The New Challenge on Pakistan's Borders

BY SAJEEV
Dec 30, 2010

Burqa-clad suicide bombers in northwest Pakistan are an unexpected and growing challenge to local communities.

In a letter to Marie Bonaparte, Sigmund Freud says, “The great question...which I have not been able to answer despite my thirty years research to the feminine soul is ‘What does a woman want?’”

The recent explosion in Bajaur, northwest Pakistan, that killed at least 46 people raises new questions for the security forces. This suicide attack was carried out by a woman aged between 18 to 22 years and covered in a burqa from head to foot. The prime target of the suicide attack was a UN food distribution centre (the World Food Programme’s depot), which distributes food items in Bajaur on the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) border. After the blast the UN aid agency closed the centres that fed 41,000 families.

 

285 World Food Programme distribution centre near Bajaur, Pakistan

 

This may have been the third suicide attack carried out by women suicide bombers in Pakistan – the first one was in Karachi on November 2000 and the second one was in Peshawar in 2007.

Whatever may be the reason for the emergence of women as suicide bombers this new phenomenon will be difficult for the security forces. This is a region where the majority of the women wear burqas and not many women officers have been trained to handle explosives. Moreover, searching women might prove to be a very sensitive matter in the tribal and conservative societies of the Af-Pak border.

Some Islamic groups in the Middle East and LTTE in Sri Lanka used women as suicide bombers, however this trend is new in Pakistan. According to Dawn Reports: “Sources said that Taliban leaders Maulana Faqir Mohammad and Maulvi Mohammad Omar had warned time and again that they had women who were willing to blow themselves up.”

“Maulana Faqir was making announcements on FM radio warning of the involvement of females in suicide missions,” said a resident of Bajaur. He said that local authorities had received intelligence reports that militants might carry out attacks in the area.

He claimed that they had dozens of trained women, who were ready to lay down their lives.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Bajaur, and Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq, while not confirming that they had female suicide bombers in their group, did say that they had “dozens of trained women who were ready to lay down their lives.”

In this new scenario it is more difficult for security and peacekeeping forces to identify a normal woman from a bomber when they are in full burqa. As the stakes are high one quick remedy may be to hire and train women officers in counter-terrorism, explosives and intelligence gathering.

Because it is highly possible for these terrorists to employ similar tactics in the sensitive areas of Kashmir and other parts of India, it is important for the Indian security forces to train more women officers, too.

More women officers in the police and paramilitary will help soldiers to deal more easily with the female population. It's also important for government to work hard on saving women and teenagers from becoming would-be suicide bombers.

 

This post was originally published on Asthitva: An Identity in December 2010.