Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Suicide bombings in Pakistan: the bloodiest year
Even before Saturday’s horrific attack in which at least 40 people were killed in Pakistan’s Bajaur region on the Afghan border, the current year is turning out to be the most successful for suicide bombers in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
According to an analysis by Amir Mir in The News, 1224 people were killed and more than 2100 wounded in sucide bombings during the year, slightly up from the previous year which was itself a record since Pakistan signed up for the war on terrorism. The number of suicide attacks, by itself, fell by as much as 35 percent, which means the attacks that took place had a greater strike rate.
On an average, the “human bombs” killed just over a 100 people each month, which tells you just how much the country has been sucked into the fires of extremism. The latest attack was carried out, according to Pakistani media. by a burqa-clad woman bomber in a food distribution centre where people displaced by the fighting earlier between security forces and Taliban militants had gathered for aid.
Amir provides an interesting breakup of the suicide attacks by geography and by the targets of the attacks. There isn’t a part of Pakistan untouched by the suicide bomber, though Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or North West Frontier Province as it was formerly called, was by far the most common staging ground for such attacks. followed by the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and then Punjab. Of the 52 suicide attacks, not counting the latest one, 37 took place in the Pashtun belt of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.
Quite a dramatic transformation of the battleground because suicide bombing in Pakistan was earlier seen as a Punjabi phenomenon with most of the attacks in Punjab and Sind, and none in the Pashtun heartland of the northwest. The trigger, according to strategic affairs writer Manzar Zaidi ,was provided by the operation to evict suspected militants from Islamabad’s Lal Masjid in 2007. That year saw a dramatic increase in the number of suicide attacks over the previous year with the sharpest rise in the northwest, he wrote in a piece for Dawn back in August. Many others believe the raid on the mosque was the turning point in the Pakistani state’s conflicted ties with militant groups.
The targets of the suicide attackers vary too. While in the northwest the rise of the suicide bomber has resulted in Muslims killings Muslims and Pasthuns killing Pashtuns, in the Punjab, the targeting is much more precise. The attacks have been concentrated on Shias, Ahmadiyas, and within the Sunni divide, on the Barelviswhom the Wahabis and the Deobandi Taliban consider as kafirs because they visit shrines of saints, offer prayers and believe music, poetry and dance can lead to god.
Pakistan has a battle on its hands, quite apart from the war in Afghanistan. Indeed the suicide bombings show up the deep fissures in its society as much as the militants’ wrath against the Pakistani state for turning or trying to turn against them. But what if the foreign forces were to leave Afghanistan, which is where the story begins ? Will it stop the bomber in Pakistan or will he continue on a self-destruct path ? Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and coauthor of “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop it,” suggests that historicallysuicide bombers have targeted what they see as local military occupation. So suicide bombings in Iraq are down, because the U.S. military is pulling out. Likewise in Gaza and the West Bank where the attacks are down “like 99 percent” following the Israeli withdrawal, Pape is quoted as saying in the Christian Science Monitor.