Accessibility links

Central Asia: Pakistan Says Militants Kidnap Central Asian Boys For Training

  • Antoine Blua

How did a 15-year-old Tajik boy get arrested earlier this year in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan? The boy says he was kidnapped. But the Pakistani military says the youth might also have been part of a network of foreign Islamic militants operating in the wild tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.

Prague, 10 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In late November, Khalid and two other young men were paraded before the media in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

In an interview with Reuters Television, the pimple-faced 15-year-old seemed to speak like a hard-line Muslim:

"Khalid: "[I want] Islam, the government of Taliban.

Reporter: "You mean, like the Taliban?"

Khalid: "Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Taliban. Islamic Afghanistan. All the world understands, everyone knows that this [Taliban government] is a true Islamic government."

According to Khalid, he was taken to northwestern Pakistan after being kidnapped along with four other boys while on their way to school in Tajikistan's Khotlon region. The other boys were returned on payment of ransom, but Khalid roamed South Waziristan, surviving on handouts.
According to Khalid, he was taken to northwestern Pakistan after being kidnapped along with four other boys while on their way to school in Tajikistan's Khotlon region.

In an earlier interview with the Pakistani newspaper "Dawn," Khalid said he saw "true Islam" in the tribal region. He called Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov a "kafir," or infidel. Khalid said he likes the new name his abductors gave him and insists his real name -- Maruf -- is a "kafir" name.

Sharaf Fayzulloev is head of the Tajik Security Service in the Khotlon region. He told RFE/RL that so far he has been unable to identify Khalid's family.

"We couldn't find anyone who would be able to recognize him," Fayzulloev said. "I think the information he gave may be incorrect. I cannot say [whether Khalid is from the Khotlon region] because we haven't identified him yet. As you know, these people usually change their names and take nicknames. His name may not be Maruf."

Khalid said he wants to return to his mother -- his only parent -- and doesn't want to fight a "jihad," or holy struggle. He denied having anything to do with foreign militants.

However, Pakistani military officials said they believe that Khalid was part of a gang that planted a bomb in a South Waziristan village that killed four school children.

Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain, who heads Pakistan's hunt for Al-Qaeda-linked militants in northwestern Pakistan, told reporters recently that militants are increasingly using teenaged Central Asian boys for militant activities.

"First of all, you will probably be perturbed by the thought that two of the children who were standing here will not even be capable of wiping their noses, so how can they be terrorists? They are terrorists of the future," Hussain said.

But Navruz Bhodurov, an official with the Tajik consulate in Islamabad, said Pakistani officials themselves are not fully convinced of such accusations.

"We are in touch with all Pakistani authorities including the military, the police, and the Foreign Ministry. So far, we have received a letter from the Pakistani Interior Ministry. Believe me, let me point out that even Pakistani officials are not certain about all the accusations against [Khalid]."

The other two young men who were paraded before the media include Hussain, a 12-year-old ethnic Tajik from Afghanistan, and 26-year-old Abdul Qahar from Uzbekistan.

Lieutenant General Hussain said both shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistani tribal areas after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Both were arrested in South Waziristan in November.

Hussain said Qahar confessed to receiving terrorist training in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan before slipping into Afghanistan in 2000. According to Hussein, the boy also said he met with Uzbek militant Tahir Yuldishev in northwest Pakistan.

Yuldashev heads the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant group that seeks to impose radical Islamic rule in Central Asia. It is made up of Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and even some Uighurs from the China's Xinjiang autonomous region.

Hussain said Yuldashev is reorganizing his militants and recruiting young men for attacks on the security forces.

"All the foreigners are young boys whose average age is 16 or 17 years, and it is my assessment that most of them have either been kidnapped or they were sold," Hussain said. "And after bringing them here, Qari Tahir Yuldashev, who has his own political motives, is using these [boy] for terrorism."

In March, Yuldashev reportedly managed to escape after being wounded by Pakistani security forces. Blamed for a series of bomb attacks in the Uzbek capital in 1999, he has been sentenced in absentia to death.

(Sojida Djakhfarova of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)