By Ghazi Salahuddin
When you look into the eyes of a growing boy, perhaps a teenager, what do you see? Ideally, of course, you should get a glimpse of hope and ambition and an impatience for becoming an adult. I am referring to eyes because I am reminded of that quote that "the eyes are the windows to the soul". And I have found that this quote is also attributed to a psychiatrist, Harry Stak Sullivan, who used it as a description of how some schizophrenics experience communication. Anyhow, my point of reference here is the Pakistani youth. I have for long been interested in talking to them and there have been many formal interactions, in colleges and universities. One question, which has reverberated in these encounters is: what does it mean to be young in Pakistan at this time? Naturally, the intention is to persuade the young to carefully examine their own thoughts and feelings about the reality of their existence. At the outset, I have identified a 'boy' though in the educational institutions where I have met the young, girls are often more numerous, with more resplendent eyes. I did so because I need to talk about boys I have never met. I have not looked into their eyes – and this, I confess, is my failing as a journalist. But if I do get an opportunity to look into their eyes, what would I decipher? A wilderness of some kind? An inferno of passion that would make you shudder?Well, the frightening reality is that it would be difficult to locate any glimmer of hope and aspiration in the eyes of a majority of our young people. Considering the demographic dominance of the young in our population, this is a very disturbing situation. Every year, we have these multitudes of young people passing through their matric or intermediate or graduation exams and we know that the skills they have are inadequate and opportunities rather scarce and we also know that as young people they have their passions and a longing for the fulfilment of their dreams. So, what happens to the young who seemingly have nowhere to go? We can have our answers in the overall socio-economic conditions available in the country. But I want to focus on potential suicide bombers. Though it is hard to imagine how young boys can be persuaded by religious fanatics to willingly commit suicide in such a diabolically violent operation, the truth is that this has been happening. One major reason, it is conceded, is poverty. Religious fanaticism also casts its spell. With my interest in the great potential of youth and its astounding capacities, I was left in a state of stupor on Tuesday when I read this report that 200 children of ages from six to 13 had been recovered from Malakand who, as NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour was quoted as saying, were completely brainwashed for conducting suicide attacks. The minister told a news channel that initially these children were not even willing to listen to any arguments against what they thought was a divine mission. There were reports earlier about young boys being rescued from the training camps of the militants. But the discovery of as many as 200, possibly in one sustained operation, is remarkable. Also astonishing is the quality and range of this religious indoctrination. According to Bashir Ahmed Bilour, many of these boys were so motivated that they could even kill their parents and see them as 'kafirs'. Their motivation, as we know, was their belief that a suicide bombing would carry them straight to paradise. According to the report, circulated by APP, these children were now in the custody of the army. It appears that many of them would be enrolled in army educational institutions. The minister said that, to quote the words of the report, "the provincial government has no facility or institution to enlighten these children therefore it would request the army to do the job". What does this mean? Is it the job of the army to 'enlighten' little boys who have been led astray by bigoted preachers and wily terrorists? And what kind of enlightenment is this going to be? A report published on Wednesday in The Independent of London also said that the Taliban are using children "bought" from poor families or recruited from madressahs to train as suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The writer, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, quotes Qari Abdullah, a Taliban commander in charge of child recruitment, as saying that children as young as five and six years old were being recruited from poor families. There is also a description of a Taliban propaganda video in which a teacher in brown military fatigues is shown reading aloud from a book titled 'Justification for suicide bombing'. Children are recorded while speaking about their desire to become suicide bombers. There is also some footage of the actual suicide bombings, with a child singing in the background: "if you try to find me after I have died, you will never find my whole body, you will find little pieces". On Thursday, four boys who were kidnapped by militants to be trained as suicide bombers were presented before a media team in Mingora and they narrated the alarming tale of what had happened to them in captivity. These were the boys who were able to escape from the training camps run by the militants. But how can they escape from the life they must lead in a society that is unable to look after its young?As our bloody war against militants and terrorists continues, serious deliberations about how to win this war decisively have also continued. It is repeatedly stressed that this war will ultimately be won in the minds of the people. But do they really know what this means? Now that the month of August has begun, launching the celebrations of the fourteenth of this month, the theme of our ceremonies could be the formulation of a plan to "enlighten" the minds that have been afflicted with religious fanaticism. As an aside, August had an auspicious beginning with the landmark Supreme Court verdict announced on Friday.The pity is that we have always known how this war against extremism can be won. We can see, in the context of the making of the suicide bombers, that there is no mystery in how this calamity could have been avoided. When you allow poverty to flourish and when you deny education to the children of this country, the bigots have an inexhaustible recruiting ground for suicide bombers. And how tragic it is that they confirm, in their wicked endeavour, the capability of the young to achieve impossible feats.