Irfan, my companion, was getting quite restless on the flight. He kept staring around at the other passengers in an extremely suspicious manner. I cursed my luck. The last person I wanted seated besides me right now was a jerk like Irfan. He kept having doubts, and I simply hated those who had doubts. We were doing this for our religion - and for the whole of mankind. When the whole world looked through our eyes then there would be nothing but peace. But till such time, there had to be some violence.
‘Take it easy,’ I told my companion curtly.
‘We should never have left India, Zameer,’ Irfan complained. ‘Our jihad could have been waged over there itself without coming to Pakistan.’
‘Shhh,’ I whispered to the stupid fellow. ‘Be careful of what you speak. And talk softly, you fool.’
‘I’m sorry,’ replied Irfan, ‘but ever since we left Lucknow I’m feeling quite uneasy.’
‘We will also feel like this sometimes, you fool,’ I scolded him in an undertone. ‘This is our mission in life. This is what we do. We’re doing it for our God and for our religion. Just stay focused on the mission.’
There was a long period of silence as Irfan pondered over what I had just told him. I was angry at his stupidity, but I, too, lost focus for a while. My mind strayed back to the distant past. There was my mother asking me whether I hobnobbed with the gun-wielding militants in our area. I remember denying vehemently and stating that it was not the case. I had told her, rather untruthfully, that my friends were religious people who did not believe in violence. Then I remembered leaving home forever in a huff after a quarrel with my older brother over Kashmir. He had the temerity to insist that Kashmir was an integral part of India. Had he not been my brother and the head of my family at the time, I would surely have killed him on the spot. I hadn’t heard from my family since that day more than a decade ago.
But I had no regrets. When we fight for the glory of Islam, we need to forget our families and friends. We need to leave them behind and see the vision of the future - a world in which Islam reigns supreme over all religions and even over such evil doctrines as communism. Towards this end, we need to focus our thoughts and actions.
‘How long is this flight taking, Zameer?’ he grumbled.
‘It’s not been that long since we left Kathmandu,’ I retorted. ‘It should land in an hour.’
‘Good,’ he remarked. ‘I just can’t wait to get off this plane, although I’m not too keen on stepping on Pakistani soil either.’
‘You should have stayed back home,’ I whispered, angrily. ‘Why did you come here anyway?’
‘Haroon threatened to wipe off my entire family if I didn’t volunteer for this mission.’
That’s what I didn’t like about some of these people. They forced and coerced reluctant Muslims like Irfan to join our cause. What was the use of all their actions if it didn’t come from the heart?
Haroon Rashid was a top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander, covertly living in India. He had formed numerous sleeper cells of local extremists ready to perpetrate acts of violence all over the country. These sleeper cells were randomly activated at regular intervals to unleash a spate of violence whenever the Pakistani bosses gave the orders. Rashid was in charge of LeT’s operations in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Since Irfan and I belonged to that state, Rashid was the one who had approached us for this mission.
Meanwhile, Irfan became quieter as he seemed to be mulling over the pros and cons of our mission. The other passengers on the flight were oblivious to our presence. We maintained this low profile until the plane landed at Karachi Airport. Irfan and I got off along with the other passengers.
At last, we were on Pakistani soil. Honestly, I was quite thrilled to set foot on Pakistani soil. Pakistan is revered by jihadis in much the same way as America is revered by capitalists. It was indeed a dream come true for me.
Irfan, on the other hand, walked cautiously on the ground at the airport as if it were heavily mined. There was one thing I could bet my entire life on. I was absolutely certain that that jerk would never kiss the soil in reverence.
At length, we approached a small group of men standing at the exit. One of them held a placard bearing our names. We simply nodded our heads to signal our arrival. They crowded around us.
‘Welcome to Karachi,’ said a burly man. ‘I’m Lieutenant Ashraf. I will be in charge of you during your stay here. You will do what I tell you - nothing more, nothing less. If you go against my command then God alone can help you.’
‘Hi, I’m Zameer Khan,’ I introduced myself nonchalantly. ‘This is my colleague, Irfan Ahmed.’
‘Assalamu Alaykum,’ greeted Irfan, in a subdued tone.
‘I’m Commander Inzamam of the ISI,’ a tall bearded man told us. ‘I will be coordinating with the head of this entire mission. This is him.’
Commander Inzamam’s finger pointed towards a man of short stature. His round head was completely bald but it still gave him a somewhat imposing appearance. There was a distinct coldness in his eyes that seemed to be an outpouring of the coldness in his soul. I shivered a bit. Yes, I had been trained to be cold and heartless by the local jihadi group in Lucknow, but this short man succeeded in giving me the creeps as well. He introduced himself as Commander Abu Hamza of the LeT.
