Four women who reportedly ran empowerment workshops in a volatile area of Pakistan were killed on Monday, according to local police and the women’s employer. The attack raises concerns as an increase in Taliban activity has recently been reported across certain areas of Pakistan.
Fayaz Khan is the chief executive of Bravo College of Technology in Peshawar. Khan said that the women were hired in order to help the local women of the area learn vocational skills such as sewing in North Waziristan.
“Is this the way to give back to someone for the hard work they were doing for the poor?” Khan said by telephone to NBC News. “Their role was tremendous for the local community.”
The women were reportedly the targets of an attack as they passed through a deserted village near the town of Mirali in North Waziristan tribal district, according to police chief Shafiullah Gandapur.
NBC News reports,
North Waziristan runs along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and served as a base for the Pakistani Taliban and other militants, including Al Qaeda, until 2014, when the army said it cleared the region of insurgents.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The killing comes in the midst of a surge of attacks that have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, notably “in the deeply conservative area in recent months and amid concern that the insurgents may be regrouping.”
Gandapur also said, “North Waziristan tribal district has suffered badly from militancy for a long time…The security situation has improved but still we face a lot of problems.”
The Pakistani Taliban are also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Notably, the group is not the same as the Afghan Taliban but holds a similar philosophy. Formed in 2007, the group seeks to overthrow the Pakistani government and establish a government that is in line with their stringent interpretation of Islam.
The Taliban do not currently control a particular area although they reportedly work in different places across Pakistan. In the areas that have been under Taliban control in the past, the group did not allow girls’ education to take place. Women were also prohibited from working and nonprofit organizations were banned from operating.
Champions of girls’ education have also historically been targeted. A member of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting and badly injuring Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012. She had angered the Taliban by supporting and promoting girls’ education.
Even today, women who work for charities are in danger in Pakistan’s conservative tribal areas where lots of men and militants reportedly spurn “efforts to empower women in local society and paint them as stooges of the West.”
“The female social workers came here from towns and the nonprofit had not informed us before sending these females to this volatile area,” said Gandapur, the police chief. “Had they informed us before their visit, we would have provided them security and could have possibly avoided this unfortunate incident.”
Police also said they had launched a “search and strike” operation to try and arrest the attackers.