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'Jehad turns sour for Pak volunteers'

'Jehad turns sour for Pak volunteers'

Author: Cecile Feuillatre
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 24, 2001

They left Pakistan with their heads held high to fight a holy war with their Taliban "brothers" in Afghanistan, only to return without having fired a shot and with a deep sense of betrayal.

Thousands of Pakistani tribal volunteers, outraged by the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan, crossed the border in late October at the behest of their leader, Soofi Mohammad, head of the radical Islamic organisation, Tehreek Nifaz- e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM).

Despite repeated Taliban assurances that they were not needed and should remain where they were, waves of ethnic Pashtun volunteers from the tribal zones of northwest Pakistan crossed the border to defend the hardline Islamic regime against the U.S.-led "coalition of infidels."

According to sources here, a sizeable number of volunteers were killed, especially in fighting over the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Shrif and around 2,000 have been listed as missing. The remainder simply drifted back into Pakistan.

"I crossed the border with around 450 others," said Bakht Wali, a 50-year-old farmer, whose frail physique and quiet demeanor hardly mark him out as a guerrilla fighter.

Wali and his fellow jehadis stayed a few days in Jalalabad before moving on to Kabul. "The Taliban split us up and despatched us to various front lines," said Mr Wali, who ended up facing the advancing forces of the Northern Alliance just north of Kabul.

Mr Wali brought his own gun and insists he received no payment for his decision to fight alongside the Taliban - a claim backed up by fellow volunteer Fazel Mohammad. "We weren't mercenaries. We weren't paid. We just went to do our duty," Mr Mohammad said.

But, for Mr Wali at least, the reality of battle proved to be a far cry from the glorious holy war he had envisaged.

"In our line, there were only Pakistanis. We had nothing but our Kalashnikovs, while the Northern Alliance had heavy artillery, mortars and tanks," Mr Wali said. "One night, we simply decided to pack it in. I never fired a shot."

Mr Wali was also disillusioned by the Taliban troops he encountered. "There weren't really any sincere or devout Muslim" he said. "Many of them were just pretending to be Taliban, and I got the impression that the real Taliban were few and far between."

Mr Wali admitted to feeling 'betrayed' by people "whose actions never met up to their words."

Despite their scepticism, both Mr Wali and Mr Mohammad remain loyal to the Taliban's stated dream of creating a "pure" Islamic state and say they would be willing to return to Afghanistan and keep the jehad alive.

"This is only a temporary defeat," Mr Wali said. "I feel ashamed to have come back like I did, but I know there is nothing better than to die for the cause of jehad."

The TNSM remains a potent force in tribal areas, despite the fact that Soofi Mohammad was arrested three days ago and sentenced to three years in jail for reentering Pakistan without legal documents and with "unlicensed weapons." (AFP)

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