The New York Times Magazine
October 7, 2001
A commander in the Hezbul Mujahadeen, a band of Islamic militants, Kiramat Ullah loves to fight, loves to watch videos of fighting, loves to listen to songs about fighting and would be honored to die in battle against American soldiers. When I visited his militia’s provincial headquarters outside Peshawar, a battered stereo was playing a tune that included these lines: “The way of jihad/Is the way of success/The way of jihad/Is the way of the Koran.”
Military training is not conducted at the compound; that happens at secret installations. But reminders of what these men do are quite public. Outside the militia’s office, walls are painted with a two-story list of fighters killed in action in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Inside, I sat on the floor with Kiramat in a spartan room, across from a locker with a sticker that said “Fighting is the way of Allah.”
The atmosphere seemed a bit heavy, so I asked about his hobbies. Did he enjoy cricket, a national sport in Pakistan?
“No,” he said in English. “Jihad.”
There is no shortage of Afghans or Pakistanis who say they are willing to fight American soldiers, and perhaps they all mean it, but Kiramat is the genuine jihad article. For the past 15 years, he has been a holy warrior, first in Afghanistan, against the Soviets, and then in Kashmir, against the Indians. As we sipped green tea, he was awaiting his marching orders, hoping to be dispatched to Afghanistan.
“We would be very happy if America would attack Afghanistan,” he said, “because now all Muslims are divided. If America attacked, it would unite the Muslim world.”
Kiramat is a short man with a thick beard and the physique of an oak tree: it does not matter how big or strong you are; you would not want to mess with him. The fact that he is alive and well after so many years of guerrilla warfare tells you what you need to know. The man knows his business.
Still in search of soft details, I asked what he most enjoyed doing. I thought he might mention spending time with his two children.
“I like jihad the most, when it’s at its peak,” he replied.
“When we start fighting and bullets are flying and we are firing at the enemy and they are crying out and in trouble, and when some of my men are being injured and becoming martyrs. That is the peak. We don’t enjoy sitting around.”
Swimmers love to swim, actors love to act, and as Kiramat reminded me, fighters love to fight. If his actions were not so deadly, it might be tempting to describe his devotion to jihad as childlike in its intensity. This thought occurred to me after the militia’s head of religious instruction, Inayat Ullah, gently tugged my sleeve.
“Excuse me,” he said in good English. “Can you arrange for me to meet your President Bush? Only five minutes needed.”
He was not joking. I said I was not in a position to make such arrangements. He pressed ahead. Might I have Bush’s phone number or e-mail address? He assured me his intentions were not ill. He had a dream the night before in which Allah told him to persuade Bush to embrace Islam. “That would solve the problem,” Inayat explained.
Our discussion moved to other subjects, and several young men came along who wanted to talk with the foreign visitor. Although the militia’s fighters are revved up to fight American soldiers, they are thoroughly civil with noncombatants.
When it was time to leave, Inayat returned to my side. “Excuse me,” he said. “But where does Mr. Clinton live now?”
The following day, when the photographer I am working with returned to the Hezbul Mujahadeen compound, he was told that Kiramat had departed. The reason was simple.