02/10/2011, 00.00
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Punjab: 14-year-old suicide bomber hits army camp, 30 dead and 40 wounded

by Jibran Khan
Muhammad Zeeshan blew himself up as soldiers took part in morning exercises. The boy was a student at a local madrassa, a Qur‘anic school. Such facilities are increasingly becoming centres of fundamentalist propaganda. Islamabad bishop urges Pakistani Christians to close ranks with the soldiers who are fighting extremists.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The 14-year-old schoolboy who blew himself up at a Pakistani army (Punjab Regiment) training camp this morning, killing 30 troops and wounding 40 others, attended a madrassa, a Qur‘anic school. Although not all the details are yet available, it appears that Muhammad Zeeshan, wearing an Aziz Bhatti school uniform, entered the camp perimeter before setting off the explosion that killed soldiers during their morning exercises.

The suicide attack involving a schoolboy, which was claimed by an extremist group, shows how deep the culture of violence is embedded in Pakistan’s Qur‘anic schools, which have become virtual recruiting centres for aspiring suicide bombers.

The Punjab Regiment Centre is located in Mardan, some 40 kilometres from Peshawar. The attack underscored the army’s powerless against fundamentalism, despite its many operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in tribal areas on the border of Afghanistan.

Rescuers moved the wounded to the nearby Combined Military Hospital, whilst investigators went right to work to find out how the boy was able to get inside the camp, bypassing security measures.

Today’s incident is the bloodiest against a military target since the 2006 incident, in the same training grounds, that killed 35 soldiers. Terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to a preliminary police investigation, Muhammad Zeeshan, 14-year-old boy from Mardan, attended a local madrassa. Such schools have become recruiting grounds for would-be suicide bombers and propaganda centres for extremists and the Taliban.

Research last year by an international organisation revealed that Pakistani madrassas promote violence and intolerance. Boys are taught jihad, the holy war, as well as hatred for non-Muslims.

Qur‘anic schools are virtual brainwashing centres in which ideologues, in the name of Islam, pursue hidden political goals. To reach their goals, they do not hesitate from indoctrinating young students to accept martyrdom in the name of religion. The Taliban for example recruit boys and train them in specialised centres, turning them into human bombs.

Security sources add that families are paid huge amounts of money for their sons’ sacrifice.

Other studies indicate that young Pakistani support fundamentalism, and they oppose the country’s ‘westernisation’. For them, the West is the enemy to fight.

Fundamentalist organisations like the TTP nurture this hatred and seek aspiring suicide attackers to use against sensitive targets.

Various organisations in Pakistan are promoting harmony and tolerance as part of youth education. However, as much as they try to keep young people away from fanaticism, they face an uphill battle.

Today’s attack comes at a crucial time in the country’s history, faced with a political, economic and social crisis. Yesterday, Prime Minister Gilani dissolved his 50 plus-member cabinet to replace it with a smaller and less expensive group of ministers.

The prime minister and top government officials have condemned the attack, but politicians’ warnings appear to fall on deaf ears.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad, said, “Pakistan itself has become the target of terrorism, and is paying a heavy price for it.”

The country, he noted has lost “innocent women and children,” victims of “cowardly acts” designed to “spread terror”. For this reason, “Pakistani Christians should close ranks with the armed forces” in their fight against terrorism.

For the prelate, the “absence of an education plan” is a major problem because it leads young people to take the path of evil.

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