At least 43 people have been killed and more than a hundred injured in a suicide bomb attack in Pakistan's north-west. The attack took place at a government-backed tribal meeting in Mohmand agency.
Pakistani volunteers rush a person injured in the attack to a local hospital in Peshawar
Most of the dead included tribal leaders, policemen, and civilians. Among the dead are two local journalists who were covering the meeting for local television channels. Eyewitnesses have painted a picture of devastation and mayhem of the incident. "There was a deafening sound and it caused a cloud of dust and smoke and a subsequent hue and cry," forty-five year old Qalandar Khan was quoted by Pakistan's local media.
The injured have been rushed to the hospitals in Peshawar. According to Mian Iftikhar Hussein, the Information Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, most of the injured are in a critical condition.
Pakistani soldiers walk through the rubble at the site of the bombing in Ghalalnai
The area bordering Afghanistan is considered a stronghold of the Taliban. The aim of the tribal meeting was to discuss the formation of an anti-Taliban militia. There have been several anti-Taliban militias in the region which are supported by the Pakistani government in an attempt to fight the extremists with local support.
The Pakistan army has launched several military operations to rid the area of the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. On the other side, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been carrying out attacks on security personnel and the tribal militias. Though no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, government officials are blaming it on the Taliban.
The attack was carried out in a government compound of Ghalalnai, the central town of Mohmand Agency, 175 km north-west of the capital Islamabad. Two men disguised as policemen tried to sneak into the compound, where the tribal elders had gathered to formulate their strategy against the Taliban, and detonated the bombs. One of the bombers was intercepted at the gate of the compound; however, he was still able to blow himself up. According to the local news channels, the possible target of the attack could be Mohmand Agency's top political agent Amjad Ali Khan, who remained unhurt in the attack.
Last month, a similar attack took place in a mosque in Darra Adam Khel, killing at least 67 people. According to the local sources, the mosque was frequented by the pro-government tribal leaders.
Combating Taliban with local support
According to Owais Tohid, correspondent of Christian Science Monitor in Karachi, the TTP has been regularly attacking jirgas (assemblies of tribal leaders) in every tribal agency since 2007. He believes that the aim of the Pakistani Taliban behind targeting the tribal elders is to create a vacuum in which nobody could challenge their power. "Any dissent, any voice against them is obviously a threat for them, and they want to silence it," Tohid told Deutsche Welle.
But is the support of the Pakistani government adequate to battle the militants? Tohid believes that the support is both political and logistical, albeit the tribal leaders often complain that the government is not doing enough, and sufficient protection has not been provided to them by the state.
A member of a local citizens' militia waving his rifle in the Bajaur tribal region
"Naturally, if you have such lethal attacks, you won't have any voice of dissent for some time, and that is the aim of the Taliban. We must not forget that last year the anti-Taliban militias of Mohmand Agency were responsible for handing over Maulvi Omar to the authorities, who happened to be one of the main spokespersons of the TTP."
Owais Tohid denies that the government approach could create a civil war-like situation and considers the support of the tribal leaders vital in the fight against militants. However, several rights groups and peace activists have criticised the government’s strategy of arming the tribal leaders. They are of the opinion that this would create a perpetual war-like situation in the region, and that the government should only support the local leaders politically.
On the other hand, the government has reiterated its commitment to the fight against terrorism. "We are not scared of such attacks and will keep on taking these enemies of humanity to task until they disappear from society," said Mian Iftikhar Hussein.
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein