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Afghanistan Report: June 6, 2008

Afghanistan: Teen Describes Madrasah Effort To Make Him A Suicide Bomber

Shakirullah was interviewed at a detention center run by the Afghan intelligence service

KABUL/PRAGUE -- Ever since he was caught three months ago in Afghanistan's Khost Province trying to carry out a suicide attack, 14-year-old Shakirullah has been pondering how he went from childhood in Pakistan to imprisonment in Kabul as an international terrorist.

Just one year ago, Shakirullah was living with his family in his native tribal region of South Waziristan, in Pakistan. The world Shakirullah knew in his village of Jandul revolved around his father, Noor Ali Khan, his mother, and three older brothers.

But Shakirullah's childhood in the rugged mountain region near the Afghan border came to a dramatic end last fall when his family sent him to a religious boarding school -- the nearby Salib madrasah in South Waziristan -- to receive instruction from conservative Islamist clerics.

The boy says teachers had taught him the Koran for half a year, then gave him an explosives-packed suicide vest and took him across the border into Afghanistan.

Shakirullah was picked up before he could blow himself up near U.S. troops, a mission that minders at his Pakistani madrasah assured him would bring him eternal life.

He is now being held at a facility run by Afghanistan's national intelligence service -- a detention center that keeps the teenager separated from older Taliban fighters, hardened criminals, and convicted murderers.

'Never Die'

When Afghan officials allowed RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan into the facility to interview Shakirullah, the boy describes a militant network in Pakistan that "forced" him to become a suicide bomber. The teen also directly implicates clerics at the madrasah as being part of that network.

"[I was attending] Salib madrasah. About 50 other people were attending," Shakirullah said. "The teachers were all from Pakistan. I was there for five or six months."

Shakirullah says that his instruction focused entirely on the Koran while he was at the madrasah. But he says the clerics started urging him to become a suicide bomber after he finished studying the Koran.

Shakirullah also says several of the teachers at the madrasah told him that he would "never die" if he sacrificed himself as a suicide bomber in neighboring Afghanistan.

According to Shakirullah, his teachers increased their pressure on him to commit a suicide-bomb attack after he asked to see his mother and father. He says his teachers told him he was not allowed to see his parents before the attack, but assured him that he would "come back" to see them afterward.

Shakirullah identifies a teacher at the madrasah named Azizullah as the person who transported him across the border into Afghanistan's Khost Province, urging him to blow himself up. He says Azizullah also provided him with an explosives-laden vest and instructed him to detonate the device when he got close to a group of U.S. soldiers.

"They told me to go to Afghanistan and carry out a suicide attack and that I would come back," Shakirullah says. "[Azizullah] didn't allow me to inform my family. I was forced to come [to Afghanistan]. When I finished [studying] the Koran, they told me, 'Now you carry out a suicide attack and you will come back to visit your parents.' Then I was brought to Afghanistan."

Close Call

Authorities in Kabul say troops from the Afghan National Army first noticed the teenager as he was walking alone toward a security checkpoint in Khost Province.

Observing that the boy was acting confused and was wearing a suspiciously oversized vest, the Afghan soldiers stopped Shakirullah from detonating the explosives. Instead, they took him into custody for questioning.

Shakirullah says his Afghan jailers have treated him well and that he has not been abused or tortured during the many interrogation sessions he has undergone.

He says that in the three months since his arrest, he has had plenty of time to think about how his teachers at the madrasah took advantage of his impressionable age.

Shakirullah now says the madrasah teachers lied to him -- giving him "bad advice and trying to kill me along with other Muslims."

As for the future, Shakirullah says he is happy just to be alive and safe. But he says he wants to continue his studies to better understand how he was led astray by the madrasah teachers. The boy also says that he misses his mother and wants desperately to see her again.

reported by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Rezwan Murad in Kabul and Jan Alekozai in Prague; written by Ron Synovitz in Prague

China: Afghan Investment Reveals Larger Strategy

By Ron Synovitz

Ibrahim Adel, Afghanistan's minister for mines and industry

China has won a $3.5 billion contract to develop Afghanistan's Aynak copper field, the largest foreign direct investment project in the history of Afghanistan.

The size of the bid -- almost double the expected amount -- surprised other potential foreign investors.

By some estimates, the 28-square-kilometer copper field in Logar Province could contain up to $88 billion worth of ore. But there is no power plant in the area that can generate enough electricity for the mining and extraction operations. And Afghanistan has never had the kind of railroad needed to haul away the tons of copper that could be extracted.

