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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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American and Pakistani forces are against Islam, he was told. "Let’s prepare ourselves to fight and pray to Allah that we go to paradise by sacrificing our lives,” Khan says the Taliban commanders told them. The boys were warned not to talk with each other.

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'American spy!'

However, after a few days, while the boys were busy training, he says a humming sound suddenly echoed across the valley and they saw what were probably drones. “American jasoosi, American jasoosi [American spy, American spy],” Taliban commanders shouted.

“Stop your breath," Khan says they told him. "They catch the pulse of mujahideen and then kill them.” But it was too little, too late. When Khan and his friend Waqar regained consciousness, they were severely wounded and in a concrete house someplace he didn't recognize, surrounded by the Taliban fighters.

Khan says he was badly burned and Waqar had multiple fractures. Their four companions – the other madrasa students who accompanied them from Karachi to North Waziristan were not as lucky. For several days, Taliban provided treatment to Khan and his friend until they were able to hobble on their own.

Both were sent back to Karachi, but with warnings of dire consequences should they tell anyone what had happened to them. “Don’t you dare open your mouths. Otherwise, you will not only betray mujahideen but yourselves as well. We will all die,” Khan says a Taliban commander told them.

Future for a ticking bomb?

Back home in Karachi, Khan's mother, a Pashtun from the Swat district of Pakistan, was able to scrape together her savings to send him to Bright Children Academy in an effort to ensure a better future for him.

“We sent our kid to madrasa to learn the teachings of Koran but they [Taliban] turned him into a ticking bomb,” says Khan’s uncle Habib Ullah Khan.

Provincial Home Ministry official Sharfuddin Memon says Taliban recruitment at unregulated madrasas is a “grave concern,” admitting that the authorities have failed to introduce reforms to bring them into mainstream.

“We need to monitor and regulate those madrasas, which are breeding ground for holy warriors," he says. "The turf on which the war on terror is fought cannot be won unless we eliminate the overall jihadi culture prevailing in the country. It needs collective effort.”

Now what?

Meanwhile, these two former-suicide bombers recorded their statement against the militants under arrest before the judicial magistrate on Monday.

Police investigators are looking for the parents of the four boys who lost their lives in North Waziristan, to fight their case against the Taliban recruiter commander. If the parents agree to join the case, the militant recruiters may face the death penalty on the charges of murder and terrorism.

Though police investigators say Razzaq is believed to have issued warning to the boys during the past two years, both boys say they were no longer in touch with Razzaq. The boys are currently in police custody, and will be sent back to their homes soon, police investigators say.

Khan wants to leave his militant life behind him and pursue his future, but is finding it difficult.

“I have become restless and cannot sleep. When I look at the sky and twinkling stars, I feel that those will explode and tear my body apart. Then I hide myself like a kid on my mother’s lap by closing my eyes, thinking whether I be ever become engineer,” Khan says.

His friend Waqar, whose leg is still strapped with bandages, is looking ahead. “I want to become a cleric.”

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