Suicide bomber recruitment, a meal a day will keep the terrorists away

Published: November 2, 2011
It is possible to reform the children, says expert after exhaustive study

It is possible to reform the children, says expert after exhaustive study . ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID


It is possible to take back child soldiers and suicide bombers on the Taliban’s payroll after a thorough reformation programme, claims a leading psychologist who has worked on one such project with the Pakistan Army.

“These children were made to believe that anyone who did not wear the shalwar kameez was a non believer,” explained Dr Feriha Peracha. As the director of Sabaoon Project, she worked with 12 to 18 year olds who were recruited in Swat and Malakand by militants loyal to the terrorist Mullah Fazlullah. More recently, she has been working with children who were recruited by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

On Tuesday she presented her exhaustive case study on the topic of terrorism, demographics and psycho-social variables in adolescents on the second day of the 15th National Health Sciences Research Symposium held at the Aga Khan University.

“For [these children] Mullah Fazlullah was a role model. Islamabad was another country. They were told that every other place in the country apart from Swat had now been taken over by infidels.”

According to Peracha’s research, conducted on 162 children who were captured by the Pakistan Army, some in the process of carrying out suicide bombings, the doctor said her cross examinations revealed that the underlying motivation to join the militants was “poverty and a lack of opportunities”. “It has nothing to do with religion at all,” she said.

In fact, most children couldn’t even tell what the Kalima meant in their own language. “Even the families of these children were not particularly religious,” she said. “In reality, it was their lack of familiarity with the Holy Quran that had left them vulnerable [to the arguments of the Taliban].”

She found that 58 per cent of the children were found to be abducted by terrorists, while 41 per cent joined the cause voluntarily. For those who joined of their own volition, the doctor said it had more to do with prospects of better food and the dream of enjoying a better life in the Hereafter.

Just like the saying ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’, Dr Peracha said she had a new saying: A meal a day, keeps the terrorists away.

She observed that the more intelligent ones were used as informants and spies, while it was the slightly slower learners who were encouraged to carry out suicide bombings. A video interview of one such suicide bomber who was captured by the army when he was just 14 years was also shown to the audience.

Dr Peracha helped these children return to the fold of Pakistani society through a sustained programme of discussions and an opportunity to get a better education. Sport emerged as a crucial point for the children in their reform programme. “If we didn’t allow a child to play football for 15 minutes, he would be most upset, just like other children,” she said.

At least eight of Dr Peracha’s children are now enrolled in graduate studies programmes and 20 others are now enrolling in higher school.

Also in the session, AKU professor of psychiatry, Dr Murad Musa, talked about suicides in Pakistan and recalled the incident involving a young man who recently set himself on fire in front of parliament. “The conservative estimate for suicides in Pakistan is between 6,000 and 8,000 per year, while attempted suicide cases vary between 60,000 and 80,000 cases,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Nadir
    Nov 2, 2011 - 2:41AM

    But Imran Khan tells us that if the Americans go away the nice Taliban will stop recruiting children as soldiers! After all, an organization that uses children as weapons must be trustworthy and counted on to keep their word, right?


  • Falcon
    Nov 2, 2011 - 3:17AM

    Thank you so much for publishing this. We need a lot of research on the issue. It is highlighting our existing fears about realities on the ground. Poverty leading to problems. It has least to do with the religion itself. Hope our liberals understand this and hope US understands this. Most of these are our own people who have been exploited because of their hunger and grievances!


  • M. Akthar
    Nov 2, 2011 - 6:55AM

    Sad! Very sad!

    Zia was a curse to pakistan! & our succesive military regimes from 70s to 2000’s used systematically radicalized the people through madrassas & educational system! We need to invest heavily in deradicalization programmes & using media to change the thought process!


  • MarkH
    Nov 2, 2011 - 8:41AM

    You don’t have to worry too much. It’s not that we view Muslims as bad or blame the religion itself. It just so happens that the people we’re after use the religion as their scapegoat excuse for negative actions and their motivation. It’s simply impossible to ignore that aspect and pursue them at the same time. They use it as a jumping point, which basically means we have to when trying to sort out where to look for them and it’s one of many important traits if you’re also trying to spot them outside a battle field. The Muslim part of things is extremely impersonal and even that has a slightly unpleasant feel about it.

    If you see Muslim generalization by most, more often than not, the person talking is either burnt out on giving disclaimers for the over sensitive or it’s barely given any thought because it’s not actually the focus of what they’re saying. Which would not be rare since, while it’s an undeniable factor, they’re still not concentrating on the religious aspect. It’s more insensitive than hostile, you could say. They’d probably even elaborate to the same effect if someone were to point out the generalization to them as well.


