Editorial: DAILY TIMES
National ‘mind damage’ by Taliban

The NWFP Senior Minister, Mr Bashir Ahmed Bilour, has revealed that 200 “completely brainwashed” children of ages 6 to 13 years have been recovered from Malakand, ready to act as suicide-bombers for the Taliban. Further details are quite unsettling: the children are so completely transformed by their trainers that they refuse to reintegrate into normal society and even threaten their parents with death because they are “non-believers”.

We know that children were increasingly being used by the Taliban for their terrorist attacks in recent times. The pattern even contained the message that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were finding it increasingly difficult to train grown-up individuals to do the job. We also know that a child from Karachi is being prosecuted for being a part of the plot that took the life of Ms Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in 2007. But new details about the use of suicide-bombing coming to light establish a pattern of employing children rather than men.

Our troops discovered suicide-factories in South Waziristan where children brought in from all over Pakistan were kept and “trained” by men who had become famous for their expertise at “converting” the boys in “half an hour”. A cleric from South Punjab was actually caught as he returned from South Waziristan after delivering the latest batch of child bombs to Baitullah Mehsud. This is the worst mind damage that the Taliban movement has done to Pakistan. It has nothing to do with Islam directly but Islam is certainly being misused as an instrument of brainwash.

The 200 child suicide-bombers now in army custody should be handled with great care. They have to be put through a debriefing with a psychologist who should grade them in accordance with the intensity of their alienation from society. They should not be let out into society after a “corrective” sermon from a cleric. That will not work, as shown again and again by men who suffered punishment in prisons, including Guantanamo Bay, and then went right back to practising terrorism once they were released.

Generally speaking, Pakistani children are ripe for the plucking. Poor and deprived, they are primed with religious instruction, as embodied in our syllabi, and succumb to Taliban trainers willingly because of the orthodox views inculcated in them by our school system. While the instruction in state-owned schools is completely benign, some of its elements are selectively employed by the trainers to fashion a suicide-bomber out of the boy. The idea of “shahadat” and the attainment of paradise are misapplied, and the Muslims that he is supposed to kill through his suicide are first apostatised into kafirs.

Unfortunately, a concordance between the orthodox clergy and the Taliban trainers helps the evil process. For instance, the condemnation of suicide-bombing through a collective fatwa issued by the ulema of Pakistan recognises the phenomenon of suicide-bombers as “fedayeen” and outlaws suicide-bombing only when it targets “innocent Muslims”. From this legal base, the boys are easily convinced that they are dying in the cause of Islam by killing those who have rendered themselves non-believers by their acts.

The national consensus against the Taliban, and effective military operations against them, have turned the tide of grown-up suicide bombers. The conduct of the state too has helped in this. For instance, Jamil and Khalique who tried to kill President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in 2003 by ramming their explosive-laden car into his cavalcade, were Jaish-e-Muhammad operatives who once fought the covert war against India and were caught fighting against the Americans in 2001 in Afghanistan. Thinking they would change their ways, the agencies let them off, which was a mistake.

Now, of course, the illusions of covert war have been more or less eliminated and the army is fighting against the jihadis that once were its extended front rank. This has changed the trend. The jihadis offer themselves less and less as suicide-bombers; and if they do, they have proved less and less reliable. The new trend is to get caught and start spilling the beans on their patrons, which is actually a measure of success of the army in its war against the Taliban. Ajmal Kasab had the option of suicide; he did not take it. And he has spilled a lot of beans.

The “mind damage” at the national level is being gradually healed as “intimidation” under the control of Taliban is less and less possible. But those who have been roped into becoming suicide-bombers are a special case. And if they are children they should be kept in quarantine and reintegrated into a society that they should view as benign.

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