Gulf countries fund Pak militancy: US cable

US cables say over $100 mn annually was reaching Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith.

Updated: May 22, 2011, 16:52 PM IST

Islamabad: Hardline Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in Pakistan`s Punjab province have been receiving financial aid worth nearly USD 100 million annually from groups in Saudi Arabia and UAE, according to a secret US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

The cable sent in November 2008 to the US State Department by Bryan Hunt, then Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, was based on information gathered during discussions with local government and non-governmental sources during trips to Multan and Bahawalpur cities in Punjab.

Most of the funding flowed to southern Punjab, which has been described by Western diplomats and security officials as an emerging stronghold of jihadists, including the Punjabi Taliban.

The cable said that "financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments".

Quoting local interlocutors, Hunt explained how the "sophisticated jihadi recruitment network" operated in a region dominated by the moderate Barelvi sect.

The presence of the Barelvis, according to the cable, made southern Punjab "traditionally hostile" to the Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thought.

Hunt referred to a "network of Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith mosques and madrassahs" being strengthened through an influx of "charity" that earlier went to hardline groups "such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Al-Khidmat Foundation".

Portions of these funds were given to clerics "to expand these sects` presence" in a "potentially fruitful recruiting ground", the cable said.

The cable described how "families with multiple children" and "severe financial difficulties" were being exploited by those recruiting for militant groups. Families approached by "ostensibly `charitable`" organisations would later be introduced to a "local Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith maulana" who would offer to educate the children at his madrassa and "find them employment in the service of Islam".

"Martyrdom" was "often discussed", with a final cash payment to the parents, the cable said. "Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately Rs 500,000 (approximately USD 6,500) per son," the cable said.

Children recruited by the jihadis were given age-specific indoctrination and eventually trained after madrassa teachers assessed their inclination "to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture" versus their value as promoters of the Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith sects or recruiters, the cable said.

Recruits "chosen for jihad" were taken to "more sophisticated indoctrination camps". "Locals identified three centres reportedly used for this purpose," the cable said.

Two centres were stated to be in Bahawalpur district, while one was reportedly situated "on the outskirts of Dera Ghazi Khan city".

These centres "were primarily used for indoctrination", after which "youths were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas", the cable said.

The cable quoted local officials criticising the PML-N-led government in Punjab and the PPP-led federal government for their "failure to act" against "extremist madrassas, or known prominent leaders such as Jaish-i-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar".

The then Bahawalpur district nazim (mayor) told Hunt that despite repeatedly highlighting to the provincial and federal governments the threat posed by extremist groups and indoctrination centres, he had received "no support" in dealing with the issue unless he was ready to change his
political loyalties.

The nazim, who at the time was with the PML-Q, "blamed politics, stating that unless he was willing to switch parties neither the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz provincial nor the Pakistan People`s Party federal governments would take his requests seriously".