The Pakistani Taliban is testing a new recruitment technique: a women’s magazine. The first edition of Sunnat-i-Khaula or “The Way of Khaula,” referring to a female Muslim warrior from the 7th century, was recently published and urges its readers to become involved with the Pakistani Taliban or Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Sunnat-i-Khaula mimics many features of traditional women’s magazines, with a militant Islamist twist. These include a would-be jihadist advice column and a celebrity interview with the unnamed wife of TTP leader Fazlullah Khorasani.
In the interview, Mrs. Khorasani describes her marriage at age 14 and criticizes opponents of underage marriage. She is quoted by the Guardian as saying, “I ask you why now everywhere there is a hue and cry about underage marriages … We have to understand that mature boys and girls if left unmarried for too long can become a source of moral destruction of the society.”
The 45-page magazine also reportedly includes an article written by a doctor-turned-jihadist who describes her “journey from ignorance to guidance.”
An opening editorial quoted in the Guardian encourages “women of Islam to come forward and join the ranks of mujahideen [holy warriors].” The editorial goes on to suggest women organize secret gatherings, distribute pro-TTP literature, and learn to use basic weapons including grenades.
The publication of Sunnat-i-Khaula is a strategic shift for a group that has historically demeaned women and tried to curb their participation in public life. Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at America’s Woodrow Wilson Center, told the Guardian that the TTP is badly seeking needed new members.
“Women are a strategic demographic because they have the ability to exert influence over their sons,” Kugelman told the Guardian. “If women are converted to the militant cause, they can encourage their sons – or daughters for that matter – to join it as well.”
The TTP has links to the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and has been responsible for major attacks on civilians in Pakistan. In 2014, the group killed 144 students and teachers at a military school in Peshawar. The TTP also claimed responsibility for the attempted murder of teen activist Malala Yousafzai in 2012.
Though the Pakistani military launched a major offensive against the TTP, 2017 has been a devastating year for Pakistan. Between February 13th and 19th, 205 people were killed in 22 terrorist related incidents, some of which ISIS has claimed responsibility for. The South Asian Terrorism Portal also reports that several different factions of the TTP have converged in Afghanistan and are working together.
CNN reports that the TTP reject the Pakistani government and seek to establish an Islamic state in its place. Their extreme interpretation of Sharia law aims to restrict women’s rights, including their access to education and legal status.
Sunnat-i-Khaula is written in English and is available online in an apparent attempt to reach out to young, social media savvy women. Other terrorist groups like ISIS have also made extensive use of social media to spread their message and attract new followers.
Satirical blogger Wishal Raheel perhaps best summed up the irony of the TTP’s new publication, writing, “this magazine will be a hit since it’s the only women’s magazine being launched by an organization that is determined to crush women’s rights everywhere.”
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