The Beginning of the Middle of the End: Haseeb Asif
Guest post by HASEEB ASIF
One day as I walked to the market to buy some eggs, I noticed strange graffiti on a wall. Emblazoned in red paint was an invitation to join the fight against zionist subversion, western imperialism and painful hemorrhoids; the end having been muddled with a physician’s note.
It was an open call to Jihad by a militant Islamic organization. Jihad! The camaraderie, the righteousness, the third degree burns; it’s all I’d ever wanted. I was tired of being oppressed. There I was, in the prime of my youth, jobless, eggless, with subnormal visual acuity and four strands of the dengue virus, and who was to blame? I could imagine the conversation with my therapist.
“Doctor, I’m moody, I can’t sleep and I never seem to have enough energy to do anything.”
“Why, I believe you’re suffering from oppression”
I called their toll free number and signed myself up. They sent me a brochure and a medical plan; both had pictures of the same mutilated bodies.
‘Jihad summer camp, three months, graduating candidates get a certificate of martyrculation and up to 72 virgins in heaven (note: amount varies according to stock), HEC accredited, facial hair mandatory’.
I consulted with my parents, my mother was thrilled; she’d always wanted a martyr in the family. Father just grunted and made a time honoured gesture with his middle finger.
Two days later a brother Mehsud showed up at my door, he’d been sent by the organization to escort me back to their base.
“It’s a great thing you’re about to do, brother.” I was only packing my clothes.
“It’s the ultimate sacrifice in the way of God”. The decision to leave the floral boxers at home was a difficult one.
I asked him if he’d been at this Jihad business for very long. A few years. He was from Afghanistan, he’d lost his father in the war. Did he find him afterwards? No. He came to join the fight in Pakistan.
Having said my goodbyes I went with brother Mehsud to the train station. Where were we headed, I wondered? The snow covered mountains of Kashmir? The breathtaking valley of Swat? No, a rocky, arid shithole in Waziristan. Oh.
Brother Mehsud was ebullient throughout the trip, venting vindictive against the infidels. Everyone had been affected by America’s savage crusade on Islam, he said. “They think they can destroy our homes, murder our people, insult our religion? They will pay!” I was pleased to find out this was a salaried job. “We will drive them away from our lands!” I had no idea we’d be doubling up as chauffeurs. “We will stop at nothing!” But we’d just stopped at Chakwal!
On the border of Waziristan we got into a truck and followed a dirt trail for two days, then for two days it followed us. The path violently swerved left and right, it must have been drunk. All around us was a craggy, hilly, charred terrain, where only the lowest forms of life could survive, it reminded me of Pindi.
July 12th, Thursday
We touched base. The camp itself was a series of bombed out houses on a hilltop with a large clearing in the middle. At least it was peaceful and serene here, other than the constant gunfire and screaming over the megaphone.
We were greeted by a licentiously large man wearing a white turban on his head. Where else? His face was heavily scarred and his left hand mutilated. Was he the leader? No, he was the cook!
After lunch, which was a scant affair consisting of boiled rice, burnt potatoes and rotten eggs, brother Mehsud took me to my quarters. I got a quarter of a broken bed and a quarter of a window to look out of. It had a lovely view of some rubble.
I decided to write to my mother.
I have made it to the camp. I think I’m going to like it here, it’s just like home, especially the food
July 13th, Friday
At dawn, we were woken for prayers. The Ameer, our leader, was a short man of medium height, with a thick mane of grey hair dangling from his face and both armpits. He had the kind of voice that made you want to chop your own balls off and stuff them in your ears, or at least in his mouth. He never spoke without the megaphone.
“TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF!” he shouted.
Checking for circumcision? No, he just liked looking at people’s junk.
“ARE YOU NEW HERE SON?”
“Yes sir, I just joined sir, may I leave now sir?”
“WHY DO YOU THINK WE WERE PUT ON THIS EARTH?”
“There wasn’t any other earth to put us, sir”
“THAT’S RIGHT, TO FIGHT EVIL AND DEFEND GOD’S DOMINION AGAINST THESE HEATHENS.”
“Which ones, sir?” I looked around confused.
“WE ARE AT WAR WITH THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”
“What, all of them?”
“OFF TO THE CAVES WITH YOU!”
July 14th, Saturday
The caves were a series of small crevices in the mountainside on the far end of the camp, all new recruits had to survive twenty four hours inside them without food, water and soap. Nobody knew why.
My cave was small, grimy and had a godawful stench for inside it lay the carcass of a dead boar.
“Salam, brother, I am called Faisal,” oh, it wasn’t dead.
Brother Faisal was perfectly round and had the kind of pink, rosy cheeks you couldn’t help but pinch.
“It’s getting kind of painful now, brother, please stop.”
He was the only child of a loveless marriage between a farmer and his goat. He’d gone through life unwanted and unappreciated, until he came to the camp. Here, he’d found a sense of purpose, but lost a sense of taste because of the godawful food.
July 16th, Monday
We barely survived in that pitch black place which was no bigger than a grave, having nothing but each other to cling to for comfort.
“I imagine it must’ve been quite hard,” wrote my mother. “Mine wasn’t, but brother Faisal’s was.”
Once back in the camp brother Faisal and I were introduced to the other recruits. There were thirty in total, fifteen if you counted only half.
