KHAR, Pakistan – Some 300,000 desperately poor villagers impoverished by fighting in Pakistan’s tribal belt are scrambling to feed themselves after a female suicide bomber killed 45 people outside a World Food Program food distribution center, triggering a districtwide suspension of the relief project.
Pakistan says the attack is a sign of insurgent desperation, but the bombing and ongoing battles challenge Islamabad’s claims of victory over al-Qaida and the Taliban in this part of the porous northwest border.
WFP district coordinator Shahab Khan said on Sunday that all four food relief centers run by the United Nations agency in the Bajur district had been shut indefinitely since Saturday’s bombing in the area’s main town of Khar.
Painda Khan, a 48-year-old farmer who abandoned his crops months ago, said his family of 11 was now desperate for their rations of rice, flour, lentils, cooking oil and high-energy biscuits that he had been going to pick up today.
“We have been borrowing food from neighbors for the last five days,” said Khan, adding that his family last received supplies on Nov. 25.
Gul Karim Khan, a 53-year-old who provides for a family of 10, had also found himself robbed of options by the closing of the supply centers.
“We are getting into very tough times. We don’t have any idea what we will do in the days ahead if we don’t get aid.”
While food relief centers outside Bajur are still functional, WFP official Amjad Jamal said the displaced villagers were not eligible for rations from outside the district.
“We are trying to resume supplies at the earliest possible opportunity,” said Jamal, adding that it was too early to suggest a date. “We are most concerned for the children in these areas because the majority are already malnourished.”
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday still maintained that Pakistan’s military had routed al-Qaida and Taliban from their strongholds in the area despite the bombing and running gunbattles in recent days.
“As far as terrorism is concerned, their strongholds are finished and they have escaped from there and they are on the run,” he said. “They are now turning toward soft targets like you have seen.”