May 26, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2979

Police Report and Editorial in Pakistani Daily Warn of the Taliban's Recruitment Drives in Punjab: 'Under-Construction Seminary in Jhang District Serves as a Meeting Point of the Taliban Leadership'; 'Punjabi Militants [are] Providing Safe Haven to Taliban Commanders'; 'Taliban Network is Gaining Ground Rapidly in Southern Punjab'

May 26, 2010
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 2979

The government of Pakistan's Punjab province has always denied that a number of militant groups have established a strong presence in the province's southern region. However, recently police officials in the province's Jhang city filed a First Information Report (FIR) against the local chief of the Al-Qaeda-linked militant organization Jaish-e-Muhammad for hosting a Taliban commander.

The FIR, which is the first step toward launching a prosecution in a court, is the first official acknowledgement of the Taliban's presence in southern Punjab, an economically and educationally backward region where militant groups have set up a number of Islamic seminaries.

In a report, titled "Taliban are in Punjab Now – Officially," the leading daily The News reported that "Taliban commanders often come to the [Jhang] city on their way to southern Punjab, as the network of Tehreek-e-Taliban is fast expanding in the region."

Dawn, a leading liberal newspaper, wrote an editorial about the threat posed by the Taliban not only to Punjab but to the entire Pakistan, wondering, "What more will it take to convince the provincial government that the Punjabi Taliban are a reality that cannot be wished away?"

Both reports criticized Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of Punjab, for seeking the help of militant groups during a recent by-election for the provincial legislative assembly from Jhang city.

The following are the two reports highlighting the militant safe haven of south Punjab. [1]

(For a related MEMRI report on the militant threat to southern Punjab, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No, 2600, "Eminent Pakistani Author: Talibanization is Threatening Southern Punjab," October 16, 2009, Eminent Pakistani Author: Talibanization is Threatening Southern Punjab .)

The News: "Punjab Police Have Officially Acknowledged, For the First Time, the Movement of the Taliban, Their Network in District Jhang and Southern Punjab, and Their Fund-Raising and Recruitment Drive"

"Though the provincial government is in a state of denial, the Punjab Police have officially acknowledged for the first time the movement of the Taliban, their network in district Jhang and southern Punjab, and their fund-raising and recruitment drive in the province.

"The Jhang city police have filed an FIR, the first-ever in the Punjab, which is a severe indictment of the provincial government. The FIR No 320, registered under 11 F/7 Anti-Terrorist Act by the police itself on the basis of their human intelligence, depicts the grim realities of Talibanization in Punjab.

"The criminal report filed against the district head of... [Al-Qaeda-linked militant] organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad, discloses that Taliban commanders often come to the city on their way to southern Punjab as the network of Tehreek-e-Taliban is fast expanding in the region. [A senior police officer of the] Kotwali Police Station (Jhang city) confirmed to The News the FIR, a copy of which is available..., but was reluctant to go into the details..."

"Jhang, the hotbed of sectarianism, is the hometown of the provincial police chief, Tariq Saleem Dogar. A recent World Bank report has found negligible development spending in the district, 300 Pakistani Rupees per person as compared to Lahore's 35,000 Pakistani Rupees per person.

"The Punjab government has always denied the presence of the Taliban network in the southern belt. The DG Rangers [chief of the security force Rangers], who once dropped a hint of their existence, was contradicted by provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah, who had formed an electoral alliance with a... [militant] organization in a by-election, ran a campaign together with their top leader, and released the most dangerous sectarian militants as part of a deal."

A Jhang District Seminary "Serves as a Meeting Point of the Taliban Leadership; Three Other Seminaries... Have Launched a Drive to Recruit Youth for Training in the Tribal Area"

"The FIR and police intelligence reports indicate the Taliban are thriving in the region. The recruitment drive has also been launched recently in some religious schools. The FIR is registered against Dr. Imran, former head of Jaish-e-Mohammad in district Jhang, who has been accused of recently hosting a prominent Taliban commander carrying head money of 10 million Pakistani Rupees. It says Dr. Imran 'runs the network of Tehreek-e-Taliban and Taliban would often come to see him on their way to other districts of south Punjab.' He has also been accused of involvement in fundraising.

"The FIR is based on police intelligence that presents far more pessimistic picture than what has been reported in the FIR. The intelligence report indicates that the district head of Toba Tek Singh is a former gunman of Osama bin Laden and a driving force behind the network's expansion in the southern belt. The Taliban commander mentioned in the FIR without name is Commander Qari Matiullah alias commander Abdul Samad..."

"According to the police intelligence, Taliban leaders frequent a number of seminaries in Jhang. An under-construction seminary in Jhang district serves as a meeting point of the Taliban leadership. Three other seminaries run by their sympathizers have launched a drive to recruit youth for training in the tribal area, says the report. Mentioning the discussion in a recent meeting held on May 1 in a seminary located in Jhang city, a police source said the religious leaders who spoke on the occasion urged the need for reviving the spirit of 1985 when a war was fought against the Afghan rulers. Jhang and other districts of central and south Punjab are now the main target of Taliban, said a police officer who cited under-development as the reason why such networks thrive..."

"A Taliban sympathizer, however, claimed that the Taliban are fighting against the killers of innocent people. He said innocent people are being killed in the name of war against terror. He said anyone whose mother or children are killed is bound to take up weapons. He said the Taliban are not terrorists but wanted implementation of Shari'a laws."

Dawn: "Southern Punjab Has Long Been... a Hub for Punjabi Militants Who Maintain Close Ties With the Taliban"

"It is time that the Punjab government accepted the obvious and took urgent steps to dismantle the jihadi network whose tentacles are spreading throughout the province.

"Southern Punjab has long been seen by independent observers as a hub for Punjabi militants who maintain close ties with the Taliban and travel to the tribal belt for both training and combat. The traffic, in fact, is two-way, with Punjabi militants providing safe haven to Taliban commanders and fighters as and when needed. Yet, despite these clear linkages, the authorities in Lahore continue to deny the existence of the Punjabi Taliban. At the same time, the provincial law minister [Rana Sanaullah] insists he did nothing wrong when he canvassed votes for a by-election in the company of known Jhang-based militants. This lingering state of denial is strengthening the hands of terrorists and jeopardizing the security of not just Punjab but the country as a whole.

"Two recent developments ought to stir the Punjab government into action. It was reported in the press on Monday that the Jhang police have registered an FIR against the district head of the outlawed Jaish-i-Mohammad for playing host to Taliban commanders when they visit the area. The FIR is based on police intelligence-gathering which found that the Taliban network is gaining ground rapidly in southern Punjab through the recruitment and fund-raising efforts of local militants in Jhang and nearby districts. Also on Monday [May 17], a Punjabi Taliban commander from Dera Ghazi Khan 'surrendered' to the Punjab police, ostensibly because he could no longer live with the knowledge that the suicide attacks he orchestrated had killed a large number of bystanders.

"What more will it take to convince the provincial government that the Punjabi Taliban are a reality that cannot be wished away? Forget media reports, which authorities across the land routinely dismiss when the news doesn't suit their taste. Remember that the Punjab police itself believe that militants operating under the Taliban umbrella are growing in strength. The provincial authorities can no longer evade this issue and deny the obvious. If they do, many could be prompted to ask where their sympathies lie."

[1] The News, Pakistan, May 17, 2010; Dawn, Pakistan, May 19, 2010. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

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