Assessing stability in Pakistan’s heartland Punjab

July 7, 2009

India’s South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) has just produced a detailed assessment on the stability of Pakistan’s heartland Punjab province and its conclusions are unsettling.

The base for militants including anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed along with the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Punjab has largely escaped the attention given to the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Pakistan Army is fighting the Taliban. As a result a spate of bomb attacks in Punjab tends to be viewed, rightly or wrongly, as a spillover from the fighting in NWFP and FATA, with little attention given to the situation inside the province.

“A deeper scrutiny indicates that the state of affairs in Punjab is, in many ways, precarious – and this will have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan,” SAIR says in its report. An inadequate police force, vast militant networks and a sense of deprivation and injustice among the people, particularly in South Punjab, all combine to create an unstable environment, it says. “As disorder spreads in the other provinces of Pakistan, its heartland, Punjab, is bound to come under intense pressure in the immediate future.”

The SAIR report is worth reading in detail, not least because of an intense debate about how far, and how quickly, Pakistan can be expected to act against Punjab-based militant groups without creating even greater instability. India is pushing hard for Pakistan to take action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for last November’s attacks in Mumbai.

The usual view you hear from analysts is that the Pakistan Army would never allow Punjab to spin out of control, and would deploy troops if necessary to defend the heartland.  And it is that view of the army as the ultimate safety net that tends to underpin risk assessments of Pakistan — the assumption being that the worst case scenario of the country’s nuclear weapons falling into militant hands can never happen as long as the military is there to stop it.

What you see less, are detailed assessments of what the Pakistan Army would be up against if it ever had to be deployed in Punjab. The SAIR report provides a good start. While a report from a think-tank based in India may not be seen as neutral, it may be even more useful, since the Indian government is likely to be making similar assessments in deciding how far it can push Pakistan to act quickly against groups like the Laskhar-e-Taiba.

If anyone else has seen detailed reports about Punjab and the militant groups there, please post the links.

(A word on comments: keep them short and avoid rhetoric and repetition.  I am specifically interested in links that provide real insight into the subject of the post.)

(Photos: Lahore’s Badshahi mosque/Mohsin Raza; Pakistan Army chief Gen. Kayani with Prime Minister Gilani)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see asia/14punjab.html?_r=1&hpMyra,The New York Times has posted an article suggesting that the Taliban may have made deep inroads into Punjab.I have ready many articles and most of them claim to say that the Punjabi Police force is incapable of dealing with an Urban insurgency, if it were to happen. The police are poorly paid, easily compromised, undermanned, underarmed and many times simply corrupt, because life is tough and money is hard to come by.I have also ready that the Pak Military is not trained in urban warfare. Punjab in essence has a huge lack of security “backbone” and therefore potentially rife for a possible Taliban insurgency there.In the words of a punjabi police officer:“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”It is a far stretch to say this, but I think you can consider Punjab visually destablized, as soon as Droning of High Value targets happens in Punjab, this will be the indicator that Pakistan has already been destablized, before the droning begins.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

I don’t know how helpful this is, but I wrote a post on Demystifying the Punjabi Taliban and it has some good links in there (specifically to Hassan Abbas’s piece in the CTC Sentinel): 2009/05/28/lahores-bombing-demystifying- the-taliban/

Posted by Kalsoom | Report as abusive

Why attack Lahore? asia/7972565.stmBanned Pakistani groups ‘expand’ _asia/81 25039.stmSupporting any terrorist groups will only compound the issues, now or later. I do not understand, how the pakistani govt and people are able to support these activities, especially the beasts who go on killing sprees on innocent civilians.Lets just hope some sense prevails and Pakistan spends and concentrates on issues critical to people like Business, Trade, Infrastructure, Education instead of mobilising terrorists, atleast take some lessons on Taliban. I just hope they get a great visionary leader, who can lead the people in these troubled times…

Posted by Praveen | Report as abusive

ISI’s double gameUS death toll at 647, NATO at 1450 …”Pakistan’s military has declared that not only is it in contact with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar but that it can bring him and other commanders to the negotiating table with the United States”  /asiapcf/07/10/pakistan.taliban.omar/#c nnSTCText

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

While Punjab though not in the public limelight, has become a safe haven for the religious militants and provide a condusive environment for their capacity building, we must not ignore those who may be mentoring or ignoring their activities. The safe havens for the militants in FATA are, indeed, subject to severe public exposure by Afghanistan, U.S., NATO forces and the secular political parties in the NWFP. But this is not the case for the Punjab (Indian hue and cry is likely to be publicly ignored and dubbed as anti Pakistan rhetoric). Actively, the religious and perhaps passively the centre right political parties in the Punjab may be giving effective cover to these outfits. Regards.

Posted by Hasham Baber | Report as abusive