Dr Huma Baqai

08th May, 2022. 10:19 am

Feminization of terrorism permeates Pakistan

“Picture a young woman walking down a busy street, her shoulders sagging under the weight of a heavy backpack. She turns into a cafe crowded with lunch hour shoppers and sits at the lone unoccupied table. As the smiling waiter approaches, she pulls a device – the size of a mini flashlight – from her pocket, says a silent prayer and detonates the backpack bomb. The explosion kills 17 people and wounds 32 others.”

This event happened in Israel, and it has similarities to the terrorist attack that took place in Karachi University earlier. A female suicide bomber targeted a vehicle carrying faculty members of Karachi University’s Confucius Institute, killing three Chinese nationals and their local driver on 26th April, 2022. The attack was later claimed by the banned Majeed Brigade of Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which stated that this was the first time they had employed a female suicide bomber. She had joined the Majeed Brigade of the banned Balochistan Liberation Army some two years back where she was groomed as a suicide attacker. Sources says that the female suicide attacker carrying explosives entered the university from the Silver Jubilee Gate and the woman she had met there was her last-minute handler who handed her a briefcase and left.

Shari Hayat Baloch alias Bramsh, the woman who carried out the suicide attack, was a mother of two, and also had a master’s degree. She had been working as a teacher in the Government Council Middle School, and her husband was also a dentist by profession and worked as a lecturer at a medical college in Balochistan. The incident sent a wave of shock up many spines. The blast also blew away the narrative of things being under control in Balochistan. She may belong to a terror outfit in all probability funded and facilitated from outside Pakistan, but it also has the ring of the dreaded revival of Karachi-Quetta-Kabul nexus of terror. The Iran dimension only complicates the threat perception further. What adds insult to injury is the compromised security surveillance mechanisms at Karachi University. Also, a direct repercussion of corruption, ill-performance, and lack of accountability, something that ails most public sector institutions of Pakistan and are coming back to bite.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Raza Rabbani, commenting on the Karachi University attack, said, “Extreme nationalism has permeated to such an extent that educated women are willing to lay down their lives…this means that the seeds of oppression, suppression, alienation, and the sense of deprivation are so deep that it motivates violent reaction against the state and its strategic interests.”

While Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Mushahid Hussain said the way forward, according to him, was to “stop treating Balochistan as a political plaything, frequently picking, choosing and changing favourites, end the shameful crime of missing persons, ensure benefits of development for local communities and end border harassment and corruption.”

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Post 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the volume of academic research on terrorism has expanded phenomenally. With the rise of terrorism across the globe, the contemporary scholarship has increasingly incorporated a gendered approach to the same. Both men and women participate in terrorist activities; however, their participation is perceived differently. Even now feminization of terrorism is seen as a rare phenomenon, it draws more attention, and remains less explored. There is a need to take a deeper dive and understand feminization of terrorism and how women’s participation in acts of terror draw mixed reactions.

Experts point to a number of changes in terrorist philosophy, logistics and international events for the answer: The stereotypical “weaker sex” female bomber is much more likely than her male counterparts to be portrayed as “another victim of terrorism” and, as such, may lend a measure of credibility to the terrorist agenda. Media coverage is oxygen to terrorist activities, use of female terrorists will always draw more eyeballs. The use of women in patriarchal societies give a tactical edge to the terrorist organization.

Although women are often ignored in conventional depictions of violent political actors, they have been active participants in 60 percent of armed rebel groups over the past several decades. And the number of women implicated in terrorism-related crimes is growing. In 2017, the Global Extremism Monitor registered 100 distinct suicide attacks conducted by 181 female militants, constituting 11 percent of all incidents that year.

As per data available on female terrorists, they are usually young (mean age 25 years), single or divorced from middle or upper class homes and frequently university trained. Eighteen of the 50 terrorists who held more than 700 people hostage (eventually killing 129) in a Moscow theatre in 2002 were females. Around 30 to 40 percent of the more than 220 suicide bombers dispatched by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in their revolutionary struggle had been women.

In 1969, Palestinian Leila Khaled made history by becoming the first woman to hijack an airplane. Inspired by her personal experiences of forced exile from her hometown and the suffering of her kin and nation., Leila Khaled took the struggle of Palestinian women to new heights. For some feminists and activists, Leila’s role as a high-profile woman who has been so prominent in the “man’s world” of armed political struggle has made her a thrilling, inspiring figure. Her actions have impacted on the way that Palestinians as a people have been viewed by the world and ensured that she looms large in discussions of women, the Middle East, and the tactics of liberation struggles.

For years, the Baloch insurgency had been treated as a low-intensity conflict that can be left on the backburner. Perhaps this is changing. The attacks are growing more audacious, as seen earlier this year when 10 soldiers lost their lives in an attack on an FC post in Kech. Disparate Baloch militant groups are coming together in a bid to restructure the insurgency and beef up their numbers and fine-tune their tactics. After this event, alarm bells should be ringing for all those responsible. It should be treated as a wake-up call. The attack indicates that the militants’ strategy is evolving as the attackers appear ready to adopt fidayeen tactics. From the terrorist perspective, the particular attack achieved everything they wanted, including an impact on Pakistan-China relations.

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The writer is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, IBA Karachi

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