December 21st, 2009
01:17 PM ET

From the faces of the children: Will bloodshed ever stop?

The highway to Peshawar is fairly deserted.  As we get closer to the city, Pakistan’s rugged terrain gives way to farmlands, and then finally a colorful explosion of traffic and rickshaws.

Though only a 2 1/2-hour drive from Islamabad and all of its modern amenities, Peshawar is conspicuously more conservative.  Many women here are wearing burkas or only have their eyes showing underneath their hijabs. I reach up to my headscarf and make sure no offensive hairs have managed to slip out.

Read Arwa Damon's report on the children of Peshawar

We stop briefly in front of the ancient Bala Hisar Fort - erected at a time when Pakistan was in the midst of other wars, centuries ago. I snap a quick photograph.

Peshawar is the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province, tucked up against the Khyber Pass, right next to Afghanistan. It's here that one finds the melting pot of both nations, a place where everything converges.

As the Pakistani military launched multiple offensives targeting militant groups in the tribal areas, the retaliation was especially felt here. Everyone we meet, everyone we speak to says they are still in shock, unable to fully grasp what is happening to them, to their city.

Peshawar is considered by many to be at the very core of Pakistan’s war on terror. Gone are the days where residents enjoyed their time outside. The city now is a gridlock of checkpoints, sandbags and concertina wire.

It's in the middle of all this that we meet 7-year-old Zara, one of the children we are profiling for our piece on how this is affecting the psyche of the next generation.

Our first glimpse of her is in class. Her face is all scrunched up in concentration, bouncy brown curls framing her cherub-like face. She leans forward and around, trying to see what is written on the board, and then settles back into her chair, her little finger on her chin, contemplating. On the outside she is every bit your typical 7-year-old.

“My favorite part in school is games,” she says smiling, dimples and all, before she breaks into giggles.

"Really? What kind of games?” I ask.

“Hide and seek … hmmm … I only like hide and seek,” she says.

But then it's time to ask her about the things she can't hide from. About the bombs that plague her dreams, about the waking visions she has.

And so she tells us in her sweet little voice about how when she hears a bomb she imagines the Taliban are around, and that she has visions of corpses.

As part of our coverage, we’re trying to look into what, if anything, can be done to save the next generation, to spare them the agony of living with psychological scars or, at the very least, lessen the impact.

As we leave the school, driving down the now-deserted market place, I can't help but wonder - will it ever end?  Will we - as a collective society - ever learn from history and stop this global bloodshed? Or are we so fundamentally flawed that we are just doomed to watch history repeat itself generation after generation?

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Francine

    This is the reason I love afghanistan.blogs.cnn.com. Shocking post.

    March 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sabeen

    You said it perfectly Zain.

    January 30, 2010 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. Zain

    Lets not forget that these children, indeed they are innocent are the victim of the Bush's war and now Obama's expanding war. War has no answer. Americans are partly to blame for the mess in Peshawar, Pakistan and all of Afghanistan. First it was the other Super Power Soviets that destroyed that country, and now its the remaining Lone Super Power of the world, that wants to destroy whatever is left of these two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Why can' the Super Powers leave these two countries alone. Why did USSR invaded Afghanistan, what was so precious in Afghanistan, other than dusty mountains and deserts?

    To state the old cliche, winning the hearts and minds of the people, which never has happened anyway, you need to study that area more in depth. Education and economic opportunities for those people is the key to putting those region on path to success. It was the Martial Plan of the USA that made Germany, Japan and Western Europe what it is today, and not the Bombs and wars alone. After this war is over, US should prepare a Martial Plan to help these two countries out, just like it did after the WWII.

    January 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. eppie b

    I am sad that humanity never learns from past history."War is ugly" People suffer especially innocent children suffer more.We blame one party bec. of their ideology what is new ?That happened 2thoussand years ago ,it also happened in world war 2.Well ,since things never change the only bright thing about it is that "War reduces population of the World" ?I hope it also reduces the consumption of the World resources.

    January 7, 2010 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. KASiddiqi

    I have little interest in History and International affairs and It really surprised me that people don't really know that what is going around and who is playing this game.

    December 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BobD

    I am all for saving the innocent people of afghanistan but if the evil that ruins the lives of these people is not eliminated it will return and the whole cycle of suffering will begin again. All of your well intentioned and wonderful things that you want to bestow upon the Afghani people will never change the sad fact that change will not occur until the threat is completely eliminated quickly, violently and permanently.

    December 24, 2009 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. BobD

    The ignorance and evil that disguises itself as religous extremeism in that part of the world will not change until the MEN who force their "love of death" ideology on the population are eliminated. It comes down to what you have to do to eliminate evil and that is to kill it. It does not reason, change or care about anything, it just wants to bring suffering. If that nation was run by the women of Afghanistan do you think it would be in the state it is in now? I have been there and seen and experienced it for myself. It has been the breeding ground for evil for thousands of years and not much has changed. War is the very last resort but if there were ever a clear case for conquering a country and bringing peace, EDUCATION and freedom to a place, Afghanistan is it.

