Suicide bomber kills 90 at volleyball game in Pakistan

A Taliban suicide bomber killed 90 Pakistanis and wounded more than 100 in an attack in a town in Pakistan’s insurgency-infested northwest.

The suicide bomber detonated his SUV packed explosives as Pakistanis were gathered for a volleyball match in the town of Shah Hassan Khel in the district of Lakki Marwat. \The blast was large enough to cause the roofs of nearby homes to collapse. The death toll may rise as people are still thought to be trapped in the rubble.

The attack is the latest in the Taliban terror campaign, which began on Oct. 5. On Dec. 28, 2009, the Taliban killed 43 people during a Shia procession in Karachi. Asmatullah Bhittani claimed credit for the attack, but Movement for the Taliban in Pakistan spokesman Azam Tariq later denied that the Taliban carried out the attack.

The town of Shah Hassan Khel was recently a stronghold of the Taliban until tribal leaders raised lashkars, or militias, and drove them them out. Tribal leaders said they recruited more than 400 fighters to join the local lashkar in August 2009. The tribal leaders decided to form the lashkar to keep out the Taliban after their homes were looted during a military operation against the Taliban. Tribal leaders blamed the police for looting their homes.

The Taliban have responded aggressively to efforts by tribal leaders to oppose the spread of extremism in the tribal areas. Tribal opposition has been violently attacked and defeated in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes [see LWJ report, “Anti-Taliban tribal militia leader assassinated in Pakistan’s northwest”, for more information on the difficulties of raising tribal lashkars in Pakistan’s northwest].

The Taliban perfected this strategy in North and South Waziristan. Tribal leaders who opposed the Taliban were brutally liquidated. The Taliban would execute the leaders and dump their bodies on the roadside with notes pinned to their chests branding them as “US spies” and traitors. The bodies were often mutilated and beheaded.

This strategy is being duplicated in the tribal areas and throughout the northwest. Tribal leaders are currently being liquidated in Bajaur and Arakzai.

The Taliban have made very public examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. In December 2008, the Swat Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town square. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate [see LWJ report, “Video: Taliban execute Swat tribal leader”].

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Marlin says:

    Wow! The death and injury toll was really significant. You wonder when the breaking point will come for the Pakistani people to say ‘enough is enough’?

    A suicide bomber in a vehicle blew himself up at a volleyball game in northwest Pakistan on Friday and a television station said more than 70 people were killed.
    The station, Express 24/7, said 65 people were wounded and more than 20 houses destroyed. The attack took place in a village that opposes al Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgents, officials said.
    Local police chief Ayub Khan said the bomber blew himself up in an SUV in the middle of the field and there was believed to be a second vehicle which fled the scene.
    “One was blown up here while the second fled to an unknown location. We believe it may be used to attack some other place,” he told Reuters by telephone.

    Reuters: More than 70 dead in Pakistan volleyball blast -TV

  • omar says:

