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Faridkot is not the hardscrabble village conjured up by common perceptions of extremist origins. It straddles a paved road about 2 1⁄2 hours' drive from Lahore, and two new gas stations mark the village boundaries. Beyond those are factories and fertile farmland. There is even BlackBerry service. But it is, undeniably, the sort of place that fosters frustration. Feudal landlords own the farmland, and villagers feel trapped by the status they are born into. The good life is tantalizingly close, yet for most residents still unattainable. For men like Qasab, one of the best ways out is jihad. "In a developing country, youngsters who are sensitive, concerned, they talk about 'How do we change what is going on here? How do we get rid of corruption?'" says Abbas. "And if in some sense you find that jihad can help you in those aims, then why not?" It's a convolution of the adolescent craving to stand out. And Pakistani society, steeped in nihilistic passions fostered by the state sponsorship of jihad, condones it.
District governor Ghulam Mustafa (who denies that Qasab is from Faridkot) says the area has a long history of sending men to fight in Kashmir. Despite the risks, joining a militant network provides social mobility that is virtually unattainable in Pakistani society, giving the groups' members a sense of purpose and pride and elevating their status, says Muhammad Amir Rana, a Pakistani expert on extremist groups. And indeed, villagers have told journalists that when Qasab went home to see his family just before the Mumbai attacks, he was a changed man calm, with a sense of purpose and able to demonstrate his new fighting skills. ((See pictures of a Jihadist's journey.))
These days, his neighbors have stopped telling stories about Qasab, and journalists are no longer welcome. But before they were excluded from the village, a correspondent from the English-language daily Dawn was able to interview a man who said he was Qasab's father. "I was in denial for the first couple of days, saying to myself it could not have been my son," Amir Qasab told Dawn. "Now I have accepted it." A few years back, said Amir Qasab, he and his son had a quarrel while he was home visiting. "He had asked me for new clothes on 'Id [a religious holiday] that I couldn't provide him. He got angry and left."
A Sort of School
Where that angry scene ends, Qasab's confession seems to pick up. According to the document, Qasab fled his family in 2005 for Ali Hajveri Darbar, a shrine in Lahore dedicated to the memory of a Sufi saint who took Islam to the region through his example of love, charity and direct communication with God. It was a place, Qasab says, where "boys who had run away from their houses are kept." The shrine doesn't have sleeping quarters, says volunteer caretaker Muhammad Soheil, but "many people stay in the nearby area and come here to take our food." Thousands visit the shrine every day, says Soheil, and he has no recollection of Qasab. But, he says, "We believe that if someone comes here with bad intentions, they will become good Muslims."
The evolving strengths of different strains of Islam in South Asia provide an important context for Qasab's tale. In 2007 the Rand Corp. suggested that such groups as Pakistan's Sufi-influenced Barelvi sect which does not have a jihadist bent be encouraged in order to combat extremism. But since the anti-Soviet war, Wahhabi groups, drawing their influence from Saudi Arabia's austere brand of Islam together with the Wahhabis' South Asian counterparts, the ¬Deobandis have gained ground in Pakistan. Soheil decries the Wahhabi focus on jihad. "Here we teach peace and love in the way of the Prophet," he says. "The problem is that the common people are not literate, so when the cleric says they will go to heaven if they do suicide bombs, they become entrapped and believe him." (See pictures of Pakistan's vulnerable North-West Frontier Province.)
For whatever reason, life at the Darbar was not enough for Qasab. He found employment, but after two years, his paltry salary began to rankle him, and he left Lahore to seek his fortune in Rawalpindi.
The LeT office in Rawalpindi directed Qasab to the sprawling campus of the Markaz-al-Dawa wal-Irshad in the town of Muridke, about half an hour's drive from Lahore. Established in 1987 by a trio of veterans from the Afghan jihad with funding from Osama bin Laden, this Wahhabi center quickly became known as the launchpad for militant jihad. But it is much more. Within a few years, the Markaz had expanded to include a madrasah, separate schools for boys and girls, a free hospital and a university. Its founders, Hafiz Saeed, Zafar Iqbal and Abdullah Azzam the latter was bin Laden's mentor until he was killed by a car bomb in Peshawar in 1989 declared that their objective was to create a model Islamic environment removed from state interference. Education would focus on jihad but also emphasize science and technology. The campus includes stables, fishponds, playing fields, a foundry, a carpentry workshop, a mosque and computer-enabled classrooms. It is better equipped than most Pakistani state universities.
In his confession, Qasab describes a strict regimen of physical training, prayers and religious lectures at Muridke. Former LeT militants who have passed through the center say it was never a training camp in the traditional sense. While would-be militants learned to swim and fight there, advanced weapons training was left for the camps in the Pakistani-controlled section of Kashmir. Only a handful of students were sent out on actual combat missions. Instead, most focused on religious doctrine. Parents in the local village who send their children to the Markaz for school say the education is good, though ideological. Ghulam Qadir, 44, has two children there, even though he follows the more liberal Barelvi tradition. School rules insist that even the primary students pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan. They are not allowed to watch TV or movies or listen to music. "I am hoping my children are not being converted, but I want them to have a better future," he says, explaining that the school is free and gives the students lunch.
The growth of Wahhabi institutions in traditionally Barelvi parts of Pakistan is not limited to Muridke. Punjab province has seen an explosion of radical mosques, madrasahs and schools, many around the southern cities of Bahawalpur and Multan. A resident of Bahawalpur describes a visible expansion of jihadi infrastructure, unchecked by government supervision. Camps modeled on the one at Muridke are being built in the city, and photographs of the construction sites show young men with AK-47 logos on their shirts. Graffiti on village walls in the region declare, "Jihad against unbelievers is mandatory. Break their necks and shake every bone."