26 May 2024 08:46 AM


Vappala Balachandran | 6 SEPTEMBER, 2015

Why Impoverished Pakistani Youth Cross the Border as Terrorists

Not an easy terrain

A leading Indian security observer had charted the evolution of Sajjad Ahmad from a poverty stricken school dropout to a Lashkar terrorist. Sajjad, a 22 year old resident of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan’s Punjab was apprehended by the Indian Army from Rafiabad in Baramulla district on August 27. Son of a landless labourer, Sajjad grazed cattle, became a truck conductor, then a construction worker, was arrested for murder, became a drug addict, was then recruited by Jamaat-ud-Dawa and “launched” in 2013. Similar stories were published about Mohammed Naved, another young Lashkar terrorist from Faisalabad who was caught on August 5 from the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Udhampur district. The story of the young Ajmal Kasab, the 26/11 attacker, who hailed from Okhara district in Punjab, is too well known.

Thousands of such uneducated, marginalized and impoverished youths are regularly recruited by Pakistan based terrorist factories. Conventional wisdom points a finger to the religious indoctrination at a very young age, encouraged by the much despised Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Deeper research however indicates that this is not the whole story. Geographical factors in Pakistan have greatly contributed to the degradation of agricultural land, water shortages, uneven distribution of resources, and increasing migration in search of jobs. An analysis on this security dimension was first made in 1997 by Canadian defence scientist Peter Gizewski who said that Pakistan was experiencing political instability due to geographical and climatic factors. The first intelligence agency to do a comprehensive analysis on the security implications of climate change and migration was the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who released a paper in 2004. The CSIS analysis reproduced Gizewski’s conclusions and said that Pakistan’s vulnerability had increased with political and environmental factors.

The CSIS analysis said that precipitation in Pakistan was highly seasonal. Average rainfall during the wet season was likely to increase in later years. Similarly average temperatures during the dry season would also increase: “The result is that agricultural soils in much of the country would experience increased moisture loss during dry seasons and more extreme precipitation during the wet season, both of which are hazards for farmers”. Based on this analysis they predicted that climatic changes in Pakistan would exacerbate present environmental conditions that give rise to shortfalls in food production, rural poverty, migration and urban unrest.

Another important study “ Understanding Pakistan’s Water-Security Nexus” by US Institute of Peace( 2013) by three specialists including 2 Pakistani scholars also came to the same conclusion: “By 2030, experts expect this semiarid nation to decline from being water stressed to water scarce…Water shortages may well pose the greatest future threat to the viability of Pakistan’s economy”. Significantly it said that Pakistan has tried to evade this issue by blaming India and Afghanistan. The report said: “But it is intrastate water tensions that are threatening domestic political and environmental security in an already fragile region. Intrastate conflicts can cause more damage and violence than interstate water disputes. The link to violent conflict is evident in institutionalized social stratification and recurrent episodes of dispossession and migration”. This is the real reason why rural poor like Sajjad Ahmad, Mohammed Naved or Ajmal Kasab get entrapped by Pakistan’s terror factories.

On August 22 Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz said that he wanted to present to his Indian counterpart a dossier on RAW’s hostile activities including their involvement in Balochistan. Pakistan has always blamed India and Iran for their traditional mess in Balochistan. The reason why this charge has resurfaced since 2009 is quite interesting. On 31 March 2009 Council on Foreign Relations, New York conducted a round table on “What’s the problem with Pakistan?” During this discussion a RAND analyst said that she was “privately” told by Indian officials in Indian consulates in Zahidan, (Iran) Mazar, Jalalabad and Qandahar (Afghanistan) that they were pumping money into Balochistan. The Round Table did not question her why the Indian diplomats would have so easily divulged operational secrets to a foreign researcher if they were really doing that type of covert operations, as such dialogue is prohibited by all services. But she also qualified her statement by stating that Pakistan should be encouraged not to use militancy as a security tool. Hamid Mir picked up only the earlier part of the talk on July 28, 2009 when he wrote a column: “Pakistan has proof of '3 Indian Kasabs' in Balochistan”. He said that the “proof” came from a “Credible American scholar”. This was quoted by Pakistan Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also as “Proof”. So Sartaj Aziz’s dossier is nothing new.

Had the Pakistani officials read the 2013 US Institute of Peace study, they would have found that climate change and environmental causes in Balochistan had contributed in large measure to the rising homegrown militancy along with traditional political causes and that there was no need for a third party like India to ignite it. In Balochistan the traditional “Karez” system of water supply was sabotaged by rich farmers using electric pumps. “A karez is an underground aqueduct that passively taps the groundwater in the piedmont and carries it by gravity to the ‘daylight point’ where the water is then channeled into irrigation ditches for agricultural and domestic uses”. Its disruption has led to water dispossession and social disintegration creating a huge army of landless and deprived rural population. The paper says: “This social disintegration runs the risk of contributing foot soldiers for assorted insurgent outfits in the region…. Some of that unrest was channeled by the intelligence agencies in the 1980s and 1990s in Southern Punjab toward mobilizing armies of radicalized young men for jihad in Kashmir and then Afghanistan”

Thus we would continue to see such impoverished youths crossing the border as cannon fodder until this type of infraction is stopped under severe international pressure. For that we need a different style of diplomacy than what we have now, to convince the West that Lashkar-e-Toiba is a global danger like ISIS since it was originally founded as a global Jehad vehicle like al-Qaeda.