    I wrote this note on my group in response to the above news. Its obviously targeted at a Pakistani audience. comments welcome.
    Another terrible bombing, this time in Lakki Marwat. It seems the suicidal maniac was headed for a peace committee meeting but could not get there due to heavy security, so he hit the wall of a playground and went to meet the 72 virgins short of his final target. Sadly, there was a volleyball game going on in the playground and there were a lot of spectators. TV is saying 70 or more are dead and the death toll could rise.
    Since this particular tragedy has struck poor pathans in a small town, its not going to register for too long on the minds of the Pakistani elite, who will no doubt be back to discussing blackwater safehouses within two days max. But while some vague sense of outrage and disorientation still exists, I am going to throw out some random thoughts and make some predictions…the purpose is to invite all of you to make some predictions of your own. Predictions are what distinguish science from fantasy. Social change is too complex to be modeled like the physical sciences (at least at this point) but still, unless we can make a prediction, our models are worthless…so here goes.
    1. I think the neo-wahabi paradigm which lies at the heart of the jihadi operation in Pakistan (the network obviously extends into Afghanistan and other places and crucial sources lie in Saudi Arabia, but the largest physical node is in Pakistan) is not compatible with “normal” existence in the globalized world and its going to be slowly and painfully pushed further and further away from the mainstream. This process of separating it from its “mainstream” supporters like the high command of the Pak army is going to accelerate. Friends who believe the army is irreversibly pro-jihadi are not correct. The army WAS pro-jihadi and is still terribly confused about whether they can save “good jihadis” for future use against India , but they will be pushed to give them up by circumstances. The army and the jihadis will stand against each other one day. GHQ may not know it, but one day it will even fight against old friends like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed. Maybe not in weeks or months, but certainly in years.
    2. Recurrent waves of anti-Americanism and “paknationalism” will confuse the process. Old Nationalists will struggle with their 60 years worth of anti-indian training with the need to make an accomodation not just with the Indian state but with our own Indian heritage.Old leftists will struggle to align their anti-imperialist models and their issues with capitalism with the need to cooperate with the imperial war machine.Swarms of ex-foreign secretaries and retired generals will display their utter confusion on TV for many months to come. But the fact is, the jihadi paradigm is retrogressive, indiscriminately violent, and unable to deliver relief from ANY of the multiple real grievances and conflicts that various classes and groups have against others all over the world. All this sound and fury will blow over and most of these people will end up compromising deeply held beliefs to deal with this menace. Being human, they will do so without necessarily admitting it even to themselves, but in whatever messy form, they will do it.
    3. Many respected commentators will take a while to overcome their own habits of automatic self-censorship. Lesser known commentators will push the envelope first and better known ones will step forward more aggressively only after they realize that A, B or C can actually be said without the heavens falling. Some friends will be surprised at how dramatically the tone will shift from hunting for Jews and Hindus under every bed to openly identifying the jihadis AND their fellow travellers as a terrorist menace that will have to be dealt with before we can come back to the arguments about imperialism and “the metropolitan XYZ”…in other words, before we can become just another “normal country”, stuggling with all the issues raised by the existence of 7 billion unequally placed humans on one planet…

  • Xavier says:

    This event is insignificant for Pak mainstream since its against Pashtuns. The media and the elite only care about attacks in Punjab and to some extent Sindh.
    Nice analysis, but I guess you are too optimistic. Your prediction will probably happen in an alternate universe. I am too cynical about future.
    One comment: Any model must have a mathematical formulation(physical sciences) or a set of rigorous verbal statements which are consistent with each other and which will lead to a meaningful prediction. The later is a very weak model as it lacks mathematical formulation.
    Modeling brains and thinking is an ongoing process (recent research in neurology is breathtaking) but getting a mathematical model is necessary to predict what path a society takes. And there are many unforeseen circumstances that need to be considered. That, if happens, is way into future, probably centuries.
    The mathematical modeling of thinking of a single person takes probably all the computing power we have and more.
    But my guess(and nothing more) is that US will leav AFPak by 2011, ISI/Army will be in bed with Taliban and the same violence continues until another attack(probably nuclear) on West/China. Another war in this region is inevitable.

  • Glenmore says:

    Eventually this kind of tactic proved Zarqawi’s undoing. Hard to believe the Taliban have a monopoly on ruthlessness and ‘Will’ in that population.

  • KW64 says:

    While killing tribal leaders that oppose them has worked well for Al Queda and the Taliban, killing masses of ordinary civilians openly and deliberately will work against them. The people will turn to the army to protect them even if they did not much like the army before. I just hope the army is up to the task of protecting them.

  • T Ruth says:

    Omar sahib,
    I hope your foresight materialises. Even if so, yes i have my doubts, it’ll come at a terrible price if the timeline is a relaxed one. This sacrifice by the villagers of Lakki is sadly a small fraction of this potentially monumental price.
    Why can’t the Pakistani leadership break once and for all and make a clean breast of things NOW?
    In order to save Pakistan why is it so difficult for Kayani, Gilani, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to stand together at one podium and declare that the Govts collective policies of the past re: The Taliban have failed. That:
    *Afghanistan must stand as an independent State, not a client.
    *The relationship with India is renewable.
    *Pakistan can forge constructive economic relationships with the US, the West, China, Iran and India, (all of whom would love to see a democratic Pakistan flourish), amongst others.
    From this platform, having released the past, Pakistan can go full-throttle with credibility and strength after the WHOLE of The Taliban, AQ and their affiliates.
    In my view, the greatest risk in this approach is not political, but military, ie
    -Can the military embrace this new diminished, but focussed, role or will it divide, or simply be unable to change its essential psychology? (Remember the adage that the only one that wants a change is a wet baby…).
    -Is the army up to the job of eliminating the Taliban, technically (coin, c/terror and all that) or is it simply not agile enough to take on the cunning, innovative and highly agile enemy.
    Todays reality is that Pakistan is in an utterly fragmented state, any way you look at it, paralyzed by complex, advanced multiple-crises.
    Zardari is quoted in today’s Dawn as saying, “If we save Pakistan, it will amount to saving the rights of poor people.”

