Learn to be Taliban: K is for Kalashnikov

Published: March 12, 2011

The curriculum celebrated martyrdom and dehumanised invaders.

Imagine that you learnt the alphabet and numbers with images of Kalashnikovs and tanks instead of apples and oranges.

During the mid to late 1980s, a USAID funded project printed millions of textbooks in Peshawar. The funds came from Saudi Arabia and the books were distributed amongst school children in Afghanistan and in new madrassas across Pakistan.

These textbooks were prepared to indoctrinate. Specialists from the Afghanistan Centre at the University of Nebraska Omaha received nearly $60 million to develop a curriculum, which glorified jihad, celebrated martyrdom and dehumanised invaders.

By the mid-1980s, the Afghan mujahedeen were bleeding the Soviet Union, hastening her economic collapse and nearing the eventual end of the Cold War.

The schools that survived across Afghanistan along with various madrassas continued using these same textbooks throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.

Only in 2002 did the process of replacing textbooks begin, however, by then the template had been improved and widely distributed across both Afghanistan and Pakistan. A generation had been born to celebrate death rather than life. They accepted violence as a natural part of everyday life.

Play games that tick like bombs

The awesome power of education coupled with propaganda has transformed the region over the past 25 years. It should come as no surprise that after the proliferation and acceptance of violence in the classroom, radio and on television screens, children are re-enacting suicide bombings as play.

The fact that the video in question was circulated on social networking sites as something to have a laugh at was quite shocking in itself.

This process was initiated in textbooks. In support, propagandist teachers were co-opted to teach the material with misplaced religious zeal. By the time the Taliban came into power, the textbooks were cleansed of all human imagery.

The Taliban removed all the heads of children depicted in the textbooks. What we were left with were images of headless children carrying Kalashnikovs. As a result violence had successfully been dehumanised. Children grew up completely removed from the consequences of pulling the trigger.

Rewards for death

Although the textbooks may no longer exist, they have been replaced by an age of radical websites, audio CDs, DVDs and transferable mobile phone video clips, celebrating martyrdom. Self worth has been devalued, as importance is placed on the afterlife.

Incentives have been created for more death and destruction, as subordinates in an attempt to impress their superiors or stake their claim for leadership, plan and execute grander and deadlier attacks.

In 2002 the Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SPDI) published a report on the state of educational material. Its recommendations are yet to be implemented and its findings have been ignored.

The Army with the help of a prominent neuropsychiatrist is running a successful rehabilitation centre in Swat, called Sabaoon School where children indoctrinated by the Taliban are de-radicalised.

Yet, the same model is yet to be replicated and reforms introduced even though dubious curriculum and indoctrination has been clearly identified as key radicalising factors.

Perhaps one of the reasons why educational curriculum reform does not receive the attention it deserves is because costs borne today may take a decade or more to yield results. Our leaders prefer to promise quick fixes.

Rather than focusing on the empty debate on whether the governors or chief ministers message should grace the cover of textbooks, curriculum must be reviewed to purge it of any material that promotes intolerance, divisions and hatred.

As the body count continues to rise, it is perhaps time we realised the importance of education and counseling in changing our faith.



Syed Nadir El Edroos

Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London and is interested in Pakistani politics and current affairs. He tweets @needroos (twitter.com/needroos)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • muhammad sadiq

    why doesn’t america take all of these murderous,homophobic,women oppressing religious barbarians??? America should increase the number of its drones in pakistan so they can eliminate more of these islamic fundamentalists.
    These savages want to take us back to the dark ages.our own govt is too scared to take any noteworthy actions against these jihadi terrorists,so please america or britain or whoever, rid us of these religous nut cases.Recommend

  • abdul sami

    it’s not just the taliban, the disease is islamic fundamentalism,only the names are different:taliban,sunni tehreek,tehreek-e-jafria,sipah muhammad,sipah sahaba etc. they are all the same,only their rituals are different , the homophobia,abuse of women,zombie like adherence to exhibitionalist religious rituals & glorification of violence are all the same amongst all the sects.

