PESHAWAR: Over a dozen teenagers who were being trained by militants in North Waziristan Agency have returned to their native village of Sheikhan on the outskirts of the city, on instruction from their ‘trainers’. While their families are delighted to see them, a fear lingers that the mindset of these boys may have been changed forever.
Elders tell The Express Tribune that around 25 boys, aged between 14 and 18, were taken from the village over the last five months, leaving their families in a state of despair. Half returned after the start of the military operation in NWA.
“These youngsters were recruited by the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and other militant agents whose volunteers regularly come to mosques and appeal for charity, in addition to brainwashing these boys,” says one of the elders. He adds that although JeM is banned, it continues to operate in the area, as the local police do not interfere with it.
“These teenagers were missing till the start of the military operation; only the occasional word on them would come from returning boys,” says the elder. “The anxious parents were told that their sons are well and are undergoing training at Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) camps in NWA.” He adds that the boys have been asked by their trainers to return home and wait for further instructions.
Suleman, whose 16-year-old son has returned from NWA, is glad to have him back but is terrified of what the future might hold for his boy.
“My son is now a militant and has been brainwashed completely. I am worried that law enforcement agencies could pick him up for interrogation,” he says. Although Suleman despises the idea of his son being used as a pawn in this so-called jihad, he says the families are too weak to protest.
“This outfit has been allowed to work under the cover of ‘mujahideen’ and recruits fresh blood for the TTP without drawing any attention,” says Suleman. “If we complain, the police say this is a game being played by the agencies.” He adds that while half the boys have returned, their favourite pastime now is either listening to jihadi poems or attending hujras.
Meanwhile, another elder believes the police have turned a blind eye to militant activities.
“There is more than one player in the area. Lashkar-e-Islam also takes youngsters away, but in smaller numbers. There were three boys of our village who were taken by LI and now fight for them,” he explains.
The elder says the trend of boys being recruited for the TTP emerged over the last six months.
“They initially brainwashed a batch of five boys, who went on to recruit more people for the banned organisation,” adds the elder. “Those lacking physical strength were sent back home, but most of the teenagers were strong enough. The youngsters are attracted to such a lifestyle as it is different from the mundane routine of school and relieves them of constant parental supervision.”