A Taliban Legacy: Using Children as Weapons

Posted on August 4, 2009
Filed Under >Kalsoom, Law & Justice, Society
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Kalsoom

A few days ago, Pakistani authorities announced they had rescued 20 young boys “who were among hundreds recruited by the Taliban and brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers at a secret indoctrination camp” in the Charbagh area of Swat Valley. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced in Swat, told Al Jazeera, “They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life… It seems that there are some 300 to 400 such children who the Taliban had taken forcibly or who they were training.”

The Independent reported the indoctrination program lasted more than a month, noting the rescued boys, “some as young as nine,” revealed details of how they were enticed to become part of the Taliban. Maj. Nasir Khan, a military spokesman in Swat, told reporters.

When we interrogated the boys, they said that they had been taken hostage by the Taliban by force, or in some cases they were taken to the training camps by their friends… They were heavily indoctrinated. When I asked them about what they were told, they said: ‘The Pakistan army is the ally of the Western capitalist world, they are the enemies of Islam. The fight against them is justified, they are apostates, the friends of the infidels.

Although media outlets reported the boys were taken either by force, lured by friends, or were kidnapped, the Washington Times earlier this month quoted U.S. officials, who said Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Beitullah Mehsud was also paying $7,000 to $14,000 for each child recruit, depending “on how quickly a bomber was needed and how close the child is expected to get to the target.”

After they were recruited, Taliban militants “would then gauge their levels of intelligence and physical strength before dividing the young boys into separate categories. The first group was used as local informers who would patrol the streets of the valley gathering information. One of the boys interrogated said he was given a pistol and told to monitor the Pakistan army’s troop movements. The more athletic recruits were selected to trained to become fighters and launch small-scale guerrilla attacks against the Pakistan army. According to The Independent, “those who were judged to be less intelligent and more susceptible to manipulation were chosen to join the Taliban’s stockpile of suicide bombers.”

The sad reality is that indoctrinating children to become soldiers is not a new phenomenon. According to Amnesty International, approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world. Moreover, although many child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18 years of age, significant recruitment starting at the age of 10 and the use of even younger children has been recorded.

Children have been targeted because they can be easily manipulated and brainwashed by a group’s ideology. In Sierra Leone, this process was facilitated further by pumping child soldiers with “brown brown,” consisting mainly of amphetamines and cannabis and alcohol, all at once.

In the case of the Taliban in Pakistan, it seems that militants use their brand of religion as their main indoctrinating tool. Bashir Ahmed Bilour, an NWFP minister, told Al Jazeera, “They are prepared mentally. They say that Islam is everything for them. They say they are doing it for Islam. They say they have to carry suicide attacks for the sake of Islam… They are brainwashed to such an extreme that they are ready to kill their parents who they call infidels.” A senior official, who spoke with The Nation, echoed, “[The children] were told that the Pakistani Army has become an enemy of Islam, as it is fighting for Christians and Jews.”

In the PBS documentary Children of the Taliban, which aired in April, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy interviewed a thirteen year old boy, who was recruited into the Taliban at the age of 12. The boy described his haunting journey, “First it was the sermons at the mosque, then being recruited to a madrassa, and finally spending months in military training… They teach us to use a machine gun, Kalashnikov… Then they teach us how to do a suicide attack.” When Obaid-Chinoy asked if he’s like to carry out a suicide attack, the boy answered, “If God gives me strength.” The reporter also interviewed Abdullah, a Taliban commander responsible for recruiting children as young as five years old from poor families. He said, “Children are tools to achieve God’s will. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it… The kids want to join us because they like our weapons.”

While the rescue of these young boys is significant, the issue does not end there. The Independent reported that a special school is being established in Swat to rehabilitate, re-educate and counsel these children, but the government must take steps to address this problem in the long-term. According to some of the boys, more than 1,000 children may be undergoing training in the special camp in Swat.

A rehabilitation program must therefore be able to accommodate not just the children who have been rescued, but the many more who are still in the camps. Moreover, although indoctrination methods vary from conflict to conflict, there are universal lessons that can be drawn from programs already instituted to rehabilitate child soldiers from other countries. Finally, it is vital that the government eliminates the root cause behind the Taliban’s recruitment of children – if militants provide financial incentives to poor families to send their children to these camps, the state must counter that strategy. Only then can these young boys hope to regain their lost innocence.

