Using children as political tool


On Sunday, a picture of a young girl not more than seven or eight years old, made it to this newspaper. She was wearing a black head scarf and around it was a head band with “la ilaha illallah – there is no God but Allah” written on it. In her right hand, she held a big black toy gun pointed towards the sky.

The girl was among many other children attending a rally near Banaras Chowk, where Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Syed Munawar Hasan declared that only bearded men and veiled women could change the future of this country.

On December 20, 2011, a similar rally was organised by the same party in response to Nato’s cross-border attack on the Salala check-post. The rally was attended by uniform-clad schoolchildren. They wore yellow badges which sported the words: “No to the USA and Nato, Yes to Pakistan and Islam”.

A picture of a child screaming his lungs out was printed the next day. He held a placard, which read “Get lost USA”. At the bottom of the placard was written: “From the students of Usman Public School”.

Addressing the protest rally, JI Karachi chief Muhammad Hussain Mehanti said that Pakistani children were ready to fight against the aggressors alongside the Pakistan Army.

Is this the kind of image of our children that we want to portray to the wider world? And is it right to ‘use’ these innocent young children, who are usually too young to make up their own minds, to further a particular ideology?

When asked about the appropriateness of the practice, Sarfaraz Ahmed, JI’s Information Secretary, said that schools under the JI administration — more than 200 in all — are informed before a rally on any such “national issue”. Willing children join in, he claims.

Answering a question on the suitability of their age and understanding of complex issues, such as diplomatic relations with the USA, he says: “It is only the youth aged 18-25 who can bring about a change in the country.” But pictures speak louder than words. Some of the students attending the rally were hardly 10 years old.

The JI leader refused to condemn the message which young children with toy guns give to the world, justifying the practice on religious grounds, that are contested even by many Muslims and Islamic scholars. “Doing so would be disrespecting the Prophet (PBUH) and Jihad. When a teenager tried to become part of the Muslim army in a war, by trying to appear tall, our Prophet (PBUH) allowed him to take part, respecting his religious fervour.”

He added in the same breath that Jihad with the sword is not the only type of Jihad. “We should all keep guns for defence, you should keep a gun too, considering the law and order situation of the city.”

But such tactics have also been used by mainstream political parties too. On November 22, 2011 in Gujranwala, government school students were allegedly forced to attend a rally of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in normal clothes. The plan was exposed when students who forgot to change their school uniform turned up at the event. The children later confessed to allegedly being threatened that they would be marked absent if they did not show up.

However, like many Islamist groups worldwide, the Jamaat-e-Islami has a history of encouraging children to participate in rallies, where, their opponents allege that anti-US sentiments are ‘hammered into their heads’ and ‘conspiracy theories are glorified’. Some extremist groups, unlike the more mainstream Jamaat-i-Islami, go much further and frequently deploy brainwashed young boys as suicide bombers as part of their strategy.

Abbas Hussain, an educationist and Islamic scholar, known for his out-of-the-box ideas, condemns the act, for he believes using children to tell the USA to go away will not serve the purpose.


Nato truck drivers say Allah, not America, provides livelihood


Shireen Jinnah Colony is lined with massive oil tankers, which up until six days ago, carried fuel for the Nato supply line from Karachi to Torkham. They stretch for miles on both sides of the road, unmoved.

The drivers sit clustered on the pavement which divides traffic on both sides and while some puff a cigarette or two, others enjoy a chat over a cup of tea, undisturbed by the cars rushing past them.

This has become a routine. The drivers sleep inside their truck, wake up for breakfast, and spend the days loitering around the area, waiting, though not too anxiously, for orders to resume work.

Even though they may be jobless, the drivers are happy as long as the country’s sovereignty is protected. “Death to America, they bombed our brothers,” they say in unison.

These common men from the village know very well what sovereignty stands for. “It means no other country has the right to attack our soil,” one says.

Most of these drivers speak Pashto and belong to Khyber Agency. Leaving their families in their hometowns, they travel from Karachi to Khyber and back again in twenty days. Each tanker carries fifty to sixty thousand litres of oil and for this a single driver is paid Rs20,000.

Their anti-American sentiments are strong, yet they work for the United States. Most cannot afford the tanker they drive and have leased the vehicle, for which they pay in instalments and are bound to a debt cycle. If the Nato supply line is permanently blocked, they say they will work for the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and carry oil from Karachi to Islamabad. It will pay much less. Just Rs8000 a month, “but at least our Muslim brothers will not be killed,” one of them said.

“I wish America is destroyed forever,” says Zabeeullah Afridi, a Pakhtun, who hails from Landi Kotal.

“The Taliban are good people, they are God-fearing and they help others.” However, these drives are yet to have the fortune” of meeting a member of the Taliban.“Taliban are Allah-Walay log (God’s people), they only meet the very righteous,” one shares, while another young driver rants “long live Taliban, may America rot in hell.”

There have been instances when miscreants have burnt the Nato oil tankers as they wait at the border, but the drivers feel no pity for “American oil”. “We run away and save our lives when such instances take place,” a driver shares.

Though they earn a living from the funds which come in from the United States, they strongly believe that “livelihood comes from Allah alone. He gives to whom he wishes and if the supply route is blocked, he will take care of them”.

And to the God they trust unwaveringly, they secretly pray that the ten to twelve thousand tankers which supply fuel to the Nato forces grind to a permanent halt.