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Pakistan's Taliban Generation

Editor's Note: "I believe in telling the truth," says filmmaker Sharmeed Obaid-Chinoy. Over webcam she tells us why she undertook such a dangerous journey in her native Pakistan to document how the Taliban are repressing young girls and recruitIng children to carry out suicide attacks. In this gripping interview, the filmmaker gives an update on some of the characters in her documentary and provides chilling behind-the-scenes details about her interview with a Taliban commander. She also offers field notes, below, from her reporting across Pakistan.

* * *

A peace deal was officially signed this week between the Pakistan government and Taliban leaders in Swat Valley, a truce that guarantees the imposition of Sharia Law across this once peaceful tourist haven, home to approximately 1 million people. In return both militant and government forces have agreed to a ceasefire.

It's an uneasy settlement on many fronts, both for Pakistani moderates and for an international community that sees Pakistan as a critical security concern. The Taliban have been spreading their strict ideology across Swat and other parts of Pakistan for the last two years, often using violent reprisals. Through their growing network of religious schools and military training camps, they are raising a whole new generation of radicalized children.

In new developments, The New York Times just reported that the Taliban are now cutting deals with militant groups in Punjab, making inroads into Pakistan's most powerful and populous state.

While reporting Children of the Taliban, I saw chilling propaganda videos used to recruit and train children for suicide attacks. In one video, 25 children appear wearing the traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, they rock back and forth reciting the Koran. A white bandana worn across their foreheads reads: "There is no God but God."

Housed in a bare compound, three young boys watch over the group holding automatic guns. Their teacher, dressed in brown military fatigues, paces the room reading from a book called, "Justifications for Suicide Bombing." Moving to a white board, he writes, "Reasons for killing a spy."

In the last few months, militants have forced business owners to close cinemas and barbershops. Diplomats from Iran and Afghanistan have been kidnapped, and an American aid worker shot dead. The Taliban's latest target is secular schools.


In another video, three teenage boys talk about their desire to become suicide bombers. We meet Zainullah, who later blows himself up killing six; then Sadique, who blows himself up killing 22; and Masood who kills 28. We're shown footage glorifying their attacks. The back drop to all this is a young child singing, "If you try to find me after I have died, you will never find my whole body, you will only find little pieces."

"Suicide" schools run by the Taliban are preparing a generation of boys to commit atrocities against civilians. Last year, suicide attacks struck right across Pakistan, killing more than 800 people. Pakistan's war is no longer confined to the lawless Tribal areas along the Afghan border, it has moved to the cities. Children are being killed, but they are also being turned into killers.

Earlier this year, when I was reporting in the northern city of Peshawar, home to two million people, the government was nominally in control. You could feel the tension of an encroaching Taliban across the city. In the last few months, militants have forced business owners to close cinemas and barbershops. Diplomats from Iran and Afghanistan have been kidnapped, and an American aid worker shot dead. The Taliban's latest target is secular schools.

Peshawar Middle School has been providing secular education to boys for the past 30 years. Two months ago, in the dead of the night, the Taliban blew up the front of the building. Their message: "Adopt Islamic ideals or close down." School administrators were shaken by the attack but determined to go on. Taliban threats have become a way of life for them.

Since the blast, the school has hired armed guards and set up a watchtower on top of the building. When I visited the school recently, a 15-year-old student told me: "The Taliban have really affected our city because they have created fear in the hearts of the people. They are trying to deter development in our country," said Ahsan Tahir.

School administrators have had a tough time convincing parents to return their children to school. Parents are worried that next time the Taliban will strike during the day while their children are in class. But students like Tahir see it differently. "We can't allow the Taliban to win," he said. "If we stop going to school, Pakistan will not have any engineers, doctors, lawyers, and the Taliban will succeed in pushing us back to the Dark Ages."

REACTIONS

Reader Too - New York, New York
How shameful that the children are being turned into killers, by destroying their ability to love and develop into good citizens of the world. A tragedy indeed.

Des Moines, Iowa
The Taliban and Al Qaeda have to be ruthlessly crushed. Reasoning and negotiating with zealots does not work but encourages them to keep fighting and building. The history of the Middle East shows that an all front offensive will win the day provided there is some accountability on the attacking side.
>p>But it can't be won by a Pakistani army that isn't willing to fight or thinks it has to flatten every building in a town to win. The people of Pakistan have to fight too as they can't make the army do all the heavy lifting.

The Pakistani government is putting itself in jeopardy by not providing schools for boys because then the madrassass get them and turn those boys into weapons against the government. A weak government could cause Pakistan to fall apart like the first German Republic to Nazism or Lebanon did to factionalism.

