Terror’s free run in South Punjab

 Daily Times Editorial: Wednesday,July 15,2009
Mian Channu in Khanewal offered on Monday another glimpse into the outreach of terrorism in South Punjab. The house of a local teacher of the Quran blew up, destroying all the houses in the vicinity and killing 12, including five children, and wounding 61. When the police reached the spot the local people attacked them out of anger for having neglected them, but not without displaying all the symptoms of a besieged population acting under intimidation.

Massive quantities of weapons discovered from the house of the teacher Riaz Kamboh — explosives, suicide jackets, rockets, etc — clearly indicate that the man was involved in terrorism and was probably a part of the plan for future terrorist activities targeting Punjab. Local witnesses said the man was involved in suspicious activities, that strange vehicles used to be parked in front of his house, and that he used to receive non-local guests. The local DPO said Riaz and his brother both used to indulge in unlawful activities but the administration had treated then leniently. Riaz was also an Afghan war veteran and had taken training in Afghanistan. All this was known.

This requires comparative analysis. The terrorist did not set up a madrassa but a school where pre-teen boys and girls were being taught the Quran by him. It is to be noted that the local people agreed to send their children to his school while knowing that the man was involved in suspect activities and that he and his brother had indulged in crime in the city. This is a behaviour syndrome also seen in Swat: intimidation not only deters reaction but elicits support as it “empowers” local people while the administration doesn’t. Seeing the people on the side of the terrorist, the police looked the other way and let him and his brother off the hook.

At one level, Riaz Kamboh disarmed suspicion by not opening a madrassa; at another level, he took advantage of the people’s submission to him and the consequent immunity given him by the local police. The attack by the citizens of Mian Channu on the police emanates from two kinds of anger, including one relating to their support of Kamboh “because the administration was weaker than the man”. This is what is happening all across the region of South Punjab where the writ of the province runs particularly thin. (And Punjab is the best province in terms of administrative writ.) The recently raised slogan of “Seraiki Province” in South Punjab is being championed by politicians with a significant slant: they want a separate province, not to eliminate terrorism from it, but to give it “development”. This needs some discussion.

Mr Muhammad Ali Durrani who has revived the movement for a Seraiki province has carefully stayed away from the issue of terrorism. In fact he has taken great pains to assert that there was no terrorism in South Punjab. Why has he said this in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? Yet he is not alone in the region to say this. Many local politicians refuse to acknowledge the truth. The reason is clear to see: intimidation from the extraordinary dominance of the terrorist organisations there and the secret desire to seek “empowerment” by not talking against them. It is difficult to accept that Mr Durrani is ignorant of the extent of penetration of the Al Qaeda and Taliban among the local extremists who were once used by the state in covert wars.

The truth is that no Seraiki province movement will succeed unless it is endorsed by the terrorist organisation whose biggest leader is still ensconced in Bahawalpur city beyond Farid Gate and unapproachable unless you cross three security pickets. Official statements about him have varied in content: his whereabouts are not known, he is not in Pakistan and, according to newspapers, has made his way to North Waziristan. But the local rumour is that he still runs a training camp of “non-state actors” in Cholistan. The disease is now quite familiar. Its first symptoms occurred in Swat. It is now erupting in South Punjab. We are forewarned. *