Sun, Nov 28, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Five days in Taliban prison

Though there is a chance you may be executed in a Taliban prison, you’re unlikely to be beheaded after Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, issued orders banning the practice because it generated negative coverage in the media

By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad  /  The Guardian, London

After the battle with US special forces, helicopter gunships and Afghan government troops, two Taliban were dead and several more injured.

We had been asleep in a guest room belonging to a man from east London who was a mullah and a fighter when the attack happened.

But the timing of the firefight made the Taliban suspicious and Bilal, one of the senior commanders in this district of Baghlan province, told us politely that we would have to answer some questions. Our phones, bags and cameras were confiscated.

They detained us first in a madrassa — a religious school — a compound-style building flanked on one side by a mosque and on the other by a government school. In the courtyard there were pools of congealed blood where some of the casualties had been brought that morning. We were led into a room where Amanulah, a bespectacled teacher in his 30s, sat with his students, who ranged from 7-year-olds to fuzzy-bearded teenagers with turbans and guns.

Amanulah’s handsome face was dwarfed by his oversized turban and his eyes were red from lack of sleep. He and his older students had spent the night fighting with the rest of the district chief Lal Muhammad’s Taliban. One madrassa teacher had been hurt in the fighting. His son had lost his eye.

Amanulah sat beneath the school emblem, a black curtain embroidered with Koranic verses in golden and white threads and covered with the emblems of the Taliban fighter: a Kalashnikov assault rifle with a shining bayonet, RPG launchers, grenades and knives of different shapes and sizes. Among the embroidered words were: “By the name of God the most gracious the most merciful.”

“I learned English for 12 years in Pakistan,” Amanulah said in correct but extremely slow English. “But here I haven’t used English for a long time.” He had come to the school three years ago because it had a good reputation. “There are very few good schools now in Afghanistan,” he said. “We had many during the Taliban rule but they are closed now or under government control.

“I didn’t want to be a Talib,” he said in a softer voice. “I was just a student. I came here to study. But all my brothers in the school, the teachers and students, were already fighting [with Lal Muhammad’s Taliban] and they asked me if I wanted to join and I said yes.”

CURRICULUM

In the thousand-year-old madrassa system, men like Amanulah are both students and teachers. While he studied the texts needed for him to become a mullah, he taught the younger children the essentials of the Taliban’s particular brand of Islam.

“You join at the age of six or seven, depending on your family. You are taught the basics of belief, religious rituals and grammar. Later you study Persian language and poetry, then you go into basic Islamic law and all along you study and memorize the Koran and Arabic grammar.”

Around 8am the smaller children left the room to prepare breakfast. Two of them picked up a blackened teapot while two others went outside to collect food donations.

They spread the breakfast out on a cloth on the floor: tea, a cold flat loaf of bread, some smaller bits of stale bread and one warm piece of bread that had been cooked in butter. The younger students didn’t touch the hot buttery loaf but politely munched on the old bread.

When breakfast was tidied away, Amanullah picked up his books and went to study with one of his teachers. One of the boys started sweeping the yard while the rest moved into another room of the madrassa.

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