    December 24, 2009 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. William T. Taylor

    War is an UGLY word and sadly many innocent women and children fall victim, but WAR is declared because more innocent women and children will fall victim if WAR is not declared. Almost all situations are abused in one way or another and WAR is no exception, but unfortunately it is required........all throughout history! In my opinion.....be very cautious to declare WAR but once WAR is declared pursue with great power to end the WAR ASAP.......less people will fall victim. It truly must be hard to declare WAR because you are deciding who will die and who will not. General Tecumseh Sherman stated it best "War Is Hell & Cruel and The Cruelest Wins"......it's sad but true. If WAR is declared we must be prepared to deal with the truth!

    December 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. gkg

    Wouldnt it be better to spend the billions of dollars on kindness inclusive of schools, hospitals and infrastructure rather than bombs and war? Naaaaa! Thats silly since it goes against capitalism.

    December 23, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dolmance

    I'm sure the children living in Germany during WWII felt the same way. It's a shame they have to live under a fractured government and that some parts of it, most notably it's notorious Security Services, harbors, offers safe haven and actively enables the people directly responsible for a situation where children have to fear being blown up. And if those people the Security Services are helping are allowed to take over, the little girl referenced in the above article will not be permitted to go to school. Because the Taliban will make it known that they intend to blow her and her classmates up if they dare to attend.

    December 23, 2009 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  11. DaveC

    The U.S. government says we fight in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. from attack by Al-Qaeda. Our involvement brings some negative things and some positive things to the Afghan people.

    Are we 'using' the Afghan people? Are they better off with us or without us? Are we sacrificing many tens of thousands of Afghan people to save mere thousands of American people? Are the Afghan people little more than a 'means' to our 'ends?' Are we as a nation behaving immorally?

    December 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Xasthur

    Instead of just sending military aid and selling guns and bombs and in the case of Pakistan, fighter planes to these people. Why don't we form a program where we gather a bunch of these kids and send them to Disney World for a week?

    December 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jan

    I have lived in Pershawar, PK and in Afghanistan with our 4 children working for an NGO to help children and families. There are alot of American and European workers and their families living in some of the same conditions as the regular people. Some of these families have lived hin the region since their children have been born and tnis life is the only life their own children have known. Yes, there are problems and people do need help but you must remember this is not America and the standard of living is not American. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been in war for a long time, even before the US became involved. American is doing a great service for the people who live in the region. Their lives have been better than some have ever lived. I have seen the help that the US miliatry have given the people. I have gone on medical missions with the US Army to treat and assist the nationals who have ran from their homes. I have also seen the news tear apart and give false information about the circumstances to make what was going on to be more "news worthy." YES the US military is making a positive difference in Pakistani and Afghanis lives, now let them do their jobs as soilders and do whatever is needed to accomplish peace in the US so they can come home with pride. Let's not make this another Vietnam that was more of a polictial battle than a "handle what needed to be done". This is not a war that Washington, DC can fight, it is a war that the Generals in the region and the people on the ground need to be able to do what is needed to bring this war to an end. Only then will the US win the war on terror and the men and the women of our country be able to return home alive.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Abdal-Latif

    We should remember that children are being killed by American bombs in Afghanistan. In all likelihood, the American military is more dangerous to Afghan children than are the Taliban. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the Taliban–I think they are among the forces that are ruining the practice of Islam in the world–but we have to ask ourselves if we aren't doing more harm than good with our military over there. All of the jingoistic "support the troops" nonsense, combined with volunary media self-censorship, has blinded most Americans to reality–just as it has in the Palestine situation. PATRIOTISM IS NOT JINGOISM–a true patriot is always ready to criticize the actions of his country, if it deserves criticism. If we don't do that, we're no better than North Korea.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Abdal-Latif

    A. Smith of Oregon comments on the "Muslim plague on humanity." Although is comment is disguised as a plea for compassion toward females, he is actually using this very innocent and well-intentioned blog entry as an opportunity to display his bigotry and hatred toward Muslims. The little girl in the article is a Muslim. So am I. So is my wife, so is my son, so is my mother-in-law (for whom I have the deepest respect), and so on. There are more than one billion Muslims in the world and the vast majority of us are kind to women. This comment from A. Smith is nothing more than an unreasoning, hateful smear, the same kind of comment that was made about the "Jewish plague on humanity" just as Hitler was coming to power in Germany. I am an American and a Muslim, so is my family–we are here contributing to this country, and we are not a "plague." Such commentary is a prelude to genocide and expresses pure hatred.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  16. khan kamacha

    Ha Ha, these comments make me laugh. Typical CNN. I go to Pakistan every year, im leaving in 2 weeks, things are not that bad, Pakistan is a very big nation.

