behind taliban lines


Behind Taliban Lines

Reported by Najibullah Quraishi

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE: In Afghanistan, extraordinary access behind enemy lines, the insurgents' strategy, their expertise, and their determination to kill and outlast the Americans.

Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi journeys deep into the insurgents' territory as they attempt to sabotage an important new American supply route and open up a dangerous new front in the north.

And then, across the border in Pakistan-

DAVID MONTERO, Correspondent: So your students, they actually have no rooms, no desks.

KHALED, Headmaster: No, no.

ANNOUNCER: The ticking time bomb of Pakistan's failing public schools.

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: Less than 30 million children in this country are in any type of school.

ANNOUNCER: Reporter David Montero investigates one of the worst education systems in the world and whether U.S. aid can help stop the threat.

NARRATOR: This is a story that begins with the crossing of a river in northern Afghanistan. The plan was to make contact with the Taliban. Veteran Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi had been negotiating for an interview with a Taliban spokesman for a story he was reporting for FRONTLINE when he received a call.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI, Journalist/Videographer: I was thinking that I'm going to meet a group of Taliban. I was thinking this is the time which I came myself to enemy.

NARRATOR: He was given a location in the hills of Baghlan province and told to wait.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I didn't know where I am. Then I saw a motorbike. Two guys were coming towards me.

NARRATOR: The man who came to meet him was a commander in the growing insurgency in this northern province.

TALIBAN COMMANDER: [subtitles] These people are corrupt sinners. God has ordered us to fight against corruption and decay in our society. And we should kill until we get rid of the rottenness.

NARRATOR: His anti-Western statements were predictable, but what Najibullah hadn't expected was an unusual offer he made before leaving.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: He said, "Would you like to come and see our mujahid and his life?" I said, "How?" He said, "I will talk with my boss, big boss. Then if he agreed, then we can invite you."

NARRATOR: For the last nine years, most of the fighting against the Taliban has been taking place in the south, in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. But the new battlefront which has opened up in the north is in Baghlan and Kunduz, and the reason is this highway.

In a country with few main roads, it's a major overland supply route for coalition forces, running from neighboring Tajikistan via Kabul, all the way to the southern provinces.

It would take two months before Najibullah heard back from the Taliban. He was told to meet a Taliban intermediary, who would take him deep into the hills of Baghlan province. They arrived at the insurgents' base just before sunset. This was not a place where journalists had traveled before.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: On that night, when I reached the guest house, I was thinking, "What shall I do? What did I done? Why I came here?"

NARRATOR: For the next two weeks, Najibullah would be given permission to live among the insurgents as a guest and to document their daily lives. Over the course of several days, he began to film, at first being shown mainly what the men wanted him to see.



MEN: A destroyed tank.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Who does it belong to?

MEN: The Americans.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Did you guys burn it?

MEN: We burned tanks during the election time.

NARRATOR: The men told Najibullah they had ambushed this American armored personnel carrier, which they referred to as "a tank."


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: How many tanks did you burn?

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: We burned about seven tanks in that fight alone.

MAN: Where's the engine? This is only the frame.

MAN: They took it away.

MAN: The engine has been looted by the people.

NARRATOR: Najibullah found no evidence nearby to support these claims. Indeed, little here was as he expected. It turned out that only a few of these men were mainstream Taliban fighters. Most belonged to an extremist group called Hezb-e-Islami. They're controlled from the mountains near Pakistan by this man, Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, a complicated figure who fought the Soviets in the 1980s, was a prime minister of Afghanistan briefly in the '90s, and has now made an alliance among al Qaeda, the Taliban and his own Hezb-e-Islami fighters.

COMMANDER KALAQUB: [subtitles] My name is Commander Kalaqub.

NARRATOR: Commander Kalaqub is part of a hard-core group of fighters called "the Central Group."


COMMANDER KALAQUB: I'm based in the northern provinces of Baghlan and Kunduz.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: How many men do you have here?

COMMANDER KALAQUB: I can't tell you exactly, but we have around 3,000 to 4,000 Hezb-e-Islami men in the north. The Central Group has about 140 to 150 people in it.

NARRATOR: A farmer's son, Kalaqub says he was born in northern Afghanistan. He left home at the age of 14 to fight the Russians when they invaded his country in 1979.


FIGHTER: Hurry up. I want to eat it. We're late.

COMMANDER KALAQUB: The foreigners came here for these melons, but we won't let them eat them.

NARRATOR: This time, he says, the fight here is global.

