Press Release

FRONTLINE/WORLD
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS

FRONTLINE/WORLD Meets Young Recruits to a Taliban Insurgency in Pakistan and Explores Internet Addiction in South Korea

As her country slips further into political instability, becoming perhaps the most volatile nation in the world, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy takes a dangerous journey along Pakistan’s fault lines, investigating the rising popularity of an insurgent new branch of the Taliban among members of the country’s next generation.

In “Children of the Taliban,” airing Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS, Obaid-Chinoy also tracks down the militants themselves, coming face-to-face with a man who boasts of recruiting young suicide bombers for the Taliban — some as young as five or six years old.

“Children are tools to achieve God’s will,” the Taliban recruiter tells Obaid-Chinoy in their highly charged meeting. “If you are fighting, then God provides you with the means. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it.”

Throughout, Obaid-Chinoy encounters young people caught between a militant insurgency and a state struggling to preserve itself. In the city of Peshawar, she meets two young men, Wasifullah and Abdurrahman, who were driven from their homes by a Pakistani army campaign intended to root out Taliban elements that had settled there. In the aftermath of the fighting, Wasifullah and Abdurrahman — friends since boyhood — find themselves headed in very different directions, with Wasifullah pledging to join the Taliban and Abdurrahman wanting to join the army.

“Your friend Wasifullah wants to join the Taliban,” Obaid-Chinoy says to Abdurrahman. “If he comes in front of you, and you are wearing a Pakistan army uniform, are you going to kill him?” “Yes,” Abdurrahman says. “If he fights against the army, then I will retaliate fiercely.” Wasifullah is no less resolute when the question is put to him. “Definitely,” Wasifullah says when asked whether he would kill Abdurrahman on the field of battle. “If what he does is wrong, then I will fight against him.”

In Swat, a resort town once known as the Switzerland of the east, Obaid-Chinoy finds two nine-year-old girls standing atop the rubble of their school, which has just been blown up by the Taliban. The girls are now forbidden an education. “It’s completely unfair,” one of them says. “My father has bought me a burqa,” the other girl says of the way life is changing under the Taliban. “I [don’t] have any choice. I have to wear it.” 

In her hometown of Karachi, Obaid-Chinoy sits down with a young man, Shaheed, who is embracing the Taliban’s teachings, especially regarding the role of women. “Women are meant for domestic care,” Shaheed tells her. “The government should forbid women and girls from wandering outside. Just like the government banned plastic bags — no one uses them anymore — we should do the same with women.” When Shaheed ends his madrassa studies, he says he’d like to join the Taliban’s fight for control of the country. “Do you want to carry out a suicide attack?” Obaid-Chinoy asks him. “I would love to,” he says. His teacher later adds: “It’s in our blood. No matter how many Muslims die, we will never run out of sacrificial lambs. Someone who sees death as a blessing, who can defeat him?”

Near the end of her journey, Obaid-Chinoy travels to the lawless tribal regions, where the army maintains that its campaign against the Taliban will succeed, soundly and soon. “The human cost is undeniably a very, very grievous kind of a thing,” says General Tariq Khan, one of the architects of the army’s fight against the Taliban in the tribal areas. “But it’s better to die than to live under an environment where the Taliban are taking away your children.”

In another segment, “South Korea: The Most Wired Place on Earth,” on the program, FRONTLINE/World examines how after a financial meltdown in the 1990s, the South Korean government decided on a bold bailout plan for the country: It would reinvent itself with high tech, investing billions in an ultra-high-speed broadband network that would connect everyone in the country.

FRONTLINE/World correspondent Douglas Rushkoff — one of America’s leading writers and thinkers about the new wired world — travels to South Korea to take the measure of the country’s digital revolution and to understand its impact on the lives of ordinary Koreans.

Along the way, Rushkoff visits an elementary school where five-year-olds are taught proper “netiquette,” and he spends time with professional video game players who have become wealthy celebrities in South Korea, where professional gaming has become big business.

At one of the tens of thousands of Internet cafes in the country, known as “PC bangs,” Rushkoff asks some young men about the dangers of marathon Internet gaming sessions, some of which stretch 40 to 50 hours and can end in heart attacks and sudden death. “We don’t play like we’re addicted,” one of them responds. “There are many who are addicted, but they don’t play at PC bang.”

Aware of the growing number of kids getting lost online, the South Korean government commissioned a leading psychiatrist to study the problem of Internet addiction. “There’s an argument about whether it’s a real disease or just a phenomenon, but we think it’s a type of addiction,” Dr. Ahn Dong-Hyun tells Rushkoff. “About 90 percent of Korean children use the Internet in their daily life. Of those, about 10 to 15 percent are at risk.”

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Acting in part on Dr. Ahn’s findings, the government set up free “Internet rescue centers” around the country, where at-risk kids go for digital detox. Rushkoff follows the treatment of a 15-year-old boy named Young Il, whose mother has tried unsuccessfully to slow the boy’s obsessive Internet habit. Over the course of several weeks, Young Il undergoes group and individual therapies at a special rescue camp, as counselors help him to reclaim large parts of a childhood lost to the computer. “Sometimes I wish I could stop or play a little less,” Young Il says. “But on the other hand, I just want to play more. It’s very complicated.”

Not long after the end of the rescue camp, Rushkoff checks in with Young Il’s mother: “Young Il said to me, ‘I can’t completely stay away from the computer now, but I will try to decrease the time day by day. So please trust me, Mom.’ I was very touched by his saying this to me because he never said this kind of thing to me before.”

Rushkoff’s journey is part of a larger FRONTLINE project, “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier,” a year-long, multi-platform exploration of what it means to be human in a wired world. The project unfolds online at www.pbs.org/frontline/digitalnation and will build toward a national television broadcast on FRONTLINE in 2010.

Underwriters: Shell, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Skoll Foundation through a grant to the PBS Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
“The Most Wired Place in the World” segment underwriter: Verizon Foundation
Series senior producer: Ken Dornstein
Series executive director: Sharon Tiller
Series producer: WGBH Boston
Series executive producer: David Fanning
Format: CC Stereo DVI; HD (16:9)
Online: pbs.org/frontline

– PBS –

CONTACTS: Diane Buxton, FRONTLINE, 617-300-5375; diane_buxton@wgbh.org

Alissa Rooney, FRONTLINE, 617-300-5314; alissa_rooney@wgbh.org

 

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