A Socioeconomic Profile of Terrorism in Pakistan (Part III: The Punjabi Taliban)

This article is the third in a three-part series on terrorism in Pakistan.

punjabAccording to popular perception in Pakistan, the largest province of Punjab is considered to be the bastion of good governance and the least violent of all the regions. Taking terrorist incidents as a measure, the statement does seem to make sense as Punjab has been fortunate enoughnot to face same level of militant violence as in other provinces of Pakistan at least since 9/11 (see Part I of this series for more on this). But once we start looking into the extent of radicalization, particularly in terms of the militants originating from the province, quite a different story starts unfolding. Our analysis in part 1 revealed that the Punjab makes disproportionate contribution to cross fertilizing terrorist sample who belong to sectarian organizations or those fighting in Kashmir but also maintain ties with Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Afghan Taliban. In other studies, and so in the present one, these militants are described as Punjabi Taliban.1  This article presents inferences on Punjabi Taliban based on data filtered from the data set on all types of terrorists in Pakistan.2

It is important to understand the phenomenon of Punjab Taliban for two reasons. First, Punjabi Taliban links with Afghan Taliban goes back to the latter’s reign in Afghanistan during 1990’s. They also form an important part of militant groups such as Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda, and thus pose direct threat to international security. Second, war against terrorism in Pakistan has remained concentrated in north western region ignoring, what other scholars have suggested, nurseries of militancy within Punjab supplying Punjabi Taliban.  The present article offers quantitative insights into background of Punjabi Taliban and their areas of origin.

“Second, war against terrorism in Pakistan has remained concentrated in north western region ignoring, what other scholars have suggested, nurseries of militancy within Punjab supplying Punjabi Taliban.”

The dataset as described in part I of the series provides information on the province of origin and organizational affiliation of the terrorist hence the information is used for developing dataset on Punjabi Taliban. In total 110 terrorists are found in the data who can be categorized as the Punjabi Taliban.

How old on average are the Punjabi Taliban?

The mean age of Punjabi Taliban is 32, which is close to the average of age 33 of all the terrorists from Pakistan. Hence it can be said that average terrorist as well as Punjabi Taliban are the mature adults of roughly in their early 30’s.

Where do Punjabi Taliban come from within Punjab?

Scholars such as Mujahid Hussain and Dr. Syed Manzar Abbas Zaidi have specifically pointed out South Punjab as the breeding ground of Punjabi Taliban.3 We explore whether South Western Punjab and South Punjab (both regions share cultural elements such as Saraiki language and are economically underdeveloped) make disproportionate contribution to the Punjabi Taliban sample.4

Figure 1


Figure 1 shows that while the South/South Western Punjab contributes 33 % to total population of Punjab, its share in the Punjabi Taliban is around 48 %.  Hence its con

tribution is disproportionate by 15 % point supporting the view that perhaps this region is fertile for the emergence of the Punjabi Taliban. In case of rest of the Punjab which includes relatively well-off regions of central and norther Punjab, the contribution is relatively lower than in total population.

Figure 2


There are 36 districts in Punjab province and as the data suggest almost all of them contribute to the sample of Punjabi Taliban. Figure 2 show 23 districts with highest supply of Punjabi Taliban. P(S) is appended with some of the districts name to distinguish their South/South Western Punjab location. As expected, almost half of the top districts are located in the region. Bahawalpur is home to Jaish Muhammad (JeM), an organization involved in militancy in Kashmir, sectarian terrorism as well as allied with the Afghan Taliban.  Sectarian organizations such as Sipah Sahaba of Pakistan have been active in districts such as Bhakhar and Layyah with history of sectarian violence. Scholars have also suggested the role played by conflict between Shiite landlords and Sunni bourgeois in South Punjab in aggravating sectarian tensions and nurturing militancy than eventually came to ally itself with forces such as the Taliban.5 Nevertheless, the region is underdeveloped and the fact that almost all of south Punjab districts are included in sample implies some sort of connection poverty and militancy.  As far as rest of the Punjab is concerned significant contributions are made by populous districts of Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. However comparatively, South/ South Western Punjab region contributes most of the districts as well as maintains comparatively higher rate of supply of Punjabi Taliban.

 Educational Attainment of the Punjabi Taliban

The religious education attainment among Punjabi Taliban of 12 % is not substantially different from the figure of 15 percent for same level for all types of terrorist (see figure 3 & Part I as well). Compared with national enrollment rate of 2 %, one can infer that religious institutions are making disproportionate contribution to the growth of Punjabi Taliban.  Again, contrary to general perception that terrorists are illiterate, the data shows that as compared to 38 % illiteracy in the province, only 3 % of Punjabi Taliban are found to be illiterate. This is again close to 4 % illiteracy among all types of terrorist. While the overall literacy rate of Punjab is approximately 61 % percent, the literacy among Punjabi Taliban is 77 % indicating that they are on average better educated than the average Punjabi.

