PESHAWAR: “You will go to heaven before any of us, if you blow up yourself the way I tell you,” Meena Gul recounted the persuasive promise of her brother, a Taliban commander.
The twelve-year-old girl was apprehended by security personnel from the Munda area on the boundary of Dir district and Bajaur Agency in January.
Meena Gul managed to escape from the clutches of the Taliban in Charmang when militants’ hideouts were reduced to ashes in the bombardment. Her story, distressful in itself, was overshadowed by an ominous revelation of a women’s wing of the Taliban across the border to carry out suicide attacks.
“My sister-in-law, Zainab, was responsible for their training. She escorted eight women from our village to Afghanistan,” Gul told The Express Tribune. Zainab battled Pakistani forces dressed as a man.
“My younger sister blew herself up in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. I, however, managed to escape. I was too scared,” Gul confessed.
A police officer burst into laughter on that cold winter morning at the DPO’s office in Lower Dir at the incredible disclosure. “Has the child lost her mind?” He exclaimed. “She cannot be taken seriously,” added another.
Gul’s words proved to be true when a burqa-clad suicide bomber detonated explosives, killing some 47 people and injuring over a hundred, 11 months later.
Meena Gul was a resident of Afghanistan. At the time, the police record showed her family had travelled across the country, residing in Karachi, Lahore and refugee camps in Peshawar.
The last suicide attack by a woman was in December 2007; she blew up herself at a checkpoint in the heart of Peshawar. It was also the first. The woman in her thirties, enveloped in a burqa, was the only casualty.
She was also identified by the authorities as an Afghan. But at the time they insisted she was more of a carrier than a bomber.
“The perpetrators of the Bajaur bombing were from Afghanistan,” said Corps Commander Peshawar, Asif Yasin Malik, on his visit to Bajaur Agency.
He condoled with the tribesmen, promising them that those involved in the massacre of innocent people will be brought to justice.
“People in the tribal belt are being influenced from across the border,” he stated.
The TTP has always acknowledged their women’s wing. They have been mentioned in the FM broadcasts of Maulvi Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur and the absconding chief of the TTP chapter in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah.
Enforcing greater gender equality in security checks implies stepping on a minefield of cultural constraints.
Searching women is considered taboo in Pakistan’s more conservative Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
If women are seated in a vehicle, it is typically not checked by security personnel.
The threat of terrorism is so pervasive that the centuries-old tradition of automatically excluding women from being suspect in crimes against humanity may have to be revised.
“Like all other cultural values distorted by the ongoing war, it is the sanctity of women that is now at stake,” concludes Sabir Shah, a resident of Peshawar.