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Pakistani TV Journalist Takes Camera Inside Swat Valley


With Pakistan's Swat Valley under Taliban control, worldwide interest about how life has changed in the region has grown. Prominent Pakistani journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy recently went to investigate, spending two days in the valley to produce a documentary for the PBS television program Frontline, which is being streamlined online.

"How war is killing children in Pakistan but also turning children into killers," is the theme of film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's PBS documentary, Children of the Taliban. She says her film is about what happens to the residents of Swat Valley when the Taliban militants move in.

"I think their whole policy is to create chaos. And the first way they do it is by banning women from leaving their homes, by making sure there is very little freedom, she says, "Then they go house to house knocking on doors asking families to donate their children to the Army of Islam, as they like to call themselves."

Her journey begins at a rehabilitation center in Peshawar, where she talks with some of the young victims caught in the crossfire of this war.

Later she walks through the rubble of a school destroyed by the Taliban that once taught 400 girls, and comes across two nine-year old girls who used to study there. The militants have a policy of destroying schools for girls.

At the schools the Taliban runs for boys known as madrasas, poor families are often attracted by the food and shelter provided.

One Swat teenager explains how he joined the Taliban a year ago, when he was 13. First, he says, he was attracted by the sermons at the mosque, then he was recruited at a madrassa, and finally spent months in military training.

The revealing images portrayed in the documentary raise the question of why did the Taliban allow Sharmeen to film a documentary inside their stronghold?

"They think that by getting their message out, people will start subscribing to their ideology. What they don't realize is that they are espousing such a violent ideology that people are bound to get turned off by it," she said.

Fighting in the Swat valley has displaced thousands of people, many of whom now live in refugee camps.

In the documentary, two young men are featured among the hundreds of displaced children. Wasifullah and Abdurrahman are best friends.

Wasifullah says his 12 year old cousin was killed by an American missile strike on his village near the Afghan border. So he wants to join the Taliban.

But his best friend Abdurrahman blames al-Qaida for the destruction of their village. He would prefer to become a captain in the Pakistan Army.

Sharmeen says the two friends sadly represent the fault lines in the unstable country that Pakistan has become.

She says she also met with a 14 year old boy who was trained to be a suicide bomber. "He had gone through a formal six-week training course with the Taliban," she says, "and he was recruited from a local mosque in the Swat valley"

She is told by a Taliban recruiter that there is nothing wrong in using children because they are tools to achieve God's will. If you are figting, he says, then God provides you with the means.

She says there are 80 million children in Pakistan, many of them living in poverty. If the militants continue to expand their war and to recruit children freely, as they do now she says, then Pakistan may soon belong to them.

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