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Af-Pak focus: Cave meeting with the militants

Arman Khan
3.05.2013  |  Tribal belt, Pakistan
Militants in Pakistan's Kurram Agency pray before cross the border to engage US forces. (Photo: Private)
Militants in Pakistan's Kurram Agency pray before cross the border to engage US forces. (Photo: Private)
Meeting the militants.
My phone rings and I take the call from a journalist colleague who supplies me with a requested number. It is the number of one Islam-uddin, a local militant who I hope will hook me up for an interview with a group of these young men who wage jihad against the international forces in Afghanistan. 
I call and he answers. WHAT KIND OF VOICE< TONE OF VOICE. At first he refuses to help, then seems to relent a little when I explain that as a journalist I wish to understand and then write about the motivation of young fighters and the hardships they endure. He finally agrees” “Yes, come, but alone.”
I reach the Karhano Market in Peshawar where I travel by bus for an hour to the Jamrood area of Khyber Agency. I call my contact, and he directs me further, until I reach the Ghunde area, where I finally meet 20-year-old Islam-uddin. 
At first glance he resembles an Army officer, with a commando sweater, fatigues and boots. Can you say a few words about the features of his face, long, wide, sharp nose, small eyes or whatever, He gives me a traditional cordial light hug and asks me if I had any difficulties on the way. I tell him no, barely managing to mask my extreme nervousness. Then we hop on Islam-uddin’s motorcycle and continue further into the highland HOW LONG DID THIS TAKE? where he leaves his bike BESIDE IT?, inside the wall??? at a madrassa. We proceed on foot for HOW MANY?? minutes, up a trail on a treeless red mountain, until we reach a large cave close to the border with Afghanistan. 
We enter, the sunlight reflecting past us on the rock walls, which bear some  POSTERS or ACTUAL PAINTINGS?? depicting Kalashnikov rifles and Jihadic exhortations written in Arabic. Then I see my interviewees, four more young men with long hair and rifles slung over their shoulders, silently sat waiting for me. I greet them, “Salam”  and they stand and shake my hand. First I introduce myself as a journalist working on cross border issues, keen to know about their motivation and the hardships of the life they have chosen. We do the introductions.   
To my right, 18-year-old Umar Inqilabi, from Bajaur Agency stands, rifle slung over his shoulder and long silky hair pinned under small cap. Beside him stands 17-year-old Qari Hussain Ahmad, from Landi Kotal, also with long hair and a small beard that accentuate the intensity of his gaze, his rifle held in his hands. 18- year old Qari Ahmad Hussain, from South Waziristan, sits beside him, eyes bloodshot as he cleans his rifle intently. Beside Islam-uddin, whi is from the Ghunde area of Khyber Agency, stands the leader of the group, 30-year-old Qari Abu Muhammad, long black hair, eye rims blackened with kohl, also with a rifle and hefting a 30-bore pistol in his hand. He tells me that he preaches the literature of Jihad to the group, as well as visiting the mosques and madrassas of the area to motivate other youths to wage Jihad.
I hasten to explain my visit, conscious that five sets of eyes are boring into me, seemingly trying to work out if I am a spy. My fear is pronounced, especially as I see their hands playing over their weapons, and all the while I am wondering if the Pakistani military or even US special forces can attack this cave at any time.
The militants say they belong to the Albadar Mujaheeden movement, and are also affiliated with the Emarat-e-Islami organization. Inqilabi is the first to tell his story. He says he has been on two operations in Afghanistan and once in Kashmir. “It is through the verses of the Holy Quran that Islam teaches us to fight against the enemy, and it is our duty to take part in Jihad.”
“When first I read out the verse of Holy Quran in which the Muslims were said to fight for the name of God against the enemy of Islam, it became my will to sacrifice myself in the way of God” Inqilabi added. “I would be very happy to martyred in the Jihad against the US forces and in pursuit of this goal I will again go to wage Jihad in Afghanistan,” he said, breathless and full of longing. .
The youngest member of the group, 17- year old Qari Ahmad Hussain, speaks up. “I was studying in Metric WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?? when a friend came to me and asked, ‘If you want to give your blood for God and make your heaven (Jannat) peacefully after death, then take part in Jihad with us against the US forces who attack our neighbooring country and killing our innocent people,” said the youth, his voice loud and eyes flashign with anger. He took his leave from his family, telling his mother he was going for Tablegh (the men who motivate people on the right way of God). “We went to Kashmir where we did 40 days training in Albadar Mujaheeden camp, and after that they sent us from Waziristan in a group of 40 to fight US-led forces in Paktika Province.”
He pauses, and adds. “When I returned from Jihad my mother asked me where I’d been. I said ‘in the way of God,’ and then she kissed me and said “I never want to lose you”. 
18-year-old Qari  Hamza, from South Waziristan said he had close ties with the Jihad because his brother ??THE ORIGINAL SAID UNCLE, AND THEN BROTHER, WHICH IS IT?? was also martyred fighting US forces. “Every home in the area must donate one son to the Jihad,“ he said. “My elder brother Omama was martyred in Afghanistan while fighting against the US forces,” he said, adding that he has since married his brother’s wife and looks after her two sons. In contrast to other members of the group, Hamza is very calm and concentrated as he answers my questions. But he leaves no doubt as to his seriousness, telling me very clearly that I will be in trouble if I reveal their location and real names. 
The leader of the group, 30- year old Qari Abu Muhammad said he took part in many engagements with US forces and killed plenty. “Now I am tired and I want to motivate the youth to fight the enemy of Islam as our religion teaches us to fight those who snatch your country from you,” he said, his eyes lighting up with anger, and suddenly focusing the discussion on me. 
“Why were you people sleeping when the US forces attacked our neighbours’ country?” he demands. “The day would come when they also attacked our country Pakistan, if we did not force them to leave Afghanistan, just as the Soviet forces had to. Why as an able-bodied youth you do not sacrifice your body for Jihad?” 
As for their funding, he says they collect funds from Juma prayers ?can you briefly explain what this is?????? as well as fund-raising trips to different areas. “Jihad will  continue while the world remains, we will never allow our enemy to  succeed, and for this purpose we are ready to sacrifice our self any time,” Muhammad concludes with a long sigh. 
The meeting comes to an abrupt halt, because the group is on its way to preach Jihad at a near village. AS we exit the cave, Qari Abu Muhammad offer me a Kalashnikov to fire, but when I pilitely decline, he instead fires shots into the air, shouting “Long live Jihad, long live Pakistan” The other members of the group brandish their rifles in the air and shout “Allah- ho- Akber”. We walk for 30 minutes, and suddenly a four- wheel drive jeep pulls up, they jump in and are gone. I return to Peshawar by bus.  

In a city in northwest Pakistan. My phone rings and I take the call from a journalist colleague who supplies me with a requested number. It is the number of one Islam-uddin, a local militant who I hope will hook me up for an interview with a group of these young men who wage jihad against the international forces in Afghanistan. 

I call and he answers, his voice curt and impatient. At first he refuses to help, then seems to relent a little when I explain that as a journalist I wish to understand and then write about the motivation of young fighters and the hardships they endure. He finally agrees” “Yes, come, but alone.”

I reach the market from where I travel by bus to the Khyber Agency. I call my contact, and he directs me further, until I reach the rendezvous point with 20-year-old Islam-uddin. At first glance he resembles an Army officer, a distinguished black beard set against a commando sweater, and fatigues, but with sports shoes on his feet.. He gives me a traditional cordial light hug and asks me if I had any difficulties on the way. I tell him no, barely managing to mask my extreme nervousness. Then we hop on Islam-uddin’s motorcycle and continue further into the highland.

We dismount and he stands his bike beside a madrassa. We then walk another hour on trails up and down treeless mountains covered in red sand before we reach our goal, a large cave close to the border with Afghanistan. We enter, the sunlight reflecting past us on the rock walls, which bear some posters depicting Kalashnikov rifles and Jihadic exhortations written in Arabic.

Then I see my interviewees, four more young men with long hair and rifles slung over their shoulders, silently sat waiting for me. I greet them, “Salam”  and they stand and shake my hand. First I introduce myself as a journalist working on cross border issues, keen to know about their motivation and the hardships of the life they have chosen. We do the introductions.

Young, fired up, and ready to fire 

To my right, 18-year-old Umar Inqilabi, from Bajaur Agency stands, rifle slung over his shoulder and long silky hair pinned under small cap. Beside him stands 17-year-old Qari Hussain Ahmad, from Landi Kotal, also with long hair and a small beard that accentuate the intensity of his gaze, his rifle held in his hands. 18- year old Qari Ahmad Hussain, from South Waziristan, sits beside him, eyes bloodshot as he cleans his rifle intently.

Beside Islam-uddin, who is from the Ghunde area of Khyber Agency, stands the leader of the group, 30-year-old Qari Abu Muhammad, long black hair, eye rims blackened with kohl, also with a rifle and hefting a 30-bore pistol in his hand. He tells me that he preaches the literature of Jihad to the group, as well as visiting the mosques and madrassas of the area to motivate other youths to wage Jihad.

Eyes on the border. A US sentry mans a heavy machine-gun on a key insurgent infiltration route between Pakistan and Khost Province. (Photo: Nick Allen)

I hasten to explain my visit, conscious that five sets of eyes are boring into me, seemingly trying to work out if I am a spy. My fear is pronounced, especially as I see their hands playing over their weapons, and all the while I am wondering if the Pakistani military or even US special forces can attack this cave at any time.

The militants say they belong to the Albadar Mujahedin movement, and are also affiliated with the Emarat-e-Islami organization. Inqilabi is the first to tell his story. He says he has been on two operations in Afghanistan and once in Kashmir.

“It is through the verses of the Holy Quran that Islam teaches us to fight against the enemy, and it is our duty to take part in Jihad. When first I read out the verse of Holy Quran in which the Muslims were said to fight for the name of God against the enemy of Islam, it became my will to sacrifice myself in the way of God” Inqilabi added. “I would be very happy to martyred in the Jihad against the US forces and in pursuit of this goal I will again go to wage Jihad in Afghanistan,” he said, breathlessly and full of longing.

The youngest member of the group, 17- year-old Qari Ahmad Hussain, speaks up. “I was studying in the tenth grade when a friend came to me and asked, ‘If you want to give your blood for God and make your passage into the peace of heaven after death, then take part in Jihad with us against the US forces who attack our neighbouring country and kill our innocent people,” said the youth loudly, his eyes flashing with anger.

He took his leave from his family, telling his mother he was going for Tablegh (to those who motivate people on God's path). “We went to Kashmir where we did 40 days training in Albadar Mujahedin camp, and after that they sent us from Waziristan in a group of 40 to fight US-led forces in Paktika Province.”

He pauses, and adds. “When I returned from Jihad my mother asked me where I’d been. I said ‘in the way of God,’ and then she kissed me and said “I never want to lose you”. 

Conscription and blood feuds

18-year-old Qari Hamza, from South Waziristan said he had close ties with the Jihad because his brother died fighting US forces. “Every home in the area must donate one son to the Jihad,“ he said. “My elder brother Omama was martyred in Afghanistan while fighting the Americans,” he said, adding that he has since married his brother’s wife and looks after her two sons.

As long as this sight remains in Afghanistan, fighters like Qari Abu Mohammad vow to wage their struggle. (Photo: Nick Allen)

In contrast to other members of the group, Hamza is very calm and concentrated as he answers my questions. But he leaves no doubt as to his seriousness, telling me very clearly that I will be in trouble if I reveal their location and real names. 

The leader of the group, 30-year-old Qari Abu Mohammad said he took part in many engagements with US forces and claims to have killed US soldiers. “Now I am tired and I want to motivate the youth to fight the enemy of Islam as our religion teaches us to fight those who snatch your country from you,” he said, his eyes lighting up with anger, and suddenly focusing the discussion on me. 

“Why were you people sleeping when the US forces attacked our neighbours’ country?” he demands. “The day would come when they also attacked our country Pakistan, if we did not force them to leave Afghanistan, just as the Soviet forces had to. Why as an able-bodied youth you do not sacrifice your body for Jihad?” 

As for their funding, he says they collect funds at the Friday afternoon Juma prayers and during fund-raising trips to different areas. “Jihad will  continue while the world remains, we will never allow our enemy to  succeed, and for this purpose we are ready to sacrifice our self any time,” the group's leader says heavily in conclusion. 

Parting company

The meeting comes to an abrupt halt, because the group is on its way to preach Jihad at a near village. As we exit the cave, Qari Abu Muhammad offers me a Kalashnikov to fire, but when I pilitely decline, he instead fires shots into the air, shouting “Long live Jihad.”

The others also brandish their rifles in the air and shout “Allah hu Akbar” before we set off. We walk for 30 minutes, and suddenly a four- wheel drive jeep pulls up, they jump in and are gone, leaving me to return to the city by bus.  

Some names were changed in this story for security reasons