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Confessions of a Failed Jihādī
Syed Saleem Shahzad

He was always considered extraordinary. He was an excellent pupil, a good cricketer, a natural student leader, and a popular teacher in the medical career that he chose to pursue.

Then he decided on a radical change in direction. He would become a jihādī, undergo a six-month training program, and then die as a martyr in the Kashmir valley.

On the journey toward the ultimate sacrifice of his life, though, his views underwent another radical change, and what had appeared as reality became an illusion as the bitter realization hit home of how cheap life is in the military games that Pakistan and India play.

By the time this revelation occurred, our talented character had already risen to the position of a top Pakistani jihādī commander. Now he spends most of his time sitting at home in front of a computer screen, working as a medical researcher for a Canadian company.

‘You know, the military establishment is flourishing on our revenues. It has consumed our resources, and now it aims to consume the whole of our society in the name of jihād. My problem is, we spend so much of our national budgetary resources on our army, yet it sends young civilian lads to fight in the occupied valley [of Kashmir]. Why don’t they wage this ‘jihād’ themselves, for which they get fat salaries and dozens of other benefits which a civilian cannot even dream of?’

These words were spoken softly by a man with a long beard in the former Karachi offices of the banned Lashkar-i-Tayyibah, one of the most active militant groups in Kashmir. The blunt sentiments caught the few other people in the room by surprise, causing the man with the long beard to laugh, and comment that perhaps such words should not echo ‘in these four walls’. The encounter ended with an exchange of business cards. Subsequently, after several telephone calls, the bearded one agreed to meet Asia Times Online in a local restaurant.

Dr Ahmed (not his real name) turned out to be a famous name in the student politics of the city in the late 1980s.

‘I am a medical researcher and I graduated from the prestigious Dow Medical College [DMC] in Karachi. [President] Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made the college his main political field as the National Students’ Federation [NSF] was the main force behind his socialist agenda, and his phrase ‘I always keep my eyes on the DMC’s cafeteria to know the real pulse of national politics’ has become part of local folklore.

‘Now, as our army does not want thinking minds in the country, it has had that cafeteria demolished so that no brain-storming debates on politics are possible on campus. The DMC used to be the main playing field of left-wing students, but by the mid-70s, when the Islāmī Jamī‘at-i-Talabah [IJT] won the elections, like they did everywhere, the largest English daily of the country ran the headline ‘Socialism is defeated in Moscow’. How serious and ideological the political roots used to be in Karachi; now everything is changed. Student unions are banned. There is an all-out attempt to keep original thinking to a minimum. Now, after receiving education from the most enlightened academy of the country, the students do not fit into society, and they make their way to the US. Whether they belonged to the IJT or the NSF, they get Green Cards or US nationality and work in the US hospitals. These dictatorial regimes in fact are the real reason for the brain drain! especially from Karachi.’ Following are some of the questions posed to Dr Ahmad.

Q: How did your life change?

A: I come from a Salafī [Wahābī] family so I was a practicing Muslim to some extent. After completing my medical education I joined a college where I taught. I came close to a few Salafī scholars whose appeal for jihād inspired me. I prepared a program of six months under which I would go to Kashmir and sacrifice my life in the way of Allah.


Q: So what happened then?

A: Since I was the most qualified person among my group of jihādīs, I was soon elevated to the position of provincial commander of Sind province, where my work was to recruit new people for jihād. I was also taken to the base camp in Pakistani Kashmir for briefings and exposure to jihādī activities. I am still a committed person in terms of the Islamic cause, but that exposure was enough to bring me back from illusions to reality.


Q: Could you please elaborate?

A: You are a journalist and roam all around among jihādīs and meet people from top to bottom. Have you ever noticed that though Karachi has the largest presence among jihādīs, most of them actually come from the rural areas of Punjab? The recruitment of Karachites is strictly discouraged in jihādī outfits. You know why? Because an urbanite will not follow instructions blindly, and the army establishment needs jihādīs with below-average intelligence. It was, I think, in 2002 that I was sitting in the Azad Kashmir base camp where a brigadier was giving a briefing on strategy. The brigadier said that a 500-member suicide squad was the need of the hour as India was set to attack.

So I asked the brigadier to please explain to me why India would attack Pakistan. He said that since Pakistan supported the freedom struggle in Kashmir, which had ‘wrecked the nerves of the Indians’, retaliation was expected at any time. I argued that this is what Pakistan had been doing for more than a decade, so what was new at this point of time that India would suddenly need to attack Pakistan, especially at a time when both countries had nuclear arms? The brigadier then replied that the United States wanted to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and when this happened, India would attack Pakistan. I laughed and said, then perhaps you have chosen the wrong enemy - you should shoot the Americans first and kick their bases out from our land. My conversation irritated the brigadier, so he terminated the briefing and left a note that ‘next time I do not want to see this gentleman’.

The next few days in the camp were even more of a strain on my conscience. A batch of teenagers from different, remote, rural places arrived. They were given initial training and were set to launch into the Indian-occupied Kashmir valley. But the field commander of the Lashkar-i-Tayyibah sent a message that an Indian army unit was on patrol in the area. The Pakistani colonel in charge nevertheless forced the youths to cross the border as he had to report back to his superiors. So despite the objections of the field commander, the youths had to go. They immediately came under siege by the Indian patrol, and many were shot dead.

The innocent faces of those young lads remained in my mind for several days. I questioned myself, should they deserve that? Did they really sacrifice their lives for Allah? For jihād? No! My mind and heart said that they were killed in the military game of two armies on both sides of the divide. I have three small kids. I questioned myself, should I send my children to Kashmir after seeing all this? My heart and brain both said no. I thought, why should I recruit other people’s children to become the cannon fodder of this military game?

I know deep in my soul how parents nurture a human life. How a child grows, learns to walk and run, and becomes a full-grown man. And then, in a matter of hours, he is sent into an obvious death trap just because a bloody officer had to report back to his senior that on India’s day of independence an operation was launched into the Kashmir valley.

A few other demonstrations of this kind forced me to go back to Karachi, but little did I know that more mental trauma awaited me there. A Lashkar-i-Tayyibah worker was arrested for alleged transportation of al-Qā‘idah members. Later, the charges proved to be wrong. But before that, from his cell phone address book, my name was recovered. More than 600 members of the law enforcement agencies in the presence of US FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] agents raided my residence. I did not know where I was being dragged. I have pride in having received education from a most prestigious academy, with the distinction of working as a teacher. Now I was subjected to kicks and slaps from ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] agents in front of my wife, father and children. This completely shattered my pride and punctured my ego and self-respect.

I was detained in an unknown place without trial. After a few days an officer came to me and without a single word of apology or excuse informed me that the whole episode was the result of misunderstanding. I was blindfolded again and left in the middle of a deserted place, without a single penny in my pocket. I traveled several miles on foot to reach my home. I later met the chief of the Lashkar-i-Tayyibah, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, and narrated the whole story. He advised patience. I protested and said that if you want to serve this army, you are welcome, but I am not ready to serve them. That was the last day I worked as a Lashkar commander.’


Q: So you abandoned your cause?

A: This is a matter of heart and soul and cannot be given up. Do not get me wrong, I am committed to my cause, but cannot be cannon fodder for a simple ‘military game’ of two armies. Have you seen a horse and cart? The horse’s owner puts leather blinkers close to its eyes so that it can only see what its master wants it to see, not look here or there. This is how the Pakistani army treats jihādī organizations. This is possible with animals, but not with a walking, talking and thinking human being.


Courtesy: Asia Times Online

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