ISSN 2330-717X

Brotherhood Of The Damned: Shabqadar, Pakistan And The (Re)-Making Of Taliban In Afghanistan – Analysis


By Andrew Fraser*

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has generated not only a determined insurgency, but also the extraordinary emergence of suicide bombing as a method of warfare in the region. Beginning in 2004, Canadian ISAF forces alone were the target of nearly 40 suicide bombings. The identities of those who annihilate themselves in the service of suicide warfare, along with the question of who the Taliban really are, remains shaded in mystery. However, a survey of accounts from international writers offers disturbing insight into not only the rise of suicide warfare in Afghanistan, but also the insurgency itself.

Location of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Locations of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

In a lonely corner of northwestern Pakistan, generations of militancy, combined with ethnic rage, xenophobia, and Islamist views of martyrdom, all buttressed by a sophisticated recruiting operation by traditional Pakistani militant organizations, have drawn young men to the heat of an arid battleground far away in southern Afghanistan, many never to return. What emerges is an intimate human story chronicling the lives and motivations of young men who volunteered themselves to die in suicide attacks against Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan.

The story of Shabqadar has far-reaching implications in understanding both the re-emergence of the Taliban, and the future of international operations in Afghanistan. The rise of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, beginning in the mid-2000s, coincides with sophisticated recruitment efforts in Pakistan. According to the villagers, the recruiters were not members of the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban, but instead, came from traditional Pakistani militant organizations that although in some cases are officially outlawed, they have long-served as instruments of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. They were deployed as weapons of Pakistani foreign policy, waging a brutal insurgency against the Indian Army in Kashmir. They have also been implicated in the abuses against domestic opponents in Pakistan, but until now, their participation in the Taliban insurgency has gone largely unexplored. It is something that would have been unlikely to ever take place without some level of official collusion in Pakistan. Given that the government in Kabul and its Western backers have impaired Islamabad’s long-term goal of securing a high level of influence over Afghans’ affairs, it would not be surprising if the Pakistani government was, at the very least, ‘turning a blind eye’ to Afghan Taliban recruitment in Pakistan.

Additionally, the findings of those who have visited Shabqadar suggest that plans the United States has articulated at varying points to train and equip regional security entities are very risky, and have only limited likelihood of long-term success. Those organizations are made up of men who come from areas of Pakistan that are generally hostile to outsiders, and far more likely to sympathize with the Taliban.

Finally, the events in Shabqadar underline that there is likely little the United States and its allies can do to curtail the appeal of the Pakistani militant recruiters who trawl the rural Pashtun areas of northwestern Pakistan, tempting young men with promises of brotherhood, adventure, and heavenly paradise. To be effective, the solution to militant recruitment must come from within and not be imposed by foreign powers, who are generally looked upon with deep suspicion by those who reside in the region. More broadly, the only solution likely to bring lasting peace to the region must accommodate Pakistan’s longstanding goal of achieving security by gaining a high level of influence in Afghanistan.


Several voyages by writers into the Pashtun-dominated hinterlands of western Pakistan shine a ray of light on the murky questions surrounding who the Afghan Taliban really are. A number of those excursions passed through Shabqadar, a Pashtun town of 70,000 in the North West Frontier Province.1 Shabqadar rests in the Charsadda District, 30 kilometers from the Afghan border, bounded by the rugged hills of the Mohmand tribal agency to the west, and the green Doaba countryside to the east.

 Photo of 45th Rattray's Sikhs with prisoners from the second Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878. Photo by John Burke.
Photo of 45th Rattray’s Sikhs with prisoners from the second Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878. Photo by John Burke.

The Swat and Kabul Rivers flow respectively to the north and south of the village, forming an aquatic vice that sustains the area’s traditional agriculture industry, before merging and joining the Indus River. In 1921, British engineers constructed the Munda Headworks, a massive network of irrigation trenches that remain a central element of the regional irrigation system that has helped cement the region’s reputation as the breadbasket of the North West Frontier Province.2

In the past, visiting writers have varyingly characterized Shabqadar as the archetype of a Pashtun frontier town, emblematic of others scattered throughout the region, and a traditional village sitting on the edge of a vast, pockmarked moonscape of rugged hills surrounded by plains that resemble the colour of frozen milk chocolate.3 For centuries, the region was the gateway for invading armies. Elsewhere in Pakistan, Shabqadar is best known for its historic fort built in the mid-1830s under the rule of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, whose Sikh army conquered the region in the early-19th Century, ending 1,000 years of Muslim rule. Pashtun tribesmen famously laid siege to Shabqadar Fort in 1897 during a bloody revolt against British rule.

