Tales From The Dark Side: How This 13 Year Old Almost Became A Jihadi To Die For His Country

By Ali Ahsan | 16 Dec, 2016

This is part of our series, “Tales from The Dark Side”, about the deepest, darkest, harshest realities of Pakistani society that should serve as lessons.

We’re seated in a dimly lit rectangular room, smoke permeates through the air making it seem somewhat melancholy. I guess that’s only fitting given the topic I’m here to talk to Gauher about. It’s obvious he doesn’t spend much time in here, there’s a mattress in the corner of the room with untidy sheets; not the kind of room advertised for a DHA residence. He pauses the video game he’s been playing and offers me a drink (obviously, non-alcoholic).

It’s funny how different words conjure up mental images; looking at Gauher smiling invitingly at his guest, you wouldn’t think he almost became a jihadi.

 

It was 1996, he was 13 at the time and enrolled in Class 9 at an elite boarding school for boys in Lahore.

gauher2

 

There are two protagonists in this part of the story, I’ve already introduced Gauher. The other is his former Islamiyat teacher who’s name he doesn’t reveal, maybe out of respect? So I’ll just call him Mr. L (feel free to take a guess as to what the L stands for). From what Gauher described in an essay recently on Dawn, Mr. L was a ‘stocky man with a flowing orange beard, always dressed in a spotless white shalwar kameez and a black waistcoat.’ He enjoyed making fun of Sufism and ostracizing Shias; Ahmedis, Christians, Jews weren’t even worth discussing. For him, Wahabism was the way to go.

Mr. L would tell stories of Janaat, where men could enjoy the olive skinned, voluptuous women who would make them cum at the very site of their beauty.

classroom-pakistan
Source: unhcr.org

Kind of makes you wonder why on earth an ‘Islamic’ teacher was talking to 13 year old boys about women, doesn’t it?

But the most important detail about his former ‘educator’ is that he was a former Mujahid who had fought against the Soviets. During what was supposed to be class, Mr. L would often tell tales of his days fighting, of cutting off people’s heads, of shooting up heroin so they wouldn’t get hungry or thirsty and could run from mountain to mountain killing Soviets without the fear of death.

Gauher tells all this to me very, casually, like it’s no big deal. Meanwhile I’m sitting there, eyes popping, and just wondering, “holy shit, some crazy heroin shooting guerrilla soldier was teaching religion to a bunch of impressionable kids.” Which makes you wonder how far reaching these fundamental outfits really are.

 

Turns out, the syllabus was never really taught and the classes were mostly radicalization lectures.

madrassa-class
Source: indiatoday.in

When he thought back to what was happening, Gauher realized that Mr.L’s way of teaching was very much in line with our radical organizations, through the use of neuro-lingual programming (NLP). Gauher tells me that the messaging was sort of like a template because these radicals wanted to spread their deluded version of jihad and essentially make more pawns globally.

There’s something that I keep wondering. How could an individual such as Mr. L be allowed by a private institution to teach young adults and how no one had realized the sort of stories he was spreading within a supposedly elite educational institution? Turns out, this sort of ideology wasn’t necessarily frowned upon at that time. But why?

 

Brief overview of political environment at the time to understand how messed up things were:

The year was 1996 and talk of insurgency against India in Kashmir was very popular. So basically, talk of jihad was popular because it was against India. If you turned on the television, you’d see news talking about how many freedom fighters had embraced martyrdom and how horrendous the Indian Army was (quite like what you see on TV now, interestingly). Even after Friday prayers or Eid prayers, it was very common for men to get up and maulvis to praise them for their jihad while asking to give them chanda for their sacrifices.

kashmir
Source: Alaiwah

 

Okay, back to Gauher and Mr. L

Oh, something I haven’t mentioned till now, Mr. L wasn’t even a recruiter for any extremist organization. He was simply promoting jihad among his students as volunteer work because he had some ties to jihadi outfits.

VOLUNTEER WORK. Fortunately, not all the kids fell prey to Mr. L. For the most part, many kids ignored him thinking he was crazy and just used slack off as many teenagers do. But Mr. L managed to get Gauher’s attention. And how did Gauher’s ‘recruitment’ start?

