The paradox of the female suicide bomber

The Taliban's claims that they don't target women are false; they train female bombers and flog women publicly.

Ayesha Umar February 11, 2011
The Taliban's claims of the presence of female suicide bombers in their ranks remain paradoxical.

In the past, they have asserted that they do not target women (hence they denied involvement in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination) nor use women as tools in war. However, both these claims seem to be false.

Using female bombers

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat chapter has 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 criticised the 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 her and shot her in the head. According to an eyewitness account of a relative, the bodies of 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 declare that she had trained girls to become suicide bombers. It was never proved whether she was merely boasting or her claims carried some weight.

Alarming statistics

In Pakistan, the first attack by a female suicide bomber was carried out on December 4, 2007 when a burqa clad woman blew herself up 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 16, 2009 on a police station in Peshawar. In January 2010, security forces arrested a young girl from Dir district. She revealed the presence of a women’s suicide cell created by the Taliban, waiting to attack. The bombing on December 25, 2010 on the food distribution center of the World Food Program in Bajaur was said to be the first confirmed suicide attack carried out by a woman.

Hiding behind the burqa

In two of the above mentioned cases the women were dressed in the all-enveloping burqa. However, given the widespread abuse of the burqa, it is very likely that male suicide bombers may have used it to masquerade as women. No one can forget the failed attempt at escaping the Red Mosque by imam Abdul Aziz, who was dressed in a 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 with respect to women. For ages women in the conservative Pukhtoon society have enjoyed immense respect. During the last decade I witnessed the gradual change unfolding. In the wake of the heightened bombings in the country, female security officers have become more stringent in their behaviour.

Disturbing body search

Probing and groping has increased during body searches. Ironically, most of the time these security officers have their faces covered. In order to ignore their roughness, I console myself with the thought that they are performing a dangerous and thankless job. Clearly, security officers are not targetting burqa-clad women. I would experience the same kind of strictness with my uncovered face.

I really don’t care how I am treated at airports abroad but feel bad that I am looked at with suspicion in my own country. With the changing tactics of militancy, it is obvious that women have lost the privilege of being treated with leniency when it comes to security checks. In the spirit of a true optimist, it can be said that at least there is one place in our society where men and women are treated equally.
Ayesha Umar Interested in current affairs, cultural and gender-based issues Ayesha religiously tweets @ayeshaesque. In her free time she blogs at Fifth Junction and indulges in random photography.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Nobody | 12 years ago | Reply @bvindh: So you've been to Islamic heaven?? Wow, impressive, please enlighten me, what's it like up there?
Ayesha | 13 years ago | Reply @Sabeen: Primarily, your observation can apply to entire Pakistani society. Women enjoy certain degree of freedom yet they can get killed in the name of honor. However, what I was talking about is the very nuanced respect that women enjoy in Pushtun society (perhaps in other parts of Pakistani too but I can speak only for the one I grew up in). One example could be that there was time when on Peshawar airport, right in front of the arrivals gate, where scores of men would gather, the security official would allow women to step inside the rope on the protected side so that they are not teased & crushed between men. See we are missing out on these small perks :-)
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