Journey To Radicalisation: How A Cricket Loving Youngster Turned Into A Taliban Commander

Journey To Radicalisation: How A Cricket Loving Youngster Turned Into A Taliban Commander
He was short and fair-complexioned with a Nubian nose that often made him an object of laughter among his class fellows. Though short in stature, he possessed immense energy and courage. He was an average student but a diehard fan of cricket and of cricketer Yasir Hamid. We were all passionate about cricket but he was obsessed, so much so that he wanted to become a cricketer like Hamid. 

We would go to newspaper stalls after school but he had no interest in news. He would immediately buy a newspaper and sports magazine if it had Yasir Hamid's photograph. Then he would either paste Hamid's picture on the walls of his home or insert it inside a book cover. There was not a single book in his school bag without Hamid's picture on it. Moreover, he would crop tiny pictures of Hamid from newspapers and keep them either in his wallet or pocket. His only desire was to somehow meet Hamid, though it did not come true in his lifetime.

His eyes blinked over a dozen times a minute. Though it was not something unusual for him, we would tease him and ask if there was some machinery fitted in his eyes that made his eyelids blink so many times. Upon this, he would not just get enraged but also blurt out a volley of abuses and switch his seat to sit on the other side of the table.

He was an opening batsman in his school cricket team and exceptionally good in fielding as well which is why teachers often said that the boy would one day make it to the national cricket team. Alas, they were unaware of what fate had in store for him. 

His performance in studies was below par, that is why we often either ended up getting spanked or mercilessly hit with a cane on our extended hands in the early hours of harsh winter mornings. He would cry for hours for his hands were really tender, but those ruthless school teachers would barely show a hint of mercy.

He was an opening batsman in his school cricket team and exceptionally good in fielding as well which is why teachers often said that the boy would one day make it to the national cricket team. Alas, they were unaware of what fate had in store for him. 


Pakistan-India cricket matches usually began after school was over. On the day of the match, he remained restless and indifferent toward studies and waited for the school hours to pass, wondering when the daylight would dim and the match begin. Above all, power outage was his biggest concern, because electricity in tribal areas appeared in flashes of at times 10 and at other times 30 minutes. He had a generator in his house but he would implore his friends to buy him some extra gasoline for the generator so he could watch the entire match without interruptions.

In our classroom, chairs were placed on either side leaving an aisle in between where he would pose as a bowler or a batsman, rehearsing his favourite shots with sporadic screams. Meanwhile, his class-fellows would start shouting obscenities at him. At times a fellow student would jump in, lift him with both hands and drop him to the ground. Enraged, he would resort to name-calling. 

His father was a clerk in the national airline and the family enjoyed a good living standard since they were just two brothers -- both cherished by their parents. They preferred travelling in an airplane over getting pocket-money for school. Thanks to their father’s job, they were entitled to some free tickets with which they travelled either to Karachi or Lahore. When he shared his air travel experiences with us, our jaws would drop. We struggled to understand how airplanes could have women providing different services and how one could watch movies inside the plane. And when he told us that there are toilets in the airplane, we would not believe it. We would maintain that if someone were to pee in an airplane toilet the fluid would drop on the people below. He had no clue about this puzzle, but he vowed to seek an answer as soon as his father returned. 

When we reached eighth grade, he told us that he played cricket after school and then spent some time at his doctor relative’s clinic. He would tell us how much he liked to serve people and that all he wanted to do was to play cricket and to learn to treat patients.

Time moved on. He started praying five times a day and grew a beard as well. Believe it or not, black beard on his rosy cheeks suited him greatly, but I don't know why his kohl-laden eyes exuded rather strange vibes to me. We would tease him about it. The days of our life passed, and his personality began to change gradually. He neither talked about cricket nor would he express his typical enthusiasm for travelling in an airplane. He would only talk about the bravery of the Taliban and the stories of selling faith.

Ultimately, we realised that he was overwhelmed by the Taliban's charisma. In fact, his relatives who were doctors would treat the Taliban fighters injured during encounters with security forces. They were always treated at night. Thus he would stay in the clinic until late at night. He soon began to skip school.

He would turn up at school once or twice in a week and as soon as we talked about cricket, a strange discomfort would appear on his face. The day came that he could not take it anymore. He yelled at us saying: "Stop promoting infidelity. Sports like cricket are forbidden in Islam since they were introduced to mislead Muslims and to weaken their faith." We countered it by asking him where the Yasir Hamid in him had gone. To this, he repented from God for the photographs of him he used to keep and said that he had burnt all of them. He added that there was not a single picture in his wallet either. 

He warned us not to talk about cricket anymore, saying we should shed tears at the dismal state of our faith as we shamelessly watched cricket while the Americans raped our mothers and sisters in Afghanistan; that we felt no qualms for those bereaved families.

In 10th grade, he completely disappeared from school. Several weeks went by but his family could not find any clue of his whereabouts. Indeed, everyone knew that he had taken the path of jihad that is a one-way route.

It was either January or February of 2009 when some armed Taliban commanders in our local market made an announcement via loudspeakers asking everyone to assemble in the courtyard of the mosque. Though we were confined in our school, people told us afterward that our classmate had embraced martyrdom in a drone strike. We could not believe what they were saying. How was it possible at all? The villagers said that during last night's rainfall, a drone strike hit a camp where he was wrapping up weapons with plastic covers; that everyone inside the camp died on spot; that the Taliban buried him right there since his body was torn to shreds. 

That day, I sobbed my heart out. At school, a strange silence hovered over the class for several days because we had lost one of our best friends.