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Mullahs criticised for lurign young Pakistanis into battle

Mullahs criticised for lurign young Pakistanis into battle

Author: Kim Murphy, Talash, Pakistan
Publications: The Indian Express
Dated: December 5, 2001

Mohammed Youssef tried to stop it, first calling the local religious leader on the phone, then following his convoy of young jihad recruits into Afghanistan and confronting him in person. Don't take them, he said. They're just boys. They don't know how to fight. If it gets bad, they don't know how to run. "I personally talked to Sufi Mohammed twice and requested him not to go to Afghanistan with the large number of young people, all untrained," Youssef a 55-year-old veteran of the Afghan war with the Soviets, said over the weekend. "'Don't kill them,' I asked him. But he did not listen to me, and he refused." After the US-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan began eight weeks ago, young Pakistani men from all over the deeply religious border region were clamoring for the chance to fight with the Taliban. In this small farming village, more than 60 youths joined thousands of others who followed Sufi Mohammed, charismatic founder of the fundamentalist Movement for the Enforcement of the Laws of Muhammad, across the rugged frontier to take up arms.

A few weeks later, the Taliban was in substantial retreat, reports of Pakistani fighters being slaughtered were emerging, and Mohammed slipped quietly back across the border. Of the 60 jihadis who left with him from Talash, fewer than 25 have returned. "It's, a tragedy," said Shansur Rehman, whose 23-year-old son was confirmed dead near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The battle fervor that swept this region at the beginning of the war has largely evaporated, as thousands of foreign volunteer fighters - many of them Pakistani - were left in the gunsights while the Taliban slipped back into its native landscape or retreated to Kandahar. In these frontier communities, where the mullahs have always had more pull than the government, there is a deepening resentment of the religious leaders who called away so many young men to a certain death.

"They went to Afghanistan to fight Americans, and they ended up fighting their fellow Muslims," said Sher Zameen, whose uncle, a farmer with six children, left for Afghanistan without a gun. He hoped he'd get one when he arrived, Zameen said. Now he is missing.

"In the initial stages, people were emotional, and everyone wanted to go to Afghanistan to fight. But then when people heard about the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, people started feeling sick," said Faizal Hassan, whose father is missing in Afghanistan. More than 1500 Taliban fighters were killed in the Northern Alliance's siege of the city and, two weeks later, during a prison revolt, prompting calls for an international investigation of each incident. "Now, people are criticising Sufi Mohammed," Hassan said.

The intra-Muslim fighting that has occurred over the past several weeks in Afghanistan now threatens to spill into Pakistan. Limited clashes have already broken out between tribes that faced each other in Afghanistan, and several border communities have for the first time evicted Afghani refugees. Recriminations are spreading across the country. Commentators alternately blame the government, for allowing thousands of it's citizens to take up weapons and cross the border, and the Islamic political parties, whose call for jihad represented a direct challenge to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's pledge to aid the US war effort against the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda terrorism network.
 


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