Quetta – A recent spate of acid attacks in a region of Pakistan previously untouched by the crime has sparked an impassioned debate about rising ‘Islamisation’ that is forcing an increasing number of women to stay at home.
The horrific crime, which disfigures and often blinds its overwhelmingly female victims, has long been used to settle personal or family scores with hundreds of cases reported every year.
But two fresh attacks on consecutive days in the restive southwestern Baluchistan province last week, where until a few years ago such assaults were unheard of, suggests a new pattern is emerging.
Last Tuesday, two men on a motorcycle sprayed acid using syringes on two teenage girls who were returning from a market in Mastung town, 40km from the provincial capital Quetta.
The day before, four women aged between 18 and 50 had suffered the same fate in Quetta, in the market area of Sariab. They were partially burned.
“In accordance with our Baluch traditions, they were wrapped in big shawls as well as covering their faces. That saved [them] from severe injuries”, said Naz Bibi, mother of two of the victims. Asked about the attackers, she said: “I can only request that they should not treat women in such a cruel way.”
In most acid attack cases around Pakistan, the majority of victims know their attackers. When caught, relatives found guilty speak of punishing their victims for having sullied their “honour” or that of their family with “indecent” behaviour.
But, in these latest cases, the victims had no known connection to their assailants, which has led campaigners to suggest the attacks are part of rising religious extremism in the province.
Vast and sparsely-populated but rich in resources, Baluchistan has long been racked by a separatist insurgency that has staunch leftist secular elements, including strong participation by women and which reveres Communist icons like Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
Separatists say the attacks on women are the latest battlefront in an ideological war between the rebels, who are fighting for a greater share of the region’s mineral and gas wealth, and state-backed Islamist proxies who want to terrorise the population into acquiescence.
“The aim of these inhuman acts is to prevent women from participating in education, as well as social, political and economic aspects of life by creating a climate of terror”, said Jahanzaib Jamaldini, vice president of the Baluch National Party, which is fighting for greater autonomy.
This week, three more women suffered injuries to their legs and feet in yet another attack, though police and senior officials have so far said the latest incident was a case of a “family feud”.- AFP