The gruesome New Year’s Day suicide attack at a local volley ball match in the 5000-strong Shah Hasan Khel village in Lakki Marwat, a small town near the troubled tribal area of Waziristan in Pakistan, has left almost 100 dead. Almost all dead were men or young boys who had gathered at a ground to watch local volley ball teams play a friendly match.
A suicide bomber drove an explosive laden vehicle into the crowd and exploded it. The friendly match ended with the most unfriendly outcome. Almost 100 dead, and scores other injured.
While it may appear to be yet another suicide bombing in Pakistan, however the location, and the sectarian and tribal pedigree of the victims makes it anything but. The victims most likely belong to the Marwat tribe, which is closely allied with the Mehsud and Wazir tribes of Waziristan . Marwats, just like Wazirs and Mehsuds, are Pushtuns following the Deobandi School of conservative Islam. Marwats have also been involved in the Afghan war against the Russians and have been behind numerous kidnappings, car jackings, and sectarian killings targeting Shiites in the Frontier Province and other parts of Pakistan. Why would the Taliban target their own?
A local resident sits alongside a victim of suicide bombing, at a local hospital in Lakki Marwat.—AP (Source: Dawn.com)
The Pakistani media has reported that the elders in Lakki Marwat had resisted the Taliban and were behind their expulsion from the town. The Taliban had therefore retaliated against the elders by bombing the town as a punishment. It is hard for me to imagine that Lakki Marwat was a Taliban-free town because the elders forced the Taliban out. It is my understanding that Lakki Marwat has always been a hot-bed of sectarian violence where the majority wholeheartedly subscribed to the Taliban’s ideology. Given the close ties between the Taliban, who also come from the Marwat tribe, I find it hard to believe that the Taliban would attack their fellow Pushtuns, Deobandi brethren just because they were asked to leave the town.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have reportedly killed another six tribesmen in Bajaur Agency. Among the dead is Malik Gul Shali, who was one of the tribesmen who sided with the military against the Taliban.
It will take some time for one to discover who was behind the attack in Lakki Marwat. It could very well be someone settling a personal dispute. That my sound excessive, however, in the tribal belt of Pakistan, the tribesmen have hurled grenades at their opponents to settle debts of five rupees (one-twentieth of a US dollar). It could also be tied to the drug trade. Lakki Marwat is now an important post in the international supply chain that carries Afghanistan’s opium and heroin to the junkies in the developed countries.
Despite the suffering and misery brought about by such bombings, the suicide bombers are indeed serving a purpose by exposing the extremist face of the sectarian Islam that had remained hidden in the past because it exclusively targeted Shiites and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
Since 2007, the suicide bombers have targeted Pakistan’s senior military officers, the Inter Services Intelligence, the commandoes of the Special Services Group, and the children of the senior military commanders fighting the Taliban. Police constables at the checkpoints across Pakistan are dying almost daily at the hands of the extremists and religious fanatics. The police training camp in Lahore was attacked more than once. The bombers have also gone after soft targets: the bombing of Moon market in Lahore is an example of indiscriminate violence.
It is only when the ordinary citizens, mostly Sunnis and especially the Punjabis, became victims of the senseless fanaticism that the public opinion in Pakistan turned against the violence supported by the religious extremists. For years, the Sunni majority in Pakistan remained complacent in the violence against minorities in Pakistan by not speaking out against it. Had the mainstream Sunnis reacted to the extremism in the mid-eighties and prevented the systematic takeover of Sunni mosques by the Deobandi preachers, the Sunnis could have avoided becoming the target of the extremists that rose from within their ranks.
Even today a complete realization has not yet occurred. From university professors to cab drivers, Pakistanis continue to be in a state of perpetual denial. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that the violence is being perpetrated by their own sons and in some instances, daughters. Pakistanis blame every one but themselves for their misfortunes.
The biggest challenge in Pakistan today is to make the Pakistanis realize that it is their fellow Muslims, and not Indians, Israelis, or Americans, who are behind the attacks on mosques and suicide bombings. These are the same individuals who have killed thousands of Shiites and other religious minorities in Pakistan over the past three decades. Without this realization, healing may not begin.