Journal Article - CTC Sentinel

Defining the Punjabi Taliban Network

| April 2009

"On March 30, 2009, militants launched a deadly assault on a police training center outside Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab Province. Eight police cadets were killed. Less than a month earlier, on March 3, gunmen in Lahore ambushed members of the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team, killing at least eight people. Punjab, the most populated of Pakistan's provinces, has largely escaped the bloodshed plaguing the country's troubled northwest. Yet since 2007, violence has escalated in the province. The bold terrorist attacks in Pakistan's heartland—within Punjab Province and in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad—show that local logistical support for these attacks is attributable to what is often labeled the 'Punjabi Taliban' network. The major factions of this network include operatives from Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and Jaysh-i-Muhammad—all groups that were previously strictly focused on Kashmir and domestic sectarian violence.

Members of these groups are increasingly supporting Taliban elements from Pakistan's tribal regions to conduct attacks in sensitive cities such as Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. Ongoing investigations into the Marriott Hotel bombing that rocked Islamabad in September 2008, in which dozens of Punjabi suspects were arrested and interrogated, demonstrate the role played by Punjabi militants. One investigator working on the Marriott attack revealed that 'all evidences of the terrorist bombing led to South Waziristan via Jhang [a city in Punjab where Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has strong links]. The truck that was rammed into the hotel was also from Jhang.'

This article attempts to define the Punjabi Taliban network, in addition to profiling the three main factions that contribute to its ranks.

Who are the 'Punjabi Taliban'?

The Punjabi Taliban network is a loose conglomeration of members of banned militant groups of Punjabi origin—sectarian as well as those focused on the conflict in Kashmir—that have developed strong connections with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan Taliban and other militant groups based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). They shuttle between FATA and the rest of Pakistan, providing logistical support to FATA- and Afghan-based militants to conduct terrorist operations deep inside Pakistan. Between March 2005 and March 2007 alone, for example, about 2,000 militants from southern and northern Punjab Province reportedly moved to South Waziristan and started different businesses in an effort to create logistical support networks. Given their knowledge about Punjabi cities and security structure, they have proved to be valuable partners for the TTP as it targets cities in Punjab, such as Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Perhaps the best explanation of the Punjabi Taliban's structure came from Tariq Pervez, the newly appointed head of Pakistan's nascent National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA): 'ideas, logistics, cash [comes] from the Gulf. Arab guys, mainly Egyptians and Saudis, are on hand to provide the chemistry. Veteran Punjabi extremists plot the attacks, while the Pakistan Taliban provides the martyrs.'

The name 'Punjabi Taliban' was first used for ethnic Punjabis associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (HuJI) who, under the leadership of Qari Saifullah Akhtar, went to support and join the regime of Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. The second time the name was used was in 2001–2003 when former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned some militant and sectarian groups that had a support base in Punjab. As a result, some of these elements began moving to FATA to seek safe havens and establish new camps. These Punjabi militants also reportedly established separate training centers in FATA, especially in North Waziristan. The most recent use of the name began in 2007, when Maulvi Nazir, a militant leader who with some official Pakistani support challenged Uzbek foreign fighters residing in South Waziristan, was hailed by some as a leader of the Punjabi Taliban. This allegation arose because Maulvi Nazir attracted many Punjabi recruits from banned organizations to fight Uzbek foreign fighters. The plan worked, but not without creating another frightening menace in the shape of a reenergized 'Punjabi Taliban'...."

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For Academic Citation: Abbas, Hassan. Defining the Punjabi Taliban Network.” CTC Sentinel, vol. 2. no. 4. (April 2009):