The year 2010 ended on a grim note for Pakistan with a deadly suicide attack in Bajaur, which killed 47 people and injured over a hundred. Bajaur is one of the seven tribal agencies in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that have emerged as the hotbed of terrorist activity in the last few years. The attack, which took place on 25 December 2010, was reportedly carried out by a Burkha-clad woman who blew herself up close to a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution centre in Bajaur’s main city of Khar.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the Taliban spokesman, the attack was directed against the Salarzai tribesmen who had formed a vigilante force to combat the Taliban with the Pakistan government’s support. This attack is also significant for its use of a woman suicide bomber, which is rare for the Taliban with its conservative views on the role of women.
The FATA and border areas have long been hubs of terrorist activity and are believed to be a sanctuary for Al Qaeda/Taliban leadership. To curb the rising influence of the TTP, Pakistani forces ran a military operation in Bajaur in 2008, followed by a failed peace deal with the Taliban. Another anti-Taliban operation was carried out in early 2010 and the Pakistan Army prematurely declared Bajaur a “conflict free zone” by April. Despite some positive signs with several militants surrendering, skirmishes have continued and the TTP has vowed to carry on with their fight in Bajaur against the United States and the Pakistani state. This coupling of the United States and Pakistan as common enemies of the TTP shows the extent to which the radicalised elements within Pakistan have turned against the state.
Pakistan is in an unenviable position. Routinely blamed by the international media and analysts as an exporter of terrorism, it has now become the world’s biggest victim of terrorism. The 2009 figures show that well over 2,000 civilians and just over 1,000 security personnel were killed. A 2009 Government report revealed that the cost of militancy in FATA to the Pakistani state exceeded US$2 billion. The broader social and economic costs are far greater in magnitude.
There is also mounting pressure from the US for Pakistan to provide more assistance with respect to the US war on terror in Afghanistan and crack down on militants that are using the border areas as sanctuaries. India and Afghanistan have added to that chorus. By taking military action against these militant groups, or permitting US drone attacks on its soil, Pakistan is making itself the prime target for terrorist attacks. The Pakistani government is also severely weakened as its apparent support of US military actions and its own actions against its citizens come at a huge political cost. But no war against terrorism is going to be won without political cost, and no political cost can be as great as the human cost that Pakistan is currently paying.
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