Nature of the threat from the Punjabi Taliban
Centre for International and Strategic Analysis, February 2014
This paper discusses the evolution of the Punjabi Taliban in context of their organizational depth in Punjab in Pakistan, and argues since they share a confluence of interests with regards to global jihadism, they are a logical ally of the Taliban & al-‐Qaeda groups. The author argues that it was natural that they would be activated due to this confluence of interests, particularly in wake of the of Pakistani Army's military operations in the tribal areas which placed the TTP under duress. This confluence of interests-‐ activation sequence is argued by the author in the post 2008 period with the help of examples, whereby the terrorist threat from the Punjabi Taliban has become a distinct possibility.
The discourse on Punjab has to be understood in two contexts. Punjab is not a Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA); the analogy of 'lawless badlands' which tends to be applied to FATA is far away from the truth in reference to Punjab. It is considered by many as the most progressive province of Pakistan, and boasts a number of cities which are well established metropolitan centers of modernity and liberalism. At the same time there is the 'other ' Punjab. This is the rural Punjab of the South and even adjoining major urban centers, which has traditionally been the nursery for organizations like Sipah-‐e-‐Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Jaish-‐e-‐Muhammad (JM). These groups have sprung up from a conflict between a Shia elite and a burgeoning Sunni bourgeoisie in the city of Jhang in the case of SSP; and in the case of JM, a long standing toleration of militancy in Bahawalpur. This 'other' Punjab does not suffer from terrorist attacks as have been witnessed in cities in Punjab like Lahore and Rawalpindi, arguably because it is a sanctuary for these militants. As an Urdu proverb goes' One does not spit in the vessel in which one eats', the militants have tried not to attract attention in the South of Punjab so that they can continue to train and recruit without interference.
Punjab accounts for almost 50 percent of Pakistan’s 172 million population. There are more than 20,000 madrasahs in Pakistan, 44 percent of which are situated in Punjab. The government has banned 29 organizations and put 1,764 people on its wanted list, out of which 729 are from southern Punjab2. The linkages between both al-‐Qaeda and the Pashtun Taliban groups to extremists in the core Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh has long been documented, but so far much of the fighting within Pakistan has remained a struggle between the Pakistani government and the Pashtuns. Accordingly, the mobilization of Punjabi islamist militants may be the next phase in the militancy as a consequence of the pressure on the Taliban in Waziristan and Swat due to the Pakistani Army’s military operations in these regions.