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Pakistan Under Stress

L to R: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Jamie Metzl, Mary Anne Weaver, Hassan Abbas

L to R: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Jamie Metzl, Mary Anne Weaver, Hassan Abbas

NEW YORK, October 22, 2009 - An entire generation of Pakistanis are growing up in unregulated madrassas, contributing to the alarming popularity of Taliban radicalism among Pakistan’s youth, according to Pakistani journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid–Chinoy.

"No one really knows what is going on [in the madrassas], said Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary Children of the Taliban was screened at the Asia Society headquarters in New York.  "Upon their graduation, children are being given books, from which they learn how to become suicide bombers.”

During a discussion moderated by Asia Society Executive Vice President Jamie Metzl, Obaid-Chinoy, Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Hassan Abbas and Mary Anne Weaver, New Yorker correspondent and author of Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad, spoke on Pakistan's growing domestic radicalism and its implications for the stability of the country, the region and deteriorating education system.

Obaid-Chinoy said Pakistan’s 80 million children—especially those living in poor and tribal areas—are becoming easy targets for Taliban recruitment. Children recruited into madrassas run by extremists are brainwashed to a level, "which prevents them from distinguishing good actions from bad." Parents are also often not aware of what is being taught to their children.

Abbas agreed with Obaid–Chinoy that in order to succeed ideologically against Taliban extremists, Pakistan needs education reform, and called for civil-military cooperation within the country’s leadership.  He also stressed that India and Pakistan must cooperate and move toward a peace process in order to successfully fight extremists in the region.

The panel agreed that since Pakistan’s war against terrorism affects socio-economic and political stability, it is vital for the Pakistani government to start investing more in education and infrastructure, and to create jobs to alleviate the country’s widespead poverty.  "In order to provide good governance, Pakistan must invest more in hospitals rather than F-16s, buy more curriculum books, and get more educators [rather] than new tanks from the US or elsewhere,” said Abbas.

Reported by Malgorzata Juszczak-Punwaney