Attacks on the Ahmadiya in Lahore Reveal Growth of the Punjabi Taliban

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 23
June 12, 2010 04:37 PM Age: 4 yrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Terrorism, South Asia

The multiple suicide attacks by the Punjabi Taliban on two mosques in Lahore where members of the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya had gathered to pray on May 28 hardly came as a surprise. As hundreds of Ahmadis gathered to offer prayers in the early Friday afternoon, several suicide bombers entered the two mosques almost simultaneously and took the worshippers hostage. They started slowly throwing hand grenades among their hostages. Some of them climbed the minarets of the mosques and fired from above. When the terrorists started running out of ammunition they began detonating their suicide vests. However, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, the worshippers reacted and overpowered two terrorists before they could detonate their suicide vests (The News [Islamabad], May 29). Nevertheless, the terrorists succeeded in killing 95 and injuring more than a hundred. Police reached the site only when the terrorists were already half way through their killing spree, even though TV crews were already at the scene.

Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya is a small sect of Islam, founded nearly 125 years ago in Punjab by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasool) of Islam. As such he claimed to be the successor of the Prophet Muhammad and the earlier Nabi Isa (Jesus Christ). Other Muslim sects rejected Mirza Ghulam as a false prophet since they consider Muhammad to be the last of the prophets, a basic tenet of Islam. As the new sect grew in numbers, the hatred of traditional Muslim sects towards the new sect also grew. Resistance to the Ahmadis became organized with the 1931 founding in Punjab of the Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam political party (MAI, or Ahrars for short), the same year as the revolt by Muslims in Kashmir against their oppressive Hindu rulers. [1] The Ahrars thrived on anti-Hindu agitation in Kashmir and anti-Ahmadiyya agitation in Punjab. [2] Like the Jamaat-i-Islami of India, the Ahrars also opposed the founding of Pakistan by the secular All India Muslim League, but quickly became active in Islamist politics in the new state. The roots of the Taliban, particularly the Punjabi variety, can be traced back to the Ahrars.

Led by the Ahrars, a coalition of Islamist parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami and Deobandi groups, launched an anti-Ahmadi movement called Tehrik-i-Khatme Nabuwat (Movement to Protect the Finality of Prophethood) in Punjab in 1953. The agitation remained restricted to Lahore and some other Punjabi cities. The new movement demanded the designation of the Ahmadis as non-Muslims and the expulsion of the Ahmadis from all important official positions, particularly the then Foreign Minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan. The government had to impose martial law and crush the agitation with an iron hand. The Ahrars slowly disappeared from the scene and were replaced by the more hardline and permanent Deobandi-based Tehrik-i-Khatme Nabuwat, which has played a key role in radicalizing the Deobandi sect since the 1953 agitation. As the Tehrik-i-Khatme Nabuwat has no political structure, all Deobandi ulema and jihadists from all Deobandi political and religious parties follow the movement. [3]

The Tehrik-i-Khatme Nabuwat and the Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan once again launched anti-Ahmadi agitation in 1974 and forced Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to have Parliament declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. Under a constitutional amendment, Ahmadis were barred from calling themselves Muslims and using Islamic terms. Ahmadis had been victim of violence by other Muslim sects from the early days but their persecution became semi-official after 1974, with scores of Ahmadis killed and hundreds others injured in Pakistan. Within three days of the latest Lahore terrorist attacks, an ordinary Muslim stabbed an Ahmadi to death in the Punjab town of Narowal with a knife (Dawn, June 1). Typical of anti-Ahmadi violence, the incident attracted little attention.

Ahmadis are an extremely peaceful community and follow Mirza Ghulam’s prohibition against violent jihad. This may be one reason why they have previously managed to avoid suicide attacks since they were introduced into Pakistan by al-Qaeda and the Taliban a few years ago. With the Lahore suicide attacks, the Punjabi Taliban have brought this peaceful community to the center stage of the war on terror. The Punjabi Taliban are likely to target Ahmadis increasingly in the months and years to come. A Taliban representative who has previously acted as spokesman for the Asian Tigers (responsible for the abduction and murder of former Inter-Services Intelligence official Khalid Khwaja) and identifying himself as Mohammad Omar (possibly an alias for militant Osman Punjabi) told an Islamabad daily that although the Ahmadis were an obvious target, previous attempts to target Ahmadis had failed one way or another (The News, May 31, May 1). The bombers were either arrested or could not fully organize attacks on Ahmadi facilities. The Taliban spokesman explained:

"Small factions of militants that have broken away from the mainstream groups fighting in Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan could be involved in the Lahore attacks on Qadianis [a pejorative term for the Ahmadis based on Mirza Ghulam’s birthplace of Qadian]. The suicide bombers for such missions are normally made available by the central Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) while the attackers and facilitators providing logistical support are often Punjabi Taliban or militants (The News, May 31)."

As the Pakistani Taliban are trying to spread their war on the Pakistani state, they are likely to continue to target minorities like the Ahmadis in their efforts to create instability.

The suicide attacks jolted the entire Pakistani state and local public opinion like no recent attack has done before. Consequently, at least part of the federal government and the media tried to emerge from a state of denial that has badly infected all arms of the state till now. For the first time, Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik admitted the existence of the Punjabi Taliban and their presence in South Punjab. He said 726 members of banned groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaysh-e-Muhammad (JeM) came from South Punjab, where 44% of a total of 20,000 Pakistani madrassahs are located. He admitted that the SSP, LeJ and JeM were part of al-Qaeda. Unlike in the past, Malik refused to blame India for the terrorist attacks. He also hinted at carrying out an army operation in South Punjab on the pattern of those conducted in the tribal areas (Dawn [Karachi], May 31). However, it looks like it will be difficult for the Interior Minister to implement his desires in the face of a reluctant Punjab government and the Pakistani military, which is uninterested in opening another front at this time.  


Notes:

1. Report of the Court of Inquiry – Punjab Disturbances of 1953, Government Printing Punjab, p.10. Available at www.thepersecution.org/dl/report_1953.pdf
2. Arif Jamal, Shadow War – The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, Melville House, New York, 2009.
3. Author’s interviews with several Deobandi Islamists and jihadists in Pakistan during 1999-2007.

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