Child's play in War-Torn Pakistan
As a young boy enters a circle of children sitting on the ground, a girl in the group welcomes him into their imagined guestroom and asks who he is. He replies that he is a guest and then suddenly lets off a firecracker. The other children fall to the ground crying out for help. One calls for an ambulance. In other games, they mock Taliban militants by covering their faces with thick turbans, brandish guns above their heads and pin victims to the floor.
It's an eerie mirror of the reality they are exposed to everyday. Children in the war-torn areas of Pakistan no longer play traditional games – instead they play out terrorist attacks and bomb blasts.
"We learnt this game at school. We put on a performance where girls were sitting in a beauty parlor when two suicide bombers exploded themselves. We were all scattered on the stage wounded and crying out. Our teachers played ambulance sirens on their mobile phones. Peshawar is in grip of terrorism so we often see bomb explosions in person and on TV. We know how people cry when they are wounded," said 10-year-old Sana.
Health professionals working in the North West Frontier province say most of the children have been traumatized by the violence between local Taliban militants and government forces.
Ikram and Ubaid Ullah lost their father, Mukaram Khan, in a bomb blast at Qissa Khwani Bazar.
"Our father used to play games with us. He would take us to Wazir Bagh Park, but now we don't enjoy games, we just go to school and then to the shop with our uncle," said Ullah.
Parents try to keep their children inside now due to fear of suicide bomb attacks. Parks and entertainment centers are very quiet. At the army stadium, a famous park in Peshawar, the video games, horse and car rides are empty. Salman Barki is the general manager of the park.
"In normal times this hall would be full, but now you can see that only four or five children are here. There are 100 games and many facilities to entertain children, but there are no children. The security situation is very bad for business," Barki said.
Psychiatrists say children are deeply affected by what they see either in person or on television.
"To see the terror live and to see the terror on the media is the same. There is a social theory, vicarious learning theory, that says that kids will develop violent attitudes if they are exposed to violence," said psychiatrist Dr. Mukhtar Azimi.
Dr Mian Mukhtar-ul-Haq Azimi is a senior registrar at the psychiatry department at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
"Trauma is innumerable. It is beyond the statistics. If you ask about the patients, I can't tell you if it is 50 or 60 percent. This is something that is beyond the statistics. I remember a child in Swat who was 12 years old. He had watched a computer CD of militants beheading a man. After watching the CD he had a nervous breakdown. Then he started talking in a disorderly way, running away and beating others. He was nowhere. Then I assisted him and treated him for six months,"
Seven-year-old Zeeshan was deeply affected by the death of his father in a bomb blast and now he is too scared to leave his house, says his older brother Jahangir.
"He worries about bomb blasts if he goes out. He has stopped playing and is scared of visiting bazaars. Bomb blasts really affect children. Older people can adjust and move on but children cannot. My brother still thinks a lot about his father. Immediately after his death Zeshan stopped eating and would cry for a long time, but now he is a bit better," said Jahangir.
Violence in Pakistan has not stopped, but the children who were playing the war games earlier spread their hands to pray.
They sing a famous prayer: "May the world's darkness disappear through my life. May every place light up with my sparkling light."
This article was first broadcast on Asia Calling, a regional current affairs radio program produced by Indonesia's independent radio news agency KBR68H and broadcast in local languages in 10 countries across Asia. You can find more stories from Asia Calling at www.asiacalling.org.