Village life in Shabqadar has long been built around the town’s central market. The region’s gateway status made Shabqadar a trading post, something that continued through generations of Sikh, British, and finally Pakistani rule. Despite the economic opportunity of a market town and a strong tradition of agriculture in the region, the town has struggled economically. Although better off than many communities in rural Pakistan, unemployment and inadequate government services remain vexing problems in Shabqadar.

By 2006, Shabqadar was emerging as the site of a different kind of revolt. Militants were recruiting locals to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan, fostering a situation that had repercussions for both the village, and for the NATO intervention in Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Riaz Khan and Matthew Pennington found a mixture of both anguish and delight for the many young local men killed or left missing on the battlefields of Afghanistan. They chronicled the stories of three families from the area who reported that their sons had ventured into Afghanistan in search of combat and martyrdom.


One of them was a 22 year-old paramilitary police officer in the Frontier Constabulary Force named Aminullah, who, like many Pashtun in the region, used only a single name.4 Aminullah had once served in Islamabad, guarding foreign embassies.5 His final posting was in Balakot, in Mansehra district, a picturesque region of the North West Frontier Province that was shattered by the terrible earthquake of October 2005.6

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Mansehra district has a long-standing reputation as a focal point for militant activity.7 The hills and the thick forests that blanket much of the surrounding terrain offer an isolation that made the region an ideal location for numerous training camps, where many militants passed through en route to previous campaigns in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir.8 However, how many of the camps were still in existence during Aminullah’s time in the area is unclear.

Sometime in the spring or early-summer of 2006, he left his post and disappeared, likely into wilds of Waziristan, the autonomous tribal area 300 kilometers south of Shabqadar. He reportedly told his family that he was journeying off to spend time in the company of a popular Muslim revivalist movement that sends preachers throughout the region. As far as his family was concerned, it was something that fit the character of the pious Aminullah.9 By his father’s account, the family did not know what was transpiring until shadowy figures handed him a letter as he was leaving a mosque written by the aspiring martyr in blue ink, stating his intent to die in Afghanistan. Based upon information the militant associates of the young policeman channeled to the family, Aminullah resurfaced in Kandahar province in mid-summer and blew himself up in an attack on a NATO convoy.

In his suicide note, he cited a religious duty to battle infidel invaders, and declared that he had chosen to carry out a suicide bombing of his own free will.10 He asked his family not to mourn, and expressed a parting wish that other relatives would follow his lead. He claimed that his pursuit of martyrdom was the culmination of a lifelong dream and he wrote with rhetorical effusion about his desire to finally embrace it. “Had Allah given me one thousand lives, I would have sacrificed it—a thousand times” he reportedly proclaimed.11

The family specified that the attack occurred in late-July 2006 in Kandahar province. As noted by the correspondents, there is little doubt that Aminullah was one of the two bombers who blew themselves up in an attack on a massive Canadian convoy on 22 July as it returned to the Kandahar Airbase from combat operations west of the city.12

Two soldiers were killed in the initial explosion, and eight others injured. Within an hour, the second bomber arrived on foot and blew himself up, killing five Afghan bystanders and injuring many others.13

Among those killed in the attack was Corporal Frank Gomez, a career soldier from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and a distinguished veteran of the Canadian Airborne Regiment who had previously served in Bosnia, Somalia, and Cyprus. Also killed was Corporal Jason Warren, a reservist from the Black Watch, the Royal Highland Regiment.14 Abdul Qodus, a 25 year-old cameraman for the private television station, Aryana, arrived to cover the initial attack and was killed by the second explosion.15

The late-bomber’s father, Janat Khan, a 62 year-old retiree who spent his career as a junior paramilitary officer, expressed satisfaction over Aminullah’s decision to perish in Afghanistan, and proclaimed that he would proudly send his three surviving sons on the same path.16 Khan professed that the United States had conquered Afghanistan and enslaved its people.17 By his account, Aminullah’s decision to sacrifice himself had won the retired paramilitary officer the respect of his fellow villagers.

