The Sabaoon School for boys in northern Pakistan is anything but average.
Nestled amid the bucolic charm of the Swat Valley’s fertile terraced fields and steeply rising crags it looks idyllic. But if you get up close, a harsher reality becomes clear.
Two army check-posts scrutinize visitors entering the sprawling site. Once inside, the high razor wire-topped walls around the classroom compounds create a feeling reminiscent of a prison.
The boys here, aged 8 to 18, were all militants at some point. Some are killers, some helped build and plant improvised explosive devices, and others were destined to be suicide bombers until they were captured or turned over to the Pakistani army. All of them are at the school to be de-radicalized.
Ninety-nine percent of the boys, I am told, have never heard of Osama bin Laden, despite the fact he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in the next valley over from here. What has radicalized these boys instead, the school’s director says, is what turns teenagers the world over to crime: poverty, poor education, limited prospects and often lack of parental control.
It is in this setting that the boys have made ready recruits for Taliban scouts who wean them on tales of the U.S. drone strikes that have killed scores of Pakistani women and children over the past few years. Read More