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.
The WFP project in Bajur feeds 41,000 families — or 300,000 people — who returned to the district from camps for the displaced elsewhere in the country, even though their livelihoods having been ruined by fighting between Pakistan troops and insurgents.
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 on Monday. "We have been borrowing food from neighbors for the last five days," said Khan, adding that his family last received supplies on Nov. 25.
Bajur and other parts of the tribal regions are of major concern to the United States because they have been safe havens for militants fighting NATO and American troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, told the Associated Press that Pakistan's "impressive" counterinsurgency efforts against armed groups must be recognized.