Waqar and Arshad are going to sing like a canary. The two young men were so eager to talk that they even gave details of the tea they drank in Waziristan while the Taliban trained them as suicide bombers. And the Sindh Police’s Crime Investigation Department is going to lap it all up.
The significant arrests were declared at a press conference on Sunday by Anti-Extremism Cell chief Chaudhry Aslam. It was a big bust for Aslam as the young men will be a treasure trove of information into the Taliban network. They were found with 20 kilogrammes of explosives, two hand grenades, two TT pistols, 20 feet of detonating wire, 200 bullets and bombing equipment.
“What can I say about how big this was,” Aslam told The Express Tribune in his usual gruff manner. “By now everyone should have an idea how big this was. If you made a jacket with just 20kg of explosives, it would blow up your whole Express office building. At least 100 people would die — confirmed.”
Also significant for the police is that two names from this group have been linked to the deadly CID building bombing. So sensitive and important is the information that they can yield on the terrorist workings, that the arrested men will be given security.
Waqar Ahmed, Arshad Khan and Abdul Razzak, their handler, and Rashid Iqbal were swept up in a raid between Saturday and Sunday night in the graveyard in Frontier Colony. Some of their companions took off under cover of night.
Razzak has told interrogators that he was affiliated with the commander Wali Mehsud, who is a successor of Qari Hussain, a suicide bombings mastermind. He was tasked with roping in young men in Karachi and prepping them for suicide bombings and sectarian target killings. Kidnapping for ransom and robberies were also part of the deal.
In July 2009, he took six of them from Karachi to Waziristan. Four of them — Ibadullah, Arif, Abdul Qadeer and Hazrat Ali — were killed in a drone attack but while the injured Waqar and Arshad were sent back to Karachi for treatment.
In a way, Waqar and Arshad’s story is not a necessarily straightforward one. For one, they strangely admit to being “brainwashed” into going on a proselytising mission or tableegh with Razzak, who they met separately. The mere fact that they are acquiescing to this could be taken to indicate that they have not been entirely brainwashed. They also apologised to their families and the “nation” while discussing the details of what happened to them with The Express Tribune.
Twenty-two-year-old Waqar Ahmed is the youngest of seven children. His father used to work in a private company while his brothers worked at clinics and medical stores. After passing high school, he used to go Jamia Islamia Imdad Uloom where he met Razzak, who taught them through Quranic verses, CDs, literature and “forced” them to prepare for jihad. Razzak agreed that he and some others would go on tableegh.
“But my family did not agree, which is why I ran away from home to go,” he said. But he did not know at the time that Razzak had something entirely different in mind.
Razzak took him and five others to a bus stop at Sohrab Goth. They travelled to Miramshah, changed two buses and then reached Waziristan. By then, the boys figured out what Razzak wanted from them, but they felt that they had no choice but to obey. They spent about five days there — in the first three being indoctrinated and in the last two days training how to use an AK-47.
There were about 35 other young men there who were being trained for missions in different cities.
After Fajr prayers, they would jog and exercise and then get a cup of tea for breakfast. After that, more recitations, lectures would follow and at lunch there was sometimes rice and at other times vegetables. They would get one slice of bread at night. “And like this the whole day would go on,” said Waqar. They would do security duty at night. “When the drone attack happened Arshad and I were sitting and chatting,” he said. “Only we emerged alive, the rest died, the four who came with us.”
Then the details get sketchy. When the two men woke up, they didn’t know where they were but they were being treated. After a month’s treatment they were returned to Karachi where they’ve been ever since and have stayed indoors.
Eighteen-year-old Arshad Khan has no siblings. “My mother was pregnant when my father divorced her,” he said, adding that his mother brought him up at her mother’s house. Arshad met Razzak at the mosque near his house in Frontier Colony and was forced to go on tableegh. He then met Waqar on the bus ride to Waziristan.
“If you look at it, in a way, we got stuck when we reached there,” he explained. “There were mountains everywhere and some scattered houses where the terrorists lived or trained.” There was no escape it seemed to them. “None of us had the guts to ask them any questions,” he said. “We had no way out other than to do what they told us to.” They would tell them that the Pakistan Army is in cahoots with the US and by perpetrating the Swat, Bajaur and other operations, they cornered them into suicide bombings. “They would talk about paradise and the hoors to brainwash us.” Either way, brainwashed or not, these two young men have a lot of explaining to do.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2011.