Jihadi culture on the rise in Pakistan

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London: Despite 'war on terrorism' and Pakistan's war against Taliban and massive propaganda against Muslim militants 'Jihadi culture' is on rise not only in FATA but in various parts of Pakistan, including Punjab.

Renowned Pakistani writer and defence analyst, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa writes: "Madrassas nurturing armies of young Islamic militants ready to embrace martyrdom have been on the rise for years in the Punjab. In fact, South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism. Yet, somehow, there are still many people in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge this threat."

Religious groups promoting jihad have very organised system of recruiting and training young people to advance the cause of Islam. Poverty stricken areas with economic deprivation are fertile ground to spread extremist views. Young children are recruited from madrassas and are looked after so well that their own living style looks much inferior.

They undergo ideological indoctrination where they are told that jihad is must in life of a true Muslim. And, this jihad must continue till the end of their lives or until all infidels have become Muslims. They are told that a martyred person (Shaheed) will be blessed with a place in heaven where they will get 70 hoors (extremely beautiful virgin girls); and one shaheed will be allowed to get forgiveness for 70 additional people.

This temptation is too much for poor and impoverished young boys to reject.

They not only want to enjoy better status in this life - power of gun, prestige and economic stability; but also dream of heaven, hoors and bounties of heaven look so real that they abandon their existing life for a better future.

The poor and the underprivileged generally become an easy target of militant outfits, which offer money, power and better future; and country's deteriorating economic situation would surely attract more people to militant fold. It is also possible that they will help to recruit their friends and relatives as they also want them to embrace martyrdom that they can live in heaven together.

The jihadi culture nourished during General Zia-ul-Haq's rule. It had three clear objectives: A proxy war of America against Soviet Russia in name of Jihad, a proxy war of Saudi Arabia against Shia Community and Iran and to extend his military rule. Talented secret agency of Pakistan, ISI under watchful eyes of CIA created many jihadi outfits. Later on this jihad was also 'exported' to Kashmir and other countries as well. These Jihadi outfits get official patronage as long as they work within the parameters set up by the establishment.

The Jihadi outfits which are still actively recruiting and training people are: Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

According to Dr Ayesha Siddiqa between 5000 and 9000 from South Punjab are actively engaged in fighting in Aghanistan and Waziristan. However, according to a renowned Pakistani researcher, Hassan Abbas, around 2,000 militants are fighting in Waziristan.

The recent attacks in various parts of Pakistan could not have been carried out without careful planning and logistical support of Punjabi Talibans. The government and policy makers deny this fact because they don't want to draw attention of the US and other Western powers to gravity of situation in South Punjab. Apart from that they don't want to eliminate them altogether, as this home grown crop could be used against India at an appropriate time.

Another difficulty in crushing them is that these militants and outfits are closely associated with Pirs, religious institutions, landlords and drug mafia and the authorities do not find it easy to eradicate them. Also using army or rangers in East Pakistan, FATA, Balochistan even in Sind is one thing but it is totally different cattle of fish to use it in any part of Punjab.

Madrassas and seminaries flourished in all parts of Pakistan in 1980s and 1990s. They have also shown impressive growth in South Punjab as well.

According to one report prepared in 1996 there were 883 madrassas in Bahawalpur, 361 in Dera Ghazi Khan, 325 in Multan and 149 in Sargodha district. The madrassas in Bahawalpur outnumbered all other cities, including Lahore. These madrassas belong to Deobandi sect of Islam and do not include the Ahl-e-Hadith, Barelvi and other branches of Islam.

According to estimate of Intelligence Bureau of Pakistan, there were approximately 1,383 madrassas in the Bahawalpur Division which had 84,000 students in 2008. Bahawalpur alone has more than 36,000 students. It is estimated that there are more than one million students in various madrassas in Pakistan. It is difficult to tell how many of them will pick up gun to advance cause of these militant groups, and how many of them will become suicide bombers in search of heaven and hoors.

Question is if these students who graduate from Madrassas don't resort to violence then what future do they have? At best they will become imams of some mosques or open more madrassas in some remote areas of the country. The existence of madrassas is very important for the teaching of Islam but these madrassa should also teach other subjects that people graduating from there could find alternative jobs in the society and play their due role in the progress of society.

Historian Tahir Kamran conducted a survey in which he says there were 1320 madrassas in Punjab in 1988 and this rose to 3153 by 2000. This dramatic increase is about 140%; and worries all those who are concerned about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. These madrassas were expected to train and supply militants for the war theatre in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Before 9/11 there were more than 15000 militants from the Bahawalpur division alone.

The government instead of facing the challenge find it more convenient to deny the existence of these extremist groups or rise of these madrassas; and just call it propaganda of anti Pakistan forces. This is more so when matter is related to Punjb; and especially Maulana Masood Azhar who is perceived to be so influential that authorities feel unable to arrest him or detain him in real sense.

One such claim made by the authorities was that Maulana Masood Azhar was on the run and he never visited his home town in the last three years. Truth was that on 29 April 2008, Maulana Masood Azhar had a massive book launch of his new book - Fatah-ul-Jawad- Quranic Verses on Jihad, in Bahawalpur. What is more intriguing is that, JeM's armed volunteers were in full control of the relevant parts of the city, even they controlled all entrance and exit routes of the city that day. The police or any other personnel related to the government were not visible that day.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa further writes: 'The LeT's presence in South Punjab is far more obvious than others courtesy of the wall chalkings and social work by its sister outfit, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Despite the rumours of friction between the LeT and the JuD leadership, the two segments operate in unison in South Punjab. Three of the favourite areas of recruitment in South Punjab for all outfits are Cholistan in Bahawalpur, the Rekh in Dera Ghazi Khan, and the Kacha area in Rajanpur'.

This militancy, one way or the other, is supported by middle class Pakistanis and some government departments. Rich Pakistanis pay Zakat - Alms to help poor and needy. They also support religious institutions, as they provide religious teaching, shelter and food to poor. Also huge amount of funds are diverted from the Middle East and Gulf States in support of these institutions.

Furthermore the government collects huge amount of money by directly deducting Zakat from accounts of people and help these institutions by providing Zakat money to them. Apart from that, government apparatus, especially secret agencies share certain information with them; and at times provide training and weapons to them.

It is religious duty of all Muslims to give Zakat and Sadqa; and help the poor and needy. It is also our duty to help and support religious institutions and help them to spread message of Islam. My request to all donors is that they should urge the management committees of madrassas that they should teach students other subjects apart from the religious teaching.

(The writer is a spokesman of the Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.com. To view other articles see my blog: www.drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.com ) By Dr Shabir Choudhry (ANI)

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