Ravi Velloor | The Straight Times | Moby Media Group | July 3, 2011
IN Uruzgan, central Afghanistan, two days ago, men approached an eight-year-old girl and told her to take a bag to a nearby police contingent. As the child approached a police vehicle, militants standing at a safe distance detonated the bomb in the bag with a remote-controlled device.
The policemen survived, but the girl was blown to bits. Add one more to the Taliban’s latest strategy of using children and women for suicide attacks.
In the swathe of largely ungoverned territory across the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands and beyond, the Taliban are resorting to desperate tactics to catch the patrolling army and policemen off-guard, such as fitting children as young as six with explosive vests and sending them up to uniformed men standing at checkpoints or sitting in police vehicles.
The situation in Pakistan is similar. Of the 400 deaths there attributed to suicide bombings as of June 13, as many as onefifth may have been perpetrated by bombers in their teens or younger.
Earlier this year, a boy who could have been between 10 and 12 years of age slipped past six security cordons and killed more than 30 recruits doing morning drills at the Punjab Regiment Centre in Mardan, north-western Pakistan.
Troops, always alert for long beards and well-muscled men, had paid scant notice to the slight figure in a school uniform who seemed to be hurrying towards the cantonment school.
Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said: “This is a new development because traditionally, children, and particularly girls, have not been used by Muslim organisations, with a few exceptions in Chechnya and Iraq. And it is a very dangerous trend because forces in most countries are not prepared to detect such attackers. This has to be condemned by Muslim scholars.
It is a major challenge for law enforcement.” Sometimes, married couples are being forced to undertake missions as a pair. Over the weekend, 10 people died at the hands of a couple wearing the black burqa favoured by tradition-minded Muslim women after they stormed a police station in South Waziristan.
The Taliban later claimed that the pair were an Uzbek couple, and said more were standing by to attack security forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such tactics – using women and young children to dispel suspicion – have been used elsewhere in the world.
Two decades ago, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka used a female suicide bomber to assassinate former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi after an election rally. The Tigers have also used child soldiers, and were masters in the art of deception.
In the early days of the Indian Peace Keeping Force’s presence in Sri Lanka, a senior Indian officer was blown to bits by a woman who approached him, wailing, with what appeared to be a baby in her hands.
But reports suggest the suicide bomber phenomenon in Pakistan is far more serious than it has ever been anywhere else. There are two reasons for this. First, nearly six in 10 Pakistanis are below the age of 25. Secondly, the nation counts thousands of madra sah, where fundamentalists find easy recruits.
The Taliban boasted not long ago that they had as many as 400 young bombers waiting to be sacrificed. A chilling 84-second video, available on the Internet, shows Pashtun children in Pakistan’s Waziristan area recreating a terrorist attack, complete with final farewells, boys playing security officials trying to block the bomber’s advance, the “detonation” and other kids examining the “dead”.
In urban centres, the Taliban recruit over two fronts, Islamic madrasahs and lowincome neighbourhoods, says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who is noted for her documentary on the group.
“Typically, older Taliban fighters or recruiters spend an evening at one of these schools, glorifying the front lines, showing students videos of their heroics, and talking to them about paradise and the afterlife.”
Scholars who impart ideology to the Taliban are said to have listed conditions for the use of suicide bombers, including stipulating that a bomber must be over the age of 18 and must have clear targets approved by shadow local governors. Out on the battlefield, however, expediency probably takes over, some analysts say.
At that point, the most severe commands of the Taliban leadership are ignored, a process that could erode their authority over time and lend a new edge to the war on terror.