Deen Pana hasn’t heard from her son in six years.
She believes her only boy went to fight with the Pakistani Taliban, dominated by the Mehsud clan to which her family belongs. Many in the militant group are believed to have fled South Waziristan late last year as the Army launched operations here and in other tribal areas.
Though they live in this longtime Taliban stronghold and may even count militants as relatives, Ms. Pana and other women here are hardly proud mothers of jihad. They don’t support the cause – instead, they fear for their sons going to war. Yet in a culture where women have little say – even within their families – there’s little they can do to prevent their sons from being radicalized.
“The role of these women in all this war ... is of silent sufferers,” says Moneeza Hashmi, a prominent media figure and woman’s right activist. “To have a say in that context of the tribal system is extremely challenging.”
When Ms. Pana’s son, Abdur Rehman, last visited in 2004, during a break from his religious schooling 20 miles away from their village of Jandola, “he told me to pack his fresh clothes – enough for few days of travel. He said he would be gone for tableegh,” a missionary trip of sorts.
“When he was gone, I waited for weeks and weeks, but he didn’t show up and nobody knew about the whereabouts of my son,” not even the head of his madrassah, or religious school, Pana continues. “My son was a cheerful boy, but then he became very aggressive, he wanted to go to jihad.”
Pana used to sell the milk from a herd of goats for income, with help from her son, but now only two animals remain. Now she shares her mud house in this deserted village with an elderly uncle, where they rely on savings. They are some of the few residents who didn’t flee when South Waziristan became a war zone between the Army and the Taliban last October.
Other women here disagree with the hard-line views espoused by the Taliban, but are afraid to condemn them.
On the edge of South Waziristan, in a village in neighboring Tank District, Gul Zai also worries about her eldest of six children growing too extreme through his madrassah. Ms. Zai’s family can afford to send 10-year-old Muawya to public school, but her husband and in-laws, who prefer him to get a free religious education, hold sway over the decision.
“When he was a little boy he wanted to eat candies and fruits, but now he says he doesn’t long for them, as heaven awaits him with all its virtues,” she says in a somber voice.