  • TLA says:

    That is a very good portrayal of the forthcoming state of Paakistan. Thank you.
    I hope that you will allow me to quote it on my own Web site’s political pages.

  • Zeissa says:

    Wonderful article (!), but it should corroborate more on the general acidic influence of most forms of Islam, not merely neo-Wahabism.

  • steve m. says:

    wow! omar, are you from pakistan? if so, that is the most optimistic opinion i have heard from a pakistani yet! i can only hope so.

  • omar says:

    My original note about the Lakki Marwat bombing led to a heated discussion on our email list. I wanted to synthesize this discussion into a coherent article about the direction Pakistan may take in the coming year. Unfortunately, it does not look like I will have the time to really do that properly right now, so I am going to just make a mishmash of the various comments and my comments on them and wait for more comments in order to put this together and make sense of it .
    Let me disagree with you for a change (!), Omar.
    I fear very much that you hope in vain.
    This whole strategic depth nonsense is still very much the idiots’ game plan.
    Remember too, that manufacturing enemies out of thin air is what keeps the lucre flowing.
    We are in very deep trouble, indeed.
    Happy New Year, all,
    P.S. Someone who went to condole the death of the poor Peshawar Corps Commander´s poor son in the horrific Westridge mosque attack told me that Kayani was there too, and that there was no visible change in our Rommels’ and Guderians’ attitudes.
    Dear Taqi,
    Army interests in Pakistani state are the highest. I am told they have started worrying about Indian economic growth verus Pak sagging economy. They know if the gap keeps on widening they will be done. Therefore, they are not fighting jihadis only under US pressure: they have their own reasons. The need to accelerate the process will force them further. In history, it is not what a group desire to do but what history makes them do.
    I think Mr. Ejaz is correct in his statement, “I am told they have started worrying about Indian economic growth verus Pak sagging economy. They know if the gap keep on widening they will be done”. However, I think he is wrong to think that this will force the army to accelerate the process of eliminating Jihadism. Quite the contrary, the Pak army will intensify efforts to destabilize India’s economic growth. The many Jihadi strikes all across India in the past couple of years culminating in the Mumbai attack were designed to scare off foreign investment. My prediction is that ISI supported terrorists will step up their attacks on Indian economic centers and foreign nationals and investments.
    The army will not relinquish the anti-Indian and ‘strategic afghan depth’ Jihadis in our life times unless all these Jihadis (Hafeez Saeed, Masood Azhar, Salahuddin etc) start directly killing the army/influential-elite personnel and their families. There is no indication that the Haqqanis, Saeeds, Azhars and Slahuddins have, as yet, turned against their benefactors and masters.
    Chat Mohan
    I hope you are wrong about the army being unable to change course. If they dont change course, the disaster in our region will be so huge, all this will look like child’s play…I think they will change course. I think you underestimate how much of this is not because they are all conscious agents of some evil wahabi plan but because they are at about the same mental level as Imran Khan when it comes to history and sociology.
    In the case of most members of the high command, its a combination of stupidity, delusions of being “strategic geniuses” and short term economic interests that propel their disastrous policies…. outside of a few true blooded jihadis like Hamid Gul and General Mahmud, its not ideological shrewdness and determination. …Once the wind starts to blow in a different direction in civil society (and maybe with some help from viceroy Anne Patterson sahiba and her team of psychotherapists) they will discover their grand strategic plan was actually to destroy the jihadis all along….Oh well, it sounds weird even to me. but the alternative is too horrible, so I continue to hope.
    Dear Omar,
    As much as I would like to blame the Jihadist mindset and Army’s collusion with it, it is actually the educated middle class that has failed to comprehend the magnitude of Wahhabi menace.
    You have seen that the knee-jerk response to the Ashura bombing was a proposal to ban the Shiite processions. I contended at the time that it was not merely a sectarian attack and was in fact another front in the Wahhabi war on our (South Asian) way of life .
    Hate to use the told-ya-so at such a grim juncture but I did identify sports stadiums as previous and potential targets for the Wahhabi jihadists.
    Pak Army has not and will not change its course. They are not confused at all about their creation unleashing havoc on us. They are the mother of all evil.
    They are the ones harboring Al-Qaida and Taliban.
    Wali-ur-Rehman Mahsud’s press conference inside the Army fort is just tip of this iceberg. Fazlullah,Muslim Khan and Haqqani are all hosted and protected by the Army.
    Unless the Pakistani middle class is clear in identifying the Army and its Wahhabi allies , as the source of all evil and lean on it – through media,political/ civil pressure and if needed through international civil and military help – we will continue to see this destruction.
    ISI mouthpieces are appealing to “the people”