Kalsoom writes at and edits the blog Changing Up Pakistan (ChuP!) where this post was first published.

17 Comments on “A Taliban Legacy: Using Children as Weapons”

  1. Gardezi says:
    August 5th, 2009 1:20 am

    Reading this makes my blood boil.

    These taliban are not just criminals, they are just inhuman. And to think of it there are still Pakisatnis out there who will support these murderers even when their whole mission is to kill Pakistanis and destroy Pakistan!

  2. Musaafir says:
    August 5th, 2009 1:44 am

    This is the direct result of the way we live and practice our religion. When we do not make the effort to understand nor study the true meanings of our belief and contract out the duties of raising good God fearing Muslims to an illiterate mullah who in turn uses these children to advance his own sinister agenda, be it politically motivated or monetarily driven.

    Wake up people! Understand your own religion and know it for what it is. A religion of peace that teaches to live and to let live. And then raise the new generation by teaching them these lessons.

  3. Aziz says:
    August 5th, 2009 2:34 am

    Is it is first incidence in recent times when children solders are used by brutal forces? Obviously not. There are plenty of UN and other agencies reports referring to such practices all over the world. Indeed, USA is responsible for such a shameful trend when it had funded and encouraged massive madrasa setups along with Pak-US border where under age students were recruited and trained. Talban and USA are equal culprits in this regard.

  4. Hussain says:
    August 5th, 2009 3:13 am

    @Aziz

    Really sorry to see you defending the murdering Talibans and supporting their tactics of using children to kill Pakistanis!

    And, NO, USA and Taliban are NOT equal culprits on this. There is plenty of things that USA does that is wrong, and also for supporting the Madrassas during the Afghan war. But for how long can we use that as an excuse to cover up our own support for these murderers. maybe now that US is no longer funding these Taliban, we shoudl also stop supporting them and defending them through comments like this.

  5. Aziz says:
    August 5th, 2009 5:30 am

    @ Hussain

    I don

  6. mustafa kamaal says:
    August 5th, 2009 6:39 am

    @Hussain:

    Why do you want to absolve US from the blame? The fact is that US is squarely to blame for this condition. They needed killing machines in their war against Russia and created these suicide bombers. Because of their misadventure whole Taliban movement is now getting a bad name. Today Pakistanis are quick to condemn Talibans. However they they do not realize that it is Talibans who have so far provided the backbone of Kashmiri struggle against India.

    My appeal to my fellow Pakistanis is: Please do punish the criminals among Talibans without hesitation. However do not brush the whole Talibani movement in one stroke. After using them so long for your own interests, if you now abandon Taliban movement as a whole, then forget about your dreams of liberating Kashmir from Indian yoke.

  7. Bangash says:
    August 5th, 2009 9:26 am

    @Mustafa Kamal

    The Taliban contribution to Kashmir is zero. In fact the Taliban have greatly weakened the Kashmir cause by weakening Pakistan through their mass killing and destruction in Pakistan. The Taliban movement has never provided any benefits to Pakistan and this tactic of using children as weapons again underlined what a group of ruthless and violent criminals the Taliban are.

  8. ASAD says:
    August 5th, 2009 10:09 am

    Some time back, Adil Najam wrote a brilliant piece saying that the children in the IDP camps will define Pakistan’s future for good or bad. Either they will also slip into the hands of the Taliban like these children or they will emerge as strong Pakistanis (rather than as Taliban). I hope we Pakistanis will not forget that message and remember that the real battle for Pakistan and Pakistan’s future is being fought around these children.

    The Taliban want to see Pakistan destroyed and they will do it by robbing us of our children. The question is whether we will let them?

  9. AishaFbi786 says:
    August 5th, 2009 12:45 pm

    Let’s set some things straight: While the US is responsible for training soldiers whom later became known as the Taliban for the Cold War, the US does not train or use children to fight in wars. The US did not train Children or anyone to become “suicide” bombers.

    It’s a very sad day when “parents” are selling their own children for their own financial gain whether it be to fight in battle ie. to be used and wrongly labeled as Martyrs to kill their own muslim brothers, or males and females alike being sold/forced into marriage, or 10 year old children being sent off to work in factories! We see this selling of children for profit in many aspects of Pakistani Jahil culture. Are the men so lazy that they sacrifice their own children instead of fighting their own battles or working in factories to support their own families? Or perhaps it’s that they value their own lives more than that of their own children.

