Monday, 17 June 2013

Quetta: Why nobody should be surprised by the bus bombing

Quetta is a troubled city. It is located on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Over the weekend, a bus transporting students from the all-woman Sardur Bahadur Khan University was bombed and 14 women were killed.

Fourteen women who were hoping to improve their lives, as Malala is here in Britain, have lost the chance to reach their full potential.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an extremist Sunni group, has claimed responsibility for the attack and says a female suicide bomber carried out this horrific act. According to police, a severed female head has been found at the site but they are still investigating.

In 2009, I interviewed a man who had been to Quetta. His name is Ayob Yusuf Vawda and he ended up there on an epic road trip from his home in South Africa. Ayob and his friend, Abdool Samath Samath, were attempting to drive to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform their Hajj pilgrimage, a religious obligation for all Muslims.

I was writing the story of their incredible road trip - which ended in Abu Dhabi, where I was living and working at the time - for the motoring section of a newspaper. He didn't get as far as Mecca because of visa bureaucracy with Saudi Arabia, a not-uncommon occurrence. Ayob and I sat down with a map of the world where he had diligently recorded his journey with a highlighter pen.

When our fingers traced the trip to Quetta, he told me about the markets of Quetta. These weren't your usual quaint tourist-trap markets. This was not a place to buy exotic Pakistani souvenirs. This is a place where US Army surplus is sold. I was shown photographs of weapons, night vision goggles, all manner of stuff that would certainly be of interest to a group like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

I was a little bit amazed that my story went to press without the bit about the US army surplus being censored by the paranoid editor-in-chief. After all, The National tried to tread a very fine line between never offending Muslims and supporting the United Arab Emirates' stance as an ally of the US. It was probably because it was a feature for the back page of the motoring section and not a story for the foreign news pages that allowed me to fly under the radar and expose something fairly appalling.

But if groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are getting away with acts of terror in a town where they can easily arm themselves with deadly equipment, the latest attack, a clear crime against women's education should come as no surprise at all. This is a group that has been around since the 1980s, has been deemed a terrorist organisation by the US and has links to, surprise, surprise, the Taliban. Oh, and the assassination of Benazhir Bhutto...

The bombing of a bus full of educated women should come as no surprise in the context of the Quetta marketplace. And on a bigger, grimmer level, it should come as no surprise that the Taliban has not been stopped and won't be stopped any time soon.   

Image courtesy of Ajmalahmedkhan at Wikipedia

1 comment:

  1. Interesting (if horrific) article. I think the US tactic of drone strikes in that part of Pakistan is well known. It's also pretty well known that thee cause significant civilian loss of life (as well as killing some local militant leaders). I'd expect this to lead to increased recruitment for the extremists (as a reaction to US aggression), and it appears from your article that the US provides not only the motive, but also the hardware, for these groups! No doubt there is some "military logic" to this campaign that escapes me.