July 17th, Tuesday
I was to have my formal induction as a Mujahid. A series of questions would decide what role I was suited for.
Had I ever been involved in a movement before? Only in my bowels.
Had I ever served in the army? Yes, meals.
Could I cook and clean? No, but I could eat and make a mess.
How was I with numbers? Terrible, I had to write everyone’s down.
July 18th, Wednesday
I was assigned to suicide detail. Training started in a couple of days. My sole worldly possessions, three strips of gum and a pack of adult playing cards, were confiscated. Instead, I was given some matches, a knife and a cell phone. It had just one game. Angry Beards.
I convened with brother Faisal over dinner, which resembled something that was normally found in latrines.
“What does he put in this?” I asked.
“The cook doesn’t share his recipes.” I wished he didn’t share his food.
“What’s his name anyway?”
“Saeed, I heard.”
Saeeda Herd. What a strange name for a man.
Brother Faisal had also been assigned to the suicide squad. As was every other new recruit.
July 19th, Thursday
“Be proud brother, today is your first day as a Mujahid”
Mujahid. I liked it. It had a nice ring to it, it would look great on my résumé.
2 years of paid Jihad.
Senior management position.
Proficient at pulling pins off grenades, and decapitations.
Can spot an infidel at four hundred yards, five hundred on a clear day.
Office space not a priority, work well in outdoor environments.
References unavailable, co-workers either missing or dead.
July 20thth, Friday
The next morning after prayers, we were asked to run a few miles. Some ran to neighbouring cities, others ran to adjacent provinces. “COWARDS!” came the shouts over the megaphone. Not everyone was happy with the suicide designations.
The punishment for running away was death, suspiciously similar to the reward for staying. We managed to round up a few of them, who were shot for being deserters. “But I don’t even like dessert!” one had protested vainly, after his lifeless body dropped to the ground.
“He’s a cruel man, but fair…” explained brother Mehsud of the leader. “If you ever disobey him, it…,” he paused, pointing to his crotch, “…will be, kkkhhht…” he said making a swooshing gesture with his hand.
I was terrified, if I made a mistake they’d cut Mehsud’s dick off.
July 21st, Saturday
Myself, brother Faisal and four others were what remained of suicide detail, but training went ahead uninterrupted.
Today we would learn how to fire a gun. The instructor was a wobbly old man with the kind of facial expression you get from wearing really tight underwear. On his back was strapped an AK47 and a note that said, “kick me”.
“Nothing to it, you hold at this end and shoot at the other,” said brother Faisal knowingly.
“So what’s the point of all this in the middle then?”
Here, the instructor would show us. If I would just grab the gun by the handle there…“keep it chest high, put your finger on the trigger and feel for th…”
So that was how you fired a gun. We buried the old man with his AK47. It’s what he would have wanted.
July 22nd, Sunday
Sunday was sports day. What were we playing?
“Footballs!” said an excited brother Faisal.
He meant football, surely? “No, footballs!” he said again, kicked me in the groin and ran away shouting, “goal!”. I spent the rest of the day imitating a fetus.
July 23rd, Monday
The new Jihad instructor was flown in straight from Iraq, he was a wanted man in seven countries, and after only a day of training, an unwanted man in at least one.
“Real bastard, this one,” complained brother Faisal. He had us shoot at a moving target, and brother Faisal had to move a lot to still be alive.
I texted mother, to tell her I’d been firing guns all day and that I missed dad. “That’s okay dear, you can try again tomorrow,” she replied.
July 24th, Tuesday
We continued to train and pray five times a day. I prayed for my family, for my country and for a new cook.
July 26th, Thursday
After every afternoon prayer the leader would deliver a sermon. It involved much eloquence and copious spit. The men in the front rows were drenched by the end of it. He said the usual things.
“INFIDEL SWINES…JEWS…AMERICA…BLOOD…MARTYRDOM…72 VIRGINS!”
The men all salivated at the thought of 72 virgins. 72 virgins! I’d be happy with just one woman who knew what she was doing.
July 27th, Friday
Special two hour afternoon sermon. The leader was in fine form today, drenching people with spit as far back as the fourth row.
“They say he’s personally killed a hundred infidels,” said brother Mehsud. “Twelve with his bare hands,” and the rest with his dog breath. He’d also seen prison time on multiple charges of murder, arson and kidnapping, and that was just when he was four.
July 29th, Sunday
We gathered around a radio to listen to the latest on the war front. Some westernized bastard was bleating on about terrorist casualties. Terrorists, extremists; they gave us these crass labels but we all knew we were freedom fighters. We fought freedom wherever we saw it.
July 30th, Monday
The Jihad continued against the Americans and Saeeda’s cooking. “Hey, maybe if we’re eating crap, we’ll start shitting out food.” Brother Faisal made an astute observation.
July 31st, Tuesday
In the twilight hours of the night, brother Faisal made a confessional yawn and told me he often talked to God.
“Have you ever communed with God?”
No, but I’d written to him once.
I would like to cancel my yearly subscription of piles,
He’d never written back.
July 32nd, Wednesday
There was to be no July 32nd this year.
(Next week brother Faisal and I almost kill our first infidels.)
Previously by Haseeb Asif in Kafila:
- Pakistan ki Tareef (in Roman Urdu)