Taliban recruiting drives meeting resistance in Pakistan villages

AP/Washington Post:

Near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, pride mixes with grief and anger over dozens of young men lost to a stepped-up recruiting drive for the Taliban.

Like the anti-Soviet rebels of the 1980s and the pre-9/11 Taliban, the recruiters of today have turned to this cluster of about 25 ethnic Pashtun villages in search of volunteers.

The father of one dead enlistee says he feels honored, but with many of Shabqadar's young men dead or feared missing on the battlefield, mujaheddin recruiters are no longer welcome here.

A shopkeeper says 100 or more young men have gone missing, including his cousin, a 10th grade student, who mysteriously left home during the summer vacation and is believed to have gone to fight.

People here are religious, and recruiters play on that sentiment, "recruiting the youth with raw minds," he said.

The shopkeeper, like many others interviewed, requested anonymity for his own safety.

Pressure from residents and the shooting and wounding of a local newspaperman who reported about the "martyrs" of Shabqadar compelled authorities in November to shut a local office of Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an outlawed Pakistani militant group. It had circulated jihadist literature and CDs and recruited mostly jobless young men to go to Afghanistan _ like their fathers who fought the Soviet occupation of that country two decades ago.

Following the closure, recruiting has dried up, according to one former recruiter. But Samina Ahmed, an expert with the International Crisis Group think tank, warns that the upsurge in Taliban attacks on NATO forces is boosting the morale of sympathizers in Pakistani border areas and attracting recruits who are susceptible to militant propaganda and believe the Taliban can regain power.

About 4,000 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan over the past year, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press from Afghan, NATO and U.S. officials. Even worse violence is expected this spring and Pakistan, a key U.S. anti-terror ally, is under international pressure to crack down on militants' sanctuaries here.

While most Taliban fighters are thought to be Pashtuns living in Afghanistan, the flow of volunteers from just one corner of Pakistan's own sprawling Pashtun heartland _ much of it ungoverned and under the sway of pro-Taliban tribesmen _ lends weight to the Afghan government's claim that many militants hail from across the border.

At least three young men from these villages became suicide bombers for Taliban-led insurgents last summer and fall, family and neighbors say in this rural community, about 20 miles from the frontier.

Attrition is taking a toll on Taliban recruiting. The Taliban will have difficulty sustaining the kind of losses it incurred last year. The preachers of hate are still trying to get young men to punch their ticket for Paradise by going to Afghanistan to explode or get blown away, but at some point it becomes a hard sell.


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