COMMANDER KALAQUB: [subtitles] People come to us from all over Afghanistan. And they come from other Islamic countries. For example, they come from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan. We get special mujahids from abroad, but we're not allowed to talk about them.

NARRATOR: The special mujahids he's not supposed to mention are mainly Arabs from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Najibullah is told that they're members of al Qaeda who team up with Hezb-e-Islami cells for operations. One of the Hezb-e-Islami fighters he focuses on is named Arif.


ARIF: This is left from the Russian invasion. We split Russia into 25 pieces, and God willing, now we'll split America into 54 pieces.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Which do you think is stronger, Russia or America?

ARIF: Russia was stronger. And they were defeated.

NARRATOR: Arif is an Islamic scholar whose role when not fighting is to make sure everyone prays five times a day and learns the Quran by heart. When they fail, he's quick to let them know.

Eighteen-year-old Fazl is one of the Central Group's newest recruits.


FAZL: It's been six months since I came here.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Did someone force you to come?

FAZL: I came myself. I'll carry my weapon as long as the Americans are here. It will stay on my shoulder until the non-believers go home. Then I'll put down my weapon. I can't give up my weapon without that.

NARRATOR: And this is Fedayee. He says he went to study at an Islamic madrassa in Peshawar, Pakistan, for 10 years, and only recently joined the group. Although young, he's already an admired fighter among the others, who say he's _daywana_- crazy.

FEDAYEE: [subtitles] I don't want my gun to jam when fighting the non-believers.

NARRATOR: Fedayee is nephew to this man, Commander Mirwais. He's the overall leader of the northern battlefront and claims to have all 4,000 Hezb-e-Islami fighters under his control. In a former life, Mirwais was a millionaire businessman, importing cars from Europe before becoming Hezb-e-Islami's top man in the north a few years back.

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: [subtitles] Jihad has become a duty for all the Afghan nation because the foreign and non-believer countries have attacked us. They're getting rid of our religious and cultural values. They've increased obscenity and want to force Western democracy on our country.

NARRATOR: The insurgents train daily. They claim to control over a thousand villages in this area alone and say that the Kabul government has power only near the main towns. In one district, there's a hospital and a school built and paid for by the United Nations but now under the control of the insurgents. And throughout the region, the villagers pay their taxes directly to the insurgents, not the government.

[ Map of militant strongholds]


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Do you live here?

VILLAGER: Yes, I do.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: How is it? Do they disturb you?

VILLAGER: No, thanks be to God. It's very good.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Are they better than the government?

VILLAGER: They're good. The government mistreats us.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Why are they good?

VILLAGER: Because they don't abuse and oppress people.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Do these mujahidin come here often?

OLD MAN: Sometimes they're here, sometimes they're not

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Do they harm people in any way?

OLD MAN: So far, they've not harmed anyone.

NARRATOR: Some villagers seemed wary of speaking freely around the fighters, but others here have formed militia groups of their own to support the insurgents.


FIGHTER: We're doing jihad because non-believers came to our country, the Americans.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What will happen if the Americans leave?

FIGHTER: We'll sit back and give up our weapons.

NARRATOR: With local support, the men of the Central Group head out.


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Where are they going?

VILLAGER: They are going to Aybak.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What are they going to do?

VILLAGER: They're going for jihad. They're going to attack the main road.

NARRATOR: The next day, the men tell Najibullah they are preparing to go on a mission against the infidels.

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: [to barber, subtitles] Take more from this side.

NARRATOR: But Commander Mirwais won't say where they're going.

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: [subtitles] Enough, enough.

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, he and the others prepare for possible martyrdom.

FAZL: [to barber, subtitles] Tie it tight so hairs don't go down my back. The sides should be really slick. Look at me. Really slick.

NARRATOR: Arif, Fedayee and the others have been ordered to another location for a briefing. They travel freely, despite the Afghan army and police bases nearby.

COMMANDER KALAQUB: [subtitles] This is how we arrange for the groups to go off in the cars and carry out operations. We travel for about 10 kilometers and we hold a meeting. We'll arrange the plan there and divide into groups to carry out our duty.

NARRATOR: For the men of the Central Group, it's not hard to acquire weapons. During the years Afghans resisted the Russians, many here buried guns, shells and ammunition, which they've saved and now turn over to the insurgents. On this day, they receive weapons, sometimes decades old, that might still be used in the upcoming attack.


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Did you get those munitions recently?



COMMANDER MIRWAIS: Yes, someone sent them recently.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Someone from this village?

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: Yes, someone here helped the mujahidin. They're rocket heads.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Do the people usually help you?

