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.
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/13/2018 TAGS: PTER, PGOV, KISL, PK
SUBJECT: (S/NF) EXTREMIST RECRUITMENT ON THE RISE IN SOUTHERN PUNJAB
Derived from: DSCG 05-1, B,D
1. (S/NF) Summary: 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. The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions' growing Deobandi and Ahl-eHadith madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centers, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Locals believed that charitable activities being carried out by Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith organizations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, and Jaish-e-Mohammad were further strengthening reliance on extremist groups and minimizing the importance of traditionally moderate Sufi religious leaders in these communities. Government and non-governmental sources claimed that financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in the region from "missionary" and "Islamic charitable" organizations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments. Locals repeatedly requested USG support for socio-economic development and the promotion of moderate religious leaders in the region as a direct counter to the growing extremist threat. End Summary.
2. (S/NF) During a recent visit to the southern Punjabi cities of Multan and Bahawalpur, Principal Officer's discussions with religious, political, and civil society leaders were dominated by discussions of the perceived growing extremist threat in Seraiki and Baloch areas in southern and western Punjab. Interlocutors repeatedly stressed that recruitment activities by extremist religious organizations, particularly among young men between the ages of 8 and 15, had increased dramatically over the last year. Locals blamed the trend on a strengthening network of Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith mosques and madrassas, which they claimed had grown exponentially since late 2005. Such growth was repeatedly attributed to an influx of "Islamic charity" that originally reached Pakistani pseudo-religious organizations, such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Al-Khidmat foundation, as relief for earthquake victims in Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province. Locals believe that a portion of these funds was siphoned to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in southern and western Punjab in order to expand these sects' presence in a traditionally hostile, but potentially fruitful, recruiting ground. The initial success of establishing madrassas and mosques in these areas led to subsequent annual "donations" to these same clerics, originating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The value of such donations was uncertain, although most interlocutors believed that it was in the region of $100 million annually.
3. (S/NF) 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. Oftentimes, these families are identified and initially approached/assisted by ostensibly "charitable" organizations including Jamaat-ud-Dawa (a front for designated foreign terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyaba), the Al-Khidmat Foundation (linked to religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami), or Jaish-e-Mohammad (a charitable front for the designated foreign terrorist organization of the same name).
4. (S/NF) The local Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith maulana will generally be introduced to the family through these organizations. He will 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 "favor" 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 favor in this life, as well. An immediate cash payment is finally made to the parents to compensate the family for its "sacrifice" to Islam. Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately Rps. 500,000 (approximately USD 6500) per son. A small number of Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in Dera Ghazi Khan district are reportedly recruiting daughters as well.
5. (S/NF) The path following recruitment depends upon the age of the child involved. Younger children (between 8 and 12) seem to be favored. These children are sent to a comparatively small, extremist Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith madrassa in southern or western Punjab generally several hours from their family home. Locals were uncertain as to the exact number of madrassas used for this initial indoctrination purpose, although they believed that with the recent expansion, they could number up to 200. These madrassas are generally in isolated areas and are kept small enough (under 100 students) so as not to draw significant attention. At these madrassas, children are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy. Contact between students and families is forbidden, although the recruiting maulana periodically visits the families with reports full of praise for their sons' progress. "Graduates" from these madrassas are either (1) employed as Deobandi/Ahl-e-Hadith clerics or madrassa teachers or (2) sent on to local indoctrination camps for jihad. Teachers at the madrassa appear to make the decision based on their read of the child's willingness to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture versus his utility as an effective proponent of Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith ideology/recruiter.
