The crisis in Pakistan’s jihadist community

Published: July 11, 2012
The writer is an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @pakistanpolicy

The writer is an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @pakistanpolicy

This week, thousands of protesters marched along GT Road from Lahore to Islamabad. They said they were there to defend Pakistan and to protest the reopening of the Nato supply route. But in close vicinity to the ralliers’ gathering in Gujrat, seven Pakistani soldiers and a policeman were murdered. Yet, the reaction from these men was relatively muted despite the proximity of the attack to both their cause and physical location. The leaders among them unequivocally condemned the killings.

The Jamaat-i-Islami’s Munawar Hassan said that the shootings were by “anti-state elements”. Jamaatud Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed claimed that the attacks were conducted by “another Raymond Davis” — in other words, the CIA. He was more specific than Munawar Sahib, but clearly offered no substantiation. In fact, publicly available evidence points not toward any foreign intelligence agency, but to Pakistani Muslims who, like Hafiz Saeed, claim to engage in jihad.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Ehsanullah Ehsan boasted that his group was behind the murder of the Pakistani security personnel. He said, “we proudly claim responsibility for the killing of seven Pakistani soldiers in the Gujrat district.”

The Americans said that they killed the Pakistani soldiers in Salala by accident. Whether you believe them or not is a separate issue. But they did not gloat about their actions. In contrast, the TTP has not only accepted responsibility for what it stated was intentional murder, but it has done so with ‘pride’. The slaughter in Gujrat wasn’t an anomaly. The TTP loves killing Pakistani soldiers.

Have you seen any of their videos? Intiqaam — an early next-gen jihadist film that predates the forming of the TTP, but was made by an antecedent group — features a youngster beheading Pakistani soldiers. That was a Pakistani child made to murder Pakistani soldiers by Pakistani men. There wasn’t a white face in the video, nor plaid shirts. But there were lots of shalwar kameezes and chappals as well as bloodstained Pakistan Army uniforms.

What the massacre in Gujrat speaks to is the fundamental crisis within Pakistan’s jihadists — a crisis that is unfolding not only in far away Fata, but in the heartland of Punjab as well.

This crisis began after 9/11 when then-ruler Pervez Musharraf decided to ban several Kashmir-oriented jihadist groups. It metastasised after the army conducted operations in Fata for the first time in 2003. And it blew up after the Lal Masjid operation in 2007. From 2007-10, nearly 7,800 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks, exceeding the previous four years by almost 500 per cent.

Since then, terrorist attacks have dropped considerably. The TTP and its allies have been hit hard by military operations in Swat and six tribal areas, as well as tough police and intelligence work in cities like Karachi and Peshawar. But the war is not over. The residents of Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa know that all too well. Quetta’s Hazara Shias, who fill the city’s body bags, are canaries in a coal mine, warning of what lies ahead.

For some jihadists, this is no longer about setting the army back on the straight path. Recently, al Qaeda’s al-Sahab media outfit published a new Urdu-language documentary titled Batao Tum Kis Ka Saath Do Ge? It paints the Pakistan Army as the devil’s soldiers. It asks the viewers to make a choice: whether they’re with al Qaeda — and its quest to form a caliphate from Morocco to Malaysia — or with the Pakistani state.

This is the war Munawar Hassan and Hafiz Saeed avoid addressing publicly. They condemn the killing of Muslims and targeting of the Pakistani state by militants. But they refrain from mentioning the TTP by name or vaguely allude to it while claiming that it’s backed by foreign intelligence agencies.

In doing so, they consciously avoid a tough discussion that needs to take place. It’s a discussion about their role in Pakistani society. Should violent non-state actors and their supporters have a place in Pakistan? Is it possible for the state to maintain a distinction between the so-called good and bad jihadists? Or is the entire jihadist enterprise inherently unwieldy, with today’s good guys becoming tomorrow’s enemies? And if it is, how do you close this chapter in Pakistan’s history without setting the book on fire?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (28)

  • Sz
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:16AM

    Can you please define what you mean by ‘jihadist’?
    Because it seems as you are using it in a negative way
    If some misguided group or individual uses the term jihad to legitimize and defend his actions, that doesn’t mean you can associate the word with those actions
    Jihad is an important part of Islam. Don’t try to copy the western media by using the word in a negative way


  • Imran Con
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:21AM

    I enjoy Hafiz Saeed blaming the CIA for such an act in close proximity. Mainly because with him in the area, any of the people he would blame would most likely make him the priority target and he’s a wide one.


