Islamabad: A leaked US diplomatic cable, dated November 13, 2008, has outlined the process of recruitment for militancy in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
“During recent trips to southern Punjab, Principal Officer was repeatedly told that a sophisticated jihadi recruitment network had been developed in the Multan, Bahawalpur, and Dera Ghazi Khan Divisions,” said the cable sent by Bryan Hunt, the then principal officer at the US Consulate in Lahore.
“The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions’ growing Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centres, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),” it added.
The cable, published by the Dawn, reveals that interlocutors repeatedly stressed that recruitment activities by extremist religious organisations- particularly among young boys between the ages of 8 and 15- had increased dramatically over the last year.
“According to local interlocutors, current recruitment activities generally exploit families with multiple children, particularly those facing severe financial difficulties in light of inflation, poor crop yields, and growing unemployment in both urban and rural areas in the southern and western Punjab,” the document said.
Oftentimes, these families are identified and initially approached or assisted by ostensibly “charitable” organisations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa [a front for designated foreign terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)], the Al-Khidmat Foundation (linked to religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami), or Jaish-e-Mohammad (a charitable front for the designated foreign terrorist organisation of the same name), it added.
Outlining the recruitment process, the cable said that the local Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith maulana, who was generally be introduced to the family through these organisations, would work to convince the parents that their poverty is a direct result of their family’s deviation from “the true path of Islam” through “idolatrous” worship at local Sufi shrines and/or with local Sufi Peers.
“The maulana suggests that the quickest way to return to `favour` would be to devote the lives of one or two of their sons to Islam. The maulana will offer to educate these children at his madrassa and to find them employment in the service of Islam. The concept of `martyrdom` is often discussed and the family is promised that if their sons are `martyred` both the sons and the family will attain `salvation` and the family will obtain God’s favour in this life, as well. An immediate cash payment is finally made to the parents to compensate the family for its `sacrifice` to Islam,” it added.
Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately 500,000 rupees, said the cable, adding that younger children- between 8 and 12- seem to be favoured for recruitment.
These children are sent to a comparatively small, extremist Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith madrassa in southern or western Punjab, where they are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy, said the cable.
“Graduates” from these madrassas are either employed as Deobandi/Ahl-e-Hadith clerics or madrassa teachers or sent on to local indoctrination camps for jihad, it said.
Children recruited at an older age and “graduates” chosen for jihad proceed to more sophisticated indoctrination camps focused on the need for violence and terrorism against the Pakistan government and the West, it added.
The sources claimed that following several months of indoctrination at these centres, youth 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, said the cable.
“The Bahawalpur District Nazim told Principal Officer that he had repeatedly highlighted the growing threat to the provincial and federal governments, but had received no support in dealing with it,” it added.