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Deadly Funeral Attack Calls Claims Of Success Against Militants Into Question

Coffins can be seen outside the Lady Reading Hospital, where many of the 15 victims of the March 11 funeral bombing were taken.
Coffins can be seen outside the Lady Reading Hospital, where many of the 15 victims of the March 11 funeral bombing were taken.
The March 11 suicide bomb attack at a funeral on the outskirts of Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar puts yet another question mark on statements touting the "success" of military operations against militants in tribal as well as settled districts of northern Pakistan.

The Taliban immediately accepted responsibility for the bombing, which claimed 15 lives and left nearly three dozen people injured.

Ironically, the claim of responsibility came from Tariq Afridi, a Taliban commander operating in Darra Adam Khel, the semi-tribal town located half an hour's drive from Peshawar and where Pakistani security forces recently announced "victory" against the militants.

Connecting Peshawar with Kohat cantonment city through the Japanese-constructed Kohat tunnel, Darra Adam Khel was once known for its flourishing arms market, where bearded tribesmen used to boast of their skills at making copies of any arms from around the world.

The residents of Badha Bera, the town where the March 11 attack was carried out, had organized a "lashkar" -- or "militia of volunteers" -- to block the Taliban's entry into Peshawar from Darra Adam Khel. (In Pashtun villages and tribal districts, lashkars are organized on a call from elders to meet a threat and then disbanded after the threat is over.)

Several attempts by the Taliban to cow the people of Badha Bera had been defeated by the lashkars. The Taliban, in its claim of responsibility for the March 11 attack, called it revenge against the villagers.

In March 2011, militants from Darra Adam Khel attacked another funeral in the neighboring village of Adezai, killing 43 people and injuring dozens.

Adezai had also organized a lashkar against the Taliban from Darra Adam Khel and had repulsed several Taliban offensives.

Such groups operate in different parts of northern Pakistan, both in tribal and settled districts. Locals say they organized the lashkars following the failure of state security agencies to safeguard them against the Taliban.

Evidence shows that locals in different parts of northern Pakistan have successfully defended their territory and defeated the Taliban in each of their face-to-face fights.

However, the Taliban often took them by surprise and inflicted heavy casualties by attacking their funerals, hujras (community guest houses), and mosques, where violence is strictly forbidden under the Pashtun culture and code of conduct.

Condemning the March 11 attack, the leader of the secular Awami National Party, Asfandiyar Wali Khan, said, “This is against Islam and the Pashtun code of conduct.”

Three years ago, a suicide bomber mowed down 38 people as they offered funeral prayers for a police officer in Swat who had been killed by a land mine.

A similar attack was carried out on the funeral of an influential elder in neighboring Dir district, killing 36 people and injuring dozens others.

Militants who fail to defeat the tribal lashkars usually use such tactics to spread awe and fear among the residents in an effort to keep them away from taking up arms to defend their villages and towns.

Shah Hassan Khel village of Lakki Marwat district was the first where locals formed a lashkar to defend their area from the Taliban. The militants sent a suicide bomber in 2010 and killed more than 100 people, mostly young men who had gathered to play and watch a volleyball match.

Shah Hassan Khel villagers pledged to continue their fight against the Taliban but blamed government security agencies for putting them in the forefront instead of coming forward to defend them.

Lashkars in the tribal districts of Orakzai, Mohmand, Kurram, and Bajaur have been attacked with suicide bombers in the past in the same fashion as in Shah Hassan Khel or Badha Bera.

Such battles against militants and attacks on lashkars not only sow the seeds of intra-clan and tribal feuds but also promote militaristic trends in a society clearly divided among the religious and secular as well as pro- and anti-Taliban elements.

-- Daud Khattak