  • Hem
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:24AM

    The successive Pakistani governments and public have regularly encouraged and pampered home grown jihadists who were shouting anti-India slogans, and now these same jihadists are happy to bite the hand that has been feeding them over the years. The moral is – you only harvest what you had sown in the past. Not a murmur is heard from the Pakistani public and the Pakistani state while these jihadis go on killing Pakistani nationals or their soldiers! Good luck Pakistan.


  • 3rdRockfromtheSun
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:28AM

    @ Author
    What is it with ET columnists – do you guys call each other up and decide on a topic? There is another column today that deals with the same topic. A day or two prior, there were a couple columns on the same day dealing with the “American apology”! but I digress…

    You indicate that the problem started after 9/11 when Musharaf sided with the US and stopped acitvities in Kashmir? So it was OK as long as these non-state elements went about their activities in India, but not OK when they turned on you? Precisely the logic used by your planners and military, and who continue to use it today – and see where it has got you! All these guys have just changed names and continue their activities out in the open under a different name, and your govt does nothing to stop them.
    Just like the other column on the same issue, this has only vague statements and questions. What is your (and the other columinst’s) stance on the issue? Do you consider these “misguided” elements to be a problem ? What solutions do you offer ? stop beating about the bust.
    I have yet to see a clear and unequivocal condemnation of these non-state elements from any policymaker / influencer, who understands that your past policy needs to be jettisoned and a completely new policy which treats ALL non-state elements as hostile to the country, and goes after them with all resources, is implemented.


  • 1984
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:32AM


    if muslim police whitewash Kalima in a ahmadi mosque,its fine,but if Americans accidentally burn quran,its blasphemy

    750 muslims killed in Gujarat riot is inhuman,Chinese govt slaughtering of Uiyghur Muslim is acceptable

    when in minority,preach secularism and human rights,while in majority,follow law of land and sharia

    Fight against Indians for the occupation of Kashmir,gift part of it to China…

    Burn US flags in political rally,stand in line in front of American consulate for visa interview

    Demand rights for wearing burkha in france,force non muslims to wear burkha in Saudi Arabia

    Receive money for finding Osama Bin Laden,give asylum to him near a military compound

    Islam is for entire humanity,but if you’re not a muslim,we will harrass u or even kill you

    Have freedom in desecrating and abusing non muslim sacred places and practices,if anyone even makes a cartoon or south park episode on Mohammed shout blasphemy and announce bounty on them

    Allow anti-hindu movies like “Moosa Khan”,but kill Theo Van Gogh who directed “Shame”

    Honestly,when will this hypocrisy stop???


    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:48AM

    When al ldirect and indirect security expenses are taken into account, the amount budgeted for 2012-13 is 913 billion. The total tax revenue budgeted is around 2400 bilion. In other words around 40%of tax revenue collected is for defense and despite this there is a need to depend on DPC, LeT to protect Pakistan? SO what is the use of the army then?


  • suraj
    Jul 12, 2012 - 1:05AM

    Well written.. It is high time to call a spade a spade.. otherwise no one can stop the country sliding towards anarchy…


  • kaalchakra
    Jul 12, 2012 - 1:29AM

    This is a difficult question. The only thing that is nonnegotiable is that Islam comes first, before EVERYTHING ELSE. Solutions have to be found within that paradigm.


  • Arindom
    Jul 12, 2012 - 2:05AM

    no matter what spin you put on the word ‘jihad’ – perception is reality – Jihad=Terrorism. Period.


  • BlackJack
    Jul 12, 2012 - 3:48AM

    The crisis is not in Pakistan’s jihadist community, but in the minds of your average peaceful citizens. I am truly bewildered by the approach in this article, where the writer decides to localize the problem to confusion among some fringe elements instead of a nationwide flight from reality.The Taliban have given Pakistan nothing but trouble, from blackening its name in the comity of nations to giving it a black eye every now and then; still you continue to shelter them and support their cause at your own peril – saving them for that proverbial rainy day while flood waters are inching closer to your nose. Every gruesome episode, each more barbaric than the next finds hardly any mention of the perpetrators or their ideology; for a long time, there was even unwillingness to believe that those claiming responsibility were telling the truth; now when events no longer permit such freedom of imagination, Pakistanis have decided (not on the basis of any intelligence, individual or otherwise) that the TTP is funded by either America, India, Afghanistan or Israel depending on which flavor seems appealing on a particular day, or that they are the next port of call for those who lose families in drone strikes – and it is now de rigeur to deny the connection in origin, allegiance and persuasion between the Afghan version and their Pakistani counterparts. The ostrich is your national bird, perhaps?


  • politically incorrect
    Jul 12, 2012 - 4:35AM



    That’s a robust one.Very well documented.