Figure 3


As far as education attainment at pre matric (less than 10th grade) is concerned, the Punjabi Taliban are 2 % point less than the provincial figure of 38 %. However, as we move towards higher level of education attainment, the trend reverses. While approximately 13 % of population in Punjab has education attainment at matric level (10th Grade), the figure for Punjabi Taliban is 21 % (31 % for all types of terrorists). Almost 6 % of Punjab’s population has education attainment at intermediate level (high school, 12th  Grade), the corresponding figure for Punjabi Taliban is 8 % (14 % for all types of terrorist). Finally, while approximately 5 % of Punjab population has education attainment at graduation level, among Punjabi Taliban the proportion is 8 % (8 % for all types of terrorist).

This estimates based on the data of over 100 militants give solid evidence to presume that Punjabi Taliban are better educated than the population group they emerge from. In fact our earlier findings, explained in part 1, also showed that education attainment among terrorist in Pakistan is higher than the normal population. We reiterate our suspicion about inciting material present in curriculum as one of the contributing factor towards ineffectiveness of education as mean of counter radicalization.

Do Punjabi Taliban emerge from socioeconomically deprived regions?

In part II of the series, we conducted regression analysis on set of over 140 districts of Pakistan to determine the extent to which poverty, religious conservativeness and migration is related to terrorist supply across Pakistan. However, since the focus of present analysis is on Punjab with only 36 districts, hence same number of observation in cross sectional analysis, the inadequate data set is unlikely to lead to reliable statistical correlations.  Hence we just focus on descriptive analysis to determine any pattern between poverty and terrorist supply in Pakistan.

While the group of districts contributing to the Punjabi Taliban sample contains relatively well-off districts such Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, the dominant contribution is made by relatively poorer districts. Once we exclude Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Attock from the sample and find out the average values for indicators such as percentage of children suffering diarrhea, consultation with private doctor, gas and oil consumption as fuel and education index (see Part II for detail on these variables) we observe that their performance is below than the provincial average. The percentage of children suffering from diarrhea and consultation with private doctors is less than provincial average by approximately 4 % points (See Table 1). The consumption of gas and oil as fuel is substantially lower than overall average for whole province. Since these variables are used as proxy for poverty (for justification see part II), hence we can infer that districts with high supply of Punjabi Taliban are on average economically worse off than the overall province. The same trend emerges for education as well leading us to conclude finally that although terrorists in Pakistan are on average better educated but they are more likely to emerge from socioeconomically depressed districts. This trend exist for all types of terrorist as well as the Punjabi Taliban.


Table 1

Comparative Socioeconomic Performance

Variable Description Punjab’s mean Districts supplying Punjabi Taliban’s mean
Percentage of children suffering from diarrhea Number of children aged below 5 suffering from diarrhea as percentage of total children in same age group 9.72 13.5
Consultation with private doctor Proportion of prenatal consultation with private doctors as percentage of total consultation in district 51.16 45.66
Gas and oil consumption as fuel Consumption of gas and oil as fuel as percentage of total consumption of fuel 28.32 16.2
Education score Index (1-100, lower score indicating lower performance) developed at taking arithmetic mean of enrollment, achievement, attainment and gender parity in education 70.89 65.65




  1. See Zaidi, S. M. (2014). The Punjabi Taliban. Oslo: Center for International and Strategic Analysis.
  2. For more information on data see Part I of the present series of articles.
  3. Hussain, M. (2012). Punjabi Taliban: Driving Extremism in Pakistan. New Delhi: Pentagon Security International.
  4. For instance, while the incidence of poverty is 33.61 for the whole of Punjab (poverty line of Rs 2248 and Rs 1854 for urban and rural areas), the estimated figure for South Punjab is 45.82. See Jamal, H. (2013). Predicting Sub National Poverty Incidences for Pakistan. Karachi: Social Policy and Development Center Research Report.
  5. Zaidi, S. M. (2014). The Punjabi Taliban. Oslo: Center for International and Strategic Analysis.
Previous ArticleNext Article
Luqman Saeed
Luqman Saeed is Assistant Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Nur International University (NIU), Lahore, Pakistan. His areas of research are economics of political violence, terrorism in Pakistan and economic history. He can be reached at