The truth about the Punjabi Taliban

Published: July 6, 2010
The writer is a retired officer who served in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (

The writer is a retired officer who served in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (

The attack on the shrine of Hazrat Data Gunj Bakhsh has again given rise to the tension between Punjab and federal government over the use of the phrase ‘Punjabi Taliban’. For some incomprehensible reason, the Punjab government is denying the presence of militants in the province.

The situation is so confusing that after every incident in Lahore, the commissioner blames RAW while the chief minister denies the existence of any militants in his province. Nawaz Sharif’s line is to express dismay at the use of the words ‘Punjabi Taliban’ and blame militancy on the policies adopted by the state after 9/11. This, coming from a leader who survived a roadside bomb in Lahore as early as 1998, should surprise many.

For the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the word Punjabi Taliban is not new. It has been in use for more than a decade now and there is a reason and logic for that. The nomenclature used does not have any ethnic connotation per se as a derogatory marker but is simply an acknowledgement of reality. The Taliban are generally considered as those from the other side of the Durand Line. When Talibanisation started in Pakistan, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in the late 90s, the word ‘muqaami’ (local) Taliban came into use. And all this happened well before 9/11. For instance in various cities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, local Taliban resisted the laying of cable television lines. In Nowshera cantonment, the laying of cable in my neighbourhood was delayed for months because of the same reason.

The origin of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ dates back before 9/11 as well. During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the mujahideen fighting in Kashmir were given training in camps run by the Taliban. And that was when the phrase began being used — and its intent was purely to distinguish these people from the ones that were already there. Recruits of the Jaish-i-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba trained at these camps and were commonly referred to as Punjabi Taliban. The Zahwar camp in Khost province was a major training facility allegedly run by Osama Bin Laden and Jalaluddin Haqqani. In 1998, after the USS Cole was attacked off the coast of Yemen, the US fired missiles on these camps and the deaths of several people from Punjab at these camps were widely reported.

In Fata, the local Taliban originally started the militancy from Darra Adam Khel but this was taken over by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and many sectarian murders occurred. Then, everyone in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa would say that the Punjabi Taliban were behind this. With this background, the claim by the Punjab government that use of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ will give rise to provincialism is difficult to digest. We have a problem at our hands. Everyone may have a different solution for solving it, but outright denial of existence of militants in Punjab is not going to help or achieve much.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Jul 6, 2010 - 11:19PM

    Now only if your comrades in the military recognized the reality you present. There continued links with “Good Taliban” to maintain their “Strategic Depth” at a time when retired officers are openly acknowledging the existence of training camps since the 1990’s. Not only has this resulted in the senseless violence that has killed so many innocent Pakistani citizens, but the same generals send jawans into battle, only to strike deals with the Taliban and its various factions on the other hand. Civilians we all know are expendable, but what off all the Army officers and jawans that have died over the past year? Were there deaths in wane? If they are training camps on Pakistani soil and the government and military chooses to do nothing about it, they are failing in there duty to both the state and the citizens who foot their bills. Get on with it, and do your job! Recommend

  • Muhammad Ziad
    Jul 7, 2010 - 1:07AM

    That is to say Lashkar-e-Tayibba and Jaish are working against Pakistan ? and i thought you were a servicemen?

    The more contextual phrase can only be Army Taliban rather than Punjabi. Please let us not misguide the masses with created odysseys, whereas i agree with you that ‘army taliban’ are indeed involved to create dismay amongst the population to justify their ends. Like all utilitarian organizations of the world. Recommend

  • MNA
    Jul 7, 2010 - 1:09AM

    Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Muhammad Sipah e Sahabe, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc etc are different factions with the same common objective. It is for this common objective they are termed as Punjabi Taliban. Only those from Punjab who have links and affiliations with them are allergic to the term Punjabi Taliban. The root of these terrorists (not miltants, not extremists as these terms are far too mild for their method and objectives) are linked with most of our Political parties, either at the individual level or at the Party level for whatever reason they justify.
    Therefore the litmus test to see if a party or an individual is linked to these terrorists is their level of denial of the existence of Punjabi Taliban. Recommend

  • Muhammad Ziad
    Jul 7, 2010 - 4:34AM

    The root of punjabi taliban are not linked to the military? all the organizations Mna has mentioned work under the guidance from ISI. All their training camps are operated within Pakistan under the eyes of the ISI. We deny their leaders existence to India while we send the men from these organization to infiltrate Kashmir and Afghanistan (only Indian targets).

    The fact is Punjabi taliban = Pakistan army. The army is killing civilians in the guise of a terrorist organization just to create fear and panic . The basics of command and control. I mean , has none of the people here ever been approached for ‘Chanda’ from one of these organizations?

    They operate freely within Pakistan because army wants it so. They only kill and bomb on military’s order. I think we are not living in a state of denial now are we? Recommend

  • Anoop
    Jul 7, 2010 - 6:03AM

    Here lies Pakistan’s dilemma. They want to support Jihad in Kashmir through LeT and JeM. But, they now realizing(Hopefully) that these organizations are recruiting and brainwashing the youth and turning the local population to extremism through the various madrasas and other means.

