June 10, 2013
Shabhaz Ahmed has a story to tell. It is an old story, one told by many men at many different times. It is about going to war, training, fighting in a foreign land, watching friends die and finally returning home, disillusioned by defeat.
In the case of Ahmed, however, home is a village in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab, the foreign land is Afghanistan, the training was provided by the Taliban, the enemy was the US and their local auxiliaries, and the hardships involved a lengthy period of imprisonment in appalling conditions.
Ahmed is one of several hundred Islamic militants living in the Punjab who have been enrolled in a new “deradicalisation programme” by local police. The scheme aims to ensure they do not return to extremism. The Pakistani army runs another centre, in the Swat valley near the country’s western frontier, where former militants from insurgent groups spend weeks on a scheme that also tries to reverse what military and police officials call the process of “brainwashing.”