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Is the Taliban using girls in suicide bombings?

A 9-year-old girl who was drugged, abducted, and strapped into a suicide vest by militants last week in Pakistan returned home safely to her family last night.

A 9-year-old girl who was drugged, abducted, and strapped into a suicide vest by militants last week in Pakistan returned home safely to her family last night. But the scene was darker yesterday in Afghanistan where insurgents apparently tricked an 8-year-old girl into carrying a bomb and blew her up near a police checkpost.

Spokesmen for the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban deny involvement in either attack. While teenage boys have been used by militias since the anti-Soviet jihad, some regional experts doubt that Taliban leaders would stoop to using young girls. The problem there? Those top leaders are not fully in control of forces on the ground.

“It wouldn’t be the policy of the high command – they wouldn’t want to use young girls,” says Saad Mohammad, director of the Forum for Area Studies in Peshawar, Pakistan. “A lot of people take advantage of the name of the Taliban, and they have their own scores to settle with some policemen there [or other feuds], so they take the cover of the Taliban.”

Such lack of ground control highlights a pitfall in the Afghan peace process. Even if the United States manages to cut a deal with the Taliban leadership, it’s not certain low-level commanders would fall in line.

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Sunday’s attack took place in Uruzgan Province of central Afghanistan. The interior ministry claims that “the enemies of peace and prosperity” gave an 8-year-old girl a bag of explosives, telling her to take it to the police. As she approached a police vehicle, the militants detonated the explosives by remote control. The girl died. But no police were killed or injured.

Requirements for a suicide attacker

Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says the Taliban were not involved in the incident. He went on to say that Islamic scholars followed by the Taliban have laid down six conditions for a suicide attacker.

The attacker must:

inflict casualties or concern in the non-Muslim ranks.

be an adult over 18.

be trained.

have a clear target approved by the local shadow governor.

have studied the attack plans.

have the intention of doing this just for God.

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Historically, Islamic religious scholars on the Afghan-Pakistani frontier have not made any justifications for involving children in armed struggle, nor have they set a minimum age, says Sana Haroon, author of “Frontier of Faith.”

The United Nations defines fighters under age 18 as child soldiers and has criticized both the Afghan government and the insurgency for recruiting children. Child advocates suggest the Taliban may be saying what the international community wants to hear, but acting differently on the ground.

Firsthand experience with young Taliban recruits

Feriha Peracha says she knows firsthand that the Pakistani Taliban, at the very least, are recruiting young children. She is a psychiatrist rehabilitating 162 boys between ages 12 and 17 who were trained by the Taliban in northwest Pakistan. Some 30 were trained as suicide bombers, she says. They are often given alcohol or drugs prior to a suicide mission.

She has heard of girls being used by militants to transport suicide vests from Afghanistan into Pakistan, since girls are ignored at checkpoints. Dr. Peracha says she hopes to get her colleagues working soon with Kainat, the Pakistani girl who was returned to her family last night.

“She needs some psycho-social intervention and we’ll try to help her out,” says Peracha.

Kainat’s story

Kainat received many hugs and tears of joy when she returned from a hospital with her uncle and cousin, according to her father, Mohammad Afzal.

“When we wanted to talk with her she replied very little and was not feeling well,” says Mr. Afzal via phone. The girl later cried out in her sleep. “We hope she may be okay in a few days.”

Kainat goes by one name, which her father says was incorrectly reported in the media as Sohana Javed. Upon her return home, the girl reiterated her story to her parents.

A white car carrying two men and two women approached her as she left school. They put a piece of cloth over her mouth and she passed out, waking up to find her abductors arranging a suicide vest on her near the Islam Darra police checkpost in Dir. The jacket did not fit her, so her captors returned to the car to fetch another one. In the meantime, Kainat cried for help to the security forces, who then took her into custody.

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The Pakistani Taliban spokesman in nearby Mohmand Agency, Sajad Mohmand, has denied his group’s involvement.