PAI KHAN, Pakistan -- Days before his wedding, a father bought his son elegant nuptial headgear with colorful floral garlands.
But the red and pink flowers now ornament his grave in a dusty cemetery in northwestern Pakistan’s remote Pai Khan village.
Dawood Shah, 20, was one of the 36 people killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest at a mosque during Friday prayers in the Anbar region of the Mohmand tribal district on September 16.
His father Zahir Shah, an elderly man with flowing white beard, recalled one of the last conversations with his son.
“One day before his death, his mother insisted he sleep on the new double bed we bought him as a wedding gift, but he insisted on sleeping on the floor,” he said. “He told his mother, ‘We are made of dust and will return to dust’.”
Dawood Shah was killed two days before his wedding on September 18. He is one of the latest victims of attacks by Islamist militants in northwestern Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which border Afghanistan. Mohmand, named after a Pashtun tribe, is one of the seven FATA districts.
Since 2004, Taliban attacks and military operations have killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of Pashtuns, who make up nearly 99 percent of FATA’s estimated 7 million to 10 million population.
Anbar has seen a fair share of this violence since its residents resisted the Taliban and even formed an armed volunteer force, locally called Lashkar, to keep the Taliban from returning after driving them out in 2009.
The hard-line militant group virtually controlled Mohmand from late 2007 until their ouster at the end of 2009.
Now everyone in Anbar is devastated by the September 16 attack, which was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar -- a breakaway faction of the banned Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Militants claimed the attack was retaliation for a 2009 attack that killed 13 of their fighters.
“I am a poor man; I borrowed a lot for his wedding. Our extended family had gathered to take part in the ceremony,” Zahir Shah said. “Instead, we buried him.”
Rana Gul, a middle-aged man in Pai Khan, lost his four sons in the attack. Wahab, the eldest, who went by one name only, was 20 while the youngest, Mushtaq, was 12 years old.
“My two elder boys were our breadwinners. They earned a living as laborers in the [northwestern Pakistani city] of Rawalpindi,” he said.
Ba Khan, another villager, has a similar story. His 20-year-old son, Ghafoor Khan, eked out a living by working as a day laborer in nearby cities.
The families’ grief has been compounded by what they describe as the government’s callous response to the tragedy. They said most victims died because local clinics lacked medicine and were unable to perform lifesaving surgeries.
Dilapidated roads in the region ensured that none of the injured could be rushed to major hospitals, which are at least 100 kilometers away.
Authorities have paid out nearly $4,000 in Pakistani currency to the relatives of the victims, but Zahir Shah says it amounts to nothing.
“Even if they give me all of Pakistan, it will not mend my wounds,” he said. “But I resent the fact that victims elsewhere in Pakistan are paid handsomely. The blood of Pashtuns is cheap and is being sold for pennies in this country.”
Still, Anbar residents are resolute in defending their homeland against the hard-line militants.
“All five villages in Anbar are against the Taliban and have contributed volunteers for a local peace militia,” said Malik Saab Khan, a local tribal leader. “We have killed them, snatched their weapons, and chased them. Such attacks will not deter us from taking them on again.”
Abubakar Siddique wrote this based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Shahnawaz Tarakzai’s reporting from Pai Khan, Pakistan.