Umar Kundi was his parents' pride, an ambitious young man from a small town who made it to medical school in the big city. It seemed like a story of working-class success, living proof in unequal society that a telephone operator's son could become a doctor.
But things went wrong along the way. On campus Kundi fell in with a hard-line Islamic group. His degree did not get him a job, and he drifted in the urban crush of young people looking for work. Instead of healing the sick, Kundi went on to become one of Pakistan's most accomplished militants. Working under a handler from al-Qaida, he was part of a network that carried out some of the boldest attacks against the Pakistani state and its people last year, the police here say. Months of hunting him ended on February 19, when he was killed in a shootout with the police at the age of 29.
Kundi and members of his circle — educated strivers who come from the lower middle class — are part of a new generation that has made militant networks in Pakistan more sophisticated and deadly. Al-Qaida has harnessed their aimless ambition and anger at Pakistan's alliance with the United States, their generation's most electrifying enemy.
"These are guys who use Google Maps to plan their attacks," said a senior punjab province police official. "Their training is better than our national police academy."
Like Kundi, many came of age in the 1990s, when jihad was state policy and jihadi groups recruited openly in universities. Under the influence of al-Qaida, their energies have been redirected against Pakistan's own government and people. The issue is urgent. Pakistan is in the midst of a youth bulge, with over a million people a year pouring into the job market.Only a tiny fraction choose militancy, but acute joblessness exacerbates the risk.