Let’s just say that I was interested in the whys, not the hows or wheres. Why did they join the ‘jihad?’ but more importantly why did they leave? Documenting Renunciation is the compilation in a sense of the answers of various individuals to these two important questions. Through first person testimonials, we documented the personal journeys of individuals who voluntarily and consciously chose the path of terrorism and then renounced it.
The book attempts to highlight those factors which pushed them towards this path, including their motivation, their apprehensions, the risks faced by them and the end result of their association with terrorist groups. The stories also attempt to document the individuals’ convictions: those that led them to join and those that led them to renounce terrorism and dissociate from militant terrorist groups. As there is no single path or a single cause contributing to radicalisation, it will be up to the readers to discern the factors leading these individuals away from militancy.
A common assumption is that the people who are or have been involved in jihad live an isolated life. It is believed that they are isolationists who neither interact with nor live within general society. My limited experience proved otherwise. These militants who are or have been involved in jihad are very much living right next to us and might be communicating with us on a daily basis. Besides the difference of their having received combat training and been involved in violent terrorist activities in stark comparison with the lives of others, it is difficult to discern differences in their outward lifestyles.
We realised this when we started making inquiries about individuals who have renounced militancy. We assumed, rather incorrectly that we would have to ‘dig them out’ and that they would be shrouded in mystery, but such turned out not to be the case. They were all around us. When we put our field research team to work and assigned them different parts of the country, we found out that in some areas/localities almost every other child or young boy had in his brief lifetime received jihadi trainings, and some had even participated in missions and local operations as well. From Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Peshawar, Nowshera, Akora Khattak, Kohat, Mardan,Swat) to Punjab (Gujrat, Mandi Bhauddin, Gujranwala, Narowal, Rajanpur, Sialkot, Sargodha, Kasur, Multan, Lahore, and Gujranwala) to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Mirpurkhas, Rawalakot) and Balochistan (Quetta and Pishin) even in the Federal Capital of Islamabad we were able to find them. People belonging to different walks of life and from different family and educational backgrounds admitted that they had received jihadi trainings.
We heavily relied on informants or young boys of villages or towns we were visiting. They were of great help, particularly in identifying those who have been on such trainings. We came across many stories but only 15 have been shared in the book. There were others who initially claimed that they had renounced terrorism but the interview revealed that they had either fallen out with the group leader or were compelled by family responsibilities, etc. They considered themselves ‘on a break’ and were waiting for the call of the Ameer – the leader of their group. Four such stories have been included to provide insight into their thinking. We understood that they have not renounced terrorism but their stories provide a contrasting and educational narrative to those who did renounce it.
We held profound discussions with them, usually at private homes. They took it as a sign of respect accorded to them when we invited them to private homes rather than meeting at a public café. In fact, one of the interviewees stated that having been invited to the researchers’ house actually added to our credibility. No interviewee narrated his story all at once.
At least two meetings were arranged with each of the interviewees only after the individual had satisfied himself of the researcher’s background and credentials. The credential check did not focus on academic qualifications. Instead, the local contact(s) who had arranged the meeting were quizzed a number of times about us before the interview took place. Sometimes at the appointed hour the person would fail to show up. We later learnt that this was to ensure that no law enforcement personnel had been secretly invited and that we were being watched. However, once the individual had satisfied himself and the interview began, it was very candid. In some instances, it felt that they were looking upon this experience as a personal catharsis. Of course, there were those who were not satisfied by our credentials and did not meet us after the initial contacts were made.
A dominant factor through most of the accounts is the belief of individuals that they had been fighting for the supremacy of religion and the country. Afghanistan is mentioned as especially important because, as stated by one former militant, “All the non-Muslims have gathered on one platform in the form of Nato and are fighting against Islam and Muslims. So, this is a golden opportunity for Muslims.” Another militant during his interview emphasised his allegiance and patriotism for Pakistan, defined by him as “protecting Pakistan from infidels and opportunist Muslims against which the Quran also warns.”
Speaking of warnings, please be forewarned regarding the book. If you are expecting that the testimonials will strengthen the poverty-breeds-militancy hypothesis that we’ve been fed, you will be disappointed. At least the people we spoke to, can be categorised under three main influences that compelled them to join militant organisations. These were (a) influence of the community as exemplified by a young man who joined the ‘jihad’ against Indians by listening to his grandparent’s stories of partition (b) influence of the media, including mainstream media involving TV dramas, radio, as well as of course the jihadi media and most frighteningly (c) their mothers – mothers who urged their sons to join the jihad for Allah. It was not surprising that some of the interviewees were estranged from their families but there were others who continue to live with them.
When I started, I thought the end would bring some answers. I realised that I have more questions than I started with.
Source: Daily Dawn, Karachi