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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Tasked to carry an explosive burden

ISLAMABAD: She said she is the sister of a local Taliban commander.

Spozhmai, a young girl believed to be between 10 and 11 years old, gave herself up to the Afghan police in the city of Lashkargah.

Her father and brother, she said, had forced her to put on the suicide vest and ordered her to blow herself up at a checkpoint in Helmand province.

Only the targets would be killed, her father had told her. Her brother Zahir gave her more specific instructions. She was to approach the Deputy Commander at the checkpoint and ask for a ride to the neighbouring Kunar province.

Then she was to blow up the vest attached to her body.

Spozhmai didn’t follow their instructions.

Instead, she ran away and chose to ask for protection from the Afghan police.

Taken into protective custody, she appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai not to send her back home.

“God did not make me to be a suicide bomber. I ask the president to put me in a good place,” she pleaded.

Her life with her family was like that of a slave. She was not allowed to learn to read or write.

Instead, she was kept indoors, and expected to cook and clean day and night.

The Afghan authorities promised that they would not return the girl to her family unless tribal elders guaranteed her safety.

On the other side, the spokesperson of the Afghan Taliban denied the group’s involvement in coercing the girl to engage in a suicide attack.

The girl’s story was nothing more than government propaganda, they said.

“We never do this, especially with girls,” Qari Yousef Ahmadi told the media.

The last three words of his sentence were important.

Girls, after all, were expected to be kept indoors and unschooled; the political act of martyrdom, something they sell as an ultimate act of heroism to their conscripts, is something too important to be wasted on the unholy and female.

These are the two visible ends of the argument.

On one end, there are those who want to save girls like Spozhmai, whose story garners her more attention than the perfunctory bits awarded to the everyday abused girl who tries to run away from the cruelties of home and captivity.

On the other, there are the Taliban, for whom the very idea of a girls’ school has become so imbued with imperialism and occupation, that all iterations of female education, even the barest possibility of a female presence beyond the home, must be obliterated.

The details of Spozhmai’s story present a third reality.

The mercenary benefits that the Taliban and their affiliated groups attach to those that volunteer for suicide bombings are an important denominator here.

In the hardscrabble economy of this area, where war is the past, the present, and the future, several thousands of rupees can make the difference between a family’s survival and its extinguishment.

A son sacrificed to a suicide bombing means a one-time payment, a complete loss of earning potential to the promises of heaven mouthed by recruiters.

Enter daughters, whose only potential lies in losses and future debts.

Slipping a daughter instead of a son into a suicide vest thus presents the opportunity to maximise the yield from the transaction of terror.

A blown-up girl minimises losses, leaves behind the boys for other things, and allows for the survival of the family in whose servitude she lives.

The calculations are dark; but similarly dim are the prospects for the girls that have not blown themselves up yet.

In the tribal areas of Pakistan and in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, thousands of schools have been bombed in the past several years as Taliban encroachment has graduated from a possibility to a reality.

In the paltry few weeks of 2014, three girls’ schools have already been bombed.

In Charsadda, explosives were lobbed over the boundary wall to maim the main building.

In Landi Kotal, armed men planted bombs in the empty rooms of Said Akbar Kali Girls School, their explosions tearing apart the silence and destroying all intentions of education.

A few days later, bombs destroyed the Government Girls Primary School, located in the limits of the Huwed Police Station in Bannu.

None of the culprits planting bombs in these fallow fields of female enrichment have been apprehended, and there is no likelihood that they will be.

The songs to female education in Pakistan, so resounding in the years of international aid agencies and urban do-gooders, do not echo in these school-less climates.

They are stuck between the Western desire to cover up with schools the stabbings of strategic imperatives, and the Taliban insistence on sacrificing girls at the altar of an imagined religious authenticity.

The girl bomber exists because, to both of them, her existence represents the vacuity of their meaningless mantras.

In the land of the Taliban, the schools have bombs and the girls too have bombs. The buildings of one lie maimed and mangled; the bodies of the other are reduced to just that – only bodies – their tasks to carry the burdens of others, babies and now bombs.

Tags / Keywords: Pakistan , Taliban , terror , gender preference


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