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: Most of the people give us help. At the moment, all our help comes from the people.

NARRATOR: As Commander Mirwais finalizes his plans, some villagers come out to feed the fighters. Later, there's news about the mission. The men of the Central Group have been ordered to leave the following morning. Najibullah doesn't know the target or whether he should film the mission.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I went to Mirwais. I said, "Will you allow me to go to their operation?" He said, "You are a journalist, you will be killed. What do we do then if you are killed? You are my guest." I said, "That's OK. That's my job. I have to go." So he said, "As you wish."

[ Najibullah's extended interview]

NARRATOR: The next day, the fighters begin a six-mile trek down from the hills.


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Do you always take this route?

COMMANDER KALAQUB: We go this way, and we also have other secret routes. This is the normal route, though. We have secret routes because of the enemy.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Does the government have any control here?

COMMANDER KALAQUB: The government's here but can do nothing.

NARRATOR: Commander Kalaqub and the others form one party-

ARIF: [subtitles] This boat is the B-52 of the mujahidin!

NARRATOR: -while another group of Hezb-e-Islami fighters splits off for the same target.

Najibullah now learns that they're going to plant roadside bombs on the highway through the north that's become increasingly important to the U.S. and NATO. Until recently, the main overland supply route for the coalition was this road in from Peshawar. But convoys from the east were constantly attacked by the Taliban, so the coalition started looking more to the north for its supplies.

The coalition troops responsible for northern Afghanistan are the Germans. There are over 4,000 of them, mainly tasked with development and reconstruction, but neither they nor the Afghan police patrol the area with any regularity.

Not far from the target, senior commander Mirwais discusses tactics for the attack with his explosive experts.


1st FIGHTER: It's best with a Sakr 20 cannon shell.

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: Yes, we have one there.

1st FIGHTER: Can we open it at the top?

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: Yes, it's not damaged.

2nd FIGHTER: You can open it and check everything yourself.

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: I made the others, so you make this one.

NARRATOR: Apart from the commanders, the most important members of each section are the bomb-makers. This man from Uzbekistan tells Najibullah he was trained by al Qaeda and just joined up with Central Group for the operation.


NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Can you explain what you do?

UZBEK MAN: One aspect of my job is dealing with the remote controls.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What do you do with the remotes you make?

UZBEK MAN: Even American technology can't figure out the things we make. They don't understand it. It goes over their heads. That is it. We send them to hell.

NARRATOR: As darkness falls, the bomb-maker and his assistants set to work, but they don't want Najibullah to record the process.


BOMB MAKER: These things should not be filmed.

ASSISTANT: I think it's not a good idea.

NARRATOR: Still, he manages to keep his camera running as the men fill the shell casing with gunpowder.


BOMB MAKER: This will pop out the eyes of the Americans. This is specially made for the American tanks.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: How large an area can this damage?

BOMB MAKER: God willing, the fire, smoke, and debris will cover 50 to 100 square meters.

NARRATOR: Now they prepare the blast cap and remote control trigger device using the bomb maker's instruction codes.


BOMB MAKER: When you tie up these wires, this side should not touch the other side.

ASSISTANT: You turned the long wire around here, then the other side, then out here?

ASSISTANT: Is that right?

BOMB MAKER: Be careful. It must not get damaged. Be very careful. It's a tiny piece. Don't break it. Just clean the top bit. Just the top bit. Be careful so it doesn't break.

Don't worry! We might be martyrs by tomorrow, God willing.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: So you've made up your minds about tomorrow?

BOMB MAKER: Tomorrow or the day after, we'll be martyrs, or in the next few days. What more do you want?

FEDAYEE: Here's a video we filmed when we were fighting. It's one of our operations. It's taking place on the main road.

NARRATOR: With two bombs, or IEDs, readied, the men move out under cover of darkness.

[whispering, subtitles]

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What time is it now?

FIGHTER: It is almost 2:00 o'clock. It'll take us an hour to place the explosives. After we've placed the explosives, we'll go and wait for enemy's vehicles. We'll set the remotes and wait until the enemy's vehicles are blown up.

NARRATOR: The bombs have been placed 50 yards apart, on opposite sides of the road. A network of spotters is in place up and down the highway to tip them off about the movement of military convoys. Now, at a gas station they've commandeered for the operation, they wait for the call.


FEDAYEE: [on the phone] Come quickly. Call as soon as you see any vehicles.

ARIF: There's an American tank on the road. It's being transported on a truck.

