Bilal, 13, from the Bar Qambarkhel area of Bara, Khyber Agency, sits in a police van after authorities rescued him on the outskirts of Peshawar November 20 before he could complete a suicide mission. Police arrested his alleged handler too. [Zahir Shah]
EDITOR’S NOTE: That the militants would resort to unscrupulous methods to recruit teens for suicide methods is nothing new. But emerging stories about sexual abuse are raising eyebrows. Central Asia Online is taking a look at the concerns raised by such practices. Today’s story looks at how handlers use visions of heavenly maidens to inspire bombing recruits into carrying out attacks.
PESHAWAR – When would-be suicide bomber Abdul Malik was travelling to his intended target, he noticed that his handler was driving erratically.
The car zigged and zagged along the road. Malik cried out in fear of crashing.
The handler laughed off Malik’s worry and explained that he was driving that way to avoid killing the “heavenly maidens” who were running to be with Malik so they could reward him sexually for blowing himself up.
“I am trying to save these heavenly maidens for you, and each one of them is waiting to welcome you and is even running into our vehicle,” he told Malik, who didn’t see any maidens.
Malik’s story came to light in a report in the Leader, an Urdu-language newspaper published in Toronto. Malik, a teenage would-be suicide bomber, told Pakistani investigators that the “heavenly maidens” incident was just one of the sex tools militants used to entice recruits into performing suicide attacks.
Police arrested Malik and the suspected handler near the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)-Punjab border before they reached the intended target.
Sexual exploitation erodes society’s values
In preparing Malik for his suicide mission, trainers provided him and other recruits with women and encouraged him to have sexual interactions with them, which his trainers promised he would enjoy more fully after completing his mission, Malik recalled.
Such strategies are opening the militants up to criticism, with the Taliban opening themselves to accusations of hypocrisy for sexually exploiting women even though Islam calls for honouring them, Pakistani officials and activists say.
While the Taliban carry out their nefarious designs, many have not forgotten that the militants have a long history of oppressing women. And those critics question how the militants – who purport to extol the virtues of Islam – can justify the contradictory behaviour.
They cite militant attacks on women to illustrate the oppression. In August, for example, Afghan Senator Rogul Khairzad came under Taliban attack in Ghazni Province. She survived, but her driver and 8-year-old daughter were killed.
“On the one hand, they are stopping women from engaging in politics, receiving an education and even living their lives freely, while on the other they are using women as objects of war to trick youngsters to commit the evil deeds they are too afraid to do themselves,” Dr. Tabinda Saroosh, a Karachi-based women’s rights activist, told Central Asia Online.
Militant tactics under fire
Activists criticise the Taliban’s methods for deceiving teenagers into completing suicide bombings.
“Objectifying women … not only degrades human and cultural values, but the women are limited to being viewed as a sex object and an object of mere satisfaction and enjoyment, which contradicts our social and religious norms,” Komal Khan, a Peshawar-based social activist, said.
Besides trying to inflame the libido of teen bombing recruits with actual women and imaginary “heavenly maidens” alike, the militants have molested the boys, observers and former victims say.
Such strategies are said to cause an array of psychological and other problems for the young recruits.
“Polluting minors’ minds by subjecting them to such emotional [exploitation] before adulthood not only is destructive for society but … negates [women’s] identity,” Komal said.
Musarrat Qadeem, a former KP information minister, agreed. And if the militants are resorting to such deplorable tactics, it is clear their ideology is failing, she said.