Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau report: As the spring weather warms and the snow melts off the high mountain passes separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, hundreds of Taliban fighters who spent the winter in Afghan refugee camps and other safe havens inside Pakistan are preparing to return to battle. But this year some insurgents are having second thoughts about fighting in Afghanistan at a time when it appears that peace talks between the US and the Taliban are about to resume in Qatar after a year’s hiatus.
Indeed, there are heated debates raging among the fighters as to the wisdom of returning to fight and perhaps die as peace prospects are being discussed. “The leadership hopes to dispatch a big number of fighters to Afghanistan this year,” says Zabihullah, a senior Taliban operative whose information has proved reliable in the past. “But now there is great confusion among the fighters whether to go and fight or stay behind in Pakistan and await the results of the Qatar peace talks.”
In a mosque made of mud-bricks in the middle of the Haripur Afghan refugee camp, some 40 miles north of Islamabad, five Taliban fighters are relaxing, enjoying the warm spring weather, and sipping green tea from discolored tea cups. “Take advantage of the rest and the sunshine because in less than one month we have to return to the jihad,” says Mullah Mohammad Khan, 30, the senior fighter among the group. But his comrade-in-arms, Mohidain Akhund, does not share Khan’s enthusiasm. “This year my heart really does not want to go back to the jihad,” Akhund tells Khan frankly. “Our leaders are talking to the kafirs in Qatar and then asking us to return to Afghanistan to resist the Americans. Allah, pardon me, but I cannot make up my mind whether or not to go to the jihad this year.”
Khan, a sub-commander from northern Baghlan province, tries to argue with Akhund, warning him that he’s in danger of losing his faith. “These are satanic temptations,” he says. “If you say no to the jihad then how will you answer to Allah on Judgment Day?” Akhund is still not convinced. “I am proud to have been in the jihad for the past five years in Helmand [Province] and to have lost a brother and a nephew,” he tells Khan. “But how can I continue fighting when our leaders are enjoying the Americans’ hospitality in Qatar and we’re told we have to kill Afghan soldiers?” Another fighter named Abdullah pipes up, agreeing with Akhund, saying he is also confused about what to do this year. “Our leaders are enjoying air conditioned rooms, driving luxury cars and living in good houses while we live a troubled life fighting in Afghanistan,” says Abdullah. Khan still tries to cajole them. “We do not perform jihad for this or that personality,” he says. “We offer our sweet breath for Allah and we should expect rewards from Allah, not the leaders who are human and far from perfect.” [Continue reading…]