NARRATOR: They just had a phone call saying an American tank has just left Baghlan. They want to blow up the tank with the mine they planted.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] Back out. Back out.

NARRATOR: But they're too late.


FEDAYEE: The tank's already gone. What kind of spotters are they?

MAN ON PHONE: How could it have gone?

FEDAYEE: As soon as you phoned, we left, but it was gone.


FEDAYEE: We were running through the back of the fields.

MAN ON PHONE: Oh, no. Oh, God.

ARIF: Hey, you idiot, you should've said they were already here. You said they were by the factory. You told us they'd just left.

MAN ON PHONE: The guy told me they'd just left.

ARIF: This is how you do everything. You should have said, "Come out on the road. The American tank is here." If you'd done that, we'd have got them. We took the long route to check for their security.

FEDAYEE: Yes, we'll sit here.

NARRATOR: For another hour, they wait, the deepening fog restricting their view of the road.


MAN ON PHONE: Where are you guys?

FEDAYEE: We're only 10 meters from the main road.

MAN ON PHONE: A white security vehicle just got under way. Be alert.

FEDAYEE: Has it already left?

MAN ON PHONE: Yes, from Pul-e-Khumri.

FEDAYEE: How many of them?

MAN ON PHONE: There's one white security vehicle.

FEDAYEE: We're coming to the road now.

MAN ON PHONE: Watch closely for it.

FEDAYEE: Oops, it's already gone.

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, Commander Kalaqub and his group have positioned themselves behind some sacks of rice straw a few yards from the road.

YOUNG TALIB: [subtitles] It's really cold.

NARRATOR: The plan is to attack the convoy after the bombing, but he senses something's wrong.


COMMANDER KALAQUB: Oh, my God. My idea was to come earlier. If we had come five minutes earlier, we would have done the job.

YOUNG TALIB: My feet are completely tired.

NARRATOR: Then an angry phone call from base.


MAN ON PHONE: For God's sake, you're caring about your lives too much!

ARIF: We don't care about our lives.

FEDAYEE: We're not snakes that can go in holes. It's cold, as well.


ARIF: Our leaders say not to move from here. Even if there's bright sun, we must stay here and do our job.

FIGHTER: Where did he say to stay?

ARIF: He said to carry on with blocking the road and not to go back unless the job's done.

NARRATOR: Around a hundred yards away, close to the main road, the bomb team is hiding in the cotton fields.


ARIF: [on the phone] What happened? You're killing us with cold, and there are no vehicles coming. You rang too late. By the time we came out, the tank was already gone. You said it was close. We were so excited.

MAN ON PHONE: I didn't know. The boy who phoned me said they'd just left. You should have been more awake.

ARIF: Of course we were awake. We were on our feet. It was foggy, and when you said they were by the factory, we thought we could get there in time.

MAN ON PHONE: It's OK. It is past. We must be alert now. The informer's good, and when he gives the information, you shouldn't delay in getting yourself to the road when I call.

ARIF: You're sitting there on cotton cushions and we're in open fields. People can see us. What should we do?

NARRATOR: As Arif and Fedayee wait, Najibullah decides to join the bomb team in the cotton fields. But they're worried he could give away their position.


FIGHTER: Hey, get out of here. You'll be left behind.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What did you say?

FIGHTER: Go away! We can't even hide ourselves. Don't film us. Understand?


NARRATOR: Then they receive a message that more vehicles are on their way, a truck carrying an American armored personnel carrier, followed by a Jeep Ranger filled with Afghan police.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] This mine's messed up. Nothing will happen.

NARRATOR: But as they continue to try to detonate the bombs, they worry they've mixed up the two remote controls.


1st FIGHTER: Don't panic.

2nd FIGHTER: Is D on this side?

1st FIGHTER: No, which one is D?


1st FIGHTER: Yes, D's on this side, the 5 digit one.

2nd FIGHTER: I also made a D.

1st FIGHTER: Yes, yes.

2nd FIGHTER: I don't know about a 5 digit one, but I got a D ready, too.

1st FIGHTER: Did you save its 4 digits?

2nd FIGHTER: Yes.

1st FIGHTER: So it'll happen if you press D.

2nd FIGHTER: No, you pressed it for 20 seconds each. It's not 20.

1st FIGHTER: I'll save this one like the other one.

2nd FIGHTER: Sure.

1st FIGHTER: Be alert. The targets are the tank and the Jeep Ranger.

2nd FIGHTER: Hit the tank or the Jeep Ranger, whichever you like. Maybe you should hit the tank. Get up. Get up. Have a look. Don't lose it, understand?

