrorism measures rapidly. But the violence in Punjab is real, it is present and it shows no sign of abating. Quibbling over whether there is such a thing as the Punjabi Taliban is beside the point: there are militants who live in and are from Punjab, these militants are attacking the state and the people, and they must be captured or eliminated.

It is true that the Punjab government is doing something to fight the threat: despite Mr Sharif’s stomach-churning comments, the provincial administration he oversees has deployed significant law-enforcement and intelligence resources to track down the Taliban. But the authorities appear to be approaching the problem as a narrow counter-terrorism issue. The wider problem is the infrastructure of hate and religious intolerance that is thriving in the province, often under official patronage. No matter how many militants the state captures or kills, there will always be more if the pipeline of hate continues to churn out brainwashed foot soldiers. The Punjab authorities must find a way, and the will, to shut down the pipeline of hate and intolerance.

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