    The barelvis were at the forefront in the killing of shaheed salman taseer & then the depraved sunni tehreek donated over Rs.10 lakhs to the murderer’s family,to reward them for raising a hatefilled muslim fanatic. Recommend

  • Patriot

    The washington post news piece reference in this article says that USA had funded those books, where did Saudi arabia come from in the first paragraph as the sponsor? Provide a proof for that claim pleaseRecommend

  • muhammad adnan

    separation of mosque & state is the only way to save pakistan.

    bring back jinnah’s “republic of pakistan” , instead of the altered at the blackmailing of the religious terrorists’ “islamic republic of pakistan”.

    When one religion is imposed on the state,then the suicide attack,sectarian violence,attacks on minorities,declaration of communities as kaafirs all follow as we have seen in our case.Recommend

  • Nadir El-Edroos

    @Patriot: I meant to say that Saudi Arabia funded the Madrassas which isn’t a big secret, and there is no shortage of literature to support that claim, and neither something that the Saudi state disputes. Recommend

  • Patriot

    obviously KSA’s role is no secret but your first para is giving a false impression, a distortion of the facts about who funded those violence supporting books, and this is called propaganda, irresponsible journalism I’d say.Recommend

  • Wake-up Caller

    @ Muhammad Sadiq:
    I’m so sorry but you didn’t read the article well enough to find out the truth… Its America who sowed these seeds of extremism, murderous, homophobic, women oppressing religious thoughts in to the minds of kids…. And you’re still hoping the Americans will save us out of this quagmire!!! The USAID funded project was directed to produce millions of Jihadees, suicide bombers and today, we are enjoying the fruits. Recommend

  • MN

    @ Muhammad Sadiq:
    I’m so sorry but you didn’t read the article well enough to find out the truth… Its America who sowed these seeds of extremism, murderous, homophobic, women oppressing religious thoughts in to the minds of kids…. And you’re still hoping the Americans will save us out of this quagmire!!! The USAID funded project was directed to produce millions of Jihadees, suicide bombers and today, we are enjoying the fruits.Recommend

  • http://tightdhoti.wordpress.com TightDhoti

    @Patriot: I have clarified what I meant to say. However, there is no shortage of evidence that the Saudis funded various textbooks and hate literature, authored by Pakistani clerics who were paid to spend time in Saudi seminaries in Saudi Arabia. Not to mention publication and the proliferation of the Quran in the region with translations by wahabi scholars. I am focusing on the USAID funded textbooks because they were focused on children, using pictures and styled as any children book to capture them ideologically at a very young age. Recommend

  • Patriot

    better write a separate article about Saudia’s role rather than mixing facts upRecommend

  • Atif

    lol you never get tired do you?Recommend

  • parvez

    Whether the American’s sowed the seed and/or the Saudi’s funded it, is not the issue.
    The issue is why did we allow it ? The blame rests squarely with us. Recommend

  • Tringle

    There are enough violence and sectarian insighting books and preachers that Saudi has funded which has led to over a million Muslims killed by so called Muslims so please let’s not jump at a little accusation like this when Saudi is responsible for much bigger mis deeds Recommend

  • DIG

    Now we will know how America was behind the whole idea and I recall seeing on a trip to Peshawar in those days tall Afro-American dressed in Mujahideen outfit in a fast food restaurant. What America plays today catching Al-Qaeda & Taliban and putting all blames to the account of Taliban or Al-Qaeda. “Either you are with us or you are agianst us” America is dangerous like freindship and enmity with a COP!Recommend

  • http://www.pkhope.com Maleeha Khan

    it would have a very bad effect on the upcoming generations… the quality of education must be checked and made according to the minds of small childern !Recommend

  • The only Indian here

    :-) :-) My father says “If America is your friend then you don’t need any enemy.” I say : “Treat America to be your business partner but never as a friend”Recommend

  • http://shemrez.wordpress.com/ Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    THANKS for teaching people how to be Taliban. Great job!

  • http://none Bangash

    US indeed did this in 1980’s but stopped in 1989. The current problem is because Pakistanis are continuing this foolish policy even in 2011.Recommend

  • http://Faisalabad Mubarak

    We Paki’s are a nation of donkeys, anybody can bring green grass (US $) and hire us to carry their load. We don’t care if we kill our own brother as long as a mullah sanctions it in the name of religion.Recommend

  • Vicram Singh

    My friend says – Pakistani Mullahs/Islamic Fundamentalists are trying to take the country back to the Stoning Age.Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    I agree!!Recommend