1st FIGHTER: I can't see where I should go. It's not visible. What should we do?

NARRATOR: The target vehicles are getting close.


FIGHTER: Hurry with the rocket launcher! Take your positions. Go!

ARIF: Keep down.

NARRATOR: But just as they prepare to attack, a group of villagers appear right where they've planted the roadside bombs.

VILLAGER: [subtitles] Please let us pass.

NARRATOR: In the rush to get them out of the way, they miss the American transport. So they try to hit the Afghan police Jeep instead. The remote detonator fails once again, but someone had fired a rocket-propelled grenade. The police shoot back.


FIGHTER: Now we're exposed!

FEDAYEE: Quick. Go!

FIGHTER: We're exposed.

FEDAYEE: You didn't shout. Is it burnt?

FIGHTER: It's destroyed.

FEDAYEE: If it's destroyed, where are you going? Where are you going?

FIGHTER: I really don't know, but let's keep moving.

NARRATOR: It soon becomes clear that their rocket attack entirely missed the Afghan police, who quickly sped away. And none of the roadside bombs exploded.

ARIF: [subtitles] If anyone trusts you to make a mine, they're a fool. Three guys with rockets should sit 20 meters away and shoot like this. Screw the mines! Mines are useless. We press the button and nothing happens. I told you not to shoot until I moved the kids.

NARRATOR: Afraid to return to base unsuccessful, the men begin to blame one another.


FIGHTER: Why are you saying I broke the remote? You're the instructor. I pressed it. It doesn't work.


NARRATOR: Finally, it detonates.


BOMB MAKER: See? You said it didn't work.

FEDAYEE: Let's go.

FIGHTER: Has it gone off?

NARRATOR: When they return to base, there's a debriefing with their leader, Commander Mirwais. It seemed as though his men may have told him mainly what he wanted to hear.

COMMANDER MIRWAIS: [subtitles] That day you were there, the mujahidin planted a bomb. But they missed the vehicle because the remote control didn't work. Then they went forward and hit it with a rocket. Four or five were killed, and their vehicle was destroyed.

NARRATOR: The commander gives his men a day off, and they head to the mountains along with some foreign fighters who join them along the way.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] This brother's from Chechnya.

[ Watch this program on line]

NARRATOR: Over the next week, Najibullah would continue to live among the insurgents of the Central Group, moving with them from guest house to guest house as they target coalition forces and help impose strict Islamic law throughout the north.

In this village, Najibullah witnesses a Hezb-e-Islami council brought in to judge what appears to be a simple civil dispute between two businessmen. But there's a twist. It's alleged that one of them has made a fortune recently from drug running.

MAN: [subtitles] I advanced you 200,000 rupees in Kunduz! Isn't that right?

NARRATOR: Even though it's well known that the Taliban are partly funded by drug money, some insurgents still abhor profiteering from the narcotics trade. The accused is led away under guard to a small prison cell, and Najibullah hears talk of death by beheading.

After nine days among the insurgents, Najibullah runs into a problem. Some have begun to question his presence and to accuse of him being a spy. One comes up behind while he films.


FIGHTER: Hello, Mr. Journalist. Why are you following us so much? You don't let us eat or sleep. You're trying to film us 24 hours.


FIGHTER: We're going to go to the front line. If we asked you to take part in jihad, would you do it?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Didn't I come the other night?

NARRATOR: They decide to test him.


FIGHTER: If we give you a gun to fight holy war, will you perform that duty for us?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: My camera is my gun.

FIGHTER: I hope it's not going to harm us.

NARRATOR: Tension inside the group is growing. Two men have arrived from Pakistan and are now confronting Commander Mirwais for letting in an outsider to film.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Mirwais came to me. He took my hand. He took me aside. He said, "Brother, I invited you here as a guest. I know your plan is to be here for 14 days, but I'm really sorry." He said, "That two guy- one is Arab, one is Pakistani, and they keep telling me that you are a spy. We have to behead you."

NARRATOR: Mirwais swiftly ushers Najibullah into a minibus, advising him to leave immediately, and for his own sake, not to return.

Three days later, Najibullah returned to the highway where he'd witnessed the insurgents' attack. He found the local police at the gas station, the same one the militants had used as a forward operating base on the day of the failed attack. He couldn't tell the police that he had spent almost two weeks with Hezb-e-Islami fighters nearby. They insisted that the area was safe.


POLICEMAN: Everything's fine. There's no problem. They've caused some problems, but everything is fine on this side near the main road. It's not a problem.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Have they done any operations in these areas?

