Children killed by toy bomb remind Pakistanis of militants' cruelty

By Ashfaq Yusufzai and AFP


A Pakistani bomb disposal officer examines a toy car after a raid by police in Karachi April 27, 2005. Police arrested two militants and seized dozens of toys suspected of being used as booby traps. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- A toy bomb killed six boys Sunday (June 25) in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan, said officials, according to AFP.

The bomb blew up while the children played with it in Speenmark village, South Waziristan.

The boys were "aged 6 to 12", a local government official told AFP, adding that two other children were critically wounded.

Strategy of preying on civilians

Dozens of children, mostly in northwest Pakistan, have lost their lives in the past when playing with "toys" that turned out to be explosive devices.

A toy bomb in Buner District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), killed two shepherd brothers and injured their female cousin in February.

The boys were aged 15 and 18; their cousin was seven at the time.

In April 2009, 13 children died when they mistook a bomb for a toy outside a girls' primary school in Lower Dir, KP.

In 2016, various bombs hidden in toys or in appliances (meant to attract adults looking for a free item) killed more than a dozen Buner District residents, Buner District Police Officer (DPO) Mahmood Hamdani, who survived a bombing himself last August, told Pakistan Forward.

Buner used to be thick with militants, but security forces drove them out in 2010. The booby trap bombs are their way of "fighting" when troops have defeated them on the battlefield, said Hamdani.

The Taliban are notorious for slaughtering civilians to demonstrate their enmity, Buner shopkeeper Muhammad Yousaf told Pakistan Forward.

Growing awareness and contempt

"Awareness is growing," said Yousaf. "People call the police when they see unclaimed luggage or other things."

Many times children who recognise danger have called police rather than pick up an enticing-looking "toy", he added.

All of society is uniting against the Taliban's cowardly strategy of killing civilians, he said, adding that mosque prayer leaders urge worshippers to contact police if they find suspicious objects.

Civilians, "some of whom had a soft spot for Taliban militants, have developed a hatred for them after they killed people in horrible ways", Buner police officer Muhammad Javid told Pakistan Forward.

An increasingly alert public is becoming less vulnerable to booby traps, asserted Hamdani the DPO.

In 2016, "we averted more than 50 such incidents because we received timely information from the public", he said.

More work to educate the public remains, he said, adding, "We want to scale up the public's awareness ... of the devilish bombs planted by militants."

Police do possess "the latest equipment ... to detect and dispose of bombs", he said.

Schoolchildren are furious at the militants for killing young Pakistanis, said Buner 10th-grader Moeen Shah, citing his own friends and classmates.

"We condemn the miscreants for using explosives to kill people," he told Pakistan Forward.

Resorting to attacks on 'soft targets'

"These are acts of cowardice" by militants who "cannot stand up to troops", Moeen said of the booby traps.

The army has thrashed the Taliban, but they are still capable of hitting "soft targets", said Peshawar-based security analyst Khadim Hussain.

"Militants kill children, polio workers and [some] police officers to show they are still around, but they will soon disappear from the scene," he told Pakistan Forward, referring to the effect of counter-insurgency campaigns like Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad.

Children, with their naivete, are the most vulnerable to toy bombs, even as public awareness of booby traps grows, he warned.

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