    The children are the future of Pakistan and its about time they are valued as such so that they may become the leaders of tomorrow who will be responsible for saving Pakistan and bringing peace to the lives of Pakistanis. If children are continued to be treated as inconsequentials…the future will remain the same.

    I am very sorry to say but I feel the world as a whole is failing when it comes to preparing its children to be responsible humane leaders of the future. But, I am appalled the greatest by far too many Pakistanis total lack of care and concern for their own children’s lives.

  10. Riaz Haq says:
    August 5th, 2009 2:59 pm

    This is a sad commentary on how our nation has neglected its poor, particularly its children. There continues to be a huge disconnect between the high ideals of democracy, rule-of-law and freedom sought by the “civil society” and the struggle of the vast majority of Pakistanis who are poor and hungry to satisfy their very basic needs.

    As long as Pakistan fails to achieve sufficient economic growth (7-8% a year) to create 2 to 3 million jobs a year for its growing population of young people, it will be impossible to lift people out of poverty and give them hope for the future. This absence of hope will find its expression in more children falling prey to the purveyors of extreme ideologies, violence and terror.

  11. farrukh says:
    August 5th, 2009 3:47 pm

    The uncomfortable and unstated fact is that we may all be somewhat guilty here. We have a tendency amongst all of us to glorify violence and death for “religion” and if that is what you are teaching children in all homes then the Taliban message resonates more. I think we need to think hard about what we are teaching our own kids. In glorifying death we only give fodder later to the mullahs who use it to justify it literally.

  12. AC says:
    August 5th, 2009 3:56 pm

    Asia Chronicle (www.asiachroniclenews.com) came to the same conclusion as the first poster – that unless Pakistan can create jobs, it seems resigned to this kind of thing.

  13. Jabbar says:
    August 6th, 2009 12:01 am

    I agree with Farrukh.

    There is some serious thinking we all should do on what we teach our own kids, not just the Taliban.

  14. MUSLIM says:
    August 6th, 2009 1:27 am

    Why do readers on this forum hate Islam so much?

  15. RUGGER says:
    August 6th, 2009 6:02 am

    @ MUSLIM..

    no MUSLIM…we dont hate Islam…we just hate people like you who do the things shown in that video…
    i point to the video as you obviously cannot read what is written in front of you…

    now be on your way and post asinine questions on a website that has the time and the inclination to discuss them…

  16. Zak says:
    August 7th, 2009 8:33 pm

    Roast all the Taliban leaders .

  17. June 4th, 2010 7:21 am

    There is a staggering statistic that

    “at any one time, more than 300,000 children are actively fighting as soldiers with government armed forces or armed opposition groups worldwide. Almost half of the states engaged in warfare in 2002 were reported to use combatants under the age of 15. Children under the age of 18 are actively participating in hostilities in more than 35 countries worldwide – most are between the ages of 14 and 17, but some are as young as seven” (The Inter-Agency Planning Consultation on Child Protection in Emergencies, 2006).

    Debate raged in late 1990s about how to address the growing issue of children being used in conflict. The NGO working group in February 1997 issued a working document commonly known as the Paris Principles but fully titled The Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups. The Paris Principles began the discussion in harmonization and creation of standards for groups working with armed children in conflict, and reintegration. The document also sets out an agenda by which the ngo group could advocate for the rights of armed children in conflict.

    In April 1997, UNICEF and the Group of NGOs organized a conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The document that was produced from this meeting has become known as the “Cape Town Principles and Best Practices,” and was adopted at this symposium as the standard by which groups working with child soldiers or those groups working to prevent recruitment of child soldiers would focus their efforts. The main thrust of the Cape Town Principles was to encourage governments to:

    Adopt a minimum age of 18 years should be established for any person participating in hostilities and for recruitment in all forms into any armed force or armed group.

    Adopt and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, raising the minimum age from 15 to 18 years. (Cape Town Principles)

    84 countries have since signed off on the Paris Principles on but other countries have refused.

    It is important to understand why child soldiers are used and to explore ways in which child recruitment may be curtailed. The phenomenon is, however, very complicated. While some children are abducted and used by a fighting force, others join by choice. Given these realities the questions below may guide our discussion into the world of children in armed conflict.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)