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Taliban forcing thousands into army
Sons, brothers and fathers seized as every family is ordered to give up one male to bolster 45,000 troops
Luke Harding in Nowshera Thursday October 4, 2001 The Guardian
The Taliban have forcibly conscripted tens of thousands of men over the past two weeks in a desperate attempt to bolster their 45,000-strong regular army against an imminent American attack. The Guardian has obtained chilling testimony which reveals that the extremist militia has demanded that every household in Afghanistan provide at least one fighter for the jihad against the United States.
Gangs of Taliban soldiers have implemented the edict by dragging men at gunpoint out of their homes. They have also seized them in the streets or pulled them out of cars as they attempt to flee the country. These recruits are now being sent to vulnerable positions in the frontline - and are likely to be the first, innocent casualties of any large-scale American military onslaught.
One mother from Kabul, Faheema, yesterday described how her son, a second-year medical student, was seized by a Taliban press gang.
The news that every family had to give one man was announced early last week from Afghanistan's mosques, she said. Her son Farhad and his friends from the student hostel of Kabul University immediately went into hiding. For several days Farhad hid in his mother's house in east Kabul. But last Wednesday his luck ran out.
"A Datsun pick-up full of Taliban arrived outside our house. Two Taliban with guns stood at the door and one of them came in. They dragged Farhad off. I cried and pleaded with them not to take him away. They said 'You will see him later'," Faheema recalled.
Across Afghanistan, Farhad's story is being repeated. The Taliban have warned that they will shoot any new recruit who tries to escape. To minimise desertion they are also transporting recruits to provinces far away from where they were originally seized.
The heads of local mosques have been instructed to draw up lists of all men of fighting age, which means anyone over 18. There is no upper age limit.
"My husband disappeared two or three days ago," Gul Pari, who reached Pakistan after a six-hour trek through the mountains, said last night. "He had gone shopping in the bazaar with my children when the Taliban caught him. The Taliban have taken most of the males in my village. A few of them escaped when they became aware of what was happening. I have got no idea where my husband is now. The Taliban may have killed him or he may be in jail."
Mrs Pari, whose four children fled with her, is from the village of Darrea Noor in eastern Kunar province, where a handful of opposition fighters still hide out in the mountains.
"We left Afghanistan because we didn't have anything to eat," she added. According to other newly arrived refugees reaching Nowshera, a dusty cantonment close to the frontier town of Peshawar, the Taliban are massively reinforcing their positions against an American invasion.
"I saw several tanks. The Taliban are pulling rocket launchers up the mountains. Some are being transported on donkeys," Naweed Ahmad, 18, said. His family arrived from the eastern city of Jalalabad three days ago. Jalalabad is now 95% deserted, he added.
"I saw some Arabs strapping bombs to their bodies. They were also trying to buy Datsun pick-ups to use for fighting. We know them. There is a workshop for cars next to our house and they would come there quite often."
Naweed estimated that there were 3,000 Arab fighters who swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden living in Jalalabad. He said the fighters were rich, and were often seen in the city shopping for vegetables. They used to be based in two of Bin Laden's camps: on a farm on a ridge in Hadda, on the outskirts of the city, and at Deronta Dam. The camps were now abandoned, he said. The Arabs were easy to spot because they drove vehicles with police registration plates. Many of them worked for the Taliban's intelligence service, he added.
Naweed's father, Ghulam, a former policeman, decided it was time to flee when he discovered his name had been added to the list of recruits for the jihad at his neighbourhood mosque.
"We could not live under the control of the Taliban. If you didn't turn up to the mosque to pray five times a day they would beat you," Ghulam said. "The Taliban forced me to grow a beard. If the Taliban start losing the war, I'll shave it off. Otherwise I'll keep it," he added.
The evidence emerging from the refugees penetrating Pakistan's sealed border is that the Taliban's press-gang campaign extends across the country.
Malika, who fled from the remote drought-ruined northern province of Faryab, lost one of her brothers to the Taliban two weeks ago.
"My brother was searching for wood for turning into fire. He didn't come back. A neighbour told us the Taliban had taken him," she said. "They take girls too. If the Taliban get to know a beautiful girl is living somewhere they will take her."
Malika, who belongs to Afghanistan's minority Uzbek community, said the Pashtun-dominated Taliban had taken away 2,000 Uzbek women from her area for use as concubines. The women were often sold to other Taliban fighters from southern provinces for around £500 each, she said.
Local men could avoid being conscripted by paying a bribe, she added. The minimum rate was £300 - a fortune by Afghan standards - anything less and the man would be beaten to death. "The Taliban took our wheat and corn. We had nothing left," she added.
Malika now lives with three other women and their children in a small mud-walled room in Khewa refugee camp, established in 1984. The sore-infested children look half-dead: they are too starved even to play. Malika's skeleton-like grandmother has tuberculosis. The camp doctor admits her prospects are grim.
In Kabul, meanwhile, Farhad's uncle has spent four days searching for his lost nephew. "We searched a lot of times but we couldn't find him," Farhad's mother Faheema said.
Faheema, whose husband was killed during the Soviet invasion, said she fled Kabul to prevent her younger son from also being conscripted. On her way out, she passed truckloads of unwilling recruits being driven to the front. "I saw a lot of people who had been arrested. They were shouting: 'Tell my house, tell my father and mother, that they have taken me.' The Taliban are blocking all the roads out of Afghanistan and are taking away the young boys."
Kabul University, where young bearded men used to cycle among the pine trees and the burned-out remains of Soviet tanks, is deserted, she added. The faculty has shut down. The students and teachers have fled. The campus, which received its first electricity this year, was dark.
Faheema said her son was a "clever guy" and might be able to escape. "I hope I will see him again. I'm a mother. Maybe I can't see him again." She began to cry.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), October 03, 2001
Remember in the Gulf War, the army that was fighting in Kuwait was conscripted and thousands were defecting. Never underestimate your enemy.
-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), October 04, 2001.