Taliban, Punjabi militants take insurgency to Pakistan’s heartland: NYT

April 14th, 2009 - 10:47 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Taliban, Punjabi militants take insurgency to Pakistan’s heartland: NYT
New York, April 14 (IANS) As they come under US Drone attacks in the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, Taliban militants have joined hands with Punjabi militants to push insurgency into the heartland of Pakistan, says the New York Times.

Already villages and towns in Dera Ghazi Khan district in south-western Punjab province are virtually under the control of militants, posing a new challenge to the stability of Pakistan, the paper said Monday.

The report quoted police officials warning Islamabad that if it does not take decisive action, insurgency could spread in Punjab, leading to destabilization of Pakistan “I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue…if you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab (first),” the report quoted a senior Pakistani police official as saying.

Pakistani Punjab accounts for more than half of the country’s population. After the Swat Valley which is now under Taliban control, the report says, Islamic militants have infiltrated south-west Punjab villages and town so deeply that they have turned them “no-go zones” and imposed their version of Islam on residents.

“In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats.

“Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again,” the report said. Tracing the genesis of the new alliance between Pushtun Taliban and Punjabi militants, the report said Punjabi militants, who once carried out Pakistan-sponsored militancy in Kashmir, went underground or migrated to the tribal areas when Gen Pervez Musharraf clamped on them under US pressure.

It was in these tribal areas of the Pakistan-Afghan border that the two militant groups forged their ties.

Currently, up to 10 percent of all militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan said to be Punjabi, the report said. Quoting a US official who calls the alliance “tactical”, the report said, “Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers.

“The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.” It said the insurgents are making inroads into Pakistani Punjab not only for safe havens as US Drone attacks drive them out of border tribal areas, but also to seek revenge against Islamabad for its deadly siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

“The siege (of the Red Mosque) has since become a rallying cry” for Taliban and Punjabi militants.

The report said that Umme Hassan, wife of fiery preacher Abdul Rashid Ghazi who was killed during the mosque siege, has made 12 visits in the past several months to south Punjab to rally people. “She claimed that they would bring Islamic revolution in three months,” the report quoted a resident of Muzzafargarh as saying. The paper said that attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore last month and the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September were two most spectacular examples of the new terror alliance in Pakistan.

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