One of Aminullah’s cousins offered a more sobering chronicle of the chain of events. About two weeks before the attack, Aminullah had telephoned his family from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province that borders southern Afghanistan, and informed them that he would not be coming back to Shabqadar. His tearful mother begged him to return, as did his sisters. According to his cousin, whatever danger Aminullah was placing himself in, no one in his family imagined that he would ever carry out a suicide bombing. In the words of his astonished cousin, “…he was not the type.”18

Until only a few months before his death, Aminullah had been a serving officer in the Frontier Constabulary Force, a paramilitary police organization that was founded under British rule in the early-20th Century. The Constabulary, and the more-militarized Frontier Corps, were given the mandate of controlling instability and suppressing banditry in the Pashtun tribal areas after the revolts of earlier years.19 The duties of the Frontier Constabulary gradually expanded beyond the Pashtun tribal belt to include guarding diplomatic and commercial locations elsewhere in the country. The Frontier Corps has a similar mandate. It also has a history of interfering in the politics of the region at the behest of powerbrokers in Islamabad. The Pakistani government used the Corps to provide material assistance to both the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.20

Both the United States and Britain have experimented with the idea of training and equipping the Frontier Constabulary Force and the Frontier Corps as part of a plan to suppress militant elements in the area.21 The number of American and British advisors working with the Frontier Corps was initially limited, but between January 2009 and July 2010, they trained over 1,000 members of the Corps.22 Given that many of the officers who make up both organizations hail from villages like Shabqadar, many of them would no doubt share similar world views as those expressed by Aminullah and his family, which are shaped by the history and culture of the region. These historic and cultural influences include Islamic conservatism, tribal loyalty, and a disdain for foreign invaders that have accumulated over hundreds of years. These influences are likely to forge attitudes that are vastly divergent from Western goals in the region.

Aminullah Hakim

The visitors also met with local resident Abdul Hakim, who reported that one of his sons, 18 year-old Aminullah Hakim, had blown himself up in an attack in Afghanistan. By contrast, Hakim’s father was angry, complaining that he had been left penniless and unable to support his seven surviving children.23 The teenager’s father commented mournfully that he had no idea what his son had been thinking.24 He blamed the one-time paramilitary policeman Aminullah, who, he claimed, had misled his son towards the path of becoming a suicide bomber.

In an expanded discussion with Pakistan’s Daily Times, Abdul Hakim reported that his son had been a student at a local madrassah, and that he had become transfixed with the notion of becoming a martyr.25 His father remembered how the teenager had spoken excitedly about the many brides who awaited him in paradise. Abdul Hakim claimed that he had tried to nudge his son in another direction, first attempting to place him in an arranged marriage, and then trying to find work for him at a shoe factory run by relatives. However, the younger Hakim would have none of it. He refused the marriage, and claimed he could not work at the shoe factory with his relatives, citing their lack of religious piety.26 The elder Hakim reported that his son had vanished in April 2006 while supposedly on a trip to Rawalpindi, 200 kilometers away, to find work.

About 20 strangers had arrived at the family home in mid-September 2006 and informed Hakim that his son had blown himself up in Helmand Province on 28 August.27 There was indeed a particularly deadly suicide bombing in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, west of Kandahar on the date specified by the visiting militants. The blast occurred in a market and apparently targeted a former police official, killing him and 16 others, all of them Afghan civilians.28

Bahar Ali

In an earlier journey to Shabqadar, Isambard Wilkinson and Ashraf Ali, both writing for The Telegraph, met 65 year-old local resident Bahadur Ali, who, only days earlier, had received word that his 23 year-old son Bahar had blown himself up in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. About a dozen members of the Pakistani militant group Hizbul-Mujahideen came to the Ali residence and broke the news on a late-August morning.29 For Ali, shock purportedly quickly gave way to pride and elation. In his words, the family had been blessed with a martyr. However, a Pakistani journalist who paid a visit to the village noted that Ali was desperately trying to conceal a crushing burden of grief.30

