Mustafa Qadri finds out for himself during a night patrol with members of an anti-Taliban militia in Pakistan that it’s kill or be killed.
On the boundary between Pakistan-controlled Peshawar and insurgency-hit regions of the tribal areas, the global fight against the Taliban has turned former neighbours in this once sleepy rural setting into mortal enemies.
On March 9, a powerful human bomb exploded during a funeral procession outside Adezai, a village on the outskirts of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northwest frontier; 37 people were killed, and another 100 injured. The blast was so powerful that many of the victims couldn’t be identified. Sandals, shredded bits of clothing and some human remains were scattered around the blast site like confetti, making it impossible to provide a speedy burial for the victims in keeping with Muslim tradition.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the blast, there are strong suspicions that the Pakistani Taliban is involved. The target, after all, was the funeral of the wife of a senior anti-Taliban leader from Adezai. Adezai is literally the final settled outpost of Peshawar before the rugged, dusty terrain of Khyber Agency, the ancient gateway to Afghanistan that has played host to a myriad of conquerors from Alexander the Great to US and NATO forces. The famed Khyber Pass snakes across the landscape, and is the single largest supply route for troops in Afghanistan, including over 130,000 international troops.
Once a quiet little hamlet, Adezai now looks more like a medieval fortress, a veritable Alamo looking out on a sparse wilderness leading to tribal and semi-autonomous regions where control fluctuates between Pakistan and the Taliban. Dusty roads are lined with mud brick buildings, with only the occasional oasis of green fields dotting the landscape, surrounded by greyish-blue skies.
Entering this part of Pakistan requires discreet travel in the company of locals, a point made abundantly clear by the damaged buildings that line the road leading into Adezai. Two homes we passed on the edge of the village were blown up by the Taliban the previous night. Only a few months earlier, the village’s only girls' school was destroyed by a suspected remote-controlled bomb.
As we enter the centre of the village, the powerful whirl of an Army helicopter blares out from above as it heads off on an anti-Taliban operation on the border with Afghanistan. Surrounding us are imposing mud walls that have clearly been peppered with machine gun fire.
A posse of local men, all armed to the teeth, are waiting to greet us. ‘I think that our village is a battlefield,’ says Irshad a tall, handsome young man with more than a passing resemblance to Errol Flynn. He says he left his job as a driver for a luxury hotel in Dubai to defend his home from the almost nightly raids that have seen scores kidnapped or killed. This is a rural society and most of those living here are farmers. But over the past three years, they’ve formed a militia, or lashkar, to defend Adezai against rival tribes in neighbouring Khyber tribal agency and Dera Dum Khel, which are aligned with the Taliban.