KABUL -- Taliban militants are taking advantage of the public's lack of awareness, and religious beliefs, as well as illiteracy, to target new recruits and send them to their deaths, Afghan citizens and officials say.
In the most recent case, Kabul police arrested a group of four suspected would-be suicide bombers, laden with heavy explosive vests, before they could reach their targets.
Some of the suspects' bodies have visible signs of mutilation and tattoos, according to police.
"These individuals have been branded on their backs and chests, and they have been told that this is the seal of heaven," Kabul Police Chief Gen. Abdurrahman Rahman said September 4 at a news conference in Kabul. "In addition, their shoulders have been cut and scarred, so that they can be recognised by other Taliban members."
Azizullah, one of the detainees, told journalists that their Taliban commander had marked their bodies, telling them the ink seal would result in their direct ascension to heaven upon their demise.
"They told us that after we commit a suicide attack, only our finger will be cut and we will remain alive," he said during the news conference.
Deceiving the public
The militants have deceived the people of Afghanistan with various tricks, causing the martyrdom of thousands of innocent civilians over the past decade, Afghan scholars and analysts say.
"This is not the first case," said Sharif Muhammadi, a resident of Kabul. "Time and again we have seen in the media the confessions of arrested militants who admit that they had been deceived and had fought against the government under the pretext of 'jihad.'"
"A majority of the militants who commit terrorist acts are in fact ignorant and deceived individuals who think they will go to heaven by murdering others," Sharif told Salaam Times.
Militants take advantage of illiterate and naive individuals to murder people, Maryam, a 25-year-old journalism student at a private university in Kabul, said.
"If the government and the international community wish to eradicate terrorism from Afghanistan, as well as from the world, they must fight poverty and illiteracy," Maryam told Salaam Times. "Once the level of awareness is increased, terrorists can no longer exploit the lack of public awareness."
Militants ignorant of Islam
Religious scholars also assert that murdering innocent people is a grave sin, and those who commit such crimes deserve severe punishment.
"Islam considers taking the life of one innocent person equal to murdering all of humanity," Afghan religious scholar Mulvi Muhibbullah Zahid told Salaam Times. "Those who resort to deception in order to cause the death of innocent people are guilty of committing a cardinal sin."
"As for those who have been deceived," he added, "they must know that they are not going to heaven for murdering innocent individuals; quite the contrary, they should be expecting a severe divine punishment."
Terrorists recruit young people who are ignorant about Islamic principles, said Muhammadullah Omran, a student of Islamic studies in Kabul.
Fighters recruit under the pretext of Islam and by conveying a merciless and inaccurate image of the religion, he said.
"Considering the current situation, it is the responsibility of the Afghan government, as well as of every Muslim, to utilise mosques and media and inform people about the true image of Islam, so that no one can take advantage of the name of Islam," he told Salaam Times.
Militants pick most of their recruits from remote and disadvantaged areas, said Behroz Arya, a Kabul security analyst.
"Generally speaking, they are illiterate, uninformed and extremely devoted Muslim individuals who can be quickly deceived ... because they lack access to education and information," he told Salaam Times.
"Those who are being trained by the militants to conduct suicide attacks are kept in special locations isolated from society for months," Arya said. "Militants constantly talk to them about Judgment Day and heaven. They hypnotise them so that they don’t see anything other than their intended targets."
Taliban members joining peace process
Met with increasing resistance from the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, some Taliban fighters are realising the error of their ways.
Most recently, on September 17 in Helmand Province, a group of 20 Taliban laid down their arms and surrendered to the government, local media reported.
The group included a notorious Taliban commander Mullah Daud, alias Habash, according to Helmand Province Governor Hayatullah Hayat.
Karim Atal, chairman of the Helmand Provincial Council, confirmed the news and said the defectors vowed to work toward bringing peace back to the area.
The surrender took place in an area where Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces clashed recently, resulting in heavy losses among the Taliban.
Officials are expressing hope that the surrender will inspire other militants to lay down their arms and join the peace process.