The day after the visiting militants broke the news to his family, the newspaper Mashriq, an Urdu-language daily in Peshawar, reported on its front page that “…Bahar son of Bahadur” from the Shabqadar-area had been martyred in a recent suicide attack in Kandahar province.31 The newspaper reported that he had actually gone to fight in Afghanistan against the wishes of his parents.32

The visiting militants specified to the bomber’s family, on 25 August 2006, that the attack had taken place two weeks earlier in Kandahar province. As The Telegraph reporters observed, the only attack that coincides with such a description was a bombing that took place on 11 August in Spin Boldak, the important border town southeast of Kandahar City.33 The attack, which according to witnesses resulted in a particularly powerful explosion, targeted a passing Canadian convoy. The force of the detonation hit a G-Wagon light utility vehicle. A raging fire quickly devoured the lightly-armored jeep. Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom, 23, a medic from One Field Ambulance, was killed in the inferno. Several months earlier, he had risked his life to save a badly wounded Afghan interpreter.34

Eykelenboom was the first medic from the Canadian Army to be killed in action since the Korean War over half a century earlier. Two other soldiers in the wrecked vehicle escaped, reportedly without injury.35 The Taliban, for their part, identified the bomber under the name, Mohammad Ilyas.36 It was a common name that was very likely meant to disguise the true identity of the bomber.

Bahar Ali was an experienced labourer who previously had left Shabqadar in search of a job in Saudi Arabia. After six months in the kingdom, he returned to the village in 2002 and continued to apply himself as a labourer.37 However, when his loved ones last saw him, he was jobless. According to testaments offered by his family, and by those in his limited social circle, after his return to Shabqadar, the ever-solitary Ali fell increasingly under the spell of radical Islamic fundamentalists. Until about 2003, Hizbul-Mujahideen ran an office in the town, and Bahar Ali made contact with their members after they gave a recruitment presentation in the village.38 Thereafter, his family and the lone other villager whom Ali considered a close friend remembered seeing him often in the company of its members.

A teenaged cousin commented that beginning around that time, a discernable change manifested itself in Bahar Ali’s personality.39 He showed increasingly less interest in the future, and often openly contemplated the wondrous world of life after death. As he grew closer to the militants, his family remembered him growing progressively angrier towards the United States, declaring at one point that he was prepared to die in order to exact retribution for the deaths of civilians in the region.40 The elder Ali claimed that his son had previous experience as a militant fighter, having done a stint in Indian-ruled Kashmir in 2004.41 He maintained that Ali had returned after six months in Kashmir, only to disappear again. According to his father, the family rarely had contact with him thereafter.

Despite the pride expressed by some of those they interviewed in the village, the visiting writers also found a lingering sense of tragedy in Shabqadar. By the estimate of one local shopkeeper, about 100 local men and boys from the community were missing and feared to have vanished into the battlefields of Afghanistan, including one of his own teenaged cousins.42

The visiting correspondents were able to substantiate that the recruiters were trawling about 25 Pashtun villages in the region in search of impoverished and uneducated young men, and tempting them with visions of paradise.43 In many ways, those who went to Afghanistan in search of combat or martyrdom were continuing a well-established tradition. The clarion call to war in the name of expelling the infidels is a familiar one in places such as Shabqadar. A generation earlier, young men from the area volunteered to go to Afghanistan to do battle with the Soviet military. Prior to the American invasion of Afghanistan, militants recruited local men in the region to fight in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, or to go to Afghanistan to support the Taliban in its campaigns against the Northern Alliance.44 And generations before that, Pashtun tribesmen in the region had rebelled against the British.