    LeT might not pose a direct threat to Pakistan but it’ll certainly lead to turning more and more young minds to violent interpretation of Islam who might get into LeT or might end up other sectarian organizations like LeJ,TTP,etc(Not to forget, it’ll continue to embarrass Pakistan on world forums). This is good news for India. If Pakistan REALLY wants to rid itself of extremist ideology it has to target LeT.

    But, another needs to be asked. David Headley,a Pakistani origin Mumbai Carnage Plotter has claimed that LeT and ISI are part of the same organization and are inseparable. ISI has shielded Hafiz Saeed for years and ,unlike India’s RAW or USA’s CIA, this intelligence agency is very powerful and not under civilian control(We all know what happened when Zardari tried to get it under Civilian control). Unless ISI dumps LeT, there is no hope for Pakistan to rid extremism.Recommend

  • Jaffar Khan
    Jul 7, 2010 - 8:17AM

    LEJ and SSP were banned in August 2001.Jihadi outfits were proscribed in January 2002.To avoid arrests, a large numbers took refuge in the Tribal areas in 2003/2004.By then AL Qaeda,IMU and Pakistani Taliban were well entrenched in South and North Waziristan.The local Taliban would call the, non pashto speaking, members of Lashkar e Jhangvi,Sipah e Sahaba,Harkat ul Mujahideen and Jaish e Muhammad as “PUNJABIAN”.The Tribal started calling them as “PUNJABI TALIBAN”.Recommend

  • Rashid Saleem
    Jul 7, 2010 - 2:42PM

    Let us not segregate such rogue elements as Punjabi or Pukhtoon. A criminal and a militant is the same irrespective of his/her ethnicity. Such provincial ties weaken us to address the issue at hands as it becomes more of a political issue.Recommend

  • Jabbar Khan
    Jul 7, 2010 - 7:35PM

    What we are facing today is the ultimate outcome of our government apparatus criminal past. Fata has always been used as a laboratory for testing new experiments. Punjabi or Pashtun Taliban are not the problem, the problem is the blind pursuance of US dictation which has brought us at the brink of collapse. Instead of seeking public apology for their shameful past they appear on giving suggestion to others. Recommend

  • Tariq Salim
    Jul 7, 2010 - 9:36PM

    Bravo Rashid Saleem Bravo! That’s the punch line, u said it in 2 lines. Brothers, Wake Up Plz Wake up, get out of this regional blame game & address the mess created by these so called Talibanz.

  • Riaz Jaffery
    Jul 7, 2010 - 9:58PM

    The word “TRUTH” is misleading in the title of this article,as there is no iota of truth in the events narrated by the writer.
    *The camps in Khost were not bombed as a reaction to USS Cole,but the suicide bombing of US embassies in Kenya.
    *Lashker E Tayyaba and Jaish had no training camps in Afghanistan.
    *No Taliban were there in Nowshehra in late 90,s,the writer has mixed up clergy with Taliban.
    *The Talibanization started from North Waziristan and not from Darra.
    *The term Punjabi Taliban is not in use “FOR MORE THAN A DECADE”,as claimed by Munir.
    *There were not one camp in Khost but four,one run by Harkat.
    Just to put the record straight,so readers are not mislead.Recommend

  • Jul 7, 2010 - 10:39PM

    I agree with Khalid Munir,that a non issue is being made an issue for political point scoring.Taliban, Al Qaida,Secterian group,ethenic bondage are all reflections of mind sets.AL,Qaida, Taliban were all the blue eyed of US and Pak security establishment once they were being used to fight against Russia,the occupation force in Afghanistan.They all were Mujahideen without any cast ,creed ,nationality or ethenic grouping.
    Mush give them the ethenic identy once he said,”all pashtuns are not tallibans ,but all tallibans are pushtuns.”
    Today, the grouping has not been changed, it is the same mind set, fighting against another occupation force to which we are a forced ally. The fight was and is against the then and today,s occupation forces with severe fallout on this side of the Durend Line.The history will not acknowledge that god spoke to Bush , but will record that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was wrong and acknowledge that the Afghans can not be subdued by force and the three Empires were foolhardy one after another by invading Afganistan.The sons of the soil are the vangaurds and the remainings are the like mind set. you may call it by any name or identy.Recommend

  • Gulmina Osman
    Jul 8, 2010 - 12:26PM

    The current Punjab government is being run by our very own “political Taliban’s” who have a soft corner for Taliban’s and extremists. The followers of PML N also to an extent support the doings of Taliban’s and tend to blame everything on India or America. It’s high time the Punjab government stops shifting the blame on other’s and starts tackling its problems before it’s too late like it was in FATA.Recommend

    Jul 9, 2010 - 12:50PM

    Gimmicks, grabbers and kidnappers is this bunch of Taliban, whether Pathan
    or Punjabi, they have surfaced with all out support by the government. Hear I am in full coherence with Brig(r)Said Nazir on the subject.
    The real definition talib is ” HE MUST HAVE QURAN IN ONE HAND AND KALASHNIKOV IN OTHER’ Recommend

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