Call me cynical, or maybe godless, but I’ve never really bought into the idea that suicide bombers are in it entirely for the 72 virgins, mercy from sins and eternal life in heaven. Though anathema to me, maybe that really does matter to some of them. I suspect that what matters much more, however, is the large quantities of cash that are promised to their families.
The average life expectancy in, say, Pakistan, is 62 years. If you take out, say, 15 years of that average life where working is nearly impossible (either to old or to young), you get an estimated 47 “working years”. Multiply this by the average yearly income ($690) and you get a loose estimate of lifetime earnings for the average person in Pakistan of $32,430. Given that 32.6% of Pakistanis (~54 million) live below the poverty line and 17% (~28 million) live below $1/day, quite a large number of Pakistanis will make significantly less than $32k over their life. To such people, $25k would be a lot of money, much more than they will ever see. Even to those with average incomes, it’s quite a lot of money. (Figure out how much you might make over you life, and decide what you’d be willing to do if someone offered you 75% of that amount at once.)
I don’t know if bombers are really responding to that financial incentive, but it is fairly powerful. I suspect it is at least a factor in their “vocational choice”, and probably an important one. If this is true, it suggests a method of prevention: make it clear that those who take such money don’t live very long.
By “make it clear”, I don’t mean that politicians should issue sternly worded warnings. I’m talking about assassination, with signs pinned to the body saying “profited from suicide bombing” written in English, Punjabi and Arabic in their own blood, and tapes sent to CNN and Aljazeera. Preferably, in large numbers all at once. If there really are secret satellites that can vaporize human targets from space, fire them up. Perfect targets. At the very least, send special ops to steal the money.
This probably wouldn’t stop all the bombing, but I bet it would help. It doesn’t score high on the morality meter, but it’s much more moral than killing civilians at random or with collateral damage. If you have a better plan, I’d love to hear it.