POLICEMAN:: They do have operations now and then. They carried out one about a month ago. But it is all fine now.

NARRATOR: After Najibullah left the country, violence in the northern provinces increased. In the aftermath of this firefight, a policeman stands over the bodies of insurgents killed in an ambush that went wrong. But a few days later, our cameraman was able to film the result of another shootout. This time, the same policeman lies dead.

Then recently, news from the embattled road where Najibullah had filmed. This local police outpost was overrun and all eight Afghan officers inside were killed. Najibullah learned it had been the work of the men of the Central Group.

And now, a FRONTLINE/World special report.

DAVID MONTERO, Correspondent: What is that?

KHALED: That is waste water.

DAVID MONTERO: It's basically a cesspool right near to the school.

NARRATOR: In Pakistan, reporter David Montero investigates the ticking time bomb of Pakistan's failing schools.

DAVID MONTERO: Three hundred students are supposed to sit in this.

Pakistan: The Lost Generation
Reported by: David Montero

DAVID MONTERO, Correspondent: [voice-over] It's morning in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's biggest province, and the country's next generation of children are headed to school. But what 12-year-olds like Fatma find when they get there is of increasing concern for those who want peace in Pakistan's future. Fatma's school is this abandoned brickyard.

FATMA: [subtitles] I study at the Government Primary School in Lahore. I study English language, and I like it. There are no chairs. We have to sit on the ground. It's a problem in the winter. When it rains, there is nowhere to sit.

DAVID MONTERO: Each day, the kids bring a few chairs for the teachers and they set up the school's one blackboard, which six classrooms share. The headmaster, Khaled, showed me around.

[on camera] So your students, they actually have no rooms, no desks.

KHALED: No furniture. No rooms.

DAVID MONTERO: This is a nursery?

KHALED: Yeah. This is one, nursery one.

DAVID MONTERO: So two nurseries you have?


DAVID MONTERO: What is that?

KHALED: That is waste water.

DAVID MONTERO: It's basically a cesspool right near to the school. It's a mountain of garbage.

[voice-over] Sadly, this school is not an exception. There are some 20,000 shelterless schools throughout Pakistan. And even when there are buildings, 60 percent have no electricity, 40 percent have no drinking water. Because schools are so bad, Pakistan has the lowest enrollment rate in all of South Asia.

Ali Hassan is roughly the same age as Fatma, but he's recently decided to drop out of the 3rd grade.


QUESTION: [subtitles] Didn't you like school?

ALI HASSAN: [subtitles] No.

QUESTION: [subtitles] Why?

ALI HASSAN: [subtitles] Just because.

DAVID MONTERO: Ali Hassan now helps out at a local gas station.

ALI HASSAN: [subtitles] I get here at 8:00 in the morning. I leave in the evening at 8:00 or 9:00 PM.

DAVID MONTERO: For his toils, he makes the equivalent of 12 cents a day, money his mother says the family now can't live without.

MOTHER: [subtitles] I hope Ali learns to be a mechanic, that he learns this work. When only my husband earns, how can we get by?

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: Today there are 68.4 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 in this country. So I want to repeat this number, 68.5 million kids between the ages of 5 and 19. Less than 30 million of those kids are in any type of school.

DAVID MONTERO: This is Mosharraf Zaidi. Raised in Pakistan and educated in the West, Zaidi is a long-time advocate of reforming Pakistan's schools.

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: You look at the consequences of these kids not going to school- like I said, let's set aside the fear-mongering and the scare-mongering of, you know, What if all these kids become terrorists? But setting that aside, the real problem is that if you aren't capable of participating in the global economy, you will be very, very poor. And desperate and extreme poverty has some diabolical consequences for societies and for individuals.

[ Read Zaidi's interview]

DAVID MONTERO: Zaidi reminded me about the long-time problem of "ghost schools," where teachers fail to show up except to collect their paychecks. At this one, after the only teacher stopped coming, it was left to vandalism. In fact, there are thousands of abandoned school buildings across the country, while schools like Fatma's have nothing.

The local school council is outraged.

COUNCIL MEMBER: [subtitles] Government officials send their own kids to air-conditioned classrooms. Let's see them make their kids sit here and see what it's like! Aren't these the children of men? Aren't they God's creation?

DAVID MONTERO: In Pakistan, public education has become a battleground. The council says the elite only care about themselves and keep the poor illiterate in order to hold onto power.

