- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Afghanistan is preparing to release captured survivors from an ill-equipped 10,000-man Pakistani army that rushed to the aid of the Taliban last fall, raising fears that at least some of them will go back to fighting Americans.
The 10,000 Pakistani "jihadis," who rushed into battle armed mostly with poorly working muskets, suffered severely in the U.S.-led offensive that ended Taliban rule.
Northern Alliance forces captured about 6,000 of them, and 3,500 others are dead or missing, according to a defense analyst in Islamabad, though other estimates put the number of prisoners much lower. Only 500 made it back to the Pakistani border, where they were promptly arrested.
Afghan authorities plan to begin sending the Pakistani prisoners home, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said yesterday during a visit to Islamabad in which the countries agreed on joint security operations for the pursuit of terrorists.
"I think the first group of such Pakistani prisoners will be arriving in Pakistan in the next couple of days," Abdullah said. In return he is seeking the release of Afghans being held in Pakistani jails on minor charges.
Pakistani reporters who have visited some of the prisoners say the majority are 15 to 20 years old and joined the jihad after hearing in their mosques that they had a religious duty to defend Muslim forces against an infidel attack. One unemployed and illiterate 18-year-old told the Karachi paper the News that he had been trying to make a living selling fruits on the streets when he responded to the call.
Eight out of 10 detainees contacted by Reuters news agency in a Kabul intelligence service jail yesterday said they would not return to a violent way of life if released.
But one 32-year-old said, "I will go wherever there are aggressors like the Americans in Afghanistan and fight against them." Another Pakistani shouted from his cell: "I shall immediately set to work against U.S. forces if freed."
For those prisoners who do get home, it will have been a bizarre and arduous journey.
Ayaz Ahmed Khan, a retired air marshal now working for a private think tank, told The Washington Times he was briefly kidnapped by the volunteer army, or "lashkar," as it made its way through the mountains toward Afghanistan last fall.
The leading men in the group, traversing the Karakorum Highway through the mountains north of Islamabad, were in an excited state and did not seem ready to listen to reason, Marshal Ahmed Khan said.
He said he stopped talking to them when they began insulting him and that they then released him.
Visiting the border later to see what had become of his captors, the air marshal said, he was shocked to learn that border police had allowed the ragtag army to cross into Afghanistan.
The officer in charge "told me he had only 177 men guarding the border" in that area, and it was not easy to stop an army of 10,000 jihadis, Marshal Ahmed Khan said. The officer "told me that if they had shot even one of them, the whole of the northern areas [in Pakistan] would have risen up" in rebellion.
Marshal Ahmed Khan, now employed by the Rawalpindi-based Foundation for Research on International Environment, National Development and Security, said the jihadi army appeared to be totally untrained and that the men were very poorly armed.
A few had rocket-propelled grenades and other modern weapons, but the rest were armed with 19th-century muskets, probably purchased in arms bazaars along the border.
Most of the jihadis appeared to be Pashtuns, but about 1 percent were from other ethnic groups in Pakistan, he said.
The army had been assembled by Maulana Sufi Mohammed, the head of a relatively small Islamic militant group in Pakistan that until last fall was thought to be of little consequence. The cleric is awaiting trial in a prison near Quetta, close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Marshal Ahmed Khan said some of the leaders of the lashkar told him while detaining him on the Karakorum Highway that "Maulana Sufi Mohammed had issued a [religious decree] saying they should seize any four-by-four vehicle they came across and take it with them into Afghanistan."
Marshal Ahmed Khan had been driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but the jihadis let him go after he told them he was a retired high-ranking officer of the Pakistani air force. For some reason, they seemed to pay deference to his rank, he said.

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