(Reuters) – Some tribal elders in a city in northwest Pakistan have decreed that families fleeing a military offensive should not allow women to collect food aid, an elder said on Monday after Reuters saw him attacking women.
“If any woman comes to the ration distribution area, she will be punished,” said Malik Kaleemullah, an elder from the Malik tribe. The decision was taken by more than 40 elders on Sunday in the city of Bannu, he said, where most of the families fleeing the fighting are staying.
Last month, the military ordered the civilian population of North Waziristan, a mountainous region on the Afghan border, to leave ahead of an offensive aimed at the Pakistani Taliban.
The United States has long urged Pakistan to clear Taliban safe havens on its territory. North Waziristan was often used to launch attacks across the border into Afghanistan.
Since the operation began, nearly a million displaced people have registered for aid, although that number is expected to fall as fraudulent claimants and duplicates are weeded out. Tens of thousands have poured into Afghanistan.
Most of those fleeing come from extremely conservative families, where women wear the head-to-toe “burqa” robe that has only a small mesh area to see through.
Women in villages are often restricted in their movements and may rarely leave their homes. But many now have had to queue to secure food, water or medicine.
On Monday, a Reuters journalist saw Kaleemullah slap several women queuing for food at the main stadium in Bannu, the dusty northwestern city where most aid is being distributed.
Hundreds of others saw him, including members of the security forces and local journalists. No one intervened and the women who were struck, along with a dozen others in line, left quickly.
Kaleemullah then handed out leaflets telling women to stay indoors.
“We, the elders of Waziristan have decided that from now on, no woman should come to the ration distribution area,” the leaflet read.
“People of Waziristan…should keep their women at home,” the leaflet continued. “Otherwise, the elders of Waziristan will go to the house and give the husband appropriate punishment.”
There was no suggestion how widows or women unaccompanied by their husbands might secure aid. Humanitarian agencies say three-quarters of those who have fled are women and children.
“In this culture they treat women like this, and if you fight them, they will fight you,” said a security official.
“Of course, if someone tried to murder a woman, the soldier should stop it. But a slap or something like this, it is very common in their culture.”
Also on Monday, two men on motorbikes sprayed four women with acid while they were out shopping in the western provincial capital of Quetta, a doctor said.
The women received burns to their hands and faces, said doctor Saghir Ahmed at Bolan Medical College Hospital.