The officer dragged Khaled into a tent. The unwelcome grim faces of the tent inmates afforded him a mere glance before going back to the dreariness of their minds. Terrified, Khaled found a corner to huddle up.
“Welcome to the dark world, my son,” exclaimed the man sitting next to him. Afraid to break any protocols, Khaled decided it was best to befriend silence. In any case, his shivering body wouldn’t allow him to speak coherently, or for that matter, speak at all.
The man questioned Khaled, “So, where are you from?”
“Ka-Kabul,” Khaled managed to meekly respond. It was only then that the dryness of his mouth became apparent to him. Perhaps risking his life, he asked the man, “Can I get some water?”
The man shook with laughter, which only drove Khaled to cower even more. “Son, this is not your home,” he responded curtly.
Weary and on the brink of fainting, Khaled wasn’t quite sure when sleep drew him in. “Will I ever see my mother again? Who are these people around me? Can I play? Where could Hassan be? Where am I even? Stop! Try to sleep! No more questions, Khaled.”
The bright light of the torch shone on Khaled’s face. The officer’s face stared down at him. “Wake up, it’s time for your first lesson.”
Terrified and afraid of being beaten up, Khaled sat upright in an instant. The ground beneath his feet seemed to be shaking as he stepped outside the tent and onto the barren terrains outside. No, it wasn’t the ground, it was his legs that quivered as he drew upon his last resources of energy to quietly follow the officer. His mind felt like a blank slate — he was too delirious to construct any thoughts at all.
The officer and Khaled entered a small cement house where Khaled was joined by a group of 20 boys, who reminded him of his classmates back home. Three middle-aged men in white overalls marched into the room and motioned for the group of 10-12 year old boys to sit down on the floor. Abdas, second in command to Kharoof, the leader of the Taliwat group, began addressing the boys.
“Children, it is time for you to rejoice. God has chosen you as the lucky ones to carry out his tasks on Earth. You are God’s disciples and God has entrusted us to show you the path to reach him.”
For the group of 20 boys, the following 6 months were marked by a strict regimen of waking up at the crack of dawn, reading the Koran for hours, and engaging in rigorous physical training. Three times a week, Kharoof would come and address the children, “God wants you to go out there and kill those souls who don’t abide by the principles set forth in the holy book. In the process you will sacrifice your lives as well, but it is to fulfill the wishes of God. For those of you who carry out his noble tasks in a dutiful manner, God will have sweet rewards for you in Heaven — delicious feasts, princesses, and endless joy and merrymaking. Now, which of you is a fool to not desire such an afterlife?”
No hand would be raised. The children had come to exalt Kharoof as God’s messenger whose words signified pure and untainted truth.
Khaled woke up even before dawn; today was not like the other days. After nearly an entire year of schooling, it was time for him to join some of his former classmates in Heaven. Wearing his finest white kurta, he braced himself for the task ahead of him, and met Abdas and Kharoof outside the mosque. The three of them silently walked in and practiced Namaaz (prayer to God). After, Kharoof placed his hands on Khaled’s shoulders, looked him straight in the eyes and with a pleased tone underlying his words, he exclaimed in a deep voice, “You know what you have to do. God is waiting for you. He will be proud.”
Khaled took his place in the back seat of the truck that transported him to Baluchistan, an area in Pakistan. It was 12:15pm by the time he reached the bustling city center thronging with people meandering around the shops, restaurants, and food carts. The fiery sensation in his belly got aggravated as he pressed the button in his right hand.
Breaking News: “20 killed and several injured as bomb goes off in City Center district of Baluchistan. Police reported to investigate. Taliwat suspected behind attack.”
Khaled lay in a pool of blood. With his last remaining breaths, he looked around the chaos he had caused. His gaze rested on the dead face lying near him — he was staring right into his Babajaan’s (father’s) lifeless eyes. A final thought crossed his head, “What have I done? Perhaps this is not what God wanted from me.”
Father and son lay dead next to each other.
Author’s Note: This is a fictional story that talks about the problem of the Taliban grooming children suicide bombers and brainwashing young minds. You can help raise awareness around this grave issue by sharing the story. If you have further ideas, I would love to hear from you.