COUNCIL MEMBER: [subtitles] They see these kids as insects in the gutter. They're all corrupt! They're all taking bribes. Hopefully, they'll all be punished by God. All they are doing is filling their own pockets. Let the insects in the gutter die.

DAVID MONTERO: The council takes me to a construction site, where the government has promised them a new building but has failed to deliver. It's supposed to house the 300 students from Fatma's school. But I was shocked by what I found.

[on camera] So this is the only room?

MANSOOR: This is the only room.

DAVID MONTERO: Three hundred students are supposed to sit in this?

MANSOOR: Yeah. The government prepared its own design, but the teachers say and the school council members say that they did not consult the teachers, "What are your requirements?"

DAVID MONTERO: [voice-over] The government blames the contractor, the contractor blames the government. With winter approaching, the teachers are worried.

COUNCIL MEMBER: [subtitles] Nothing has been built here. That's the situation. Nobody cares.

DAVID MONTERO: The school council wanted to visit the local education official to ask what had gone wrong. But he threatened to fire them if they showed up with me. So I went myself.

This is the education district officer of Lahore. His workload is so big that he rarely gets away from his desk. He insisted that the teachers shouldn't be complaining and that according to his paperwork, the school would be big enough.

Dr. MUHAMMAD ARSHAD, Executive District Officer, Lahore: No, it is not one room.

DAVID MONTERO: [on camera] Well-

MUHAMMAD ARSHAD: It's basically- and teachers are actually are not in the knowledge of this whole plan.

DAVID MONTERO: [voice-over] I asked him why the children were shelterless while the school was being built.

[on camera] Can't they be moved temporarily into some building? I mean, right now, they have no building.

MUHAMMAD ARSHAD: We- we will consider this. I'll ask my DEOs and Deputy DEOs to visit and we'll find out some place. We will definitely shift there. No problem.

DAVID MONTERO: [voice-over] While public school officials make empty promises, across town I find another kind of school that's functioning quite well. It has a nice new building with plenty of room, and it even provides free tuition and a hot meal. It's one of the country's many madrassas. Increasingly, poor parents are sending their children to religious schools like this.

MADRASSA HEADMASTER: [subtitles] Parents who are educated don't send their kids to madrassa, they send them to private schools, universities. Poor people want their children to learn about their religion.

DAVID MONTERO: Although madrassas are often criticized in the West, many conservatives, like the school's headmaster, believe what's being taught here will make Pakistan a stronger state.

MADRASSA HEADMASTER: [subtitles] Why are we Muslims in this mess today? Because we've strayed from the Quran. If you look back at history, non-Muslims used to tremble in front of Muslims. Today, they don't. Today when they see Muslims, they say, "Exploit them."

STUDENTS: [chanting, subtitles] Land of Pakistan! Blessed be thou citadel of faith.

DAVID MONTERO: That's a message which, to my surprise, is also taught in the country's public schools, where it can influence far more children.

TEACHER: [in English] Pakistan is-

STUDENTS: Pakistan is-

TEACHER: -our-


TEACHER: -dear homeland!

DAVID MONTERO: For decades, Pakistani schoolchildren have been learning that their country is in a battle for survival.

FATMA: [subtitles] The teachers tell us that India and the British are our enemies. They are killing Muslims. They are behind the bomb blasts.

DAVID MONTERO: And Fatma's heard about a new enemy.

FATMA: [subtitles] I do not know much about America, but generally, people do not like America, and they can never be our friends.

DAVID MONTERO: [on camera] You once said to The Los Angeles Times, "I have been arguing for the longest time that, in fact, our state system is the biggest madrassa." Why do you say that?

RABINA SAIGOL: I feel that a great deal of the ideology that we think madrassas are producing is, in fact, being produced in state schools.

DAVID MONTERO: [voice-over] Rabina Saigol is an academic who's studied public school textbooks for years and found that public schools have quietly been feeding extremism.

RABINA SAIGOL: And I say that it's the biggest madrassa because it has the widest outreach. It reaches every town, village, small hamlet. It's the- the biggest bureaucracy is the educational bureaucracy. It reaches every nook and cranny of the country.

DAVID MONTERO: I wanted to talk to the Ministry of Education about what it's teaching in the schools. I finally got an appointment at the Curriculum Wing. For months, the staff has been working on removing the militaristic tone of the curriculum. As they themselves told me, it's more sensitive than nuclear weapons. It involves the very core of national identity.

[on camera] I've been to the market. I bought a textbook.

[voice-over] I confronted them with some textbooks I'd found.

[on camera] Do you think that for the past three centuries, Europeans have been working to subjugate the countries of the Muslim world? Do you personally believe that?

