Friday 23 February 2018

Prison life is changing views of Taliban fighters as they learn to read and write

Ellen Branagh

TALIBAN fighters are learning to read, write and speak English in a prison in Helmand Province in a bid to change their views.

Of 1,006 prisoners in Lashkar Gah prison, 490 are serving sentences for being insurgents, including Taliban commanders and would-be suicide bombers.

Sentences range from a few months to life imprisonment - some have been handed the death penalty, but the order for their execution has not yet come from President Karzai.

In an effort to reintegrate them, inmates learn English, reading and writing, and take part in vocational courses including tailoring, beadcraft and mechanics.

The prison was built two years ago with funding from the International Community, and help from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which mentors the Afghan Government in stabilisation and development projects.

For many, life inside is so much better than outside they do not want to leave - some even asking to stay after being released.

But their newly-found education is changing their views and preventing them rejoining the Taliban when they are released, prison bosses say.

"The training we are having here, it completely changes their mind," said prison director General Bismellah Hamid.

"When I first came to this prison there were Taliban who were not watching TV, listening to music, not learning.

"They had in their minds they were Talib. Now they see TV, they learn English, they do vocational courses.

"They are asking for more facilities and they want to learn any kind of education they can."

Of the insurgents in the prison, 14 who have learned English and computer skills are now teaching fellow inmates.

Gen Bismellah admitted some do not want to leave at the end of their sentence because the conditions are so good.

"I have had some prisoners who have been released but do not want to go outside, they want to live and work inside.

"They say, 'we have a good life here, a good job here'.

"But we don't have the space for them to keep them here."

Nobody has deliberately committed a crime to get back into prison - but one man has asked to come to help him kick a drugs habit, he said.

Inmates are divided according to their crime - insurgents occupy two wings, while others are in two others.

The prison is having separate areas built for women - there are currently 14 in the prison - and juveniles.

Mula, 21, from Pakistan, was arrested by the ANA as he prepared to suicide bomb a compound in Sangin. He is four years through a five-year sentence.

"I was sent by Pakistan for a suicide bomb in Sangin. I was going to the District Governor's compound, I was arrested by the ANA.

"The explosive device was somewhere else, we were going to pick it up."

He joined the Taliban because he knew no better, he said.

"At that time I was very young, they were misguiding me. I did not have education, here I have learned education, computers, English.

"These people who are joining the Taliban, they are uneducated, they train them, they misguide them then they will start fighting with them."

Mula does not want to leave the prison after his sentence: "I am having a good life here. If I go then again people will misguide me.

"Because of this I want to be here and serve with general. This is a very good life."

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