Ajmal Amir tells his story


Ajmal Amir was one of the ten people involved in attack on Mumbai, on Nov 26. He is the only one captured with the rest shot down by NSF and Mumbai police.

(Times of India, December 3, 2008)

How the lure for respectability made this impoverished laborer believe in the Jehadi cause.

  • > The 21 year old captured fidayeen was born at Faridkot Village (population 3000), Dilapur tehsil, of Okara district Punjab province, 50 km east of Multan. Family belongs to Qasai caste. Father, Mohd Amir Iman, runs dahi-puri snack cart, mother, Noori Tai, looks after ramshackle home
  • > Ajmal is one of 5 kids. Eldest brother, Afzal 25, works as laborer in Lahore lives near Yadgar Minar. Sister, Rukaiyya Husain, 22 is married in village. Then comes Ajmal. Sister, Suraiyya, 14, and brother Munir, 11, still at home.
  • > Ajmal’s poor father can’t keep him in government primary school. In 2000, 13 year old Ajmal, just past class 4, is sent to Afzal in Lahore. The brother, then 17, hardly has means to look after his young brother.
  • > Ajmal shuttles between Lahore and Faridkot. In 2005, fights with father and leaves home. Not welcome in Afzal’s house either. Stays at shrine of holy man Syed Ali Hajveri. Like elder brother, works as a laborer.
  • > Finds the work degrading. Gets attracted to petty crime. With friend Muzaffar Lal Khan, launches new career in armed robberies. On Dec 21, 2007, Bakr-Eid day, they go to Rawalpindi to buy weapons.
  • > It’s here that they run into activists of Jamaat-ud-Dawa – Lashkar-e-Taiba’s political wing – handling out pamphlets about their group. After a brief chat, duo sign up – not because of conviction but for training they might get. That, they feel, would further career in crime.
  • > Reach LeT’s base camp, Markaz Taiba. It’s here that Ajmal starts getting influenced by films on India’s “atrocities” in Kashmir, by impassioned speeches by preachers, including LeT chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. Starts believing it might be worth sacrificing his worthless life for glory of Islam. Camp gives him sense of belongings that he never had. When he comes home during a 2-month break, finds he is suddenly treated with respect by family and community.
  • > After this break, Ajmal chosen for LeT’s basic combat course, Daura Aam. Does well and chosen with small group of 32 for advanced training, Daura Khaas, at camp near Manshera. Does well here too.
  • > Selected for high-skill marine commando and navigation training, imparted to the team of 10 fidayeen chosen to attack Mumbai. At 4:45 am, on Nov 23, Ajmal with the unit, sail off from a forlorn creek near Karachi, each equipped with AK-47s, 200 rounds of ammo and grenades.
  • > LeT military commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi promises Rs. 1.5 lakh (USD 3000) reward.

(end of excerpt from paper)


Everyone talks about the atrocious crimes the terrorists (as they call them) have committed. And I don’t mean to say they haven’t. However, no one is talking about why these people are doing this. The social fabric is not even questioned when you can see from the story of Ajmal (and I call him by his name because he is just has human as you and me) that it is strewn with lack of dignity of labor, lack of education (tied to lack of money), lack of basic family planning. Five children in today’s day and age is a recipe for disaster even in developed worlds given the escalating commodity prices and education costs. Think about the strain on a laborer father. Finally USD 3000 reward to the family is all you need to hire Ajmal and young adolescents like him.


My comments may seem caustic or even combative. But what are we doing about this? Quite frankly I’m tired of listening to theories on how a strategic alliances between countries can end the “war of terror” – to which India has also been inducted!


You can only cure something if you know the root cause.

So “what is the root cause?”


I would love to hear your thoughts on this, please send me comments if you’d like.

14 Responses to “Ajmal Amir tells his story”

  1. Santosh C, Bellevue, WA Says:

    There are millions, if not billions, of people as impoverished as Ajmal. However, we don’t see them taking to arms as this pig did.

    Yes, there is lack of education, poverty and misery all over the world. Most people, however, manage to preserve their sense of decency in spite of the circumstances. I’m not questioning that we shouldn’t do anything to alleviate the poverty and misery.

    But please don’t insult the millions of decent, poor people by using poverty as an excuses for terrorists who fundamentally have lost all sense of humanity. When a dog goes rabid, it needs to be put down. That’s simply what has happened to Ajmal and his ilk, and what needs to be done.

  2. Premal Desai Says:

    Hi Santosh,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on post. And as I mentioned in the blog post I don’t deny that these folks have committed horrific acts and they should be punished. Neither is my intention to disrespect the rest of the poor and needy people who are working to make their ends meet. I’m only equating this to an epidemic – where lots and lots of people start falling sick, we find the root cause and then create a vaccine – and treat every infected person with that vaccine, we don’t simply go and get rid of masses of sick people. So with this analogy, what is the root cause is again a question I pose to you?

    I also wanted to draw your attention to the Milgram Experiment which was conducted at Yale University. It says “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”
    Is Ajmal a part of the experiment that folks at LeT are conducting on the world citizenry? If so, how can we stop Ajmal from being recruited into this experiment.

