War tragedy: Why an 11-year-old Afghan joined Tehrik-i-Taliban
Pakistani officials have declared the deployment of about 60,000 troops at the Durand Line. Apparently Pakistan validates this as an act to prevent movements of terrorists on both sides of its border with Afghanistan and to wipe out Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). For that reason, since the second term of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s administration, Pakistan has fired countless mortar shells in different time intervals into Afghan territory.
These shells have not only caused massive civilian casualties but have created an environment of fear among those who live in the affected areas, including Shaigal, Asmar, Dangam and other areas of Kunar province. However, another unfortunate outcome has been the growing sense of revenge and contempt against Pakistan among the locals. These families have lost children, parents and households, and a lot more. They are grieving and angry.
Shuja (a pseudonym) is one of the victims of Pakistani cross-border firing into Afghanistan. He lost his mother, father and a younger sister overnight when a shell fired by the Pakistan Army hit his home. Grieving and angry at his loss, he joined the TTP almost three years ago. When I talked to him, he told me that most of the families in his districts and neighborhood had lost loved ones because of the regular firing of these shells.
Shuja, who is now a 14-year-old boy, proudly announced that he was a member of TTP and had performed jihad against Pakistan. He told me that he was only 11 when he decided to pick up a gun against Pakistan, in order to get revenge for the loss of his family. He wanted to “punish Pakistan” and its military forces. And so he joined TTP and fought along with them for a long time.
Pakistan has sporadically fired countless shells into the territory of Afghanistan without considering the dire consequences to civilians. The Pakistanis claim that their aim is to target and eradicate terrorism within Afghanistan. But if they stop to consider Shuja’s story, they will realize how counterproductive their efforts have been.
Shuja’s story should be a lesson to the new administration of Pakistan that targeting Afghanistan has not done anything to eliminate terrorism, but instead has increased the sense of contempt among the general public against Pakistan. The people who have been affected by the indiscriminate shelling in fact want to avenge themselves and inflict harm on Pakistan in return. These people carry with them a depth of hatred and anger and would join any group that fights against Pakistan. In consequence, the Pakistani military is the real factor for the production and spread of terrorism against itself and its people.
Shuja has a painful and bitter story that he narrates with a certain sense of purpose. He is now a stubborn enemy of Pakistan. As a child in conflict with the law, Shuja is currently serving time in one of Afghanistan’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Centers (JRCs). He was arrested by Afghan forces while visiting his surviving siblings in his home town.
Many Afghans might sympathize with Shuja and relate to his thirst for revenge. However, the Afghan government has shown patience toward Pakistan by ensuring that those Afghans, even young children, who aid terrorist organizations such as TTP are arrested, tried and convicted for their crimes. The government has shown commitment to combating terrorism without classifying it as “good or bad.”
When Shuja was asked about what his plans are once he is released from the JRC, he provided an unpleasant, uncomfortable answer – an answer that can only be comprehended by an Afghan. He said he wanted to join the Afghan border police and fight against Pakistan. “Fight” and “jihad” against Pakistan are his first and last words. He told me that even though he had already fought against Pakistan, his thirst had still not been quenched.
At the age of only 11, this Afghan child picked a Kalashnikov gun and joined the TTP to fight another country. That’s why he has chosen the pseudonym Shuja, which in Dari, one of the two official Afghan languages, roughly translates to “brave.” It reflects his story, the story of his pains and struggles.
How his story proceeds is quite interesting. In the corridors of the JRC, Shuja shares a dormitory with two Pakistani children, along with other Afghan children who have been accused or convicted of crimes against internal and external security. The Pakistani children do not fully understand the language of other children in the JRC, although they speak a little Pashto and can communicate. The irony is that the boy who hates Pakistan is now spending his life alongside Pakistani children.
I do not know whether Shuja is aware of the nationality of his co-inmates, and if he is, what he does when he faces these children in school and on the volleyball ground. For Shuja, it does not matter who fired the shell, what matters to him is that the shell was shot from Pakistan and wiped out most of his family. For him, Pakistan is his enemy, even if the common people of Pakistan were not responsible for his loss.
At the JRC, Shuja is now focusing on studying. He learned Dari with the help of his friends. His supervisors have said he has a sharp mind and can grasp lessons in no time. While Shuja has set his mind on joining the border police when he is released, he also wants to pursue higher education and travel outside the country.
Shuja is among the 121 children in the JRCs across Afghanistan who have been suspected, accused and/or convicted of working with terrorist groups and/or of crimes against internal and external security. Each of these children has an unfortunate and heartbreaking story. The terrorist groups have taken away their pens and papers, and handed them guns, suicide vests and explosives.