IMRAN CAMACHO - HOLLAND, NY
The US is the biggest terrorist nation on Earth. This is what I learned from watching all this.

seattle, wa
In the mid seventies,I travelled thru Afghanstain,and Pakistan. Spent time in Kabul,Lahore and Swat valley. It was stunningly beautiful -- the people of a gentle disposition. Many years later, I worked in Saudi Arabia,and what I saw,was a melting ground for Muslim fanatics. I am absolutely convinced that the brutality, crimes against women, Sharia law and all other Taliban traits were imported from Saudi Arabia. That country encouraged state-sponsored human rights violations and molded young minds to their warped thinking. But the USA turned a blind eye -- they wanted the oil. Now it has come back to haunt them.

Russ Martz - Chambersburg, PA.
Didn't Hitler use the same tactics against the Jews?

weston, MA
It was very moving to watch the young girl Kaynat from Swat Valley talk about her dreams of wanting to go back to school and become a doctor some day. It is heart-wrenching to think that, irrespective of how the situation in the region eventually resolves, lives of such young girls so full of hope and promise in the meantime may be forever and irredeemably lost behind the brutal politics of purdah and other means of systematic repression of a whole new generation of women. Would it be possible to rescue these young girls on a case-by-case basis and give them a fresh chance at new hope and meaningful life by pairing them up with suitable, willing adoptive families in countries such as the U.S? I would be the first to sign up, and would like to help young Kaynat if it can be arranged, starting with an exploratory conversation with the young lady and her mother through Sharmeed Obaid-Chinoy. I am an Indian, fluent enough in Hindi/Urdu to communicate first-hand with Kaynat and would be honored and willing to do as much as I can to give the young girl a new life by raising her under my wing here in the U.S. if it were acceptable to her and her mother.

Mani Devaj - San Jose, California
Pakistan is going through a very trying time.
It is a country that lives in a part of the world where China, Russia and
India were the neighborhood bullies.With the rise of Al Qaeda and the tit for tat response of "take no
prisoners" by the US, the whole neighborhood has gone bully whack.Pakistan has been outflanked in its efforts to boost the Taliban and the
Indian strategy has borne fruit with its allies aspiring to control
Afghanistan.The frontier province was always a no man's land. Pakistan's control
consisted on having the tribal chiefs on her side. This could continue as
long as Pakistan was the toughest kid on the bloc. The tribal chiefs have
taken on the Americans and no longer need to bow to Pakistan or anyone else.
They now believe that they control their own destiny and Pakistan is nothing but a pet of the US.While the US has announced billions in aid, it will go to waste. US Aid is
channeled through consultants and corrupt politicians and by the time it
gets to the target, its worth is no more than that of that piece of shrapnel that started as a million dollar cruise missile and now lies in between the blown out limbs of the unsuspecting as they slept in their two dollar mud house.Pakistan's civil movement holds promise but it must not be directed at fighting a battle that, by its continuation, will destroy the country. Its energy must be channeled into efforts towards building a civil and just society in Pakistan.The best that the US can do is not to send billions into Pakistan but by
leaving Pakistan and letting Pakistanis and the frontier men run their own lives. The US and Pakistani bombing of the tribal areas destroys the village where these fearless frontier men have dwelled for hundreds of years. Having lost their homes these proud angry mountain men, whose pride demands that every death be avenged, are descending to the valleys and
cities of Pakistan and exacting revenge. How can you convince them that it is wrong to brazenly kill innocent civilians when they themselves have witnessed the wholesale deaths of their innocent family members by unseen (cowardly) drones?The people of Afghanistan did not consider the US its enemy, Al Qaeda did.
By attacking an entire swath of Afghanistan, the US now has made an entire
population its enemy and turned ordinary Afghanis (and now frontier
Pakistanis) into Taliban.

Zora Renee - Columbia, Md.
Dear Ms. Obaid-Chinoy,
I watched your interviews last night and while I was informed, I was so sad. All I could do is cry. While the leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been terrible, the American government support of these bad actors has added the fuel to the flames. Unfortunately, most Americans don't realize this. I thank you for your brave reporting, Inshallah.

Christopher Bedford - Montague, MI
This report by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is excellent, beyond excellent, and should be required viewing by members of Congress and the President Obama's administration. Her work clearly defines the challenge before us, one that pilotless drones will not meet. Indeed, they exacerbate the problem. Chaos looms.

Ann Arbor, MI
Thanks to Shareem-Obaid Chinoy and her crew for making this important documentary. You are all brave souls. It's journalism like this that we need more of.I just finished reading "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Greg Mortenson is building secular schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, mostly for girls. This amazing Frontline documentary is so important and a great companion piece to Greg's book. I was very sad to see some footage of the bombed schools.
Education of the girls and boys in these areas is the most important thing that we can do to fight terrorism and promote peace.I would like to encourage everyone to read "Three Cups of Tea" and to donate to the Central Asia Institute. Plus I would like to encourage everyone to send a link of this program via e-mail to your friends and family.

Joshua Brown - Arlington, Texas
After watching "Children of the Taliban," I understand so much more about what is going on with the Pakistani Taliban and the people under their influence. It's an extremely urgent issue than many of us barely understand and I'm glad to see Frontline/World showing this. And Sharmeen did an especially great job in reporting it.