Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
Young children were kidnapped by the Taliban and then made to serve as suicide bombers. These young men, and in the latter part of the battle young women, became cannon fodder for the Taliban’s heinous designs. They did not have the freedom to choose their path
At least 13 people dead in the Lahore blast. On the day that marked the hundredth anniversary of the International Women’s Day, many women lost their loved ones. If they were lucky, they were injured but condemned to a life of the disabled and health complications. The Punjabi Taliban, as they are now known, claimed responsibility. Or did they? For with responsibility comes freedom. Thus the question to ask is, are the Pakistani Taliban really free? Who joins the Taliban groups and network? Or is there an option to join? Is there a place where you sign up to become a Taliban and a place where you sign out?
It is difficult to profile a Taliban. The word of course means a student and has come to mean a student of a religious seminary. However, as the wave of terror spread, we came to know that the Taliban were also recruiting at breakneck speed. The recruits hailed from everywhere: Western-educated young men, who later rose to become spokespersons for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); poorest of the poor young boys, whose families were given compensation so that their sons could become suicide bombers. Then there were young men whose families were coerced into joining the Taliban. In Swat, it is a matter of record that the Pakistani Taliban went around to all the houses, asking them to “volunteer” a young man each. Failure to do so would have the household confronted with adverse consequences. Young children were also kidnapped by the Taliban and then made to serve as suicide bombers. These young men, and in the latter part of the battle young women, became cannon fodder for the Taliban’s heinous designs. They did not have the freedom to choose their path. In other words, by no stretch of the imagination can they be called ideological Taliban. They are in one way victims of terror themselves. The ones who are dead have it easy. The ones who are alive still have to go through life facing the consequences of their actions. Such young men and women who have been arrested by the security agencies need to be debriefed and rehabilitated so that they become responsible citizens of society.
This indeed is a controversial, rather a radical idea to propagate. One can well imagine the reaction of a mother who has lost her child because of the terror attack perpetuated by these Taliban. If poverty was a major consideration for joining the Taliban, critics would rightly argue that this is not reason enough. For then all the world’s poor would become Taliban or resort to crime by using poverty as an excuse. There is value in this and one realises that reality is more complex than looking at the world from an intellectual’s armchair. Having said this, one cannot but think of the excellent work that is being done by the military in running a rehabilitation centre for children captured from the Taliban in Swat. This rehabilitation centre systematically debriefs these children and introduces to them ideas of a peaceful Islam as well as modern education. Philosophically and educationally, these children are been given a chance to redefine their lives, renounce violence and become responsible citizens. Alternatively, these children might have been held in lockups, had in-camera trials and been locked up for major parts of their lives. Rehabilitation is clearly a better option and one that should be explored more seriously for other detainees.
During the recent London conference on Afghanistan, Holbrooke advocated rehabilitation of the Afghani Taliban. Rehabilitation needs to be differentiated from reconciliation with the Taliban, which in my opinion, should not be done. Reconciliation is a process of re-establishing relations. Pakistan was one of the three states to recognise the Taliban regime in Afghanistan but this mistake should never be repeated. To re-establish relations with the Taliban would be to recognise their worldview – a worldview based on militancy, intolerance and extremism. It also means restoring mutual respect between different parties. This is another reason why we should never reconcile with the Taliban as a relationship of respect signifies acceptance of the other’s values. Respect is also based on trust, which certainly is not the case in the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistani citizens. It is due to the Taliban that Pakistan was declared the suicide capital of the world in 2009, having had more suicide attacks than Iraq. Thus acceptance of the Taliban’s ideological leaders and their methods of militancy and self-serving ‘jihad’ can never find a place in the Pakistani people’s hearts. However, the children who were kidnapped or coerced through violent threats or poverty to work for the Taliban are certainly not ideologically linked to the Taliban. They can be rehabilitated and agencies should look into how that can be done. According to media reports, immediately after the Swat operation it was reported by the army itself that “more than 300-400 children” recruited by the Taliban were captured. These young children ranging from five to 16 years of age have their lives before them. They were lured by promises of better tomorrows for themselves and better todays for their families. These children are not the Taliban. As stated earlier, they are victims themselves. However, if they are not rehabilitated, if the Taliban-injected rot in their minds is not cleared, they will be walking-talking future threats to peace for all their lives. Thus, it is important to have large scale rehabilitation efforts targeting such people.
We have to differentiate between the branch and the root of the problem. The ideological thinkers and the leaders of the Taliban responsible for creating havoc in our lives are the roots. The roots need to be pulled out of society. For they wilfully make the decision to bomb the innocent. They are responsible for their actions of waging war against the state and the people of Pakistan. No mercy should be shown to them for they had the freedom to make the choice. Thus they should be held responsible. However, for those who did not have the freedom to choose, rehabilitation must be explored as an option for them.