Pakistani teen tells of his recruitment, training as suicide bomber
Arshad Khan is one of countless young boys recruited by a network of Taliban commanders. His story highlights the challenge ahead for Pakistani authorities in ending the war on terror.
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There are around 12,000 registered madrasas across Pakistan. The registered ones belonging to the Debandi school of thought work under their own educational board, known as Wafaq-ul Madaras Al Arabia Pakistan, with their own syllabus and examinations parallel to government educational system.Skip to next paragraph
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According to some estimates, there are around 1,700 registered small and big madrasas in Karachi and as many unregistered and unregulated ones. The madrasas also offer free boarding and lodging along with Islamic education for poor students coming from far-flung areas.
Razzaq himself had studied at a madrasa while he was in his teens and then worked in various madrasas doing petty jobs in the administration. He lived close to Khan's neighborhood and would regularly visit the same unregulated madrasa-cum-mosque where Khan studied.
Khan says he remembers Razzaq's charm well.
“I would start interacting with him almost every day at the madrasa,” says Khan. “He would tell me about the jihad, and hand over booklets glorifying mujahideen’s victories against infidels. Slowly and gradually, I got sucked into it and started believing that the biggest aim in life is jihad. Now I realize that it was wrong.”
He says he remembers the militant commander telling the madrasa boys that “everybody lives for worldly life, but those who choose to live for the hereafter are the most sacred.” It was exciting and radical and seemed to make sense at the time.
The closer he was getting to the Taliban local commander, the more he was drifting away from his usual lifestyle. “I stopped going to play football. My friends changed. I stopped asking for extra pocket money to play video games,” he recalls. The change in behavior infuriated his mother.
One day, Khan had an argument with her about focusing more on his studies at school and less on the madrasa. Fuming, Khan went to the madrasa that day in spite of his mother and sat in a corner to sulk.
'Let's go for a holy journey'
“Somebody tapped my shoulder saying ‘let’s go for a holy journey,’ ” says Khan. “It was him. ‘How can I leave my mother,’ I said. He replied ‘Let’s make your Allah happy, the sins of seven generations of your family be washed away.” And that was enough at that moment, Khan says.
The next morning, July 28, 2009, Khan was on his way to a terrorist training camp in North Waziristan.
When he boarded the bus, Razzaq introduced him to a group of five boys, including one other teen named Waqar. It took about a day to reach Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, and the group of boys spent the night at a small hotel.
“We drove in a four-wheel-drive pickup on hilly terrain and after a while were off-loaded. Then we walked for almost four hours in the plains surrounded by mountains,” Khan says. “The Taliban, armed with rocket launchers and Kalashanikovs, guided us throughout. Then we reached the area near Razmak valley on the borders of South Waziristan.”
Khan and other boys were taken inside a fortified compound on a hill. Taliban warriors greeted them with “Allah O Akber, Allah O Akber [God is great, God is great].”
'Ready to sacrifice' life
Khan says that it wasn't until Razzaq announced to the Taliban trainers that the boys were mujahideen, there to fight infidels and ready to sacrifice their lives, that it dawned on him what was going on. But by that time, there was no turning back.
“There were 30 to 40 boys. The trainer would wake us up before sunrise. After stretching and light exercise, he would make us climb up and down on the mountains.” After morning prayers, the training would start again. “Then to balance on a tightrope. They would teach us to assemble and disassemble Kalashanikovs; and the positioning and target shooting on the mountain; the handling of explosive devices.”
After afternoon prayers each day, he says another militant commander would deliver a lecture.