In Pakistan, officials say the military has launched a series of air strikes against suspected militants near the Afghan border. They say at least 12 suspected militants have been killed.
It’s the first such operation in two months and yet another sign of just how deep the divisions run in Pakistani society between those who are fighting for a theocracy and those who believe in democracy.
The BBC’s Owen Bennett-Jones was in that border area — in the Swat Valley in North Western Pakistan — just a few days ago, where he found this ideological struggle being played out in one particular institution.
- Owen Bennett-Jones, British journalist, author and one of the hosts of Newshour on the BBC World Service. He tweets @OwenBennettJone.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Well, now to Pakistan where warplanes are targeting insurgent hideouts near the border with Afghanistan. Army officials say they've killed more than three dozen suspected militants in the latest attack. And these airstrike come as Pakistan has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban, part of an effort to end years of fighting that has claimed thousands of lives.
This ongoing conflict is a sign of the deep divide between theocracy and democracy in Pakistan, as the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones reports.
OWEN BENNETT-JONES, BYLINE: All over the world now, there are programs to deradicalize jihadists, and this is the leading institution in Pakistan to do that. It was created after the problems in the Swat Valley where the militants basically took control, and then the army cleared the valley in 2009. And they've got this effort here to reeducate some of the people who were involved in the fighting.
And I'm with a major now who has worked here for, I think, a year and a half or a couple of years, something like that. So what are you trying to do here?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are just trying to deradicalize children apprehended from the terrorists. We are trying to show them the true picture of society. We are trying to show them the true picture of the religion in order to make them lead their normal lives.
BENNETT-JONES: And you normally have around 50...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.
BENNETT-JONES: ...students, something like that, at any one time. How long does it take before you say, right, it's time to reintegrate into society?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: That is done by the psychiatrist. They keep on analyzing the boy. And once they find him suitable to reintegrated into the society, then we carry out certain deradicalization ceremony.
BENNETT-JONES: So it could take a month...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It can take a month. It can take two years, three years.
BENNETT-JONES: Can we meet some of the students, do you think, some of the people you got here?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, sure, you can meet. This class of Urdu class.
BENNETT-JONES: Thank you very much. Salaam alaikum.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)
BENNETT-JONES: You're the teacher here, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes, I'm teacher here.
BENNETT-JONES: And you got four students today. So let's have a chat, if we can. Who doesn't mind talking to the BBC? I can see shy smiles.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)
BENNETT-JONES: And how are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)
BENNETT-JONES: All OK. So tell me, how old are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through translator) I'm 18 years old.
BENNETT-JONES: And where did you come from?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through translator) I'm from (unintelligible).
BENNETT-JONES: So that's quite near here. And how long have you been here?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through translator) This is my third year.
BENNETT-JONES: Third year. So you came here when you're 15. And why did you come here? What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through Translator) Before coming to the school, I was an active Taliban member, and then Pakistani military captured me, and they brought me to the school. And since then, I am studying here.
BENNETT-JONES: How old were you when you joined up with the Taliban?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through Translator) I was 14 years old. I spent a year with them.
BENNETT-JONES: Why did you decide to join up with them?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through Translator) I was studying in a madrassa. There, we were taught that the Talibans are spreading good religious education, so we were motivated. And that's how we joined.
BENNETT-JONES: What we're you doing when the army picked you up?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through Translator) I was in Peshawar buying some religious books for my madrassa. I talked to my teacher on the phone. And after that phone call, I was arrested.
BENNETT-JONES: Now, you've been here three years. What have you learned about Islam that was different from when you were with the Taliban?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Through Translator) I can tell you that there is a famous, very famous verses from the holy Quran, which says that if you kill one innocent human, it means you kill the entire humanity. And if you save one, you save the entire humanity. Here, the narration that they give us is proper, but the same thing that we were taught in the madrassa where I was was totally different, you know?
BENNETT-JONES: Thank you very much. Now, Major, that's very interesting listening to that. Can I just ask you a question?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes.
BENNETT-JONES: There is a debate in the West and I think here, too, about whether young men like that are driven to this jihadism by poverty or by religion or by manipulation or, yeah. What happens to them to make them join up at the age of 14 with the Taliban?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It is religious. It is social. It is economic. You cannot just say that only religious factor was the motivating factor. Sixty percent of these students, they belong to the poor family background. So all the factors - they contributed towards where they are today.
BENNETT-JONES: And when you work with them, do you find it's quite easy to talk them out of militancy? I mean, they're quite easily persuadable.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It is their age. They're young. Their mind is so naive. Even if I would've been at their place, I think I would have been easily persuaded.
HOBSON: That report from the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Pakistan. And remember, you can comment on stories you hear on HERE AND NOW at our website, hereandnow.org. You can send us a tweet: @hereandnow, @jeremyhobson, @hereandnowrobin. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.