There was never a shortage of potential recruits for the militants to entice. In 2004, the Pakistan Press International news agency described Shabqadar as a neglected and economically desolate community where citizens were forced to make due with ramshackle health, education, and communications services. At the time, Shabqadar’s Civil Hospital had not been significantly renovated in decades, and it was taking on a decided aura of neglect, despite its role as the principal heath care facility for the community of 70,000, as well as its surrounding area.45

In April 2006, a regional news publication lamented the plight of “bad luck Shabqadar” where, among many other difficulties, access to both potable water and medical services is limited.46 In 2003, a national survey placed the overall literacy rate in Charsadda District at 31%, making it 58th of the 101 Pakistani districts surveyed.47 This is not surprising, considering that Pakistan spends only about 2% of its GNP on education, ranking below Nepal and Bangladesh, despite Pakistan being the beneficiary of massive influxes of international aid.48

In fact, the Pakistani state has been so derelict in the realm of education that in poor villages, often the only education option are privately-run madrassahs that have also been proving grounds for predatory militant recruiters looking to tempt young men with enthralling visions of adventure, duty, and paradise that are to be found fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. A one-time neighbour of the paramilitary policeman Aminullah conceded to the visiting correspondents that despite the local enthusiasm for the town’s fallen bombers, many in the village were really just worried about their jobless sons.49

The situation in the nearby Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs) is even direr. The majority of its residents live in poverty. The literacy rate is estimated to be about 15%, and the infant mortality is as high as 0.6%.50 It is commonly cited that the Pakistani state has limited overt control in the FATAs. However, the Pakistani state also invests only a relative pittance in the region. Its six-to-seven million residents equal about 4% of the Pakistani population. However, Islamabad invests only about 1% of the federal budget on the region.51 A volatile mix of bored young men with limited job prospects and a yearning for belonging creates a fertile environment for militant recruiters.

The Militants

Hizbul-Mujahideen is well known for its involvement in the battle against Indian rule in Kashmir. Another Pakistani militant group, the banned Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which also has a long standing reputation for recruiting militants for the separatist insurgency in Kashmir, had a discernable presence in Shabqadar as well. They maintained a formal office in a two-room building near the town’s central market. A local citizen in his mid-20s, who purported to have fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan under the nom de guerre Abu Hamza, shared with the visiting Associated Press correspondents that he had recruited a number of locals on behalf of the latter militant group. He recounted offering them wondrous promises about the heavenly paradise that awaited them after they martyred themselves.52 Once they had been enticed, he recounted, local enlistees were sent to the tribal badlands in Waziristan for training before their final journey into Afghanistan.

Based upon what the visitors were able to discern, it would appear that sometime after the heavy fighting that further scarred Afghanistan’s south in the late-summer and early-fall of 2006, the hospitable atmosphere that the militant recruiters enjoyed in Shabqadar began to sour. With so many dead or missing on the arid battlegrounds in Afghanistan, pressure emerged from within the village for the recruiters to scale back their operations. Pakistani authorities were also under pressure from the United States to take action to stem the flow of recruits coming across the border.

Police in the region reported that they closed the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen office in Shabqadar in November 2006. When the Associated Press writers published the account of their visit to the town in early-2007, they reported that the office was still unoccupied. According to the recruiter, by late-2006, locals had largely stopped volunteering, prompting a career change for the militant who took to selling groceries at a neighbourhood shop.53

In addition to pressure from both the authorities and from villagers themselves, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s efforts were apparently hampered further by the reported battlefield deaths of several of its senior members. This coincides with the ferocious fighting that raged between Canadian forces and insurgents in western Kandahar province in August and September 2006.


The central role that locals ascribed to Pakistani militant organizations, both in recruiting the bombers, and in informing their families after they had blown themselves up, suggests a connection between well-established Pakistani militant organizations and the Afghan Taliban. This issue has largely gone unexplored in discussions surrounding Afghanistan. Although some are officially outlawed in Pakistan, these groups have long standing ties to Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services. Islamabad often employed such groups both as a relatively inexpensive foreign policy instrument to fight the Indian Army in Kashmir, and as a corrosive tool of domestic policy to intimidate opponents on the home front.54

Pakistan played a central role in molding the Taliban into an effective fighting force in the mid-1990s after Islamabad lost confidence in its existing proxies in Afghanistan. Support came not only from the intelligence services, but also from the Pakistani Army and the civilian political elite. Islamabad was an unstinting supporter of the Taliban regime, encouraging others nations to recognize it as the Afghan government after it gained control of Kabul in 1997.

