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'Jihad Is My First Obligation'

'Jihad Is My First Obligation'

Author: Pamela Constable
Publication: Washington Post
Date: November 6, 2001

Batkhela, Pakistan, Nov. 5 -- Shahid Hussain, a bright and articulate man of 19, carries two plastic identification cards in his vest pocket. One is from a private college where he has studied science part time for the past two years in hopes of becoming a doctor.

The other card, of far more recent vintage, is his ticket to a very different fate. Issued Oct. 28 by the Movement for the Implementation of Islamic Law, it certifies that Hussain has vowed to follow the path of "sincerity, virtue, patience and unity," taken a brief training course in physical endurance and target shooting, and registered to fight an Islamic holy war in Afghanistan if the movement's leaders call on him to do so.

"I am a Muslim, so jihad is my first obligation. School and business are secondary," said Hussain, who sells metal trunks in this bustling town in Malakand Agency, a semi-autonomous tribal area in northwestern Pakistan. His shop is plastered with posters of Osama bin Laden, the accused terrorist who is a major target of the U.S.-led military assault in Afghanistan. Throughout Malakand, one of seven tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan that border Afghanistan, the fever of jihad has swept through virtually every town and village.

The militant mood seems to be growing daily as the Western military attack intensifies against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Islamic movement, which shelters bin Laden.During a two-day tour of the region, which is officially off-limits to foreigners, a Western journalist encountered a half-dozen anti-American rallies, convoys of pickup trucks headed for Afghanistan with donated supplies, and bin Laden posters displayed in produce markets and pasted on passenger buses and cargo trucks.

The Pakistani government has cut its long-standing ties with the Taliban and supports the Western anti-terrorism campaign. But the government's writ is virtually nonexistent in the tribal areas -- holdovers from British colonial days where heavily armed and fiercely independent tribes of the Pashtun ethnic group have their own police, laws and courts. Many people have close ethnic, family and business ties with Afghanistan, including a lucrative cross-border trade in untaxed and smuggled goods such as cars and appliances.

Islamic traditions are deeply conservative here, and pro-Taliban religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, the Sufi Mohammad movement and Jamiat-e-Ulema-i- Islami are extremely popular, with offices in many towns and tens of thousands of followers. In many markets throughout the region, booths have been set up to collect money and supplies for the Afghan cause. They are manned by followers of various militant Islamic groups, surrounded by well-wishers and decorated with posters of assault rifles and rocket launchers. Loudspeakers play lilting tapes of clerics chanting, "Long life to Taliban, long life to Osama, death to America."

In one village, hundreds of men marched through the streets Sunday, parading an effigy of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and protesting the house arrest of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, who was detained Saturday after giving a number of public speeches calling for Musharraf's overthrow.In Batkhela, several thousand men gathered around a truck at dusk to hear Islamic leaders denounce the United States and recite Arabic prayers for the success of the Taliban. The crowd shouted angrily at a visiting journalist, and nervous tribal militiamen insisted she leave the area immediately. There were no other women or foreigners in sight.

"People here are very emotional. Many of them fought with their Afghan brethren against the Russians, and they are trained to use military weapons. Now they are ready to fight against America," said Bakhtar Molani, a local elected official and member of Jamaat-e-Islami. "Most of the time they are peaceful and occupied with their cultivation, but when something endangers their religion, it awakens them."

Molani said his party does not favor a massive, armed pro-Taliban movement here and that Taliban officials have asked fighters to stay inside Pakistan until they are needed. But he said influential area clerics had issued fatwas, or religious orders, saying that joining the conflict is farz, or a religious duty."

A number of people from my village, ordinary farmers and small-businessmen, have already gone to Afghanistan," he said. "I argued against it, but jihad is a dream for Muslim youth, and when a maulvi [cleric] says you should go, it makes people ashamed if they refuse. The government can interfere, but it cannot stop them."

In another town, called Jalala, men in turbans and combat fatigues prepared a caravan of six heavily loaded pickup trucks to take clothing, bedding and money into Afghanistan. The men were from Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, a militant Islamic organization that was banned by the Musharraf government last month and has since gone underground in Pakistani cities.

"We have traveled to many villages in Malakand to collect help for the Taliban. Our Islamic brothers are in trouble, and everyone wants to help," said Rahim Khan, the convoy leader. "The Taliban have brought justice and security to Afghanistan. We want the same system here in Pakistan, and we want it in America, too."

The most radical pro-Taliban group here is the Sufi Mohammad organization, which has been aggressively promoting an armed cross-border movement in the past several weeks. Its followers also blockaded the Karakoram Highway, a major route to China, for nearly all of last week, placing large boulders in the road at spots where it winds through several tribal areas.

Mohammad, a radical Muslim cleric from the tribal areas, claims his movement has already sent 12,000 armed men into Afghanistan in the past month and that thousands more are prepared to join them. Fazlullah, one of his sons and aides, said in a telephone interview from the Dir tribal area that the group would attack anyone, including Pakistani security forces, who tried to prevent them from crossing the border.

"When America attacks Afghanistan, people want to gather their weapons and go for jihad. It is their obligation and no one can stop them," Fazlullah said. He said the volunteers were stopping in the Afghan city of Jalalabad for training with antiaircraft guns and rocket launchers. "America has done a cowardly act," he said. "When the ground troops come, the real war will begin and the world will see who the winner is."

"If the ground war starts, we will all shut down our shops and go," vowed Hussain, the science student, adding shyly that he hoped his parents would give him permission. "Every home here has many weapons, and even if we are martyred, we know we will not die. I was born in this town, but now I am an Afghan and I must do my duty."

There were also reports of armed marchers gathering in Swat, the semi-tribal region just north of Malakand. But police at a border checkpoint refused to allow a foreign journalist to enter Swat today, saying religious leaders there had warned that angry crowds would "shoot any foreigner."

Despite the atmosphere of mounting tension, some people in Batkhela and other tribal towns were eager to explain their feelings to a foreign journalist. Young men like Hussain seemed excited by the chance to join a holy war; older ones like Molani fondly recalled the exhilaration of youthful years spent combating Soviet troops in Afghanistan."

Those were my best days, fighting the Russians," confided Molani, a dignified politician of 36 who holds a degree in political science. "I believe America should seek a peaceful solution in Afghanistan and that all religions should be tolerant of each other. But if another superpower wants to fight us, I still remember how to use an antiaircraft gun."
 


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