ARIF MAJEED, Dir., Curriculum Wing: I can't say that this statement is right or wrong. But this has been prepared by the specialists.

DAVID MONTERO: But would you personally say this is wrong?

ARIF MAJEED: I have already said that I am not a student of history.

DAVID MONTERO: "The Christians and Europeans were not happy to see the Muslims flourishing in life. They were always looking for opportunities to take possession of territories under the Muslims."

ARIF MAJEED: So these textbooks are prepared on the basis of the old curriculum, which was prepared in 2002. Now we have replaced this curriculum with a new curriculum. So in new curriculum, we will address all kinds of these issues.

DAVID MONTERO: [on camera] The new, more tolerant curriculum has been attacked by many religious fundamentalists, like this man.

[on camera] Do you support secular education in Pakistan for children?

FARID AHMED PIRACHA, Jamaat-e-Islami Islamic Party: No, there is no demand in the Pakistan. There is no demand from any section, from- not from students, not from teachers, not from parents.

DAVID MONTERO: This is Farid Piracha, a leader of a religious party with views similar to the Taliban. He blasts the West for trying to secularize Pakistan's curriculum.

FARID PIRACHA: They have started the clash between Western and Islamic civilization. They claim Western secular democratic civilization now is the fate of humanity.

DAVID MONTERO: Just a few months ago, Piracha led this protest against the latest American aid package, which includes hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for education reform.

PROTESTERS: [subtitles] Stop the Kerry-Lugar bill! Stop the Kerry-Lugar bill!

DAVID MONTERO: The religious parties say the U.S. is using the aid to try to hijack Pakistani society. But ironically, others fear the money will never reach the schools, anymore than it has in the past.

[ U.S. aid to Pakistan]

ZOBAIDA JALAL, Education Minister, 1999-'03: There is nothing to show today on ground that $100 million U.S. over the last three years had come, you see?

DAVID MONTERO: [on camera] So that money, you can't show-

ZOBAIDA JALAL: You can't show it. Only few areas, somewhere, you will find a classroom, you may find some swings there, you see? So but I would say that learn from that, and you know, so that this is big money for us, for the people of Pakistan. I just hope sincerely that it is utilized in the right way to make a difference in the lives of all those children, wherever they are.

DAVID MONTERO: [voice-over] Reformers believe the problems that Pakistani children face are so deep that money alone will not be enough to fix them.

MUSHARRAF ZAIDI: I think it's generous of the American taxpayer and I think it's important that Congress and the president and the administration have made this kind of a long-term commitment. But it is not going to make the difference between a functional and dysfunctional Pakistan. That choice of whether Pakistan is going to be a functional country is a choice that has to be made by Pakistanis. And Pakistanis haven't made that choice yet because government after government fails to make the investments that it needs to make.

DAVID MONTERO: Still, I asked Fatma how she would feel if new U.S. aid money would help to finally fix her school.

FATMA: [subtitles] I'll be happy. I'll be happy if it is built. It would be good.

DAVID MONTERO: In fact, her school building has just been finished, but the headmaster says it's nowhere near what the government promised. It's still only one room for 300 students. Some even have to study on the roof. And the headmaster says the construction is shoddy.

KHALED: [subtitles] There is no railing on the stairs. These are small kids. They could fall.

DAVID MONTERO: But Fatma says she won't give up. Today she's going to take her final primary school exams. If she passes, she can go on to junior high. And if she survives Pakistan's public schools, she may one day help to fix them herself.

FATMA: [subtitles] I want to study and I want to be a teacher and do everything. I want to be a teacher, and my parents say you should fulfill your dreams.


Jamie Doran

Najibullah Quraishi

Ken Dornstein

John Moffat

Mark Dugas

Mike Healy

Tracey 'H' Doran-Carter

Will Lyman

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Fotosearch 2010
ITN Source/Reuters

A Clover Films production for WGBH/FRONTLINE in association with Ch4

(c) 2010 Clover Films
All Rights Reserved

PAKISTAN: The Lost Generation

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ANNOUNCER: There's more on our Web site, where you can watch the program again on line, read an extended interview with Najibullah Quraishi with more details of his 10 days with the insurgents and join the discussion at

ANNOUNCER: Next time on FRONTLINE, a story about choosing to live-

- I love you. I love you, sweetheart.

ANNOUNCER: -and deciding to die.

- If you drink this, you're going die.

ANNOUNCER: The Suicide Tourist on FRONTLINE.

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posted february 23, 2010

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