    Finally, the policy we employ to tackle this problem cannot simply be an armed response, it has to include the forming a “good society” in these impoverished places.

  3. Clement W Says:

    Premal –

    I have to say that I’m confused and don’t follow your logic. Frankly, I’d have to agree with Santosh’s comments and it is very much inexcusable to provide allowances that poverty or lack of education should in any way be considered mitigating factors for what he has done and does a tremendous disservice to the hard working poor who deserve in the very least respect. Poverty and the lack of opportunity isn’t a cause, it is a symptom of miserable governments.

    Terrorists are not typically poor or even uneducated:

    You state: “The social fabric is not even questioned when you can see from the story of Ajmal (and I call him by his name because he is just has human as you and me) that it is strewn with lack of dignity of labor, lack of education (tied to lack of money), lack of basic family planning. Five children in today’s day and age is a recipe for disaster even in developed worlds given the escalating commodity prices and education costs.” Then you point to the Milgram Experiment – which from your own link you can see later in the wiki post: “Generally, when the victim’s physical immediacy was increased, the participant’s compliance decreased. The participant’s compliance also decreased when the authority’s physical immediacy decreased”.

    Ajmal may, in fact, be human but clearly he has lost his humanity – and there is a difference. It has nothing to do with poor family planning, being poor or uneducated. Unless you’re an advocate of radical foreign policy and adventure, one must accept that people get the governments they deserve. It is however the role of governments like that of India to protect their citizens and guests within their borders.


  4. Santosh Chandwani, Bellevue, WA Says:

    Hey Premal bro,

    My primary disagreement on this is that we’re mixing what are essentially two separate problems. I have the utmost respect for the work done by many NGO’s on poverty alleviation and empowerment, and have supported/volunteered with many of them over the years.

    It is true that a lot of problems can be attributed to poverty, and any problem can be manipulated for subversive ends. Poverty is just one such – an immature media, a weak economy, an uneven democracy and corrupt bureaucracy are others. Criminals also take advantage of these problems – for instance, the mafia finds many of its bottom-feeding parasites from the poor; but just as much we find the rich turning to crime – just look at our politicians and some of our businessmen.

    The root cause for this terror is much simpler – evil and depravity of religion zealots and their ISI handlers. We continue to face challenges in dealing with this menace, since we are vulnerable without stronger institutions in fighting our enemies. Poverty alleviation is a measure to fight this menace since it makes us less vulnerable and gives us more resources to respond; an unbiased media, better democratic institutions and a less corrupt IAS/IPS would be other such measures.

    But these reforms are for the long term and will take years to take affect. In the meantime, the brunt of this tragedy is borne by the human toll of our less privileged. So in the near term, we must respond with force and extreme prejudice.

  5. Sneha Says:


    Thank you for your post. I actually agree with you in that I believe terrorism, particularly when coupled with a disregard for one’s own life, has it’s root causes in extreme poverty and lack of resources or dignity.

    I don’t disagree with Santosh in that some terrorists are educated and wealthy, but I think you’ll find that those are not the “rank and file” carrying out the horrible acts of destruction that we see in Mumbai, London, and so forth. The rank and file are usually recruited out of poverty because they see an opportunity to be fed, housed, clothed, trained; to belong and have a community of sorts; and to commit an act that they have been convinced is worth something, even if it means losing their own life in the process.

    I strongly believe that a good deal of the world’s terrorism could be combatted through measures to alleviate poverty and ignorance, measures to instill a sense of dignity and worth, and measures to provide the most likely candidates for terrorism with basic necessities such as housing, food, clean water and healthcare. In a case like that, terrorism becomes a less attractive alternative.

    I don’t believe I am paying any disrespect to the poor by saying this. There are poor people who do not resort to crime or terrorism. However, it’s much easier to resort to both when you are hungry and desparate.

  6. Premal Desai Says:

    Hi Clement,

    Thanks for your comments on my post. All of us are entitled to our own views so I will not agree or disagree with what you have to say.

    My intention, if it was unclear from my post was simply to highlight the fact that poverty is certainly one issue that is contributing to this problem in a big way. And like Sneha put it in her comment “Rank and file – are the people we need to go after with might and the people who execute the orders or these crimes may have to be looked at with a different lens – poverty is surely one of the lens and Ajmal’s story does highlight that”. And hence, I am advocating a radical foreign policy if you – the current policy of sending troops is not working in isolation!

    Finally, I am not sure what you meant by “people get the governments they deserve” – so if you can elaborate a bit, we can discuss that further. India can/will protect it’s people and guests, but this is not an India specific issue, it’s a global issue – India is just a recipient of the atrocities much like USA, London or Pakistan for that matter.


  7. Premal Desai Says:

    Hi Santosh,

    Once again thanks for responding to my post. The fact that you highlight multiple areas to address these issues is great. I am also suggesting that we look at this in a more strategic way – military is only one dimension of this strategy, povery alleviation should be the other. And to that point, I’d like to quote Sneha “The rank and file are usually recruited out of poverty”, we have to make it harder for the “religious zealots” to recruit people like Ajmal.