That is why a large part of the Chinese bid includes the cost of building a 400-megawatt, coal-fired power plant and a freight railroad passing from western China through Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Indeed, the cost of building so much infrastructure in a volatile security environment like Afghanistan is prohibitive for many private firms. But Niklas Norling, an expert on China and Central Asia at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development, says the price tag is tolerable for a Chinese state firm because the project contributes to Beijing's plans for the development of western China and its regional trade links.

"You have to see this in the context of China's great western development program, which has led to major investment into the western provinces [of China] and, of course, also crossborder connections to Central Asia, South Asia, and Iran," Norling says. "In order to develop the west [of China], they need energy resources, and they need other resource materials. So far, Afghanistan has remained virtually untouched by Beijing's concerns, in contrast to China's involvement in Central Asia, Pakistan, and Iran.

"The past few years have seen investments into the Karakorum Highway in Pakistan, the Gwadar port [in Karachi], [and] a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang [Uyghur Autonomous Region]. China has signed a $100 billion, 25-year energy contract with Iran. And so on and so on," Norling continues. "So, of course, this forms part of a greater strategy."

China In Competition

Norling says the Aynak copper mine also should be seen in terms of China's competition with countries like Russia and the United States for economic influence in the region.

"All states [in this part of Asia] basically are swing states whose geopolitical alignments could tilt either way during the next decade -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran perhaps also, and the Central Asian republics," Norling says. "The state that manages to acquire the most influence will, of course, tie these states into their orbit. And I think China is progressing well to do this."

Industry experts say the venture could be risky for the Chinese company, China Metallurgical Group. They say the same obstacles that prevented Anyak from being developed during the last 30 years also could prevent China Metallurgical Group from meeting its goals there.

Years of war and factional fighting in Afghanistan have ensured that the Aynak deposit has remained largely untouched since Soviet geologists surveyed the area in the 1970s. And although the copper field is in a relatively secure part of Afghanistan, the railroad and power lines would be difficult to defend against attacks by militants.

Safety Of Local Residents

Another important factor would be keeping the local population happy about the venture. For now, many residents in the area say they support the project because of the thousands of jobs Afghan officials have promised it will create. But with corruption in Afghanistan running high, and with billions of dollars at stake, some residents are concerned their safety may be neglected.

"The extraction and production of copper begins with explosives. Then it is processed in a way that produces [toxic] dust and dangerous gasses -- affecting areas near and far," says local resident Abdul Wasi Ahmadzai. "So we want to be sure that the government pays close attention to these issues."

Concerns also have been expressed about the need for the Chinese firm to prevent toxins from seeping into the underground water table. The fear is that drinking-water supplies could be contaminated for people as far away as Kabul.

Fazlullah, a legislator in the upper chamber of parliament from Logar Province, says maintaining support for the project from Logar residents requires proper monitoring of issues such as environmental protection, as well as the private property rights of those who say parts of the copper field are on their land.

"The humanitarian and citizenship rights of our people whose lives are threatened by this project are not being mentioned -- the people who will be losing their homes, stocks, and farms," Fazlullah says. "They must decide about the fate of the villages which will be destroyed by this project. The environmental effects of this project undermine the villages of Surkhab and Mosaayee."

'High Environmental Standards'

Afghan Minister of Mines and Industry Ibrahim Adel tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that there are no villages in the area that is to be mined. He also says the Chinese firm is obliged to compensate residents who will lose their property as a result of the project.

"Regarding the environment, both sides have accepted that the best standards will be enforced. Those are the [international] standards of 'equator principles' and the World Bank," Adel says. "So Aynak will be one of the world's most unique mines, with high environmental standards."

The Afghan government is eager for China's involvement. China has proven in other developing countries that it is an efficient partner and that the projects it initiates are usually realized. But Norling is more cautious, considering the scale and location of the Aynak project.

“These plans are still ideas. It will be seen in the next six years whether this will actually materialize," Norling says. "If the security situation does not improve, or if it even gets worse, it might jeopardize this project. Time will tell. I think the first step will be to see how the security situation turns out in the next one or two years."

With new geological studies revealing other potentially lucrative mineral fields across Afghanistan, the Aynak deal is seen by other would-be foreign investors as a litmus test -- on how Afghanistan deals with international investors, on the level of corruption, and on whether security can be provided for such high-profile, foreign-funded projects.

Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sultan Sarwar contributed to this story from Prague and Logar Province