In a remote part of northern Pakistan a drone strike hits a nondescript two-storey mud house, killing its inhabitants. Among the dead is Taliban leader Ameer Nusrat, whose body is found with one hand tucked behind his back. What brought the Ameer and his three disparate companions to this fiery end? Read this excerpt from ‘The Ameer is Dead’ by BBC journalist, Arif Shamim.
‘Keep the women away. They should not be around when you discuss plans for submission to Allah. They weaken your resolve, ask too many questions and lure you; they are like a road that takes you away from Jannah with a signpost saying ‘Welcome to Hell’. Remember Huwa, how she ruined Adam’s life and the lives of our entire human race. We are here because of them and now God has given us the opportunity to go back to Heaven once again. Don’t let them near you and spoil this opportunity too. Always keep them at bay,’ Ameer Nusrat’s ears echoed with the advice of his mentor, Maulvi Shams. He moved his right arm, the only arm that was still intact and with great difficulty tried to scratch his back, a tired and resigned expression on his blood-drained, cold face.
Had he been right?
Maulvi Shams, with his trademark henna-dyed beard, was a firebrand eccentric preacher, and even Ameer Nusrat, who had been his favourite and most trusted lieutenant, sometimes found his opinions quite bizarre and outrageous, especially his views on women.
‘Right from their birth they carry the filth. As they grow, they not only bleed, but also pollute the mind of the menfolk. That’s why there is no woman prophet; they are not allowed to lead prayers and are forbidden to be in the open company of men. They are smutty. Their only job is to procreate and that too is a messy business. Are you with me?’ he had once sermoned Ameer Nusrat when they were alone in his hujra, and though he was not sure he agreed, he had had to listen.
A tall, slender man in his late fifties, Maulvi Shams looked young for his age. He had married twice, but both marriages ended in divorce. Nobody ever heard of his wives again and nobody ever mentioned them either. Pathans didn’t discuss their women with each other; they were too personal, too alien and too remote to be discussed.
Very little was known about the Maulvi’s past. The only rumour that had made rounds for some time was that, until about fifteen years ago, he had been a vagabond and had been accused of theft and molesting boys in the Bannu district, from where he had fled and taken refuge in Wana. He was a Mehsud, belonging to the Shabi Khel section of the Alizai branch, a warrior Pakhtun tribe.
After reaching Wana, he had wanted to settle down and for that, he needed someone to support him. He found that support in the form of the Taleb Mujahideen, who had needed new recruits and Shams, a Mehsud and an absconder, had suited them just right. Their job was to cross over to Afghanistan for jihad and smuggle in goods on their return journey, some of which were then sold all over Pakistan at an exorbitant profit. But their main trading market was in Bara, on the outskirts of Peshawar.
The business of jihad had suited Maulvi Shams too; he found both bounty and fraternity in it. Due to his personal experience in Bannu and his hostility towards the security forces, he had been glad to take part in the attacks on them. He was a master dissembler, who would not let his intentions be known until he had completely formed a fool-proof counter-attack strategy, much to the surprise of his enemies.
With prominence came respect and authority. From the simple illiterate Shams, he became Maulvi Shams, and started negotiating in tribal disputes and even issuing fatwas against those who opposed the Talebs and their interpretation of Islam. That was when he had met Nusrat.
Nusrat was the only educated Taleb in the group, the others mostly being farmers, shepherds or school dropouts. Later, graduates from abroad would also join them.
In his very first meeting with Nusrat, Maulvi Shams had sensed that he had found someone who would not only propagate the cause of his jihad, but who could also reinforce his authority in the region and beyond.
That was the start of their long association, which had remained steadfast, even in times when many of his fellow Talebs were parting ways with Maulvi Shams, mainly because of what they said was his callous, selfish and devious attitude. But Ameer Nusrat had stuck with him through thick and thin and had even kidnapped and killed a couple of deserters. ‘For the informers and cowards who choose to leave the path of jihad there is only one punishment and that is death. No matter where they hide, their death will find them,’ was what the Taliban Shura (council) had once decreed.
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