Article by Peter Maass

The Volunteer

The New York Times Magazine  |  October 7, 2001
Finding love on the battlefield.

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.




Articles by Peter Maass
Crude World by Peter Maass Crude World by Peter Maass

A look at oil’s indelible impact on the countries that produce it and the people who possess it.

» More

Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass

Dispatches from the war in Bosnia, published in 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

» More

Articles by Peter Maass

How Iona Craig Won a Polk Award for Investigating a Botched SEAL Team Raid in Yemen
The Intercept  |  February 24, 2018

Trump’s Military Parade Is Ridiculous—but He’s Not the First Politician to Use Soldiers as Props
The Intercept  |  February 07, 2018

It’s Time to Wage War Against War Movies That Glorify Outdated Models of Masculinity
The Intercept  |  January 27, 2018

Enough About Steve Bannon. Rupert Murdoch’s Influence on Donald Trump Is More Dangerous
The Intercept  |  January 06, 2018

Interrogation of Reality Winner Reveals Deceptive Tactics of “Exceedingly Friendly” FBI Agents
The Intercept  |  December 28, 2017

Ratko Mladic Was Convicted of Seige Warfare in Bosnia. Will U.S.-Backed Siege in Yemen Face Justice?
The Intercept  |  November 22, 2017

North Korea Is the Most Predictable Regime on Earth. The Real Threat Is the Erratic U.S. Government.
The Intercept  |  September 26, 2017

Bannon Said He Learned to Fear Muslims When He Visited Pakistan. But He Was Probably in Hong Kong.
The Intercept  |  August 11, 2017

» More