MIRAMSHAH: It was one of the many non-descript buildings around, located at the dead-end of a small street inside Serai Darpakhel. “Go straight and there is the door on the left”, we were told by a guard outside the street.
But even then it was hard to find the iron door, opposite a power transformer and a heavy generator to ensure uninterrupted power supply.
For the unsuspecting outsiders, there was nothing unusual about this place, except that it was known to all those who lived nearby. It was a facility to indoctrinate and train suicide bombers.
Step inside and there is a courtyard with big columns, mats spread out, bedrolling piled up in one corner. Nothing unusual. Stairs lead to the upper portion painted in light cream and brown colours.
Plastered on one of the walls is a white banner inscribed with kalma and beneath it ‘the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.
This was one of the five suicide bombing facilities, locals now say, owned and operated by the Haqqani Network in Serai Darpakhel, frequented by would- be-bombers in their teens and twenties; Afghans and Mehsuds mostly but boys from Mohmand and Orakzai too would turn up.
Rarely were the religious indoctrinators, mentors or those running the centres seen outside the iron gate that shielded the dead-end house from passersby.
No -one living in Serai Darpakhel knew who they were, except that it was a centre for suicide bombers.
Even those brought or enrolled at the centre for ‘esteshahadi’ or martyrdom were not allowed to step outside till the completion of his mandatory two-month stay inside the centre.
The undertaking or affidavit all ‘esteshahadi’ friends were required to sign was elaborate.
It had a printed colour picture of the would-be bomber, his name, assumed name, his father’s name, age, address, education, personal contact number, family contact number, family occupation, names of friends and acquaintances, father’s past and present political affiliation, the number of members in the family and their monthly income and experience, if any, in militant activities.
And the seven rules the ‘esteshahadi friend’ were required to live by were pretty stringent too. The use of cell phones were neither allowed nor considered necessary, the undertaking said. For two months, neither would the enroller be allowed to go outside nor was he allowed to go out without permission, it read.
He was also required to make no attempt to befriend anyone else except his other ‘fidayi brothers’ teachers and mentors. He was supposed to hand-over his personal belongings to the centre in-charge and ask for things he might need from him.
Other than that, things inside the centre were kept tight with a strict regimen of praying, spiritual and religious indoctrination and cooking, locals say.
Even a man, who came looking for his son, was turned away by the centre’s administrator, feigning ignorance about his whereabouts, a local resident recalls. It was only after a lot of contacts here and there, that the centre reluctantly let the boy go.
Not very far from Serai Darpakhel, drive to the main Miramshah bazaar. And there is the two-storey building of what once was the Government Girls Higher Secondary School. When militants first moved in and started bombing schools, this too was soon abandoned and later occupied and converted by militants of all hue and origin into a facility for training and distribution of dead bodies on their arrival from battlefield or of those killed in drone strikes.
The 450 to 500 girls were later shifted to continue their studies at a degree college inside the military cantonment in Miramshah. The militants, surprisingly, had no objection to that.
Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2014