Ajmal Kasab is dead and gone but his memory will not fade away so fast in his hometown Faridkot, or even in Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, of which it is a small part. For the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which has already been reported saying that his hanging will inspire others, Kasab is a hero whose memory will now be turned into an asset.
No one knows what Kasab’s father, mother and siblings are going through today. They were moved out of Faridkot soon after his capture, and their whereabouts are not known — perhaps they are bitter; maybe they are relieved. We know from his statement that his mother had tried to stop him when she saw him last. Unless they were converted to think like the LeT, his parents could be as frustrated as others whose children are fed to jihad without their permission. It is also possible that Kasab’s mother might have heaved a sigh of relief realising that in death her son has been delivered from the agony of being in custody of the enemy and being tortured.
Many months after Mumbai and many miles away from Okara I had once met another family whose son had gone to Kashmir for martyrdom but was caught instead. Talking to the mother and sister of the jihadi, I could feel their agony. They had prepared for the boy’s martyrdom but not for his capture. The thought of her son being tormented by security forces on the other side pained the mother beyond imagination. However, there is no possibility of the voices of these mothers and other relatives surfacing and being heard at least in the near future.
But wherever the family is, Kasab’s memory will live on and will be invoked by the LeT and its larger network that thrives in the area. Recently, while travelling around Punjab, especially Okara and its adjoining districts, I realised the influence of the LeT/Jamaat-ud-Dawaa (JuD) network in central Punjab. There are clear signs of the outfit’s presence, visible through massive wall-chalkings and display of banners signed ‘Jamaat-ud-Dawaa’ that exhort people to jihad. The banners even give cell numbers for jihad volunteers to call and offer their services. In any case, Okara is not only Kasab’s but also Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s home district. Lakhvi is a LeT commander who was arrested by Pakistan soon after the Mumbai attacks.
Talking to the people of the area one gets a sense that this militant network has consolidated itself much more in north and central Punjab than in south Punjab. The latter subregion is considered more notorious for jihad but there are other outfits there that have greater sway than LeT. This is mainly due to the relative popularity of Deoband ideology in south Punjab compared to the LeT’s Ahl-Hadith ideology.
With its headquarters in Muridke, which is near Lahore and about 200 kilometres from Okara, the LeT/JuD network seems to have consolidated itself in the urban and semi-urban centres of north and central Punjab where there is a growing and almost natural audience for the more sophisticated — or glib — Ahl-Hadith ideology and narrative than the comparatively less suave Deobandi or the pre-modern Barelvi and Sufi religious discourses. People living in the semi-educated environments of these small towns seem to be attracted to the textual evidence of god that Ahl-Hadith religious scholars like Hafiz Saeed provide. As a result, these preachers have not only acquired religious power but also social and political power.
The LeT and its subsidiary JuD have neatly divided their operations in the area: the fund-raising is done under the JuD banner, and may refer to jihad but tends to focus more on establishing welfare operations in other parts of the country, now especially in Baluchistan; the LeT, on the other hand, pushes into the villages looking for volunteers.
Some of the JuD’s madrassa operations in the rural areas are also used to show off to urban supporters of the group, who are then spurred to contribute more in terms of money or other resources.
In recent months Hafiz Saeed has visited Okara and adjoining districts on several occasions for fund raising and successfully managed to collect millions of rupees.
The jihad in Kashmir and now against America are two slogans which make for successful fund-collection campaign.
At one level, Hafiz Saeed seems inclined towards rebranding himself as an agent of welfare and relief work. His handlers do not allow him to sell internal jihad or societal change so an external jihad is needed for marketing. As for Ajmal Kasab he is now a symbol that will be used to produce more Kasabs. The only question is when and where this new generation of Kasabs be used.
(Ayesha Siddiqa is a Pakistani political commentator and author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy . )