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Jihad RECRUITMENT in Pakistan - From the DAWN

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    Jihad RECRUITMENT in Pakistan - From the DAWN

    By Zafar Samdani

    The other day I met a young man, an 18-year-old boy studying computer sciences who had recently flown over the cuckoo's nest. The teenager had developed an affinity with downtrodden Muslims by watching reports of their plight over television. That had emotionally charged and inspired him to make a contribution towards their redemption.

    The religiously inclined youth had occasion to listen to khutbas enumerating the importance of Jihad; there was no dearth of students of a similar frame he met in his educational institution or among boys his age he came in contact with. Some of them were linked with organizations claiming to be waging holy wars. Ultimately, he landed with one of them.

    His first passion was Chechnya. He was fascinated by the struggle of the Chechens for freedom and asked his parents' permission to join them. They did not condemn, even criticize him but tried to discuss things in an effort to widen his horizons. They stressed that he was too young to go in the battlefield and that there were other means of supporting the rights of oppressed Muslims. That was a few months back. They thought he had been persuaded out of his complex ideological, religious and intellectual infatuation. Apparently, he was only giving himself more time to mull over what was a challenge to him. Examinations were due and he concentrated on studies. The parents relaxed, believing that he had been weaned away from the passion, if not fully cured of it. He had merely deferred the decision for a while.

    After the exams, he approached the parents for permission to join the Jihad in occupied Kashmir. They were thunder-struck for a number of reasons. One: they had thought that the crisis was over. Two: he looked more determined than before. Three: Chechnya was far and away, a distant dream; the reality of Kashmir is concrete for every Pakistani. One can feel it, touch it. More frightening was the fact that he had established contact with a religious group with a reputation for recruiting volunteers for Jihad in occupied Kashmir. Indeed, he had been introduced to men who had participated in the holy struggle. They spurred his imagination. He was obviously looking at Jihad as means for identifying himself with Muslim history and its selfless warriors. Here, he felt, was a chance to do his duty by religion and join immortals of history.The parents argued with him all over again. They reminded him that Islam was not just Jihad. It placed emphasis on other tenets and other commitments no less. Nothing worked. The mother pleaded and even forbade him to join elements engaged in what was Jihad to him. Details of their discussions need not be repeated here; a reader can imagine the feelings of parents who felt they were about to lose a son in what they viewed as dubious battle. The cause of the downtrodden Kashmiris is dear to most people of Pakistan, but a majority does not look at armed struggle by Pakistanis as a solution and certainly does not think that individuals and organizations outside the government should handle the issue. In their opinion, the Kashmir policy of Pakistan should be determined and implemented only by the government.

    There can be no two opinions about the perceptions of average Pakistanis being different from those of religious political parties. All elections in the country, whatever they were otherwise worth, have clearly underlined a lack of trust in the majority of the population in these groups. Established political religious groups have been routed in every electoral outing. Organizations pledged to armed struggle in the name of Islam are post-Afghanistan conflict phenomenon and there is no reason to think that they have gained any kind of foothold in the masses. In all likelihood, the ground they occupy - if any, is more slippery than the land on which religious political groups set up their tents.

    The parents did not try to stop him by force, realizing that it could mean a total breakdown of understanding and communications. The three finally found a meeting point, not that it offered much consolation to the parents. The child said that he would not immediately join Jihad, but should be permitted to proceed for training; the parents agreed with a heavy heart. The mother wept in private; the father bore the parting bravely. The child embarked on his religious journey, the parents not knowing where he would be, who to contact if they wished to find out about his welfare. Indeed, they feared that his temporary trip could be permanent grief. Still, the solution left room for hope. They lived on it till he came back after about 10 days absence.

    He returned disillusioned. He has no idea of the exact location of the training camp. All he can recall is that he was in a mountainous terrain. The camp comprised about 200 young men, almost all of them semi-literate and representing low-income segments. They were trained on a variety of lethal, automatic modern weapons. Living conditions were awful and the group of young men setting out to revive the glory of Islam were ill-treated by camp management. Food was scarce, he felt, not for lack of means but due to stinginess of managers. They acted as if they were preparing them for hardship ahead but that, the young man said, was not the case. He had joined the camp during Ramazan. For Iftar, they were given one or two dates, sometime not even that. Mostly, they had to live and train on hungry stomachs. The only commodity in abundance was oratory on the theme of Jihad. He became angry in less than a week's time.

    Meanwhile, a foreign sponsor, he looked an Arab to the boy, came to the camp on an inspection visit. As the managers painted a rosy picture, the boy, educated and articulate, contradicted them and told the sponsor that information being fed to him was false; if he was financing the camp, he should know that the money was not being spent on the trainees, but going into the pockets of the managers. The visitor wanted to meet the boy in private. That upset the organizer's applecart. They wriggled out of the situation by terminating the meeting and taking the boy aside.

    He was threatened with dire consequences if he communicated with the visitor on the subject of conditions and treatment any further. At the same time, he was offered a bargain: he would be allowed to leave the camp if he kept quiet; but any thing could happen to him if he made another complaint. The young man agreed though by this time he knew that his hosts were not trustworthy people. During the night, he slipped away from the camp, walking a long distance in the cold and inhospitable terrain, changing clothes more than once. After trekking for miles, he reached a point where bus service was available. He boarded the first bus in sight and after changing a few buses, he reached home one night, shattered, disappointed, frustrated, angry, exhausted, pale and weak. His ordeal was over.

    But the ordeal of many young men like him continues. Young boys are reportedly being recruited for Jihad all over the country day after day. Their faith is exploited and unscrupulous salesmen of religious belief cash their idealism. Some of them lay down their lives for what they believe is a just, in fact holy cause. The society seems to have abandoned its responsibilities and the state - one wonders if the authorities really know what is happening. The possibility that they do and yet take no action against this usurpation of their role is a terrifying feeling.