In last night’s disturbing documentary from Dispatches, the deservedly award-winning Pakistani journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy investigated how the “war on terror” is creating a generation of child terrorists in her homeland Pakistan. These children are prepared to kill others and themselves, both inside and outside Pakistan.
Sharmeen investigated how the Taliban are recruiting increasingly younger and younger “fighters” to serve their need for what amounts to cannon fodder and expendable ‘soldiers’.
She met with a 14-year-old boy in her home city of Karachi who is desperate to become a suicide bomber. Sharmeen then followed the elite unit of the anti-terror police squad who warn that the Taliban are hiding out in the city’s sprawling slums and recruiting children from small deprived neighbourhoods.
Sharmeen also interviewed a Taliban commander who’s responsible for child recruitment, and he happily revealed that children as young as five are now being used by the Taliban.
And with the recent attacks in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team and last year’s massive suicide bombing in Islamabad as well as the assault on Mumbai, Pakistan’s radical Islamists are “bringing violence to the major cities of Pakistan and beyond” and often using very small children to do so.
Sharmeen travelled across Pakistan to investigate how the far the Taliban had infiltrated the country and in the north, she found that the Pakistan army – backed by Americans – are locked in a conflict that’s resulted in the deaths of thousands of Pakistani troops and civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
At a nearby refugee camp, Sharmeen interviewed two teenage boys whose local madrassa – a ‘madrassa’ by the way is defined as “an Islamic religious school” – was hit by a combination of bombardments from the Pakistani army and American missiles while children were at their lesson inside. In the aftermath of the attack, a local Taliban militant arrived to preach reprisal to a large crowd of local youngsters.
One of the boys Sharmeen met listened intently to that preaching and as a result, wanted to join the Taliban. His best friend though blamed al-Qaeda for the attacks and wanted to join the army. Sadly, these opposing opinions caused the boys to pledge to kill each other if they’re ever “in the battlefield” together, but given that any part of the globe can be – and is – “the battlefield”, that violent opposition to the opinion of another may come at any time.
Sharmeen also met 14-year-old Hazrat who’s already been recruited by the Taliban. He described his life in “an extremist madrass” and told how he’d graduated from training from using small firearms to rocket launchers and he expertly explained how to execute a suicide attack using a car, which is something he hopes he’ll get to do soon.
Next, Sharmeen traveled to Swat in the north west which was, until recently, “a peaceful tourist attraction”. There, among the wreckage of one of over two hundred schools that were destroyed by the Taliban, she met with two former pupils, both young girls who are angry that they’re now not allowed an education and equally as angry that they’ll soon be forced to wear burqas.
Soon after Sharmeen left Swat, the local government announced that the town’s citizens must officially adopt Sharia law, which amounts to a total submission to the demands of the Taliban but this is not a choice; it’s a case of comply or die.
Finally, Sharmeen met with some of the many thousands of child victims of the violence at a specialist hospital for paraplegics which was full of desperately sad and innocent victims of a war they have no clue about or responsibility for, yet they are the victims who must live with the consequences of it for the rest of their – probably short – lives.
Sharmeen was clearly very shocked by what she’d seen and heard and what it all meant for her country. She summed it up by saying, “This new generation, brutalised and radicalised by poverty, indoctrination and war, are Pakistan’s future.” And a bleak future that is.
Sharmeen was very brave to make this film; not only is she a woman – and therefore an underclass in some sectors of Pakistani culture, but not all – she exposed the truth and did so without bias in many cases.
This was ‘true’ journalism and I admire her deeply for her commitment to the cause of seeking out the truth and documenting it so that this truth may be globally recognised. I admire too the fact that she listened to both sides of the ‘argument though of course that is a word that’s barely appropriate to this hideous situation.
This film was not anti-Taliban propaganda but of course the only conclusion that the viewer could draw was that, without doubt – were we in any previously – the Taliban is a vicious regime ruled by psychopaths who’ll stop at nothing – and know no bounds – in achieving their goals.
Any terrorist group who act in the name of God and religion and can feel morally justified in encouraging terrorism at all – and worse yet, actively recruiting small children to carry out heinous acts of death and destruction – don’t represent any God I’m aware of. They represent nothing more than power and money hungry extremists.
Bravo to you Sharmeen. You have more courage than the entirety of the Taliban.