by Mahso Gichki, student of BA International Relations at King’s College London.
When you think of a Taliban what do you imagine; a bearded man, with a turban on his head, and gun in his hand? Now imagine a Taliban as a 10-year-old boy, with hardly a strand of hair on his chin, and a head too small to be covered in a turban.
Recently, the Taliban recruiting children as suicide bombers have increased dramatically in numbers. In 2009 there were 500 bombs across Pakistan, many of which were children suicide bombers. So what makes these children want to become a part of such groups, and why are they willing to give their lives up?
Pakistan has a population of 80 million children living in poverty; food and water falls short, and life is but a constant struggle. Where the government has failed to provide these children with basic needs and education; the Taliban has stepped in to exploit these families. Taliban’s most important tool is madrasas, or religious schools, which have over take the role of education. Pakistan has around 12,000 unregistered madrasas, most of which are run by the Taliban. Here children are recruited with the promise of a better future, education, food, shelter, and religious studies. However, the reality is far from that. These children are treated like prisoners.
Sharmeen Obaid, a Pakistani journalist travels across Pakistan to see how far the Taliban have been able to infiltrate areas. Her interview with Abdullah Qadri, one of the leaders of Taliban, revels much of their phycology that they are then imposing on the children. When she asks him about using young children to carry out such attacks, he replies: “Children are tools to achieve God’s will. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it.”
Sharmeen also meets a 14-year-old boy already recruited by the Taliban, who describes his life in an extremist madrassa. Hazrat describes how he graduated from training in small arms to rocket launchers and explains how to execute a suicide attack in a car; something he hopes he will have the opportunity to carry out in the near future.
These madrasas teach the curriculum designed by the Taliban and infused with anti-west ideologies. The children are made to read the Quran, the holy book of Islam, for around eight hours a day in Arabic, a language, which is alien to them. They are not allowed to read any other text or book that has not been given to them by the Taliban. Also they cannot play games, and are feed dry bread and water as meals, and are regularly beaten. The idea is to make them hate the world that they are living in. Simultaneously, these children are taught about the “glories” of afterlife, which will be their reward for the sacrifice they will make in this world. In this afterlife, they will get an unlimited supply of honey and milk and 72 virgins will be waiting for them at the doors of heaven. Faced with a life of misery and an eternity of glory which one would you choose?
It is frightening to see that the income disparity between rich and poor is being filled by radicalization, and sentiments of war. Where 10 percent of the population is privileged with private educations, the other 90 percent struggles to get a loaf of bread. The strokes of poverty have become a tool of radicalization; while the government plays dilly-dally. It is frightening to see that in this juggle of life and death, these children choose death over life. These are our children. This is our future.
Dawood Azim, How the Taliban Groom Children, BBC News, 2013
Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, Article Channel 4, 2014
Sharmeen Obaid, Children Of Taliban, 2010
Najibullah Qureshi, 2014, Taliban Child Fighters, Journey Man Tv, Pakistan.