It was early 2013 when Muhammad Abdullah, 21, studying in a madrassa in Karachi’s Korangi neighbourhood, started interacting with Rehmanullah, a leader of the organization Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Rehmanullah was a local leader assigned to spread the outfit’s ideology who finally managed to radicalise Abdullah. The newly radicalised young man’s next stop was a training camp in the Baramcha area in Afghanistan’s Helmand province where he, along with ten other teenagers underwent tough military training. After being declared ‘well-trained’, he was sent back to Karachi for carrying out subversive attacks.
But, unlike many misguided youths, he was lucky. The paramilitary Rangers arrested him in 2016 and after brief detention, chose him to be in a group of 20 former militants for a six-month long rehabilitation programme at the Rangers’ Reclamation Center in Karachi. According to his case study, a copy of which is available with TNS, he was not only deradicalised at this facility but was also provided technical trainings.
Abdullah is now supporting his family by working at a local factory.
Karachi has only 20 such ‘success stories’ mainly because of the Rangers’ Reclamation Center. But, according to the counter-terrorism department (CTD) officials, there are hundreds of cases in which petty criminals have turned into hardened terrorists due to lack of rehabilitation centres on the one hand, and ‘training centres’ of terrorists inside jail facilities on the other.
Mohammad Ahmed Khan, alias Munna, is one such victim, whose case reflects the state’s failure to stop the jails from becoming breeding ground of terrorism. When jailed, Munna was just a ‘suspect’ in a few sectarian cases, with no impressive criminal record. In the Karachi jailbreak of June 15, 2017, he fled from prison along with Sheikh Muhammad alias Firon, and now Munna is considered a ‘hardened terrorist’.
Long before the Rangers’ Reclamation Center was established in Karachi, successful experiments were conducted in Swat valley where the Pakistan Army set up Sabawoon Rehabilitation Center. The then army chief, Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, inaugurated the centre in 2009, where, initially, 22 former Taliban militants — all of them teenagers — were inducted.
“Sabawoon turned out to be a success,” said Major Ahmed, in-charge of the Rangers’ Reclamation Center. He said the Rangers’ Centre in Karachi, which was a brainchild of the then DG Rangers Major General Bilal Akbar, only inducts youths up to 24 years of age. “A batch of 20 has passed out whereas another batch of 16 is passing through the rehabilitation process — both deradicalisation and technical training,” he told TNS.
Security forces run both the facilities — in Swat and Karachi. Did the government ever ponder over creating such facilities in jails, which have become preaching and training centres for terrorists? Omar Shahid Hamid, a senior official of the Sindh Police Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), said the Rangers had once floated a proposal of a separate jail in Badin for hardened terrorists. “The CTD had endorsed it, but it couldn’t be established due to legal and monetary issues,” he said.
“Firon was a hardened terrorist but Munna was not. He became a jihadi when we put him in jail along with hardened terrorists,” Hamid told TNS. “We have been fighting terrorists for over the last sixteen years but we haven’t addressed the root causes.” The CTD officer opines that deradicalisation is a difficult task. “You can’t guarantee success even after spending hundreds of thousands of rupees. The government asks for guarantees in advance, which can’t be offered.”
“A lot of work has been done on deradicalisation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Indonesia and Singapore,” Shahid Hamid said. These countries, he says, have engaged religious scholars to present counter-narratives and issue verdicts on important matters. “There were tribal quarrels in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Those involved in fighting were unmarried. The state facilitated their marriages and gave them scholarships. On the contrary, we put all jihadists in jail at one place without sorting them according to the level of their crimes. As others are stopping further radicalisation, we are ignoring a big monster in the making.”
The CTD recently conducted a survey in jail in which 500 terrorists recorded their responses. According to the survey, 74.2 per cent of them are facing psychological disorder, including Epilepsy, Gaba Syndrome, Renal/Hepatic Impairment, Tamoxifes, Mania & Bipolar Disorder, Serotonin Syndrome, Hallucinations and Major Depressive Disorder. 40.4 per cent of them are uneducated and 20.9 per cent are below matriculation.
When asked as to what ultimately led them to join a terrorist/banned outfit 204 (40.8 per cent) said ideology/religion was the driving force, 203 (40.6 per cent) said unemployment and economic concerns whereas 93 (18.6 per cent) said their physiological profile was the cause of their radicalisation. 249 (49.8 per cent) said their family opposed their views. 197 (39.4 per cent) said they had regrets.
Instead of making rehabilitation programmes available for those 39.4 per cent with regrets about their past, the government has left them at the mercy of terrorists, who have the ability to turn initial level radicals into highly-radicalised terrorists.
Hafiz Qasim Rasheed, a return inmate like several others, is one of the preachers who preached to terrorists in jail. According to a jail official, who spoke to TNS under condition of anonymity, Munna and his partner in jailbreak were living in Rasheed’s barrack, who would hold regular sessions to radicalise inmates on terrorist and sectarian lines.
Rasheed is a hardened terrorist associated with the proscribed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who has also fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir. According to the Joint Interrogation report, a copy of which is available with TNS, Rasheed got his first, second and third military training in the Makassar area of Azad Jammu & Kashmir after which he crossed to Indian-held Kashmir for six months to take part in subversive activities against Indian security forces.
Rasheed, according to the police, confessed to the killing of Raza Haider, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker from the Shia community, in 2010, jail officials, including ASP Pir Masood Ahmed, DSP Abdul Razaq and sub-inspector Asghar Tarar in 2012, besides killing dozens of other people in different acts of sectarian killings.
After passing his matriculation, Rasheed went to Afghanistan and like many of his comrades, including Naeem Bukhari, Asim Capri, Waseem Baroodi, and Mufti Shakirullah, came back to Karachi to take part in subversive activities. He was first jailed for six months in 2002, followed by a four-month stint in jail the year after that. He was arrested in August 2005, but was able to come out of jail in 2009.
“There were several problems in the Prison Department, but after the jailbreak quite a few reforms have been introduced. We have tried to keep the accused of the same level together so those in initial stages may not be further radicalised,” claimed Pervez Chandio, Deputy Inspector General of Jail Police. “We have set up factories in jail where 100 inmates work. In the past, we would purchase uniforms from the city, now they are made in jail. Those working in the factory get their labour amount transferred directly into their accounts. We want to turn inmates into good citizens.”
Hassan Sehto, Karachi Jail Superintendent, told TNS, “More than 6000 prisoners have been put inside a jail that has a capacity for only 2400 inmates. If that was not enough, only half of the jail’s 500-string security staff is available for jail duties. The rest of them perform duties like escorting judges and other VIPs.”
“Due to insufficient capacity, almost all inmates jailed under the anti-terrorism act are put together in one place. Only few hardened terrorists are kept separately. Of the 600 inmates, 18 have been handed down death sentences. These include 16 high-profile inmates who interacted with terrorists at early stages,” Sehto added.
“With the present jail system, it’s hard to stop suspects from further radicalisation,” says Raja Umar Khattab, a senior police officer who has resolved major terrorism cases. “The jail has been and continues to be a recruiting and brainwashing centres for terrorist outfits. It will continue to be so until tangible steps are taken. We can rehabilitate them. All we need is will and resources,” he said.
(Some names have been changed for security reasons).