  • Spooky says:

    First of all, these people were hit BECAUSE they stood up. So it isn’t like they were random targets and that they haven’t ye been pushed over the edge: they reached that edge a long time ago, and are fighting for their own lives.
    As for why the politicians can’t do anything, they’re too busy lining their own pockets. Plus the Taliban still have an allure due to their promises of land distribution. The ideals of the movement may be retrogressive, but the practical side of Taliban rule is, in a sad reflection on the Pakistani government, better than is being offered to the people, who continue to live under feudalism.

  • T Ruth says:

    Before your army can rise up and take on anything, you and your people are going to have to rise up and take on your army–on the streets. I don’t mean street battles. I mean people power…..revolution.
    Pakistan, RISE UP OR BREAK UP!
    YOUR ARMY HAS BEEN, STILL IS, PART OF THE PROBLEM. The only way they can be part of the solution is if you DICTATE to them. Else continue to be mis-lead.
    The Soviet army and the KGB could not save the mighty Soviet Union.
    The Pak army is a mighty weak force, physically (pls don’t take my word for it–take a clean sheet of paper and write down their achievements–see it for yourself). But they are under your skin, in your psyche…
    The Americans cannot dictate to the Pak army, as they have discovered. Only you can.
    Else, the plug will be pulled on Balochistan…. somehow….then the reast of the dominos will fall.
    Sir, whether the glass is half full or half empty is the wrong question and playing with words.
    The real question is IS THE GLASS CRACKED?
    IF, and only IF you force them to break with the past. Try it….what have you to lose?

  • T Ruth says:

    I re-read your your rather long post. The content is as good as it is long. Further, it more than makes up for the lack of clear, rational and, most of all, REALISTIC, Pakistani contributions here in the past.
    Thank you and your friends for sharing candidly. Look forward to further dialogue…
    Khuda Hafiz

  • Maverick says:

    Dear Omar,

    I agree with your analysis that the Pakistan Army leadership is caught in a bind – they want to use the Jihadis for their purposes but do not want the Jihadis to become a problem for them. This is why there has been very little progress in containing extremism in Pakistan. I also find the claims made by various Pakistanis – that the Army via the ISI is fomenting a lot of this conflict to keep its hold on society – somewhat credible. When a high security zone is repeatedly breached, it becomes hard to reach any other conclusion.

    Not long after Sept 11, Stephen Cohen predicted that a Jihadi takeover of Pakistan was impossible because if the Jihadis killed the Pakistan Army leadership – then the Army as a whole would launch an extermination campaign against them. Stephen Cohen theorized that the Jihadis were aware of this tendency of the Army and so they would stay clear of attacking the brass. There was some talk of an analogy between the Pakistan Army and the Wehrmacht and the ISI/Army of Islam and the SS that was also touted for a while. The idea here was that the SS did all sorts of things, but ultimately the Wehrmacht called the shots. The analogy never really went anywhere.

    Mind you all this was before the helicopter carrying the 7 Division top brass was shot down and before Gen. Baig was murdered in broad daylight in Rawalpindi. The murders of Gen. Alvi and the attacks in Westridge clearly suggest that the Jihadis are no longer feeling particularly restrained. Nowadays in places like Delhi there is open talk of an Jihadi underworld which appears to have Pakistan in a death grip.

    Do you feel Steve was right in saying that the PA will turn enmasse against the Jihadis if the leadership is attacked and killed?

    Most Indians I know find this idea unsustainable. From all the reports I have seen from various Pakistani publications, the lower ranks have lost interest in fighting the Jihadis or at least they all acknowledge that the Army is fighting on shaky ground. I don’t think Pakistan works the way Steve Cohen wants it to so this is not the way it will play out.

    What do you think – I feel your perspective is much more nuanced than my own. What in your opinion is a turning point for the Army – when will they realize that these opportunistic alliances with the Jihadis do more harm than good?



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