There was a view in Pakistan that Muslims around the world were under threat, with stories of Palestine and Kashmir. And as a man, it was your responsibility to protect the honor of the your people. For someone entering his ‘manhood’ it struck a chord with Gauher. He was somewhat religious and looked up to Mr. L as someone with wisdom. Heroin wasn’t that alluring, but the idea of martyrdom would slowly creep up on Gauher and eventually overtake him. From his class, Gauher was the only one drawn in which could very possibly have been aided by the fact that he was living in the hostels while most of the other kids lived at home and had a tighter connection with their parents and families, and life beyond just this “teacher”.

For Gauher, religion was something that was a big part of his identity.

gauher

And no one had talked to him before in the way that the teacher did. For someone who was trying to connect with his religion more, it’s very easy to see how Gauher didn’t realize what was happening. Let’s also not forget the fact that he was also 13 years old. Using the narrative of global victim-hood worked successfully because there were already countless examples of Muslims being victimized around the world. The narrative became “us vs them”.

Mr. L told Gauher that any money he donated to the jihad that was taking place would earn him a place in heaven, as he would receive a divine reward for every bullet that pierced the enemy. At first, the meager donations he was making were enough but eventually Gauher wanted to do more. He wanted to go to Kashmir and become a martyr.

At first, even Mr. L was surprised because he didn’t expect a student would come up to him and ask to go become a mujahid. Gauher thinks this was because things just got real for Mr. L, that a 13 year old boy wanted to go get killed, fighting. By now, Mr. L had started to avoid Gauher for a few weeks. Or maybe was waiting on directions from someone up the chain of command? Gauher, can only speculate.

Eventually, Mr. L came back to Gauher with a plan. Eid holidays were coming up soon. The day before the holidays started, Gauher was to bring Rs. 700 to Minar-e-Pakistan where he would introduce Gauher to a travel companion. The companion would then take Gauher to Kashmir, upon which he would write a letter to send back informing his parents that he wanted to by a martyr and had gone to Kashmir to wage jihad.

That was the plan. Gauher had already arranged for the money.

 

Maybe a coincidence or maybe by the hand of God,  Gauher’s nani who used to be very healthy, all of a sudden contracted Hepatitis C

It induced a lot of stress at home. His parents couldn’t manage the added stress of driving up to see him every weekend and had no idea when Nani’s situation would become fatal. They decided it was easier to bring him home rather than stay at boarding school.

 

minar-e-pakistan
Source: beingpakistani

Nani’s situation distracted him from the other story and from Mr. L. There were people around him he cared for that he could see experiencing a lot of pain, making preperations for his Nani’s now imminent death. With all this happening, he couldn’t just leave his family to go fight a war in Kashmir – he was gripped in guilt. So he told himself that he’d go wage his Jihad once the current situation subsided. Slowly, more distractions came in. During this time, his Nani also passed away.

With all that happened around him, he wasn’t able to go embrace ‘martyrdom’ in Kashmir that summer. But deep down, the urge remained. For Gauher, life wasn’t about self-preservation and he needed a bigger purpose in life. At that point in his life, that meant attaining martyrdom.

Slowly, and fortunately, the desire for martyrdom slowly started fading over time. But it wasn’t until the events of September 11 that Gauher realized how wrong he had been, how Mr. L wasn’t the guide he thought he was, and how the ideology he had adopted was so flawed.

 

In some ways, Gauher got lucky with the timing of his Nani’s unfortunate passing away.

But not everyone can be that lucky. There are many young children who over the years have been coerced and lured into the very dangerous mindset that Gauher escaped. And sadly, it can only take one misguided soul to cause harm to a whole lot of people. But how do we get through to those children that may be potential targets of this mental disease or are already engulfed in it? That was something that took over Gauher in his adult life, especially after the events of December 16th 2014. Eventually, he found a solution in a very unique way: Comics.

Source: CFX Comics

As humans, learning through stories is something that we have been familiar with since we began as a species. And we need to create our own narratives to negate the culture of violence, hatred and extremism that is breaking society into a hundred little pieces. So now, Gauher spends day and night, living from paycheck to paycheck, producing comics to help children possibly understand how the bad guys work, and helping parents teach values of tolerance and compassion.

The brilliant work of my friend and his team can be found here.

 

For more of the deepest, darkest realities that plague our society check out ‘Tales From The Dark Side‘.

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