KABUL, Afghanistan -- Convicted drug dealers, murders, rapists, and insurgents are locked away in Afghanistan’s biggest prison, secured behind massive iron gates and surrounded by tall walls lined with barbed wire.
Yet the Taliban fighters imprisoned inside Pol-e Charkhi penitentiary are still committed to their ideology, and some have openly defended suicide bombings that have wreaked havoc and tragedy upon many civilians.
Interviews held at the infamous prison near Kabul reveal that despite serving long sentences, many Taliban fighters are committed to returning to the battlefield once they are released. There is also evidence that the prison is a recruiting ground for disgruntled convicts who see a purpose and future with the insurgents.
Qari Abdul Rahim is a Taliban fighter serving a multiyear sentence at Pol-e Charkhi for participating in various attacks in central Baghlan Province. He is adamant that suicide attacks are sanctioned by Islamic injunctions.
“There are various religious texts [that back such tactics]. I do not remember them now, but we strongly believe in the righteousness of such teachings,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Just think our religion does not allow anyone to kill themselves without a reason. No one will commit suicide by wearing an explosives-laden vest. They do it because of a firm belief in our ideology.”
Qudratullah, another young Taliban, is serving his term for fighting with the Taliban in the volatile southern province of Helmand. He doesn’t regret fighting for the Taliban and says their aim is to fight the U.S. forces in the country, which he says are protected by the Afghan Army.
“We are committed to a jihad against the Americans. The Taliban are only committed to follow [the Islamic law] Shari’a and whatever the [Islamic Holy Book] Koran and hadith (eds: the sayings of Prophet Muhammad) teach us,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Qudratullah is not the only Taliban fighter eager to return to the battlefield.
Brothers Naseer Ahmad and Naqib Ahmad have served nearly four years at Pol-e Charkhi. They are serving a five-year sentence for participating in the December 2012 assassination attempt on their boss and former Afghan spy chief Asadullah Khalid.
While Naseer says he hopes for a fresh start by building a private business, Naqib has other ideas.
“I was never a member of the Taliban, but I am compelled to become one when I am freed,” Naqib said.
He is not alone in being attracted to the Taliban, hundreds of whose members form a sizeable part of some 10,000 inmates at Pol-e Charkhi.
Syed Aqa Andrabi, the deputy jailer at Pol-e Charkhi, says most Taliban inmates in his prison are ideologically motivated and have undergone rigorous training and indoctrination in neighboring countries.
“We have arranged religious teachers and opened a school inside the prison to educate them,” he said. “We have always attempted to prevent them [the Taliban] from indoctrinating other prisoners.”
Mawlavi Shamsuddin Farutan, a prayer leader at Kabul’s Shah-e Do Shamshira mosque, says authorities need to focus on de-radicalization of Taliban inmates by teaching them true Islamic injunctions.
“I am not aware that Islam ever allows committing suicide. Similarly, Islam doesn’t allow the killing of innocents -- even in wars,” he noted.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Mohammad Wasil Wisal, Nusrat Parsa and Wali Sabawoon from Kabul, Afghanistan.