The Paradox of Female Suicide Bombers
Not that the possibility of female suicide bombers in Pakistan was implausible but still going by the very claims of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan the presence of female suicide bombers in the ranks of the Taliban remained paradoxical. In the past, TTP has asserted on numerous occasions that they neither target women, hence denied hand in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and nor they use women as tools in war. However, both these claims seem to be false.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat chapter had been involved in the rampant killing of women. One of their well known victims was the former member of Swat district council Bakht Zeba. She vehemently criticized Taliban for preventing girls from attending school as a result the Taliban unleashed their wrath. They dragged her out of her home in Mingora, flogged and shot her in the head. According to an eyewitness account of a relative, the bodies of the female victims would often be found on the streets of Swat and adjoining areas. Moreover, only one video of the Taliban publicly flogging a woman made it to the media at home and abroad; there have been reports of several such flogging incidents.
In the heart of Islamabad, Umme Hasan, the wife of Red Mosque’s imam Abdul Aziz, would often aver that she had trained several girls to become suicide bombers. It never proved whether she was merely boasting or her claims carried some weight. In Pakistan, the first attack by a female suicide bomber was carried out on December 4th 2007 when a burqa clad woman blew herself on a check post in Peshawar Cantt. The alleged participation of a female bomber along with two men was reported in another attack carried out on October 16th 2009 on a police station in Peshawar. In January 2010, the security forces arrested a young girl from Dir district. She revealed about the presence of women suicide cell, created by the Taliban, waiting to carry out attacks. The bombing on December 25th 2010 on the food distribution center of World Wood Program in Bajaur was said to be the first confirmed suicide attack carried out by a woman.
In two of the above mentioned cases the women were dressed in all-enveloping burqa. However, given the prevalent abuse of burqa it is very much likely that the male suicide bombers may have used it to masquerade as women. No one can forget a failed attempt at escaping by the Red Mosque’s imam Abdul Aziz, dressed in burqa with high heels, when the security forces had put the mosque under siege in 2007.
It is not hard to imagine the implication of the Bajaur bombing in respect of women. For ages women in conservative Pukhtun society have enjoyed immense respect. During the last decade I witnessed the gradual change unfolding. In the wake of growing bombings in the country and Khyber Pukhtunkhuwa, the female security officers became more stringent in their behavior. The probing and groping increased during the body search. Ironically, most of the times these security officers would have their faces covered. In order to ignore their harshness, I would console myself with a thought that they are into a dangerous and thankless job. Clearly, the security officers were not stereotyping the burqa clad women. I would experience the same kind of strictness with my uncovered face and an urban style.
I really don’t care how I am treated at the airports abroad but what feels so bad is that being a woman I am looked at with suspicion in my own society. With the changing tactics of militancy, it is obvious the women have lost the privilege of being treated with leniency and respect when it comes to going through security checks. In the spirit of a true optimist, it can be said that at least there is one thing in our society where men and women are treated equally.
Written for: The Express Tribune