The walking wounded of Waziristan: Suffer the children

Updated April 20, 2014

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The game starts with a boy addressing others, exhorting them to join the fight against ‘infidels and non-believers’ before announcing his intention of carrying out a suicide hit. An ‘attack’ promptly follows, with some children playing law enforcement officials, some rescue volunteers, and others becoming victims of the attack
The game starts with a boy addressing others, exhorting them to join the fight against ‘infidels and non-believers’ before announcing his intention of carrying out a suicide hit. An ‘attack’ promptly follows, with some children playing law enforcement officials, some rescue volunteers, and others becoming victims of the attack

“Amrikay jasees day,” (It’s an American spy) they shouted in the typical Waziri dialect as they gathered to witness the execution of a US spy said to be responsible for finding targets for drone attacks. Five children, their faces covered, sticks in their hands, drag a struggling stray dog, the ‘spy’ in this game, into the killing field. As it lies helpless on the ground, tightly held down by four boys, a 12-year-old approaches him and with one deft motion of his hand, slits the dog’s throat. “Allah-o-Akbar” shout the children in unison, mirroring a scene they have witnessed all too often.

This is not a nightmare, not a scene from some movie. It is the narration of an actual event that took place in the village of Sarobi, Tehsil Dosali, just two years ago.

“Much has changed in a decade of war in Fata. Even the games that children play reflect the conflict in this area. Now the local Taliban are their heroes. Taliban acts and attacks are discussed in story-telling sessions in their schools,” says Tor Gul Dawar, a local educationist of North Waziristan.

Military convoys, check posts and patrols, drones, blasts, killings and CDs of militants’ propaganda have so affected children in Fata, the Frontier Regions and adjacent settled areas that their thoughts, stories and games are now a reflection of violence, war and conflict.

Inspired by local jihadi poems and accounts of suicide missions on propaganda CDs, children have made dozens of mobile clips. A 6-min and 21-secs long video clip shows a 13-year-old boy, face covered, and a waistband around his chest, seemingly packed with explosives addressing other children:

“O Muslims of the world, infidels and non-believers have arrived in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are very powerful but we have the most powerful weapon of Fidaeen Suicide Attackers. So I am going to carry out an attack. I have not been forced or ordered by anyone. I am doing it on my own. And I am telling every person to carry out Fidaee attack. It’s a religious obligation. Here I am leaving. I will wait for you in heaven and I am certain that we all would meet up there.”

In the next scene the same kid gives a final embrace to his six comrades, ranging from age nine to 14 years. Another boy brings in a bicycle; the suicide attacker sits on it and after covering a distance of 10 metres, pretends to blow himself up, with a lot of flying dust giving the impression of the blast’s smoke; the clip later shows the ‘dead’ bodies of five children lying on the ground.

In keeping with the videos these children are imitating, a jihadi poem is recited throughout the action:

Ornamenting himself with explosives having a godly grace on his face

My beloved is like a flower while carrying out fidai attacks

The enemies are struck with fear by his intentions

But I am seeing his body soaked in his blood lying like a flower

This phenomenon is not limited to North Waziristan, but can be seen in South Waziristan, Orakzai Agency, Lower Kurram, Khyber Agency, Frontier Region Bannu, Frontier Region, Kohat and even settled areas of Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and the rest of conflict affected Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Women and children in our area have been worst hit by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The children, whenever they hear a hissing sound, shout “Bangana, Bangana …,” a local name for drones, based on what it sounds like,” says Karim Mehsud, a prominent lawyer and activist. “It is quite true that 90pc of children’s games are now related to the current situation. Now that’s not surprising in these hilly regions where neither youth nor elders have any facilities for recreation and fun. But look at our settled areas; what do the daily increasing sales of toy guns suggest?” The question hangs in the air, unanswered.

There are other signs as well; in the Janikhel area, right in the middle of district bannu, a casual chat with local children shows how they have been affected by this conflict. Where children in more peaceful parts mimic popular sportsmen and musicians, here the role models are militants.

The children here copy the Taliban’s hair style, clothing and even the way they walk; sometimes it is almost difficult to differentiate between a militant and an ordinary 15-year-old youth.

“I am a Talib and want to become a mullah, I am getting education in a local madrassa,” six-year-old Hazrat Wali says proudly.

“What about school?”

“The only school in our area was bombed a few years back,” he replies.

A few weeks back, while recording shows for a local network, children, both in the Khyber and Mohmand Agencies told me that they wanted to become mullahs. Shocking indeed, but hardly surprising when you realise that these kids have been swallowed up by a highly charged environment where religious extremism is the norm.

“We have to accept collective responsibility for this mess. The government, civil society, and the media are equally responsible for this vacuum of understanding and we need to address these children of war from affected regions. There is not a single forum or organisation at any level — local, regional, national or even international — that works on this aspect of child development in Fata and KP,” says Noor-us-Islam, a social activist and advocate for child rights.

And while we wait for someone to take note and take action, a bitter reality unfolds at its own cruel pace, one that mirrors the games these children of war play.

We have already witnessed this in a video released by the Taliban which features four children between nine and 14 years of age. Three of them hold real guns in their hands. The fourth, who holds a knife, addresses the camera:

“He is an infidel, a non-believer and is working for America. All those who are trying to please America will face the same consequences.”

And within seconds that 14-year-old kid mercilessly beheaded a uniformed security official, the target of his anger, with his knife. “Allah-O-Akbar,” the kids roar.