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Islam Pakistan's Quetta City Reels From Taliban Attack On Women's University - 25 Dead


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Pakistan's Quetta city reels from attack on women
By Shahzeb Jillani


Sajila Gujjar, 18, was a first year university student studying computer science in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Family and friends described her as talented, intelligent and determined to make a difference.

She was especially popular among younger children in the Faqirabad neighbourhood of the city where she lived - providing them with free after-school tuition classes.

Last Saturday, Sajila left her home in the morning for university.

"It was the last day of her exams and she was looking forward to her summer holidays," her mother recalls.

It was the last time her mother saw her.

In the afternoon, Sajila's father Shahjahan Gujjar, received a phone call. A female suicide bomber had been used to target the students on a university bus and 14 young women were dead including his daughter.
Lengthy gun battle

The wounded from the explosion were taken to the nearby hospital and weeping relatives rushed to the emergency ward.
Sajila Gujjar Sajila Gujjar was a promising student loved by family and friends

But there was no end to the horror, because soon afterwards the hospital itself came under attack by two heavily armed militants from the extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group.

A lengthy gun battle ensued between militants and security forces, killing yet more people, including nurses and a senior city official.

In all, 25 people died on that fateful day which included three suicide bombings - one on the bus and two more at the hospital.

Quetta has seen a lot of violence in recent years, much of it aimed at the Shia Hazara minority. But the bombing of the university bus is seen as particularly shocking as it appeared aimed at young women, irrespective of their ethnic or sectarian background.

"This was an attack on women's education because they want to keep us illiterate," says Sana Bashir, a teenage biotechnology student who narrowly escaped the bombing.

The bus on which Sajila Gujjar was travelling was left in a mangled heap by the intensity of the bomb and is still to be seen in the university campus

She was meant to be on the bus to go home.

"[But] it was a hot day. So I left my bag on the bus and stepped out to get some air," she told the BBC.

Soon afterwards she heard a loud explosion and saw the bus go up in flames.

"I saw blood and body parts - limbs, internal organs - everywhere," she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.

"These were my classmates, people I knew and hung out with."

Days after the atrocity, she suffers from sleepless nights. "I can't close my eyes. I can't get their faces out of my head. I keep thinking about my friends."

Established in 2004, Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University is the only all-female university in the province of Balochistan.

For some tribal and conservative families in smaller towns, it was seen as the only place to send their daughters for higher education.

The bloodshed on the university campus may well change that now.

Sana feels the attack is a setback for women's education. But she says it is not going to stop her from going back to her studies.

"We cannot let them achieve their targets [of preventing female education]. No matter what happens, I am determined to continue with my education. We cannot give up our goals we have worked so hard for."

It was not always like this. There was a time when Quetta was a favourite holiday destination.

Surrounded by semi-arid hills and situated 1,680m (5,500 ft) above sea level, it was the place Pakistanis visited to explore crowded bazaars and surrounding natural beauty including fruits, plants and wildlife.
Campaign of abductions

The city is just a couple of hours' drive away from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province

[For many the attack] serves as a stark reminder of a weakening state that is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take the militants head on”

But Quetta is also a city that has a dark side. Over the last decade, it has achieved international notoriety for allegedly serving as the seat of the main decision-making body of the Afghan Taliban, the Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Today, moving around the city involves navigating several security check posts and roadblocks.

Despite Quetta's relatively small size, hundreds of armed police and troops man major intersections and streets.

Paramilitary troops are meant to guard Pakistan's borders with Iran and Afghanistan. But they stand accused of being involved in a campaign of abductions, torture and killings of separatist Baloch activists.

The Pakistani military also has a strong presence in the city, with large chunks of it designated as garrison areas, out of bounds for civilians. Most people live with a nagging sense that the military and its various intelligence agencies are omnipresent.

Yet the state's entire security apparatus has failed to prevent a growing campaign of sectarian militancy by extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Hundreds have been killed in drive-by shootings and large-scale bombings - almost all of them proudly claimed by the group.

Critics of the military accuse them of being soft on extremist Sunni militancy. Some see it as a way of countering the Iranian Shia influence in the province, others as a way of shifting the focus away from the long-running Baloch separatist insurgency.

Supporters of the military denounce these allegations as "outrageous".

They believe the army is up against "foreign interference" in Balochistan and is fighting to protect Pakistan's territorial integrity.

In recent years, Pakistan has accused India and Afghanistan - in addition to the US - of backing Baloch separatists.

So paranoid are the authorities about outside interference that over the years they have banned visits by foreign journalists without permission from the army.

As for the elected governments in the provincial and the central governments, they are widely seen as weak and lacking the initiative to assert civilian control over security policy.

Meanwhile, back at the womens' university campus, the twisted wreckage of the bus still stands. For many, it serves as a stark reminder of a weakening state that is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take the militants head on.

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