    The buying power in Pakistan is still great, thanks to American tax payer, keep it coming.

    As far as Hindu commentators are concerned, please Pakistani kids are far better nourished and better looking than any Indian, Please keep your sympathy to yourself.

    The real reason for terror and hardship in Pakistan is U.S.A., every Pakistani knows this.
    Sponsor your own kids, leave PAKISTAN alone.

    Go fight your war on terror in your own back yard.

    December 22, 2009 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  17. Salman

    A very heart touching report by Arwa and looking at the innocence on the faces of these children one can explain a lot that what Talibans, America and other Political gains have done to this Land of Love. Peshawar is known for its hospitality and its love with the people, I would say the most loving people in Pakistan are the people from this belt. My heart cries when I see innocent children dying, their schools being bombarded. Furthermore to this we chant slogans of peace, unity and love and at the same time innocent lives including newly born babies are taken by the American drone attacks and then legitimising this as the killing of Talibans. I am afraid the ground reality is opposite to what's been fed up in our brains.

    December 22, 2009 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  18. John Tumble

    Seeing the faces of the children is moving and makes one want to go there and help them. As I look at the pictures more closely and think of who is killing these children I consider it is men and women that were children like these children in these pictures that are doing the killing. They know they are killing the children too. They are not dull to this point..so then I think could I help if I went there.and I look at the pictures again and see Kara's smile and think "probably not by going there", but I will raise my children as best I can to resist seeing killing children as a solution to any problem. This will not help Kara now but it will help my children who may then help Kara's children or the children of Kara's friends if she is killed by the grown children that could have been her parents friends.

    December 22, 2009 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  19. Cara

    Great report. In all the violence and political turmoil the childeren are often forgotten. It's so sad they have to suffer like this, knowing what they go through now will probably be the cause of many, many more years of horrible violence, How can the next generation ever create peace if all they've ever known is violence and fear? What a world.

    December 22, 2009 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  20. ALeigh O'Donnell

    History does not repeat itself, man does. Until man stops and realizes this, he will continue to make the same mistakes, choices and bad judgments over and over. You say we "as a collective society", but we are not this at all. We separate ourselves from others. Other colors, cultures, races, religions, even sexes. I don't foresee the human mind changing anytime soon, and that is unfortunate. It's not impossible, but very improbable that things will ever really change.

    December 22, 2009 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  21. McKenzie

    Is there a way to sponsor a child like Zara and bring her out of the country for perhaps a month to give her some freedom from her fears? I'm an American living and working in Germany. I remember decades ago when the was war between N. Ireland and Ireland was intense a group formed to get children in N. Ireland out for a month just to get them out of the war zone. I don't remember all the details and yes, they have to go back but for a while they get to be normal children. Any suggestions?

    December 22, 2009 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  22. Apeksha Prasad

    What is it to be a child? We all remember our childhoods, right? It was the best phase of our lives. What do we like about children? They are carefree. They are far removed from reality and live in a world of their own that has goblins, flying horses and houses made of chocolate. However, as a result of terror attacks, children aren't children anymore. They are not carefree and they are grounded to reality. The ugly and horrifying reality of people wanting to kill people and destroy property, all done in the name of "honour killing". The children in Pakistan and Afghanistan do not know anymore what it is to sprint across vast grasslands without a care in the world. They do not know what it is to roam around freely in their own countries. They do not know what it is to not have that little bubble of doubt in their minds when their dads go to work in the morning, about whether they'll come back or not. This is the greatest fall that mankind could have had and I really pity these little children whose childhood has been snatched away from them. The only solace in this context is that they do not know what they have lost.

    December 22, 2009 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  23. Arpita Sharma

    What happened to the market place? How are these people gettig food and water? Are there any health care facilities around? Are the children's parents still alive? I feel like there is soo much more information that needs to be learned. We are messing with another country's land,
    people, culture, history, and way of life here.

    December 21, 2009 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  24. James

    It makes no sense. People are destroying the worlld, its environment, its children, often in the name of religion. I suppose we shall go on in this insane way until someone explodes a nuclear bomb and hastens the end of "civilization." I don't imagine that people will come to their senses and avoid disaster, more human suffering, and utter folly.

    JD

    December 21, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  25. A. Smith, Oregon

    It is so very refreshing to see the faces of young girls in Islamic ruled country's. They are so very often locked away, prevented from being educated, ordered to not travel without family members and brutally treated if they are in any fashion perceived to have broken any of dozens of taboos.

    It seems to me the original victims of the Muslim plague upon humanity has been the entire female gender. It is a shame that America has not redoubled its efforts to educate the Muslim girls and women, train them in self-defense and provide them with side-arms so they could at least defend themselves from the Taliban and Mullahs that mistreat them terribly.

    December 21, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |