Gauher Aftab was all of 13 and his mid-year school break in Class 9 was about to begin. But unlike his classmates who were all gung-ho about the vacations, Aftab was packing his bags to catch the next bus to 'heaven'.
It had been planned to the last detail. Aftab would leave his hostel room the next morning with nothing but Rs 700 and some clothes. He would meet his Islamic Studies teacher at his house and together they would reach the bus stand at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore. One more person would join them and the group would travel some 500 kms to a Jihadi camp in AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir).
The mild-mannered, bespectacled boy would then undergo training so that he could be a part of the 'jihad' for Kashmir. He would spray bullets into the chests of heretics, polytheists and all kafirs - Hindus, Christians, Jews, Sufis, Shias and Ahmadis.
Though his family lived just 10 minutes away, there was no way they would find out. It was 1997, there were no mobile phones, no Internet. He planned to write to them informing about his decision once at the camp.
But Aftab couldn't make it. He never got on that fateful bus. Looking back, he says it was "divine intervention".
But how did that boy, who grew up in a privileged household in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, find himself wanting to shoot or behead in the name of Allah?
"It has happened to me, and it can happen to anyone," Aftab, now 32, says.
That same year, the family had moved from Saudi to Lahore. Aftab was enrolled at an elite boarding school, one of Pakistan's best, where he met his Islamic Studies teacher - a stocky man with a flowing orange beard, who always dressed in a spotless white shalwar kameez and a black waistcoat.
"The teacher seldom stuck to syllabus, but kept the class enthralled with tales of his supposed bravery as a Mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan. He often dwelt on how other religions are devilish and every Muslim's ordained duty is to kill enemies of Islam. A ‘momin’, he said, is one who carries the Quran in his right hand and a sword in his left, to behead his enemies," Aftab told ScoopWHoop News in a telephonic conversation from Lahore.
The teacher often called for 'jihad' and defined it as a battle for honour. He said those who weren't joining this war were no better than women. Aftab felt insulted.
"But what pulled the trigger was when the teacher told us that the Indian Army rapes Muslim women in Kashmir," he says.
Aftab, a third-generation Kashmiri migrant, was filled with rage and decided to answer the call for battle.
Within a month of his classes, Aftab told his teacher he would join this jihad. The teacher brushed him off for a few weeks, but eventually consented to show him the path. He asked Aftab to come meet him at his house on the last day of the term with nothing except for Rs 700 and some clothes.
On the day he was to leave, Aftab reached his hostel room and was shocked to find his family waiting for him. He learnt his grandmother was very ill and he needed to urgently go home.
His grandmother had contracted an incurable strain of Hepatitis C. He spent his vacations with the family and, for the rest of his academic class, he commuted to school from home.
His transformation wasn't lost on the family. Aftab had grown a beard, had begun to question his family's lifestyle, and was praying a lot. They soon found out his secret and kept a close eye on him for days.
Aftab says he rebelled, but as a 13-year-old, he couldn't do much. He took to reading the books he had bought from his teacher – English translations of the Quran and the Hadees.
Aftab says the texts de-radicalised him.
"The texts had no mention of the need to shed blood to save honour. I wasn't inspired to kill anymore," he says.
The next year, he joined the school as a day scholar, but didn't confront his teacher.
"He didn't show any further interest in me either. Probably he too was scared to attempt a stunt like that in an elite school," he now says.
Aftab went on to complete school, and eventually joined Knox College, a liberal arts college in Illinois in the US. He returned to Pakistan in 2006.
Today, Aftab has an inkling of how a militant thinks.
"They lose the ability to choose and think for themselves," Aftab says, and goes on to list three steps that go into the making of a terrorist.
Gauher Aftab spoke on the subject in a TedX talk
"First, the radicalisers take you away from your roots and tradition. They tell you they are the sole authority on religion and you are not supposed to trust anyone else, least of all your family. Second, they create narratives that justify violence and say you have been wronged. Third, they glorify "martyrdom" that is, tell you that killing in the name of Jihad is a ticket to paradise," he says.
In Aftab's case, it was Kashmir that tugged at his heartstrings. In other parts of the world, he says, it's Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or some other issue.