‘It doesn’t mat­ter if the par­ents ap­prove’

Young Afghans traf­ficked to study un­der Tal­iban

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY KATHY GAN­NON

It was a rou­tine check. Two vans, both with­out li­cense plates, were stopped ear­lier this month by po­lice in Afghanistan’s east­ern Ghazni prov­ince, where Tal­iban hold sway in large swaths of the coun­try­side.

In­side, po­lice found 27 boys be­tween the ages of 4 and 15, all be­ing taken il­le­gally to Pak­istan’s south­west­ern Baluchis­tan prov­ince to study in sem­i­nar­ies called madras­sas, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port ac­quired by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The au­thor­i­ties told the AP that the chil­dren were be­ing taken to Pak­istani madras­sas to ed­u­cate a new gen­er­a­tion in the ways of the Tal­iban, with the in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing them to Afghanistan to en­force the same rigid in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam prac­ticed by the rad­i­cal re­li­gious move­ment un­til its ouster by U.S.-led coali­tion forces in 2001.

The po­lice called it child traf­fick­ing and threw the driv­ers and the only other adults, two men who or­ga­nized the con­voy, into jail.

But the par­ents said they wanted their chil­dren to study in Pak­istan and had will­ingly sent them to Quetta, the cap­i­tal of Pak­istan’s sparsely pop­u­lated Baluchis­tan prov­ince on the bor­der with Afghanistan.

Quetta is sig­nif­i­cant to Afghanistan’s Tal­iban, many of whom grad­u­ated from madras­sas there. It is also con­sid­ered the head­quar­ters of the Tal­iban lead­er­ship coun­cil, which is widely re­ferred to as the “Quetta shura.”

An Afghan coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause re­veal­ing his iden­tity could en­dan­ger him, said Afghan in­tel­li­gence has iden­ti­fied 26 madras­sas in Pak­istan where it sus­pects fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Tal­iban are be­ing trained and in some cases in­structed in car­ry­ing out sui­cide bomb­ings.

Sev­eral of the 26 madras­sas he iden­ti­fied were in Quetta.

Sheikh Ab­dul Hakim madrassa was among the Quetta schools the Afghan of­fi­cial iden­ti­fied as a Tal­iban re­cruit­ment cen­tre. The AP went to the madrassa and was told the direc­tor, af­ter whom the madrassa is named, was on a mis­sion­ary sab­bat­i­cal to preach Is­lam, but a teacher, Az­izul­lah Mainkhail, said some stu­dents at the madrassa were from Afghanistan.

The ma­jor­ity, how­ever, he said are Pak­ista­nis from vil­lages through­out Baluchis­tan. He de­nied af­fil­i­a­tion with the Tal­iban or Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful in­tel­li­gence agency known by the acro­nym ISI and ac­cused by Afghanistan of sup­port­ing the Tal­iban.

The madrassa is mas­sive, sur­rounded by high walls that shel­ter sev­eral build­ings of mud and ce­ment. Mainkhail said 350 stu­dents live and study there.

A sep­a­rate at­tempt in Ghazni prov­ince to move chil­dren across the bor­der, also for re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion, was foiled by po­lice about two weeks ago, the Afghan of­fi­cial said. The 13 chil­dren, from neigh­bour­ing Pak­tika prov­ince, were also des­tined for re­li­gious stud­ies, this time in sem­i­nar­ies in Pak­istan’s sprawl­ing Ara­bian Sea port city of Karachi.

Traf­fick­ers “wanted to take our in­no­cent chil­dren to the ter­ror­ist cen­tres on the other side of the bor­der un­der the pre­tense of Is­lamic stud­ies,” Ghazni Po­lice Chief Mo­ham­mad Mustafa Ma­yar said.

War, poverty, in­se­cu­rity and a lack of un­der­stand­ing by fam­i­lies of the dan­gers await­ing their chil­dren all com­bine to drive the child traf­fick­ing trade in Afghanistan, said Mo­hammed Musa Mah­moodi of the Afghan In­de­pen­dent Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

Each year there are at least three or four cases of chil­dren be­ing smug­gled from prov­ince to prov­ince or across the in­ter­na­tional bor­ders, some­times to be used as cheap labour, other times to be re­cruited by the Tal­iban un­der the guise of re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion and other times for sex­ual abuse, says Mah­moodi.

Still, he said the prob­lem is much greater than the few bus­loads of chil­dren in­ter­cepted would in­di­cate, but cor­rup­tion and a lack of train­ing in the ways of child traf­fick­ers makes it a lu­cra­tive and fairly safe trade in Afghanistan.

Sev­eral years ago a child traf­fick­ing ring that had taken chil­dren to Saudi Ara­bia to be used as cheap labour was busted, he re­called.

“Par­ents of­ten agree to send their chil­dren but they don’t know what is await­ing the child. Some­times they are told they will be ed­u­cated or will get a good job and be looked af­ter,” said Mah­moodi. “But when they get there they are beaten, forced to work as cheap labour, taken by Tal­iban as new re­cruits.”

Mo­hammed Naseer spent sev­eral weeks ar­rang­ing for his son, a nephew and sev­eral other chil­dren from his dis­trict of An­der in Ghazni prov­ince to go to Quetta to study the Qur’an. His son Mo­hammed Yaseen is just 9 years old but he said he was ex­cited to be go­ing to Quetta. His dream: “I want to be a mul­lah (cleric).”

Naseer, who wore a black tur­ban and a long black un­kempt beard, said his son had stud­ied three years in a vil­lage school but he still could nei­ther read nor write, not even at a rudi­men­tary level, in his na­tive Pashto lan­guage. He said the vil­lage school even of­fers English lessons but the teacher doesn’t speak English.

But even more wor­ry­ing for Naseer is the lack of a qual­ity Is­lamic sem­i­nary to school his son in Is­lam’s holy book. Sev­eral chil­dren from nearby vil­lages were home on va­ca­tion from a madrassa in Pak­istan and Naseer said he heard them re­cite the Qur’an and “their words were so sweet.” He de­cided then to send his son to Pak­istan. Naseer said he wanted a madrassa with a dor­mi­tory that would house and feed his child. They don’t ex­ist in his area, he said.

He loaded his son along with 26 other chil­dren into the two vans, gave his son a change of clothes and gave some money to the men tak­ing his child to Pak­istan “but only for trans­porta­tion.”

But se­nior po­lice of­fi­cial Fa­zlur Rah­man Bus­tani in Kabul said the move­ment of chil­dren is a busi­ness and a dan­ger­ous one, re­gard­less of whether par­ents will­ingly send their chil­dren.

AP PHOTO

Mo­hammed Naseer, with black tur­ban, and three chil­dren wait for their food in the prayer area of a Pizza Restau­rant in Kabul, Afghanistan. Naseer spent sev­eral weeks ar­rang­ing for his son, a nephew and sev­eral other chil­dren from his dis­trict of An­der in Ghazni prov­ince to go to Quetta to study the Qu­ran.

AP PHOTO

In this July 25, Mo­hammed Naseer holds his sons’ hand as they en­ter a restau­rant in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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