Profiling Pakistani jihadists

ANALYSIS: Profiling Pakistani jihadists —Ali K Chishti

One major draw for jihadis in Pakistan is the clout a religious militant enjoys with the law-enforcement agencies. The militant organisation gives otherwise powerless men a strong sense of identity in an increasingly fragmented social structure

What kind of people are rushing to join jihadi organisations? Where are they coming from? What is their family and educational background? And most importantly, what motivates them to put their lives on the line for missions that really have nothing material to do with them? What really prompts a Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch or Pashtun to become a member of a suicide squad? Or, for that matter, what makes these people participate in far off conflicts that have no bearing on their lives, except maybe emotional attachment? What is behind their fanaticism and their commitment? How are they recruited?

All such profiling conducted by various think-tanks gives us a small hint of the demonic mindset that we are dealing with in the fight against radical Islamic terror groups. Another frightening reality that emerges from a close study of jihadis is that they do not come from any one particular education stream, family background, region or even economic background. The spirit of jihad transcends these boundaries and stereotypes. In other words, jihadis are now coming from every social, economic and cultural strata of Pakistani society. This means that our country itself has become one big Jihad Inc. The role of mullahs in motivating and recruiting young men for jihad clearly comes out when profiling jihadis but equally important is the fact that economic factors and a breakdown in traditional social structures too are motivating many people to take to jihad.

Jihad in this part of the world is seen as lending a sense of purpose to the lives of many people who otherwise would be pushovers in society. One major draw for jihadis in Pakistan is the clout a religious militant enjoys with the law enforcement agencies. A black tinted four-by-four and a suspicious number plate with occupants sporting militia-style clothing, long hair and beards is bound to arouse suspicion and get the vehicle pulled over at any check post. If you are a religious militant, however, you are simply waved through with a level of ‘respect’ unthinkable for most Pakistanis. Obviously, being above the law holds great appeal for the jobless. The militant organisation gives otherwise powerless men a strong sense of identity in an increasingly fragmented social structure.

Only recently a research paper published on the very subject reveals that a vast number of recruits come from formal schools and lack any real religious knowledge or motivation. The primary cause behind militancy, it is argued, is unemployment and poverty. There are the middle class jihadis like Shehzad Tanvir or Sheikh Omar, who has been convicted of murdering Daniel Pearl. There is a popular misconception that young Pakistani men who volunteer for jihad invariably do so out of a lack of viable economic options. This is particularly untrue in Karachi where most budding jihadis hail from middle, upper middle or even upper class families. A similar trend prevails in other large cities that, in turn, explodes another myth that Pakistan’s ‘non-state actors’ are largely confined to the country’s tribal and northern areas.

“I am proud of my son although the only regret I have is that I do not have another son to send for this noble cause,” says a middle-aged man whose only son is believed dead somewhere in Afghanistan. Another jihadi now turned tableeghi, Mehmood, who in his late 20s managed to come back to Karachi in one piece, maintains that misconceptions abound concerning the current reality in Afghanistan. He says, “Some people accuse the Taliban of retreating without informing the Pakistani and Arab mujaheedin, a move that allegedly resulted in their slaughter by the Northern Alliance. That is totally incorrect.” While pulling back, the Taliban asked all their foreign allies to withdraw with them. The Pakistani and Arab mujahideen, however, decided to keep on fighting even though they knew that they would get killed. Most of them preferred to die as they had already burnt their bridges.

One would imagine that most of those planning to take part in the holy war would be from the militant cadres of jihadi organisations. However, it has become patently obvious that this modern version of the David and Goliath fable has an emotive appeal across the spectrum of Pakistani society too. Many, even those who do not agree with the Taliban’s obscurantist version of Islam, have found inspiration in the obdurate refusal of one of the world’s poorest Muslim countries to give in to the demands of the only global superpower.

Finally, there is the myth and misconception that jihadis are only Pashtuns and Punjabis. The records provided by different jihadi organisations and research material available show that the number of martyrs from Sindh has already touched 500 in the FATA region alone. In the early 2000s, when our proxies were primarily targeted towards the east, 85 of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, 175 of Hizbul Mujahideen and 51 of Lashkar-e-Islam were Sindhi-speaking jihadis. In the case of Balochistan, the list of casualties published by various jihadi organisations shows that from 1999 to March 2002, there were 112 so-called martyrs from Balochistan, most of whom died in Afghanistan, indicating that the jihad phenomenon in Pakistan has gone viral in almost every segment of our society.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at

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