Following is a review of Mujahid Hussain’s banned-in-Pakistan book ‘Punjabi Taliban’. The book is published by PENTAGON (!??)
Mujahid Hussain examines how terrorism has shifted its base eastward to find a safe haven in Punjab, Pakistan’s most dominant province, writes Anil Bhat.
Mujahid Hussain’s views in his book, Punjabi Taliban — banned in Pakistan and published in India — were vindicated when Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard in January 2011. Taseer was a brave man who stood for a liberal, tolerant and progressive Pakistan. But he paid for his life for standing up to the blasphemy law and countering Taliban.
Hussain states that by 2011 Pakistan showed clear evidence that it would not fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda the way the rest of the world wanted it to. “Al Qaeda has emerged unconquerable by the Pakistani Army” because of the “shift of Punjab’s ‘non-state actors’ from the Pakistan Army to Al Qaeda and the reorganisation of these non-state actors as the state assets by the military”. Hussain, therefore says, “The attack on the Taliban and Al Qaeda will result in the loss of country’s biggest province.”
The book highlights how the people involved in Islamist terrorism are adding fuel to fire in Pakistan’s intra-state conflicts. The most important part of the book talks about the relationship between south Punjab and the rise of Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has opened a jihadi front against India. In Pakistan, it’s ironical that while there are enough factors that ensure a fight against terrorism, there are simultaneously enough reasons that actively inhibit that very struggle.
Hussain laments that Punjab showcased in the Punjabi movies of 1960s and 1970s does not exist anymore. Now the sounds of music has got drowned by the staccato of bullets and loudspeakers in mosques and madarsas (seminaries). While the coup against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Islamic revolution in Iran and Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s pro-jihadi policies can be regarded as some of the major milestones in Pakistan’s pro-Islamist turn, the author believes that the damage done to the socio-religious fabric of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is more tragic.
The author’s study of Lahore reveals shocking changes that have come about in the villages and towns of the provincial capital, thanks to prevailing extremist/sectarian sentiments. With its headquarters at Muridke, 30 km from Lahore, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba has hundreds of recruitment centres in the provincial capital itself. At Muridke’s two townships — Mecca and Medina — the followers of Salafi (Wahhabi) sect from all over Pakistan come and settle down. They are trying to transform the two into model townships of ‘pure’ atmosphere, run strictly by the shariah law. Armed Lashkar men guard the entrances of these colonies. TV sets are not allowed here as they air “vulgar music or satanic worldly talks”. Only transistors are allowed for listening to news and programmes related to religious education.
In one of her articles three years ago, journalist Shireen Mazari, hailing from DG Khan in south Punjab, highlighted the emergence of jihadi culture in the province. She wrote, “In DG Khan, there are 185 registered madarsas of which 90 are Deobandi (with a total of 324 teachers), 84 are Barelvi (with a total of 212 teachers), six are Ahl-e-Hadith (107 teachers) and five are Fiqh-e-Jafaria (10 teachers).” The end result has been both traumatic and terrifying for Punjab and its rich cultural heritage.
The term “Punjabi Taliban” is politically sensitive in Pakistan, given that Punjabis are the largest ethnic group in the country and have historically been disassociated with the Taliban, an outfit with Afghan/Pashtun roots. Despite numerous evidences, the Government of Punjab has strongly denied the existence of Punjabi Taliban. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has reportedly claimed that the very term is “an insult to the Punjabis” and accuses Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik of purposely coining it on ethnic grounds. During a March 17, 2010, cabinet meeting, Malik reported said that Punjabi militants had joined hands with Waziristan-based Taliban to stage attacks inside Punjab.
The book is a must-read for one and all, particularly in India, which has been the victim of Pakistan-promoted terrorism for over two decades now.
The reviewer is a defence expert
Pointed to by Amin Mughal