6. (S/NF) 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. Locals identified three centers reportedly used for this purpose. The most prominent of these is a large complex that ostensibly has been built at Khitarjee (sp?). Locals placed this site in Bahawalpur District on the Sutlej River north of the village of Ahmedpur East at the border of the districts of Multan, Bahawalpur, and Lodhran. The second complex is a newly built "madrassa" on the outskirts of Bahawalpur city headed by a devotee of Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Maulana Masood Azhar identified only as Maulana Al-Hajii (NFI). The third complex is an Ahl-e-Hadith site on the outskirts of Dera Ghazi Khan city about which very limited information was available. Locals asserted that these sites were primarily used for indoctrination and very limited military/terrorist tactic training. They claimed that following several months of indoctrination at these centers 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. Many worried that these youth would eventually return to try and impose their extremist version of Islam in the southern and western Punjab and/or to carry out operations in these areas.
7. (S/NF) Interlocutors repeatedly chastised the government for its failure to act decisively against indoctrination centers, extremist madrassas, or known prominent leaders such as Jaish-e-Mohammad's Masood Azhar. One leading Sufi scholar and a Member of the Provincial Assembly informed Principal Officer that he had personally provided large amounts of information on the location of these centers, madrassas, and personalities to provincial and national leaders, as well as the local police. He was repeatedly told that "plans" to deal with the threat were being "evolved" but that direct confrontation was considered "too dangerous." 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. He blamed politics, stating that unless he was willing to switch parties -- he is currently with the Pakistan Muslim League -- neither the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz provincial nor the Pakistan Peoples Party federal governments would take his requests seriously. The brother of the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, and a noted Brailvi/Sufi scholar in his own right, Allama Qasmi blamed government intransigence on a culture that rewarded political deals with religious extremists. He stressed that even if political will could be found, the bureaucracy in the Religious Affairs, Education, and Defense Ministries remained dominated by Zia-ul-Haq appointees who favored the Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith religious philosophies. This bureaucracy, Qasmi claimed, had repeatedly blocked his brother's efforts to push policy in a different direction.
8. (S/NF) Interlocutors repeatedly requested USG assistance for the southern and western Punjab, believing that an influx of western funds could counter the influence of Deobandi/Ahl-e-Hadith clerics. Principal Officer was repeatedly reminded that these religious philosophies were alien to the southern and western Punjab -- which is the spiritual heartland of South Asia's Sufi communities. Their increasing prominence was directly attributed to poverty and external funding. Locals believed that socio-economic development programs, particularly in education, agriculture, and employment generation, would have a direct, long-term impact in minimizing receptivity to extremist movements. Similarly, they pressed for immediate relief efforts -- particularly food distribution and income support -- to address communities' immediate needs. Several interlocutors also encouraged direct USG support to Brailvi/Sufi religious institutions, arguing that these represented the logical antithesis to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith philosophy and that if adequately funded, they could stem the tide of converts away from their moderate beliefs.
9. (S/NF) A jihadi recruiting network relying on Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith religious, charitable, and educational institutions is increasing its work in impoverished districts of southern and western Punjab. Local economic conditions coupled with foreign financing appear to be transforming a traditionally moderate area of the country into a fertile recruiting ground for terrorist organizations. The provincial and federal governments, while fully aware of the problem, appear to fear direct confrontation with these extremist groups. Local governments lack the resources and federal/provincial support to deal with these organizations on their own. The moderate Brailvi/Sufi community is internally divided into followers of competing spiritual leaders and lacks the financial resources to act as an effective counterweight to well-funded and well-organized extremists.
10. (S/NF) Post believes that this growing recruitment network poses a direct threat to USG counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts in Pakistan. Intervention at this stage in the southern and western Punjab could still be useful to counter the prevailing trends favoring extremist organizations. USAID development resources in agriculture, economic growth, education, and infrastructure development are useful and necessary and will address some of the immediate needs. In post's view short-term, quick impact programs are required which focus on: (1) immediate relief in the form of food aid and microcredit, (2) cash for work and community-based, quick-impact infrastructure development programs focusing on irrigation systems, schools, and other critical infrastructure, and (3) strategic communication programs designed to educate on the dangers of the terrorist recruiting networks and to support counter-terrorist, counter-extremist messages.