Thursday, February 11, 2010


*** Deal with the conditions that give rise to such desperation and you will win. Bomb the land of its insurgents, walk away and leave those conditions remaining --- and you'll have no choice but to come back to fight again. MS ***


Pakistan–Since Tajamal Hussain lost his job in a textiles factory two months ago, the 19-year-old has walked the streets of this gritty city searching for work.

Trouble is, the Taliban seem to be the only ones hiring nowadays.

"Yes, I will consider joining," Hussain said, sipping tea in a shanty in Faisalabad's factory district.

"I have to eat."

International attention for months has been focused on South Waziristan, a remote, mountainous region up against the Afghan border where Pakistan's army is battling Taliban fundamentalists. Yet a storm is also brewing in Faisalabad, some 270 kilometres south of the capital, Islamabad, and Pakistan's third largest city with a population of 5 million.

A booming textiles trade once attracted young, unskilled labourers from across the country, but these days, with an energy crisis crippling Pakistan, factories are closing and an estimated 200,000 textile workers have lost their jobs.

That has left Hussain and others like him stewing in the back alleys of a city with a history of close ties to extremism. Several Islamic militants – including Abu Zubaydah, Al Qaeda's purported No. 3 operative – have been captured here.

"Pakistan is a country of 170 million people, where half of them are under age 21 with poor prospects for their future," said South Asia specialist Daniel Markey, formerly with the U.S. State Department.

"This is a hard story to tell. I don't think the West realizes how huge it is. These problems are not going to end when Bin Laden's head is on a platter."

On a recent morning, another group of laid-off textile workers helped illustrate why the Taliban may draw more recruits from this city.

Muhammad Shafique is 37 and has worked the looms of Faisalabad since he was 12. His wife and two children live in rural Samundri, while Shafique shares a room with three other labourers.

Over cups of chai and countless cigarettes, Shafique spent an hour explaining to a visitor how disastrous it would be to support the Taliban. "We already have a crisis and joining hands with terrorists would only make it worse," he said.

But as the morning wore on and, perhaps, his sugary tea took effect, Shafique's tone changed. "I will join any fight against America," he said in a loud voice, his stare flinty.

Already, Faisalabad's unemployed are growing desperate.

In the space of a week, a bank was robbed and a man taking his two daughters to school was stopped by armed gunmen.

"They pointed the gun at him and his daughters and told him to get off his motorcycle," said Wazir Ahmad Wato, who works for a community organization on water and sanitation issues. "This is becoming usual here and there's no doubt the Taliban are watching and can take advantage. They have agents everywhere."

Wato said it's unclear how much the Taliban pays new recruits, but recent rumours suggest a payout of 500,000 rupees, ($6,275 Canadian) to would-be suicide bombers.

Police superintendent Yousaf Ali Houral doesn't doubt the Taliban are combing the streets of Faisalabad for supporters. "They will exploit the situation," he said.

Gareth Price, head of the Asia program at London research centre Chatham House, said it may be just a matter of time before the textile industry's woes add to Pakistan's security misery.

"Tens and hundreds of thousands of young men are losing their jobs," he said. "The next question for Pakistan is what do they do? Do they blame the government and go and get linked up with extremists? The answer to that question will determine what happens to the country."