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Correspondent Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
My brother the Taleban fighter
Anwar Khan
Photo of Anwar Khan fighting for the Taleban in Afghanistan
What makes a young man give up a comfortable home in Britain and go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taleban? Ajmal Khan, a British Muslim, travels to Afghanistan to rescue his brother from prison. Sue Lloyd-Roberts went with him.


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Brothers re-united

In a police station in northern Afghanistan, the two brothers from Burnley fall into one another's arms.

Anwar, the bearded 25-year-old Taleban fighter, sobs as he clings onto his older brother, Ajmal, a clean shaven 38-year-old property dealer.

Ajmal Khan
Ajmal Khan watches his younger brother closely
Ajmal caresses the head of his younger brother. Like a father comforting a young child, he speaks in soft, reassuring tones: "Don't worry, I've come to take you home."

Anwar is sweating with fever. He has malaria and pneumonia. He has been held in several prisons since he was captured by Northern Alliance forces in December 1998.

Anwar Khan
Anwar Khan has been in prison for three years

Two weeks earlier he had helped bury two fellow inmates from his present jail in the far north of Afghanistan. Typhoid, malaria, pneumonia and TB has taken hold of the 112 foreign Taleban prisoners who remain.

Anwar was wondering who would be next to die when he was told to walk with a guard to the nearest town, Chah Ab, to meet a visitor.

It was his brother.

The Khan family

The family agree that Anwar Khan had been the cleverest of the five sons born to Hashem Khan, who arrived in Britain in 1956 to take up a job at the paper mill in Burnley. But, at 14, Anwar started using cannabis and, by 21, he was addicted to crack cocaine and had a baby with an English girl.

Mr Khan
Anwar's father believes Anwar is an innocent victim

In despair, his father sent him back to the village in Pakistan, where the family came from. Tajik, where an uncle still lives, is on the road from Islamabad to Peshawar, near to the border with Afghanistan.

Through the influence of his family there, he wanted Anwar to kick the drugs habit, immerse himself in traditional Muslim family values and re-assess his life.

Joining the Taleban

A few weeks after Anwar arrived in Pakistan, he says that he met up with a group who invited him to go to Afghanistan. There was no trouble getting across the border. The then pro-Taleban authorities in Pakistan eagerly waved through the busloads of young would-be fighters.

We were told that we would be fighting the Russians... we couldn't actually see who was in the trenches opposite

Anwar Khan

Anwar was enrolled on a five-week training course organised by the Taleban in Kabul where he learned to fire a Kalashnikov and drive a tank. He was soon ordered to get ready to fly to the north and join the battle for the city of Kunduz.

"I was happy when I first went to Afghanistan, it was fun, what with the guns and all. But then it went too far. It wasn't meant to go too far."

Did he believe in the Taliban cause when he joined up? "We were told that we would be fighting the Russians. I didn't feel so bad when I heard it was the Russians. We couldn't actually see who was in the trenches opposite. They sent all the foreign fighters right to the front. When things got rough, the Afghan elders retreated up the hill and left us to fend for ourselves."

He says that they survived three days and three nights on the front line before they were surrounded by General Massoud's Northern Alliance army.

"Hundreds were killed," he whispers, his voice choking, "only six of us managed to escape. We were framed."

Ajmal's journey

For his older brother, Ajmal, it is the climax of an extraodinary and dangerous journey which I shared with him across Afghanistan.

Ajmar Khan
Ajmar Khan in Afghanistan searching for his brother

As an ethnic Pakistani from the border Pushtun tribe, he is not welcome in the Northen Alliance strongholds of Afghanistan. Too many people have lost close friends and family to Pakistani Taleban fighters and people treated him with threatening hostility during his week-long journey to reach Chah Ab.

He is also under extreme emotional pressure from home. His mother has already had three strokes since she learned of Anwar's imprisonment. The family are afraid that a fourth might kill her.

Returning to the UK

A week after the meeting between the two brothers, the release order is issued and the two brothers from Burnley make their way home to the UK from Afghanistan, via Pakistan.

Anwar's passport
Anwar entered Afghanistan without his passport

But Anwar is arrested at the border and has been held in Pakistan ever since. Those who were sent with such enthusiasm from Pakistan to fight for the Taleban are now the enemy. The world has become a very different place since Anwar crossed that same border so easily three years ago.

Ajmal is now campaigning again - this time to get his brother released from Landikotal Prison on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. If he succeeds, then there is still the problem of Anwar's return to the UK.

Home

Because he fought for the Taleban well before 11 September, he is unlikely to be charged with terrorism or treason. The family are, however, concerned that he might be attacked in Burnley where the British National Party has been doing well in recent local elections.

I regret it deeply

Anwar Khan

His father does not want him to return home. In the police station in Chah Ab, Anwar talks about his old haunts in Burnley, his friends and the members of his extended family with nostalgia.

Does he regret his Afghan adventure? "Of course, I do. I regret it all deeply." His problems may only just be beginning.

"My brother the Taleban fighter" was broadcast on Sunday 24th March 2002 on BBC Two at 1915.

Reporter: Sue Lloyd Roberts
Producer: Christopher Kendall
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
My brother the Taleban fighter
My brother the Taleban fighter
Prepares for his journey
Prepares for his journey
Ajmal meets Anwar for the first time in three years
Ajmal meets Anwar for the first time in three years

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Background

IN DEPTH
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06 Feb 02 | Americas
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