Pakistani school helps fight terror with education
Pakistan is a country on edge. Police checkpoints litter the streets with good reason.
It was just weeks ago that a suicide bomber killed 15 people and injured dozens more at an anti-Taliban rally. In 2008, another suicide bomber hit the Islamabad Marriott, killing 56 people just blocks from the nation's equivalent to the White House.
In response to that and much more, soldiers with assault rifles watch the streets of Pakistan's capital from roadside bunkers. At the Marriott, the hotel was rebuilt with a bigger blast wall, guard towers with armed guards, bomb sniffing dogs and lots of barbed wire.
Despite the measures, the threat of suicide bombing continues. To combat it, the Army has a new, innovative idea on how to stop it. They're developing a unique program that targets children who have fallen under the influence of radicals.
In the Swat Valley, very close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, a classroom is filled with kids, all from poor families, who are trained suicide bombers. The children were caught by authorities after being recruited or forced into serving the Taliban.
They're there, in fact, to be de-radicalized, and many psychologists are impressed by what they see.
"It's one of the most extraordinarily innovative and creative approaches for counterterrorism," says John Horgan, the director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism. "But, of course, all eyes are on them right now, asking if they are effective."
The school, called Sabaoon, employs psychologists, social workers and teachers to help kids get counseling, a good education and skills needed to enter a trade. The students learn a variety of different skills in many different fields, like power, plumbing, clothes-making and car repair.
It's all part of a larger effort to curtail terror in Pakistan and worldwide, according to Tariq Fatemi, a former ambassador from Pakistan to the United States.
"We need to provide economic opportunities to people in the tribal areas," Fatemi said. "We need to bring them education (and) we need to bring them better administration."
Currently, Sabaoon is a small program open only to young people. The government says that none of its students have returned to violent extremist activity. It's a victory for military leaders like Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa.
"I think providing the kids with the skills to fend for themselves and put food on the table is really the best way to keep them out of the clutches of the Taliban," he said.