Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: 'Children are tools to achieve God's will,' the Taliban commander told me

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The Independent Online

Twenty-five children appear in a Taliban propaganda video wearing the traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez. They sit cross- legged on the ground rocking back and forth reciting the Koran. A white bandana tied across their forehead, reads: "La illaha illala: There is no God but God."

The compound they are in is bare. In one corner, three young boys hold automatic guns keeping watch. Their teacher, dressed in brown military fatigues walks around reading aloud from a book titled Justifications for Suicide bombing and makes a list on a whiteboard – "Reasons for killing a spy". The text on the screen reads "Preparing suicide bombers".

In another chilling video, three boys speak about their desire to become suicide bombers. The video introduces Zainullah, who later blows himself up killing six, Sadique, who blows himself up killing 22, and Masood who kills 28. The video contains footage of their attacks and in the background a young child sings: "If you try and find me after I have died, you will never find my whole body, you will find little pieces."

Hazrat Ali, a 14-year-old boy from a poor farming family in Swat was recruited to the Taliban from the local Islamic school. In a country where the average family size is seven people and the daily wage is as low as £1 a day, many families choose to send their children to Islamic religious schools, where they are given free food and shelter. Now increasingly, the Taliban are recruiting from these schools and paying the families a monthly stipend in return.

"They first call us to the mosques, and preach to us. Then they take us to a madrassa and they teach us things from the Koran," said Hazrat Ali. "They teach us to use machine gun, Kalashnikov, rocket launchers, grenades, bombs. They ask us to use them only against the infidels... Then they teach us how to do a suicide attack". He rocks back and forth as if in a trance, similar to the children in the Taliban propaganda video.

Hazrat Ali longs for the day when his turn will come to be a suicide bomber. "There are thousands of us. The Taliban now have the power to defeat the army."

Qari Abdullah, a Taliban commander in charge of child recruitment, told me children are an essential element of Jihad. "If you're fighting, then God provides you with the means [to win]. Kids themselves are tools to achieve God's will. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it."

Children as young as five and six years old are being recruited from poor families, he said. "The kids want to join us because they like our weapons."

There are 80 million children in Pakistan. More than a quarter of them live below the poverty line. If the militants continue to recruit freely, then soon Pakistan will belong to them.

The author spent five months making a film on Taliban child recruitment for Channel 4's Dispatches

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