  • Patriot
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:11AM

    Jihadist and their backers like Jamat Islami and Hafiz Saeed like groups are fighting an already lost war.They had a chance but blew it by killing , massacring fellow Muslims relentlessly, all over the world.They are relics of history now and willl be remembered for their blood thirsty ness and wanton regard for human lives and harming muslim prestige and causes


  • Pakistani in US
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:29AM

    Root of all problems start and end with religion. Islam needs to be stripped out of Pakistan and should be replaced by something called “humality” and “compassion”. Organized religion is a drug that blinds people and force them to look at difference instead of similarities which ultimately leads to chaos and blood bath (kind of what we are seeing in Pakistan).


  • M. Adil
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:32AM

    At least Pakistan is living upto most of MA Jinnah’s pledge about how in the new State, Hindus will cease to be Hindus, Christians will cease to be Chritians…. Well, we have almost made sure that that indeed is the case in Pakistan today, and we’re almost at the stage where Muslims are ceasing to be Muslims…! 
    Also, Quaid e Azam had stated that what your religion and beliefs etc are, is no business of the State …. well, the way mob rule,  jihadis and militants such as Taliban, LeT etc are taking over and decimating the society at large, and as the state stands by while Shias and Ahmedis etc are  slaughtered, of course it is no longer a business of the state what your personal religious beliefs are…..! Well done us, the Quaid would be proud how we have heeded his very words… though in a way he probably never saw in his worst nightmares!


  • Azizullah Khan
    Jul 12, 2012 - 6:24AM

    Fantastic write up, honourable writer you not Imran Khan can bring the most needed change.


  • Critical
    Jul 12, 2012 - 6:58AM

    The ostrich is your national bird, perhaps?

    I thought it was drones


  • Feroz
    Jul 12, 2012 - 7:52AM

    All of us as human beings and individuals make a lot of mistakes and sometimes make our family very miserable. For our own good we recognize the problem and try to change our self to ensure we do not unwittingly hurt others. Without self improvement we can only repeat our mistakes. If we inject Love and reject Hate we can definitely repair a lot of strained relationships and live a life free of stress. Nations cannot be very different from individuals, I believe.


  • Raw is War
    Jul 12, 2012 - 8:31AM

    let them march…


  • Shyam
    Jul 12, 2012 - 8:50AM

    Aptly put


  • ahmer
    Jul 12, 2012 - 10:48AM

    you are mistaken…and it is this stupid logic that has bought this country to this point that we are the pariah of the world. This is not islam. If you want this type of islam, practice it on your own family and leave us muslims alone.


  • Jul 12, 2012 - 11:19AM

    The author says, “This crisis began after 9/11 when then-ruler Pervez Musharraf decided to ban several Kashmir-oriented jihadist groups” – know your history.
    What about the tribals who were sent with the blessings of Jinnah into Kashmir, what about the infiltrators in 1965, what about the mujahideen trained to fight the soviets?

    Your crises began at inception..


  • mateen
    Jul 12, 2012 - 1:43PM

    Its easy to write such though-provoking articles in English, but pl. never dare to write for Urdu daily otherwise head money will be announced by Jehadi outfits. There is least hope these Jahadi Mafia will melt down in never future and we all know it. Collectively our terrified society don,t have spine to condemn these elements or at least look down upon not just for fears but also out of reverence as they believe they are dedicated souls fighting for noble cause. During my work as Desk Editor/Translator in Urdu dailies I never found any of my colleagues condemning terrorists as most of them believed this was job of Black Water, or indians.


  • Abe
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:44PM

    Very well said!!


  • sabi
    Jul 13, 2012 - 12:02AM

    what we have sown in our constitution in the name of relegion for vested intrests, now we are reaping that bumper the form of blood shed,are not we?
    as you sow so shall you reap.simple law of natur!


  • Not Amused
    Jul 13, 2012 - 12:28AM

    @Kaalchakra – Your foolish faith in a solution arising from Islam (Which is the justification used by those who have created and support the nations most threatening problem) reinforces my belief that I could get away with any crime in Pakistan so long as I held a copy of the Quran and shouted “jihad”. An overall lack of insight, leadership, courage, and any sense of urgency has not helped Pakistan..


  • kaalchakra
    Jul 13, 2012 - 1:15AM


    In every era, there have been a small number of liberal nonsense spouting ‘muslims’ – Dara Shikohs and some who work for the interests of non-Muslims. They are of no consequence in the larger scheme of things.


  • numbersnumbers
    Jul 14, 2012 - 5:08AM

    So please tell us what kind of Muslim burns down girls schools, kills 30,000 plus fellow Muslims, and publically executes police and soldiers inside Pakistan!


  • abhi
    Jul 14, 2012 - 11:55AM

    exactly the kind of muslims who are most popular now a days.


More in Opinion