- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Pakistani students along the rugged border with Afghanistan took their "holy war" against the United States to a new level this week, throwing themselves into a fund-raising drive for Osama bin Laden and his Taliban hosts next door.

The word "taliban" means students, and those attending thousands of religious boarding schools, known as madrassas, see their mission as raising cash to support America's most wanted terrorist.

"We are taliban, too," said a group of students, almost in unison, at Daarul Aloom Sarhid, an Islamic boarding school in downtown Peshawar.

For boys and young men who attend from ages 8 through their late 20s collecting cash for bin Laden seems as natural as children in the United States responding to President Bush's call for contributions for Afghan relief efforts.

"Fund raising is a major part of jihad," said Mohammed Yousaf, a student using the Arabic word that is usually translated as "holy war."

Jihad is on the mind of all 700 students at the Daarul Aloom Sarhid madrassa. When examinations end in just over two weeks, students will go to "fund-raising camps," from which they will go out and knock on doors, visit shops and ply the city's street markets for donations.

"I donated for the Afghan jihad. Students of the madrassa came to collect, and a lot of people gave. Even women are donating their gold jewelry for the jihad," said Khanzada Iqbad, a shopkeeper.

The money, students say, is for both Afghanistan's Taliban government and Saudi-born bin Laden, who is charged with masterminding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed more than 5,000 persons from 80 nations. Fund raising is just the latest expression of militancy against America over its air strikes on Afghanistan, and against the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for backing the U.S. campaign. Since the bombing began, anti-American protests take place daily.

The numbers of those involved represent a tiny fraction of Pakistan's 145 million people, and few see any immediate threat to Gen. Musharraf's government. But recent events mark a radicalization of a new generation of Muslim militants. Those who graduate today dream of the opportunity to go fight alongside Taliban soldiers against a widely anticipated invasion of U.S. ground troops.

Mohammed Zeesham, 17, said most students dream of fighting in Afghanistan since U.S. planes began dropping bombs on Oct. 7.

"About seventy-five out of every hundred students want to go fight. Before, it was very few, because there was no need for jihad," Mr. Zeesham said.

No one at the school believes bin Laden is responsible for the suicide attacks on the United States.

"Muslims are against terrorism. It was the Jews who did it," Mr. Zeesham said, unaware just how unbelievable that sounds outside the Muslim world.

The Taliban's senior leaders, most too young to have fought against the Soviets, were educated in Pakistani madrassas. The Taliban are from the same ethnic group that occupies the border provinces in Pakistan, the Pashtuns. The language is the same. In remote areas, members of a single Pashtun tribe freely cross the border and intermarry. In the early 1990s, when Afghan students graduating from Pakistani madrassas went home and formed today's Taliban militia, the Pakistani government supported the movement to restore stability to its war-torn neighbor. Today, the Pakistani government claims it has closed its border and is preventing anyone from going to Afghanistan to fight. But the madrassa system is so well established here, a region without any public schools, that it appears well beyond the reach of officials in the capital of Islamabad.

In the schools, the tuition is free. Students learn to read and write, and spend three or more years memorizing the entire Muslim holy book, the Koran.

"People are willing to sacrifice their lives if American ground troops come," said Saleem Khan, 75, the chief of one Pashtun tribal faction and an Islamic scholar with a modest house full of books. "Look at my family. They all fought against the Soviet Union, my sons, cousins, nephews, and now, when a new crisis comes, we all have to fulfill that role."

If a call for help ever came from the Taliban, he said, volunteers from Pakistan would triple the size of the Afghan army, now estimated at 40,000 fighters.

Mr. Khan's youngest of four sons had gone to the Afghan capital of Kabul three days earlier to work as a physician. As a young man, Mr. Khan fought against the Indian army in Kashmir. His eldest son died fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, where his two other sons were wounded. His 14-year-old grandson recently changed his name to Osama.

"Jihad is my whole life. I've known nothing else," he said.

At the Daarul Aloom Sarhid Madrassa, younger students plan to spend their time off at fund-raising camps. But those graduating, some plan to go to military training camps, hidden in the mountains.

"There are many training centers along the border, and the best ones are in Afghanistan," said Israar Ullah, 21, who expects to learn how to shoot, handle ammunition and learn skills needed for an extended guerrilla war.

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