Dispatches - Taliban Generation

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Channel 4, Thursday 12 March 2009

Pakistan's Taliban Generation investigates how the war on terror is creating a generation of child terrorists - children prepared to kill both inside and outside Pakistan.

With the recent attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team, last year's massive suicide bombing in Islamabad and the assault on Mumbai, Pakistan's radical Islamists are bringing violence to the major cities of Pakistan and beyond.

Pakistani journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy reveals how the Taliban are recruiting increasingly young fighters for their campaign. She meets a 14-year-old boy in Karachi who's desperate to become a suicide bomber, and speaks to the elite unit of the anti-terror police squad, who warn that the Taliban are recruiting children from small madrassas in deprived neighbourhoods. She also interviews a Taliban commander responsible for child recruitment, Qari Abdullah, who reveals that children as young as five are now being used by the Taliban.

Sharmeen travels across Pakistan to investigate how the far the Taliban has infiltrated her country. In the north she finds the Pakistan army, backed by the Americans, locked in conflict, killing thousands of Pakistani troops and civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands. En route to Bajaur, 10 miles from the Afghan border, she drives through the remains of a once thriving town, now levelled by the Pakistani army.

At a nearby refugee camp, Sharmeen interviews two teenage boys whose local madrassa was hit by bombardments from the Pakistani army and American hellfire missiles while children were studying inside. In the aftermath of the attack, a local militant arrived to preach to a large crowd of local youngsters.

One of the boys Sharmeen meets was in that crowd and now wants to join the Taliban. The other boy, his best friend, blames al-Qaeda for the attack and wants to join the army. Driven into enemy camps, both boys pledge to kill the other if they come face to face on the battlefield.

Sharmeen also meets a 14-year-old boy already recruited by the Taliban, who describes his life in an extremist madrassa. Hazrat describes how he graduated from training in small arms to rocket launchers and explains how to execute a suicide attack in a car; something he hopes he will have the opportunity to carry out in the near future.

Next, Sharmeen visits Swat, a valley in the north west that was, until recently a peaceful tourist attraction. Among the ruins of one of 200 schools destroyed by the Taliban she meets two former pupils; young girls who are angry that they are now forbidden to have an education and resentful that they will soon have to wear burqas.

Just after Sharmeen leaves Swat, the local government announces it is to officially adopt Sharia law, in a total capitulation to the demands of the Taliban.

Finally, in Peshawar, Sharmeen meets child victims of the violence at a specialist paraplegic hospital. She also interviews General Tariq Khan, the soldier who masterminded the campaign against the Taliban in the tribal belt. Khan believes the army can win the war but his injured soldiers in a local hospital tell Sharmeen that the Taliban often have the upper hand.

During Sharmeen's time in Peshawar, the Taliban announce plans to hold a press conference in the heart of the tribal areas. A local cameraman gathers footage that shows the first images of the new deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud. During the press conference, Mehsud warns that unless the Pakistani army stops aligning itself with the Americans and fighting the Taliban, they will take over the major cities of Pakistan.

Sharmeen is shocked by what she has discovered, and what it all means for her country: 'This new generation - brutalised and radicalised by poverty, indoctrination and war - are Pakistan's future.'

Frank Kitman