Pakistan: Suicide bombing highlights risks to Bajaur returnees
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||27 December 2010|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Suicide bombing highlights risks to Bajaur returnees, 27 December 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d1d8a0117.html [accessed 14 March 2014]|
PESHAWAR, 27 December 2010 (IRIN) - The moment news came in of a suicide bombing in Khar, the principal town in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal agency along the border with Afghanistan, Salar Khan, who comes from Bajaur but has been based in Peshawar for several years, began making calls to his family.
"My cousin used to go regularly to the World Food Programme [WFP] distribution point where the blast took place. I was concerned he may have been hurt or even killed," Salar said.
His cousin survived the attack unhurt, but 43 others were killed and around 60 injured on 25 December. The bombing highlighted the risks to local people, including tens of thousands of returnees.
"This is terrible. I am unemployed, we have no money. My house is still unrepaired and now with the food centres closing I wonder how we will eat," said Shahzer Ali, who had accompanied his badly injured younger brother to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, where some of the injured victims were airlifted after the blast.
Amjad Jamal, a spokesman for WFP, told IRIN four distribution centres had been operating in Bajaur, but the suicide bomber had not targeted them, rather a "secure hub where many government buildings are located".
However, "food assistance will be suspended in Bajaur for some time as the security authorities have imposed a curfew and the area has been sealed. After reviewing the situation we will resume food distribution," he said. There is no certainty as to how long supplies will be suspended. Jamal said "at least 500 families" used to visit the centres regularly to receive food.
The food aid is "meant for internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to their areas" Jamal said. About 94,000 people had been displaced from Bajaur agency, according to official figures, after the start of an army operation there in August 2008. Returns began in 2009, but gained pace after the military declared victory in Bajaur in March this year.
Aid efforts criticized
Returning IDPs have since then, however, criticized the lack of assistance offered them.
"We were displaced for almost two years," Zahid Khan, 50, head of an extended family of 10, told IRIN. "When we got back to our village near Khar we found a destroyed home, ravaged land and, of course, no livestock." He said the family had received "almost no help at all except from neighbours," and "continued militant activities remain a threat."
While the authorities say they do not know the motives behind the latest attack, local residents believe the target could have been Salarzai tribesmen, known to be anti-Taliban, who were collecting rations at the time.
"We do not know the motive, but a woman carried out this attack," Tariq Khan, the assistant political agent of Bajaur, told IRIN. The bomber was clad in a burqa, and, according to media reports, resisted attempts to search her. This adds to risk factors in a society where, for social and religious reasons, women are often not searched - as most security personnel are male.
"The attack at the food distribution point shows these people are ruthless. We are all at risk," said Zahid Khan.
An administrative official in Khar, who asked not to be named, said: "Local people who oppose the militants are being intimidated by them in some areas and IDPs are blamed for going away during the months of fighting."
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]