  • Nov 2, 2011 - 9:02AM

    illiteracy is the bid which needs to be foiled . These suicide bombers are just hijacking the name of Islam and misinterpreting its teachings .


  • Hassan
    Nov 2, 2011 - 11:47AM

    Your post reeks or arrogance, the same kind of arrogance that has resulted in the murder of thousands, who gave you the right to be judge. jury and executioner. We dont care what your view about Muslims are and by the way when you look at Afghanistan it looks like they are after you not the other way around.


  • Hassan
    Nov 2, 2011 - 11:49AM

    @ Nadir, but what about a country that kills children and calls them militant you dont seem to have much to say about their tactics or is it because you just hate Imran Khan and cant seem to stop bringing him up every time!!!!


  • Nov 2, 2011 - 3:00PM

    Very informative article….shows the other side of the picture


  • Nadir
    Nov 2, 2011 - 4:07PM

    @Hassan: Nope I dont hate Imran Khan. Hes leading a political party and I am critical of his policies or the lack of them. I bring him up because thanks to PTI’s efforts hes in the news nowadays. As for the US whose tactics you are refering to, I am a citizen of Pakistan. Justifying the tactics of the Taliban because of the actions of another party doesnt make their actions right. Its crimanility on either side. Recommend

  • Ali
    Nov 2, 2011 - 4:14PM

    We need to invest in Education and health thats the only way we can stop these kids from going the sucide bomber way!


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Nov 2, 2011 - 4:37PM

    We have known about this for some time. Good that someone has researched the topic.


  • Lobster
    Nov 2, 2011 - 5:22PM

    people like you are perplexed by the massive rally, because it was against your guesstimates, so, nowadays, you want to blame everything including your nightmares on IK.
    Be calm, people do make mistakes, but it is better to correct than to insist. Learn from other writers! Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 2, 2011 - 7:11PM

    @ Nadir
    please stop crying imran khan will do every
    thing in this country like Tayyeb Ardogan of turkey your army will not sid town that easy..Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 2, 2011 - 7:22PM

    Pakistan Bearocracy are world worst, they dont care whats going on in the counrty
    and they does something when water reachs the head…Recommend

  • Nov 2, 2011 - 8:16PM

    The enemies of humanity are not leaving any stone unturned and attacking the nation from every possible angle. These devil minded individuals are on a mission to destroy our society and the sad truth is that even children are being used as a tool to further their evil agenda. Their cover has long worn thin and we are all well aware of their cowardly ways, but still it’s shocking and disturbing to hear that they are corrupting our youth and filling their young minds with hate and ruining their lives. To label them as monsters and enemies of humanity would not be an overstatement! Can anyone imagine the consequences, if these terrorists continue moving ahead with their plans? How can we not agree that this menace called the Taliban must be eliminated?

    Those who still question this war on terror can see for themselves that these terrorists are in every possible way a serious threat to our people, our children and our nations. Those who still question our motives and carry any doubts about our operation against these terrorists should understand that this threat must be eliminated immediately; otherwise, it will continue to destroy our nations.


  • Nadir
    Nov 2, 2011 - 9:31PM

    @Lobster: I am not perplexed or surprised with the rally or its turnout. Whats the problem with taking criticism? What type of new politics is this where PTI supporters can only offer retorts and put downs when faced with policy critiques?


  • Falcon
    Nov 2, 2011 - 10:38PM

    Sir Ji. We the PTI supporters are thankful to you for your advice. What concerns us is that our most sincere, wise, and knowledgeable people fail to guide us towards what will it take to make it a success and instead keep focusing on the flaws of everything under the sun. Its the perspective that disheartens us not the criticism. Why can’t we move from ‘I know it will not work and why – but I don’t know what else will either’ to ‘lets fine-tune it because it has some problems’ ???


  • Zafar
    Nov 8, 2011 - 4:30PM

    Very encouraging to see such a study: after all, to tackle the problems, the root cause analysis is vital. For God’s sake, people try to understand what Imran Khan says about Taliban. He DOES NOT support them!!!! All he says is tackle this issue differently. No country in the world can fight it’s own people – we need to find the root causes of the problems and address them SMARTLY not bluntly.
    Applause to this study. I wish our parliamentarians would have ordered this study and not the so the army shouldn’t have taken the lead.


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