Balakot assumes significance for Jehadi organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), for one important reason—the seeds of jihad were first sown here by a religious fanatic, Syed Ahmed Barelvi, who wanted to fight ‘infidels’ including the British and Indians.
Also known as Syed Ahmed Barelvi Shaheed by some historians, this early Jihadist started out as a cavalryman in the militia of Amir Khan in North India and worked for six years from 1811 to 1817. He got disillusioned with Amir Khan when the latter struck a compromise with the British for the right to rule over a small estate. This put paid to Syed Ahmed Barelvi's plans of building an Islamic state. In that sense, Barelvi is considered to be the ideological ancestor of later Jihadists like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar, who are said to draw inspiration from him. It is said that JeM named the terror camp in Balakot after him.
This setback proved to be a crucial development in the life of this Jihadist who went back to Delhi to his former teacher, Shah Abdul Aziz. When Syed Ahmed Barelvi told him of his plans and his commitment to the Islamic state under Sharia, Abdul Aziz urged him to dedicate himself to a Holy War or Jihad. Historians say that Syed Ahmed Barelvi is the first Islamic crusader in South Asia who decided to synthesize his military, religious and political objectives to attempt to create an Islamic State. He chose as his first target Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had expanded his kingdom to stretch towards Afghanistan becoming a major regional force in the process. Striking at Ranjit Singh would be a great victory, and would strengthen his cause, Syed Ahmed Barelvi reckoned.
Syed Ahmed Barelvi was determined to get Ranjit Singh out of the way. After taking up a Haj pilgrimage and staying in Mecca for two years, he started to mobilise forces and raise funds. It is believed that in a short period of time, his support increased to thousands of followers with the governor of Peshawar, Yar Mohammad throwing his weight behind him. Barelvi also attracted some leaders of the local Pashtun tribes and tried to establish a system of ulema (religious scholars) to preside over important issues and set up an Islamic system of taxation. However, his early attempts at creating a Jihadi network were largely unsuccessful.
In 1826, Syed Ahmed Barelvi and about a thousand of his followers took on the Sikh troops at Akora with no successful conclusion. In 1830, some of the local Pakhtun leaders supported him, but turned against him when he began to meddle in their socio-political structure without a proper understanding of the system. He was driven away and tried his luck in Kashmir driven by the same objective.
In 1831, Barelvi was killed by the Sikh Army in Balakot and beheaded. It is for this reason that Balakot, which was an important site in the life of Syed Ahmed Barelvi is considered a place of historical importance for militant and extremist networks like JeM, which has its terror training facility there and LeT.