Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
The agony of Pakistan
It must take a particularly determined lot to bomb a bus full of pilgrims, killing scores of them, and then following the wounded to a hospital to unleash a second attack to kill some more. Karachi’s twin explosions on Friday, targeting Shia Muslims on their way to a religious procession were on par with some of the worst atrocities committed in recent months.
It also came just two days after a bombing in Lower Dir, near Swat, in which a convoy of soldiers including U.S. servicemen were targeted while on their way to open a girls school. Quite apart from the fact that the U.S. soldiers were the obvious targets, the renewed violence along with fresh reports of flogging by the Taliban calls into question the broader issue of negotiating with hard-core Islamists as proposed by the Afghan government just over the border.
The blog, All Things Pakistan, captured the mood of a despairing nation. “Pakistan remains at war. Whether it school girls in Lower Dir or Shia mourners and those waiting outside Jinnah hospital in Karachi. All Pakistanis everywhere are targets for these murderous enemies of Pakistan.”
“It may be true that we do not have many friends abroad. But it is certainly clear that our cruellest enemies are all amongst us. Day in, day out, they kill and maim and terrorize Pakistanis all across Pakistan. No city is safe. No Pakistani is safe.”
No Pakistani is safe. The BBC ran a chilling story this week about life among the Taliban in which a 13-year-old girl talks about how her father and brother tried to turn her into a suicide bomber. They told Meena she would go to paradise long before they would if she carried out a suicide bombing, She said Taliban commanders used to come to their house, and that would-be bombers, most of them children her age or even younger, would be trained in an underground bunker adjacent to her house. Children were used for this activity because they were too young to know any better, she said.
She watched her own sister being strapped with bombs and sent to die even while she kept crying for her mother. Later her brother told Meena her sister’s attack was in Afghanistan. And when Meena refused to follow suit she was threatened and beaten. She escaped her fate only after a helicopter gunship struck the family house just as she stepped out to run after a goat. Her house reduced to rubble, she never went back and walked until she reached a town. There is no independent confirmation of her account but police believe she is telling the truth, according to the BBC.
Adding to a grim week, is a report of Taliban militants flogging two men and a teenager in Pakistan’s Orakzai region A purported video of the flogging shot on a mobile phone has emerged according to the report.
“Using a piece of rope or leather, a militant repeatedly strikes a man who wears trousers but no shirt, and who looks to be covered in dirt or soot. The man at times has to be restrained. He falls to the ground repeatedly, but is hauled back up during the beating,” the report said. Apparently the man was being punished for allegedly working against the Taliban while a teenager was flogged for not wearing a beard. A third man was punished for not praying.
Strictly speaking these were cases in Pakistan, but they could well be in Afghanistan where President Hamid Karzai, supported by his western backers, has reached out to the Taliban, seeking talks to end the war. Afghan women are outraged by the move, says activist Sahar Saba in an article in The News.
“It was not the total exclusion of women from public life under the Taliban regime that made them universally unpopular among women. It was the daily insults in full public view handed down by the Taliban as punishment for improper dress (high heels) or improper behaviour (laughing!) that made Afghan women hate the Taliban,” she says.
“One public lashing in the Swat valley shook Pakistan. On the streets of Kabul, it was a daily spectacle on public display.” She recalls the execution of a burqa-clad woman squatting in the middle of a Kabul stadium, shot at close-range. The video of that execution, filmed clandestinely by the Revolutionary Afghan Women Association, left little doubt about the brutality of the Taliban.