Zamir, 55, has only been to England twice, but his son lives in Birmingham and sends back monthly remittances from the general store he runs. Those remittances have built Zamir a life he could never have dreamed of as a kid, allowing him to indulge in hobbies few Pakistanis can afford like dog racing. On his last visit to see his son, he purchased a prize greyhound, whose registered name Beer Rebel Heaven Zamir struggles to pronounce. "I just call him Jaggu," he says, meaning powerful. Many Pakistanis have dogs, but few treat them as pets, as Islam considers dogs to be unclean. Things are a little different here in the Mirpur district of Kashmir. "Here people are used to pets, just like in England," he says.
Zamir estimates that 99% of the people in his village of 1,600 have been to England. The rest of the district of Mirpur is no different. Often called Little Britain, Mirpur has been exporting its residents to the factories of England for more than 100 years. But ties to the ancestral villages remain strong, and every year Mirpur is inundated by a reverse flow of visiting family members. The large influx of second- and third-generation Pakistani immigrants coming from Britain every summer to visit relatives would certainly provide a cover story for any radical elements looking to huddle with terror chiefs in Pakistan.
But Lahore-based analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi believes that radicalization could not occur during a one-month visit with family. "These people aren't coming to Pakistan and getting radicalized, they were radicalized before they came. You don't just show up at a madrassah, spend a few weeks there and become a jihadi. It doesn't work that way," he says. "Here in Pakistan their commitment to radicalism will be reinforced, but the germs are already in place." It is back in the U.K. that such visitors are provided with contacts and introductions to terrorist cells or extremist groups in Pakistan, who can increase their own level of militancy and training. "Even if I knew where to find them, it's not like I could just show up at the door of one of these terrorist cells and ask for a course in making a bomb. I would need references and contacts to do that," says Rizvi.
British extremist groups will often send a particularly promising recruit to Pakistan, on the pretext of visiting relatives, to link up with contacts there. "So they are visiting their relatives, and they say they are leaving for a few weeks to visit friends in Karachi. Instead they go meet up with one of the groups that they were given references to," Rizvi says. The purpose of such visits, he adds, is more likely to be ideological reinforcement than military training. "Yes, you could conceivably learn to make a bomb here more easily than in the U.K., but what are you really going to get in a two-week visit? These visits are about reinforcing beliefs, getting advice, maybe a blessing from an extremist leader," says Rizvi.
Muhammad Amir Rana, author of A to Z of Jihadi Organizations in Pakistan, takes a different view, claiming that explosives training is exactly what visiting foreigners are getting from Pakistan-based cells. "We have seen that the foreigners aren't interested in battlefield training, they are only interested in making explosives," he says, referring to the research he does with the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in Lahore. "You can download bomb-making instructions from the Internet, but when you don't have practice, it's still very difficult to do. So you come to Pakistan for the experience side to learn how to do a perfect job." Unlike England, he says, Pakistan has many desolate areas where a trainee could test bomb or three without attracting attention.
Not much attracts attention in Mirpur, a place of cultural confusion. Multi-tiered mansions of pink marble and stucco line dirt paths; expensive cars wind through potholed streets and park in front of the British Airways office in Mirpur town center. Residents speak with thick British regional accents. "There are more mansions in Mirpur than there are in Islamabad," boasts Ashfaq Hamid, a friend of the Birmingham-based Rauf family who has come back to Haveli Beghal to build his own mansion. The 47-year-old taxi driver plans to retire here, in the town where he was born. Before that though, he would like to bring his three sons, aged 16, 18 and 20, for a visit. "I want them to learn more about their culture, about their religion," he says. Hamid moved to Birmingham with his parents when he was 12.
He speaks of the family of the detained terror-suspect Rashid Rauf as "very likable, straight, genuine people." The last time he saw Rauf was at the funeral of his uncle, stabbed to death in what was said to be a family dispute an incident that reportedly prompted Rauf to flee Britain. "I knew him as a very good kid, from a good family. I never heard anything bad about him. When I heard the news I was shocked." He doesn't believe that the Rauf family had anything to do with the bomb plot.
When asked whether he feared that his own children might become radicalized in England, he says he's more worried about them falling prey to Western bad habits. "My wife watches them 24/7. She worries that if she lets them go out they may mix with bad society. That makes problems for us."