Pakistan dangles precariously between two sometimes-interconnected forces that it perceives as a threat to its very existence. To the one side is its grand enemy India, while to the other is Afghanistan, a nation whose explosive instability has often left Pakistan perilously vulnerable. The possibility of expanded Indian influence in Afghanistan puts Pakistan at the intolerable risk of being encircled by hostile forces.

Supporting the Taliban was also beneficial to Pakistan because the organization rejected Pashtun nationalism. The Taliban come from Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. If Pashtun ethnic nationalism were to spiral out of control in Afghanistan, it could stoke potentially-destructive nationalist impulses among Pakistan’s large Pashtun minority. This could, in turn, create an incendiary flashpoint along Pakistan dangerous ethnic fault lines. It can therefore be of little surprise that achieving “strategic depth” on its western flank and gaining a substantial level of control over Afghan affairs, are long- standing goals of Pakistani foreign policy going back to the Partition.

The American-led intervention in 2001, and the emergence of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government, limited Islamabad’s ability to project its influence across its western border. Islamabad saw the post-Taliban government in Kabul as dangerously vulnerable to Indian influence. It was a government that also commanded dwindling influence outside of the capital. Islamabad and its intelligence apparatus were left with no apparent standard bearer to represent Pakistan’s fundamental interests in Afghanistan. The most prominent exception was the Taliban, then regrouping in the country’s south. Although Pakistan officially abandoned its Taliban surrogate after 11 September 2001 at the insistence of the United States, who showered Islamabad with both overt and covert aid, it would be naïve to expect that the decades of Pakistani strategic thinking that led to Islamabad’s deadly embrace of Afghanistan’s Taliban would simply disappear.

A Return to Shabqadar

As militant violence within Pakistan grew, suicide bombers moved progressively closer to Shabqadar. In 2007, as Pakistan dealt with a dramatic rise in suicide bombings, Charsadda district was the scene of some of the bloodiest attacks. On two occasions, suicide bombers in the district attempted to assassinate one of the area’s most famous living sons, outgoing Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao. He survived both attempts on his life, but as many as 87 people were killed in the attacks.55 In February 2008, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a gathering hall just outside Shabqadar where a political rally for the Awami National Party, a secular party which had once dominated politics in the region was taking place, killing more than two-dozen people.56

The residents of Shabqadar were also left to deal with ominous developments in the nearby Mohmand tribal agency. Long considered among the most stable and peaceful agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, by 2007, Mohmand was increasingly falling under the influence of Taliban-linked fanatics.57 In September 2008, after a series of kidnappings for ransom in the Shabqadar area, hundreds of armed locals staged a protest march against the rising militant influence in the area.58 Later in the fall, a suicide bomber using a motorized rickshaw blew himself up in an attack on the security forces in Shabqadar, leaving five people dead.59

In the summer of 2010, a devastating suicide bomb attack near the home of a political official in the Mohmand Agency left Shabqadar’s Civil Hospital flooded with scores of dead and injured.60 Suicide attackers again set upon the area on 13 May 2011 in an attack targeting new recruits to the Frontier Constabulary as they streamed out of Shabqadar Fort, and more than 80 were killed. The insidious phenomenon of suicide warfare had come home to Shabqadar.


Mystery still surrounds the identities of many of the suicide bombers who have perished in attacks against the Canadian Army in Afghanistan. Yet, a series of excursions by writers into a tiny region in northwestern Pakistan has revealed the apparent identities of two of those bombers. One was a paramilitary policeman named Aminullah, who by his own writings, appears to have been both seduced by a vision of martyrdom, and compelled by rage over the presence of international forces in the region. The other was Bahar Ali, a quiet and reserved labourer who had gradually fallen under the sway of local militant groups, whose members had come to form the bulk of his social circle. At some point, after finding himself jobless, he had disappeared into a murky world of violent militancy which, by the accounts of his family and local media, included spells fighting for the separatists in Kashmir and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The militants who recruited the bombers in Shabqadar were not members of the Afghan Taliban, but were instead members of well-established Pakistani militant organizations that are better known for fighting the Indian Army in Kashmir. Such militant groups, although sometimes nominally outlawed, are also long-standing assets of the Pakistani state. Given the limited control that the Afghan government has outside of Kabul, and its negative disposition towards Islamabad, Pakistan has no reliable ally to accomplish its longstanding goal of securing a high level of influence in Afghanistan. Therefore it is not surprising that militants with official ties in Pakistan would be implicated in widespread recruiting in places like Shabqadar just prior to heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan.

