Challenging the Taliban, one person at a time: Jalal’s* story

Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/Aware Girls

My name is Jalal* and I live in north-west Pakistan. It is known as a hotbed of militancy and extremism, where militants run the streets and bombs destroy lives. When the Taliban began taking over our area, I didn’t know what to do. One by one, I lost most of my friends to the Taliban. They were used to carry out suicide attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan and Waziristan, just across the border from Pakistan.

 

My name is Jalal* and I live in north-west Pakistan. It is known as a hotbed of militancy and extremism, where militants run the streets and bombs destroy lives.

I always liked reading and from early childhood I would read anything I could get my hands on. Later, I read books on Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Indian-Pakistan partition which had a strong impact on me as a person. I started writing stories in the children’s section of a newspaper which was circulated in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Taliban takeover

When the Taliban began taking over our area, I didn’t know what to do. But I did know how to write, so I began writing against them.

The Taliban used to collect funds for constructing mosques and they started conducting three day training sessions. These were supposed to be about religion but really they would preach hatred against the army and other people. I was never very religious so I was not attracted to them.

Slowly, they took the best students of my class, brainwashed them and used them for their own gains.

One by one, I lost most of my friends to the Taliban. They were used to carry out suicide attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan and Waziristan, just across the border from Pakistan.

Standing up against violence

Writing against the Taliban did not seem enough. I felt the need to somehow stop the Taliban. So along with a few of my friends, I began educating youth about peace and conflict resolution. I advised them to stay away from extremist groups.

In 2013, I came across Aware Girls, a local network of volunteers dedicated to saving their peers from indoctrination and radicalisation. I began attending their training on tolerance, peace and countering violent extremism. The most beneficial part of it was the clarity they gave on the Taliban and their agenda.

I sent some of the youth I worked with to Aware Girls’ training, and began giving talks on peace, conflict resolution and women’s history in the sessions.

My safety in danger

I continued to conduct youth sessions for young people in my home town, trying to save them from being taken over by the Taliban. I educated them about what Islam really says, citing references from the Quran and Hadith in order to show them how they were being misled. I told them about the importance of education, took them to Peshawar for exposure visits to show them how people lived more peaceful lives.

One of my students, Fawad*, who is very dear to me had started attending Taliban training when he was in fourth grade. Fortunately, I was able to challenge him and send him back to regular school. Now he is in eighth grade. He writes very good poetry and looks after my library which I opened for youth to expand their horizons and learn about peace and pluralism.

My hope for the future

Gradually, motivated by my successes with Fawad and others, I started conducting sessions with the youth who were being trained by the Taliban. The first two sessions are the most dangerous. If I convinced the young people of what I way saying, I could save them. But in the cases where I failed to convince them, they told the Taliban about my activities. Their threats turned into attacks. Fortunately I escaped. I have received tips from others about how to protect myself in this dangerous work.

Things have changed considerably since I began working to stop youth turning to extremism. I hope all this militancy ends soon.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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