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Female Bombers New Modus Operandi in Terrorism

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Female Bombers

New Modus Operandi in Terrorism

The months of April and May this year were of havoc and turmoil in Pakistan. While National and Punjab Assemblies witnessed political transition, courts kept asserting their position through judicial activism. Civil-military and even intra-military cleavages were widening further. Amidst all this chaos and political wrangling, news of a blast that ripped through a minibus of the Karachi University on April 26, killing three Chinese language teachers and their Pakistani driver, rocked the nation. What was most shocking in this horrendous episode was that the suicide bombing was carried out by a woman Shari Baloch, a mother of two and a teacher who had enrolled for a master’s degree months before the attack.

Later, on May 17, the Balochistan counter-terrorism department apprehended a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target a Chinese motorcade in Balochistan, from Hoshab area of the province, the second event involving a woman suicide bomber in a span of just two weeks. The law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) maintained that her target was a Chinese convoy on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route. It is interesting to note here that both these female bombers belong to Majeed Brigade, an elite extension of the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
It goes without saying that this brigade is now conscripting women into their folds to carry out terrorist attacks. These events call to attention the proposition of female suicide bombers – though little information about their recruiting patterns is available. It is important to mention here that neither this modus operandi is something new nor is the indulging of women in terrorism unprecedented in Pakistan.

A fleeting look at the history reveals that our nation witnessed its first suicide bomb attack carried out by a woman on 25 December 2010 when a lady blew herself up amidst scores of people in a food distribution camp of the World Food Program (WWF) in Bajaur Agency. Interestingly, she was fully clad with Burqa; hence making it tough for the security officials to recognize whether she was just another woman or a walking bomb. And women with veils, though well justified in their religious right, are peculiar about allowing any scanning whatsoever. Shari Baloch, in the Karachi University case, was also veiled. This veil helps women in disguising and capacitates them in hiding suicide bombs and vests.

Besides, women bombers invite lesser suspicion than that by men. They can – and mostly do – get away under the nose of LEAs, as policemen cannot physically check the women who attempt to cross the check posts. It is also a fact that security agencies of Pakistan have always embraced a male-centric approach to countering terrorism and have usually undermined the latent role women could play in perpetrating terrorism.

What is actually worrisome here is the way this alarming trend is being coped with. The question that must keep our policymakers hot and bothered is: what went wrong – and how – that an educated and a happily married woman chose to be a suicide bomber? In addition, there is a pressing need to understand the nexus between women and terrorism in Pakistan. Discussions on this issue must circumvent the individual level of analysis because ascertaining the motivation behind the oblation of one’s life for assassinating others is nearly impossible to gauge, for human aspirations and motivations are as diverse as is the human psychology itself. Besides, the relation between education and anti-extremist contemplation is also murky.

Don’t we remember that it was just a few years ago that the Home Department of the United Kingdom (UK) identified 40 English universities as potential breeding grounds for terrorism? An exhaustive “Whitehall Report” categorically divulged in the list of universities with radicalized students. The report further read that more than 30 percent of al-Qaeda recruits in the Kingdom were the students of elite universities located in urban settings, under the very nose of the English government. Brunel University in west London was an example to cite from the list of forty. The terrorists who indulged in the transatlantic liquid bomb – Abdullah Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar – were alumni of the City and the Brunel universities, respectively.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is no exception. Students from top universities in Jamshoro, Karachi and Lahore have been identified in attempted or planned terror attacks. The brutal attack on the Ismaili community in Safoora Goth, for instance, was carried out by students of Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET) and Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi, the latter being one of the most prestigious institutions in Pakistan. Three out of the four suspects were engineering and business graduates. Interestingly, girls as means for carrying out suicide bomb attacks were witnessed here as well; the example of a young medical student, who was brainwashed and summoned all the way from Jamshoro in Sindh to Lahore allegedly to detonate herself amidst a Christian community festival, is in the annals. Another medical student was reported by LEAs in 2017 to be lured by ISIS online and she ended up in Syria. It is, thus, the background causes that matter, not the current status of being educated either from a university in a big city or a madrassah in a remote rural area.

In addition, the role of terrorist organizations in pursuing, recruiting and grooming fragile brains into hard-liner terrorists can also not be overruled. The instances of alleged fundraising for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and three women leaving for Syria in 2015 to join this outfit are not hard to recall. Furthermore, the Shaheen Wing of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was also reported to have trained more than 500 female suicide bombers. Evidently, the terrorist organizations do not aspire to limit the women to the role of mere fundraisers and facilitators.

It is, thus, logical to deduce that madrassahs and bearded men are the talk of the past; the present-day terrorism wields distinct techniques and tools that need to be tackled with through an altogether new strategy. Recruiting more women in LEAs, for example, could be the foremost way forward. In a country of 220 million people, there are only 391,364 police personnel and the number of women among them is as low as 5,731, says official data compiled by National Police Bureau. This is hardly 1.46 percent of the total force.

Then, there is an urgent need of understanding the rationale that paves the way for the brainwashing of women suicide bombers. Women, in Pakistani society, are bellwethers and influencers in their families, and their influence over their sons and husbands could be used positively in curbing the extremist approach among the male members of the family. Ultimately, putting the due burden on governments, and winning over the hearts of the masses by the empowerment of women can be the only long-term key takeaway for the day.

The writer is a qualifier of several competitive exams including PCS 2013, PCS 2019 and CSS 2020, and scores of general recruitment. He is, presently, under training at Directorate General of Training and Research, Lahore.

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