Given the conservative and sometimes-reactionary order that reigns in the area, and its traditionally-deep suspicion of outsiders, international efforts to train local security organizations, such as the Frontier Constabulary Force, and the more-militarized Frontier Corps, are unlikely to succeed. In fact, any international effort to curtail the appeal of the recruiters in places like Shabqadar will almost inevitably be frustrated for the same reason. Curbing the appeal of the recruiters is something that can only work if it comes from inside the communities themselves.

The fathers of two of Shabqadar’s bombers expressed joy at their final, violent acts of self-destruction, and there were strong indications that many in the area shared the feeling. However, what the bombers’ left behind is more complicated. Members of their extended family spoke only of shock, grief, and bewilderment. Tensions over the many missing young men from the area who were thought to have volunteered for battle or martyrdom in Afghanistan began to boil over in late-2006. The climate in the area rapidly became less hospitable to the militant recruiters. Aminullah, Bahar Ali, and Aminullah Hakim apparently left the Shabqadar for an arid war zone 600 kilometers away. Although they found martyrdom in southern Afghanistan, in Shabqadar, they left behind an ambiguous legacy of bitter grief, supposed joy, and terrifying violence, as well as profound implications for the outside world’s understanding of the Taliban and its war in modern Afghanistan.

About the authors:
*Andrew Fraser
is a graduate of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. He also holds graduate degrees in History and International Affairs, and has previously published articles on Afghanistan, the Korean War, and the fall of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

This article was published by the Canadian Military Journal, Volume 18, Number 2, Page 47.


