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The missing young people

Families of boys and young men lured into ‘jihad’ by recruiters have suffered mostly in silence

The missing young people

The distraught parents of a 14-year old boy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been running from pillar to post for the last several months to secure his freedom from the clutches of militants.

They have had no luck until now, but are refusing to give up. The family is in a hurry lest the boy is brainwashed into committing a suicide attack. Young boys are preferred to undertake suicide missions as they are highly impressionable and are easy to manipulate. Still the elderly couple remains hopeful their son would return home one day to put an end to their suffering.

This isn’t the only teenager who abandoned his family and ventured into an unknown world after being lured by recruiters in the name of ‘jihad’ and martyrdom. Such stories are repeated in one place or the other, mostly in conflict-hit Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many teenagers who took this dangerous path are already dead while others are preparing to die but not before killing as many ‘enemies’ as possible.

In the case of teenager Fawad (name changed), his transformation from a talented student to a gun-wielding militant is interesting. His family claimed he was intelligent and hardworking and was among the top students of his class. His poor father had invested everything in educating his children and it was paying because a few of his sons were already gainfully employed. His youngest son’s mistake, or call it adventurism fuelled by immaturity, is now threatening to destroy his dreams of a better future for his family.

Fawad decided one day late last year to head for Afghanistan instead of school. He couldn’t have done this alone as he had never been to Afghanistan and needed guidance to make the journey to a specific place in the eastern Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan’s Khyber and Mohmand tribal agencies to meet up with the militants. His handlers would have facilitated his journey and ensured that he made it unhindered to the militants’ mountainous hideouts.

From different accounts, one can gather that Fawad developed the belief that whatever he was doing was Allah’s calling. He was a bright student at school, but this didn’t stop him from undertaking a dangerous career as a fighter for an outlawed Pakistani militant group. His story is ongoing and incomplete as his family is determined to bring him home, but his recruiters are apparently working overtime to turn him into a fighter, or better still, a suicide bomber or “fidayee” as they refer to such bombers.

One is aware of similar stories from other places.

The family of a young man from Mardan district who joined the Afghan Taliban a few years ago and blew himself up in Afghanistan in an attack on Afghan and foreign forces some years ago is still unable to forget that painful memory. For a while the family was proud of his sacrifice as it considered him a martyr who gave his life fighting ‘infidels’ occupying Afghanistan. However, the doings of the militants bombing public places and killing innocent people in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years has made some of the family members rethink the issue as such acts are indefensible. They are now ready to ask questions and seek answers.

Though still convinced that his brother offered the ultimate sacrifice fighting foreign occupying forces that came from far away to Afghanistan to oust the hostile Taliban regime and install a government of its choice, a family member vented his anger against the recruiters who led the young man on the garden path and persuaded him to lay down his life for their cause.

One also is unable to forget the middle-aged couple from Rawalpindi that frequently comes to Peshawar and other places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to meet people who could help it in the search for their missing young son. The couple finally traced him to a place in Afghanistan, but soon lost his trail and is now uncertain about his whereabouts and fate. The religious-minded young man was last reported to be with another Pakistani militant group in Nangarhar province, but the family is still insisting that he didn’t go of his own accord and was either misled or kidnapped.

Whatever the reason, the pain that the couple is experiencing is visible in their sad eyes and hesitant speech. As they noted, their suffering would continue until their son returns home or is confirmed dead. The uncertainty about his fate is causing the family constant pain and untold suffering.

It was heart-rending to witness old men from places such as Rahimyar Khan, Rajanpur, Layyah, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat and Karachi deciding over the years to make the risky journey to Afghanistan or nearer home to Bajaur and Waziristan to locate their missing sons. This has been going on for years from the time of the Afghan ‘jihad’ in the 1980s to the present as innumerable young men have made the journey to the conflict zones to train and fight alongside the Afghan mujahideen and Taliban fighters. Thousands of Pakistanis took part in the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Red Army and the Afghan communist regime and many more joined the ranks of the Taliban to continue the fight.

These battle-hardened men also had families that were helpless in stopping them and then mourned their death. Such families aren’t widely known beyond their neighbourhood and villages and most Pakistanis remain unaware of their suffering.

It was late 2001 when Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the head of the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) in Malakand division, inspired several thousands of his black-turbaned followers to accompany him to Afghanistan to join the Afghan Taliban in resisting the US-led invasion of the country. Ill-equipped and poorly trained Pakistanis from Swat and rest of Malakand division responded to his call and reached Bajaur to cross over to Afghanistan to join the fight. Most of them including Sufi Mohammad managed to return home after the fall of Taliban regime in December 2001, but many became a fodder of the war or were captured.

It was a misadventure and the unexplainable aspect of the issue was the lack of any effort by the Pakistan government to stop its citizens entering another country to become part of the war that pitted Afghans against each other. Some of those Pakistanis were listed as missing as no confirmation was received if they were dead or alive. For years, their families grieved for them while being in a state of uncertainty about their fate.

Such tragedies have taken place in numerous places in Pakistan, but the families have suffered mostly in silence and remain largely unknown.

Rahimullah Yusufzai

rahimullah yusufzai
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]

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