After the introductions had been completed, the group split into different teams. Each team left the airport in a separate vehicle. There were four of us seated in the old jeep. Lieutenant Ashraf sat besides the chauffeur while I joined Irfan at the rear. There was utter silence for a while as the jeep sped past urban structures and headed towards a range of hills on the outskirts of the city.
My mind strayed once again to the past. This time it went further back to the riots that had erupted after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. I was only twelve years at the time, but I can still remember it all so vividly. My father had come to reach me to school that day. They told us that my school had been prematurely closed for the day due to the horrendous rioting that was taking place in the city. So, we turned back and headed towards our home. Suddenly, an unruly mob of rioters emerged from nowhere and charged towards us in a state of frenzy. Those crazy men were equipped with sticks and swords. They attacked my poor father, who fell helplessly to the ground. I was terrified and speechless. They walked away quietly without a sign of remorse in their cruel eyes.
I turned around hopelessly. The sight of blood streaming from my father’s mutilated body was simply horrific. I wept bitterly. My father had been such a good and pious man. All of us loved him a lot. It took me a really long time to get over the trauma of this cold-blooded murder.
Soon everybody knew me as the kid who was thirsting for revenge. It showed on my face and in my walk. I hoped and prayed for the opportunity to avenge the murder of my father. When I was just about sixteen years old, a group of fundamentalists convinced me to join their cause. They convinced me that jihad was the only way to find the peace which I was so desperately searching for. I had to join them and fight for the greater glory of Islam. Yes, that’s how I became a terrorist. Of all the militants who choose the path of violence, there are a few like me who are virtually driven to it.
All this simply shows us that communalism and terrorism are nothing but opposite sides of the same coin. They keep feeding on each other in a vicious cycle, resulting in a society full of violence, hatred, sorrow and intolerance. Every communal act is used as a justification for mindless acts of terrorism. Similarly, each act of terrorism is used as a justification for such horrible atrocities like genocide and ethnic cleansing. And, it is always the innocent people who get killed. This is the sad truth. Unfortunately, many of us realize this truth when it is too late. Some of us never do. Luckily, I realised it before the end.
The long spell of silence was finally broken by the burly lieutenant. His voice was loud and commanding.
‘Yes, sir,’ we declared in unison.
‘And remember not to mingle with each other as well,’ the lieutenant went on. ‘Just cooperate as much as possible with each other, but don’t interact with the other jihadis. This is not a place for socializing. If you want to socialize, I’ll stop the jeep right now and you can get off if you wish. Does anyone want to get off now? No, good! Remember this as well. In this camp, you will have to be serious and pious. You will have to offer namaz daily. Remember we are doing all this for our religion. The rest I will tell you when we reach our destination.’
Once again there was a long period of silence. I was quite happy that Irfan was not that irritating any more. I hoped for his sake that he was once again the master of his life. We did not need puppets to fight in the jihad. We needed men who would put their whole heart and soul into it. We needed men who were willing to make all kinds of sacrifices for the greater glory of Islam. We needed men who would even make the ultimate sacrifice for this noblest of causes. So many martyrs have laid down their lives in this global jihad in the hope that our cause will prevail. We were determined to overcome the forces of evil existing in this world.
The vehicle moved quickly on the dusty tar road. It moved westwards and I presumed that we were somewhere near the Baluchistan border. I had done a lot of research before sneaking into Nepal for this mission. I had gone through the detailed maps of our subcontinent. The other jihadis living with me in the Lucknow apartment had supplied valuable information on the geography and history of Pakistan and India. Of course, the historical versions fed to me were not that accurate. They never are!
Ali who had once trained in the famous Muridke camp gave me a thorough briefing on what to expect after I had landed in Karachi. It was Ali himself who had introduced me to Haroon Rashid after learning about the tragedy that had befallen me. Till then I had been a radical jihadi without a mission, a rebel without a clearly defined cause.
Meanwhile, the colour of the sky turned to a pale orange as the sun began to set. But the light was still good, and the chauffeur manoeuvred the jeep skilfully on the winding road. He was not a regular Lashkar operative like us but a member of the large support team that had been specially recruited for this camp.
Soon we reached a desolate hilly area that reminded me a lot of the Himalayan foothills in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, the entire terrain had reminded me of India. But I was in Pakistan and there was no remorse at all in my heart for what I intended to do. I was just paying them back in their own currency, the currency of blood.
‘We are approaching the camp,’ Lieutenant Ashraf told us in a matter-of-fact tone. ‘Now relax and enjoy as much as you can. After we reach the camp, there will be no time for relaxation and enjoyment.’
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