  8. Premal Desai Says:

    Hi Sneha,
    Thanks for your reply, you helped clarify my point further. And I agree, I am not disrespecting the poor in any way, I am only making a case to look at poverty alleviation even more closely than traditionally done.

    One thought that does come to mind is, how much of World Bank, UN and other such organizations collaborate when they look at poverty and terrorism?


  9. Clement W Says:

    Premal –

    Given your employ/work, I suspect we agree on the same prescriptive medicine for poverty – that is, markets. However, as the tired homily goes – we’re all entitled to our opinions but not to our own facts.

    You have drawn a relationship between terrorism and poverty that does not exist (see the actual studies on what makes a terrorist versus anecdotal evidence likely clouded by “the fog of war”) – and worse, as others have pointed out, does a tremendous disservice to the innumerable poor who strive to make the world a better place for their children and communities. I respect your passion for poverty alleviation but this is not the way to achieve it.

    As for governments that we deserve – I was referring more to Pakistan. To a certain degree, people are responsible for the governments who represent them – even when they are tyrants and despots. As another tired homily goes – all it takes for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing. I believe we do best to eradicate poverty by doing what organizations like Acumen Fund do – moving into transitional economies and giving examples of what the possibilities are – especially in alternative environments. By doing so, it creates pressure within such countries to change – or at least adopt limited changes – and China here is a good example in this and the massive amounts of wealth creation that came as a result.

    The alternative is to remove tyrannical governments by force and if we didn’t entrust the US to do it (which has taken quite some time to work), the alternative of an international agency like the UN is worse (who isn’t even able to manage itself). But again, to suggest the root cause is anything remotely close to poverty in itself which is in itself is also a symptom, does a tremendous disservice to the poor.


  10. Premal Desai Says:

    Hi Clement,

    As you say each one of us is entitled to our opinions, I would leave this topic by saying “let’s agree to disagree”. The fact that we disagree is good, it spurs discussion which is what I want to have but at a much broader level.

    And regarding China, US’s invasion of Iraq – I have my own views which unfortunately are quite the opposite of what you suggested…but this topic is not about China or US so I will leave it at that.

    Thanks again for following our blog, I’m sure you will find other threads being posted here also worth reading…so please keep the comments and discussions coming we really appreciate it.


  11. Nazneen Says:

    We humans are very warm at heart…If he would have been caught without harming anyone may be after some imprisonment. he could have let gone..I am a muslim by religion ,its sad to hear about this guys background but think for a moment if the dead were ur near one would you even read his stor??? i would have never im not bothered what he is and who he is..but no one except ALLAH has right to take the breath back who are we and for what are we fighting?? for kashmir or any material.. u said for 1.5 lacs he did this.. he would have done better work then killing ruthllessly .. cant think of hurting a insect even if u see a small ant walking on the ground or near ur leg would u kill. we wud nt .
    Janath or heaven is rewarded to humans for his deeds.. killing millions or hundreds u will go to Janath how many millions did Prophet kill or Christ kill??? Teach them proper lesson hindus ruling on muslims or vice versa mass murdering is not an attempt,, I wish My religion ISLAM could have won more hearts by spreading love in everyones heart.. nor fear or hatred.. im against killing.. or terrorism .Our prophet said love those hate u.. and we are here only for few years no one is immortal.. I do somesilly thing y shud my religion across world suffer…is this in Quran?
    so please let us stop terrorism.. and if any terrorists happens to read this I beg you please brothers let us live in peace.. you dont have to fight for anyone we have ALLAH still there he is not dead so please dont become ALLAH.. FOR US!!!

  12. Sophie Says:

    Along these lines …There is a good interview done yesterday morning by US alternative media program Democracy Now! with Arundhati Roy that highlights another root cause that has not been recently mentioned in other discussions and media.


    Check out:

    Arundhati Roy: 9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)

    As comparisons between the attacks in Mumbai and the September 11th attacks continue to be made, Indian officials unveiled a massive revamp of the country’s security and anti-terror infrastructure last week. I am joined now by someone who warns of the dangers of comparing the attacks in Mumbai to the attacks in New York : award-winning novelist, essayist and activist, Arundhati Roy. Her latest article is called “9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September).” It was published in India ‘s Outlook magazine, Britain ‘s Guardian newspaper, and on TomDispatch.com here in the United States .


  13. Tina Says:

    I dont speak big words like you people but i think Mr. Amir should be given another chance.We should really target the person who was behnd these attacks the main person. Its sad to see people 19- 25 years old to be in jail or killed when they should be in college having fun and being ready to become something normal.All of the 10 terrorist were brainwashed and they were thought the wrong meaning of Jehaad.I dont think a 21 year old should be given a death sentence hes hould get a jail sentence because killing him wont stop future terrorist attacks.In a recnet interview i have read the Mr.Amir is repenting for what he did.

  14. Shannon Berger Says:

    Heh I am literally the first comment to your amazing post!

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