  1. The Northwest Frontier Province has since been renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
  2. The Dawn, “Munda Headworks restored in record time,” 28 August 2010. Accessed 19 September 2010, at:
    local/peshawar/mundheadworks-restored-in-record-time-880; currently accessible at
  3. Barbara Crossette, “Pakistani Highlanders’ Defiant Note,” in New York Times, 11 November 1988, p. A10.
  4. Marie-France Calle, “Les zones tribales pakistanaises se «talibanisent,» in Le Figaro, 14 February 2007. Accessed 23 August 2007, at:
  5. Riaz Khan and Matthew Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters,” in the Washington Post; The Associated Press, 28 January 2007. Accessed 23 May 2007, at:
  6. Ashfaq Yusufzai, “Suicide Bomber Cult Alive and Well,” in the Inter-Press Service, 14 September 2006. Accessed 29 July 2007, at :
  7. Calle, “Les zones tribales pakistanaises se ‘talibanisent.’”
  8. David Rhode and Carlotta Gall, “In a Corner of Pakistan a Debate Rages: Are Terrorist Camps Still Functioning?” in the New York Times, 28 August 2005. Accessed 1 October 2007, at:
  9. Calle, “Les zones tribales pakistanaises se ‘talibanisent.’”
  10. Ashfaq Yusufzai, “Suicide Bomber Cult Alive and Well,”in the Inter-Press Service, 14 September 2006. Accessed 29 July 2007, at:
  11. Ibid.
  12. CTV News On-line, “2 Canadians killed in Afghan suicide bombing,” 22 July 2006. Accessed 10 March 2007, at:
  13. Reporters Without Borders, Asia Press Releases, “Follow-up Suicide bomber kills TV Employee Covering the Death of two Canadian Soldiers,” 24 July 2006. Accessed 12 March 2007, at:
  14. “Day of infamy ultimately shaped Canadians’ destiny,” in The Edmonton Journal, 11 September 2006. Accessed 12 April 2010, at:
  15. Committee to Protect Journalists, Press Release, “Cameraman killed reporting on double suicide bomb attack,” 24 July 2006. Accessed 21 April 2011, at:
  16. Khan and Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters.”
  17. Calle, “Les zones tribales pakistanaises se ‘talibanisent.’”
  18. Yusufzai, “Suicide Bomber Cult Alive and Well.”
  19. Hassan Abbas, “Transforming Pakistan’s Frontier Corps,” in Terrorism Monitor, 5:6, 30 March 2007.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Jeremy Page, “British forces train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps to fight al-Qaeda,” The Telegraph, 21 March 2009. Accessed 19 April 2011, at:
  22. Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez, “Distrust Slows U.S. Training of Pakistanis,” in the New York Times, 10 July 2010. Accessed 19 April 2011, at:
  23. Khan and Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters.”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Javed Afridi, “Youth’s ‘martyrdom’ inspires Charsadda locals,” in The Daily Times, 24 September 2006. Accessed 16 May 2008, at:
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Abdul Waheed Wafa, “Suicide Bomber Kills 17 in Afghan Bazaar,” in the New York Times, 28 August 2006. Accessed 16 May 2008, at:
  29. Isambard Wilkinson and Ashraf Ali, “Father’s pride at suicide attack on troops,” in The Telegraph, 1 September 2006. Accessed 25 May 2007, at:
  30. Yusufzai, “Suicide Bomber Cult Alive and Well.”
  31. Afghan Islamic Press Online, “Shabqadar native dies in suicide attack on foreign forces in Kandahar,” 26 August 2007. Accessed 14 October 2007, at:
  32. Ibid.
  33. CTV News Online, “Fallen soldier arrives back on Canadian soil,” 13 August 2006. Accessed 10 March 2007, at:
  34. Donald McArthur, “Afghan interpreter grateful to fallen Canadian medic,” CanWest News Service, in The Windsor Star, 21 August 2006. Accessed 2 November 2007, at:
  35. CTV News Online, “Cdn. soldier dead after bomb rocks Afghan convoy,” 11 August 2006. Accessed 10 March 2007, at:
  36. Ibid.
  37. Wilkinson and Ali, “Father’s pride at suicide attack on troops.”
  38. Yusufzai, “Suicide Bomber Cult Alive and Well.”
  39. Wilkinson and Ali, “Father’s pride at suicide attack on troops.”
  40. Yusufzai, “Suicide Bomber Cult Alive and Well.”
  41. Ibid.
  42. Khan and Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters.”
  43. Ibid.
  44. Khan and Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters.”
  45. “Neglected Shabqadar Wants,” in Pakistan Press International, 4 November 2004. Accessed 28 September 2007, at:
  46. “Backward Shabqadar Need Attention of Authority,” in Frontier Star, 29 April 2006.
  47. Noreen Haider, “Living With Disasters: Disaster Profiling in Pakistan,” p. 30.
  48. John Schmidt, The Unravelling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), p. 42.
  49. Khan and Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters.”
  50. Hassan Abbas, The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).
  51. Ibid.
  52. Khan and Pennington, “Mixed Emotions Greet Taliban Recruiters.”
  53. Ibid.
  54. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, (New York: Penguin Press, 2004).
  55. Bill Schiller, “Politician had front-row view as terror of suicide bombs increased,” in The Toronto Star, 5 January 2008.
  56. Gulzar Ahmad Khan, “ANP rally bombed, 25 dead: •Charsadda rocked thrice in 10 months •PA candidate injured,” in The Dawn, 10 February 2008. Accessed 7 April 2008, at:
  57. Imtiaz Ali, “The Taliban Find Fertile New Recruiting Ground in Pakistan,” in The Asia Times On-line, 30 January 2008. Accessed 30 September 2010, at:
  58. “Student Recovered, Kidnapper Arrested,” in The Dawn, 15 September 2010. Accessed 15 September 2010, at:,-kidnapper-arrested-590.
  59. “Five die in Shabqadar suicide attack,” in The Pak Tribune, 4 December 2008. Accessed 30 September 2010, at:
  60. “34 bodies identified in Shabqadar hospital,” in The Dawn, 10 July 2010. Accessed 30 September 2010, at:

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Canadian Military Journal is the official professional journal of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. It is published quarterly under authority of the Minister of National Defence. Opinions expressed or implied in this publication are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, Canadian Military Journal, or any agency of the Government of Canada. Crown copyright is retained.

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