From barefoot village boy to the Taliban, Saifullah's was a typical journey. The son of a poor family in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan, he quit primary school in Grade 6 - most boys in his town give up by then, tired of absent teachers and a dull rote curriculum. His father had been gone for the best part of 20 years, working as a labourer in Saudi Arabia as so many men from this part of Pakistan do. Saifullah's older brother got work, of sorts, leading prayers at a nearby mosque.
But Saifullah drifted - his family had no land for him to work, there were no jobs for which he was qualified - and spent some time in a madrassa , an Islamic school. He survived on handouts from the money his father sent home.
Then three years ago the Taliban came to Pakistan's lush Swat Valley. They were organized, they were aggressive, they promised swift justice in new courts and government that worked - and they were recruiting. Saifullah, slight, green-eyed and 22, was angry at the Pakistani government, which he saw as an adversary of his religious Pashtun community. "They were acting for the infidels, the Americans," he says.
So he went to see a man he had heard was a leader at a mosque; without further ado, he was in. They gave him this new name, gave him a Kalashnikov, and put him up in an abandoned house with other young recruits. Then they put him to work, sending him into the city in the back of a white pickup truck full of armed men to stock up on staples the leaders needed back in their remote mountain camps.
Saifullah relished the cash that came his way periodically - typically the Taliban paid its rank-and-file about $100 a month - and the power. Soon he was engaged in small battles with the security forces.
And so, as simple as that, Saifullah became one more soldier in the militant movement now embroiling Pakistan in something of a civil war. There are many causes for this crisis, which has the national military fighting Islamist militants on two fronts while police and civilians cower from a wave of suicide attacks. Foreign interference, particularly the open support the United States once gave the militants as proxies in Afghanistan, is an important one.
But the most important reasons originate at home. The country's education system is a shambles; its economy has been ineptly managed, its elites have fought to maintain a feudal system and their place of privilege, its civilian institutions are perilously weak and its government bumbling at best. The astonishing thing about this crisis is not that a homegrown Taliban surged up and challenged the government, but rather that even more people have not joined the Islamists or other rebellions - for the wages they offer, the functional parallel government they introduce or the brief rush of power that comes with carrying a gun onto the property of an oppressive landlord.
There is a false comfort that the world is writing cheques and we'll be fine. Meanwhile we're collapsing - left, right and centre. Ali Tauqeer Sheik
Pakistan's emergence as the nexus of terrorism - from the 2005 London bombings to the Mumbai hotel siege to the growing chaos in Afghanistan - seems still to surprise many people in the West, accustomed to thinking of the country as a functional state, at least compared to next-door Afghanistan. But the roots of this crisis, and the firm green shoots of it, have been visible for two decades or more.
The first problem is the schools. Pakistan allots only 1.5 per cent of its national budget to education (but spends 15 times that on the military). Small as it is, the education budget is rarely spent in its entirety - due to corruption, a bloated bureaucracy and what's known as a lack of "absorptive capacity," and it shows. One in three school-age children does not go to school; girls' enrolment is among the lowest in the world, below that in Yemen. "Fifty per cent of teachers are not on the job and of the half that are there, many are not actually teaching," said Khalida Ahmed, an education specialist with Unicef.
Frustrated with public schools, some parents and students choose - as Saifullah did - the madrassa system. The madrassas serve as incubators for the jihadist movement and offer no education other than Islamic studies (often simple rote memorization of the Koran), but as Ms. Ahmad notes, it's easy to see why students prefer it - they receive a hot meal at the mosque, they get the individual attention of a teacher, they often get help finding jobs.
The blight of the public education system has had a crippling effect on the country. A third of Pakistani men are illiterate, as are 48 per cent of women, a figure much higher than countries with comparable per-capita income.