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On Turban Bombs And Female Bombers

Policemen, even policewomen, are hesitant to search women in burqas in the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The twin blasts in Pakistan's northern city of Peshawar on August 11 once again point to the precarious security situation in this border town, despite numerous claims of foolproof security arrangements from law enforcement and government officials.

Though suicide attacks have become almost routine in this city of more than 3 million over the past few years, the stunning aspect this time is the involvement of a woman suicide bomber. This seems to work for would-be terrorists, as security forces are not likely to stop a woman carrying a basket on the street.

Earlier this month in Afghanistan, a bomber killed and injured several people in the southern city of Kandahar by detonating a device hidden in his turban at the mourning ceremony of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai.

These two attacks show a disturbing shift in tactics for militants in the region.

After carrying out a campaign of suicide and roadside bomb attacks for years, the use of turbans and women -- both, for different reasons, are sensitive issues in Pashtun society -- is a new and impish tactic by the terrorist masterminds to defuse all efforts denying them the time and target of their choosing.

Removing, unfolding, and searching the turban from the head of an Afghan or tribal elder (even a youngster) is as sensitive a job as searching a burqa-clad woman by a policeman (even policewoman) in a market, town, or village in Afghanistan or the tribal and other Pashtun parts of Pakistan.

While the turban is considered a symbol of respect and prestige in the tribal society, equal honor is given to and sensitivity attached to the purdah (veil) of a woman in most parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a society already reeling from all sorts of violence, taking advantage of such strict social taboos to carry out attacks marks a new low. Ironically, the masterminds of such attacks rarely miss an opportunity to blame foreigners for showing disrespect to their culture and traditions -- including the purdah and turban.

At a time when the beleaguered governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are struggling against a war-hardened enemy and the international community is rapidly losing interest in the war front, this new tactic, if it persists, could further jeopardize the security situation.

In particular, the new tactic may become the preferred method for targeted killings in the region.

-- Daud Khattak

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