American Enterprise Institute's Ahmad Majidyar examines the Taliban and al Qaeda's growing military activity and influence in Pakistan's Punjab province and its implications on internal and regional stability.
While Washington and Islamabad have directed considerable attention and resources to fighting terrorism in Pakistan's tribal areas, rising militant activity and growing Taliban and al Qaeda influence in the country's most populous province of Punjab have been largely ignored. Under increasing pressure from U.S. drone attacks and the Pakistani Army's continuing offensives in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the Taliban and al Qaeda are looking to Pakistan's political and military heartland for refuge, revenge, and new alliances. Banned Punjabi terrorist groups--such as Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), the alleged recruiter of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT), responsible for high-profile attacks in India and Afghanistan--are operating freely across the province and have deepened ties with the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al Qaeda. Despite the growing threat, Punjabi politicians court the militants for votes, and the military and intelligence services protect them for "strategic depth" in the conflict zones of Kashmir and Afghanistan. Although Punjab is not in imminent danger of a Taliban takeover, the growth of terrorist activity in the region, if unchecked, could have serious consequences for Pakistan's stability, the war in Afghanistan, India-Pakistan relations, and international terrorism.