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'War on Terror' has shattered Peshawar

Residents struggle to survive while leaders argue over politics

  • Silent Thinker, Peshawar
  • Pakistan
  • July 10, 2012
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There are many reasons why the media largely ignored a bombing in Peshawar on Sunday.

The first is that nobody died, the buildings destroyed did not belong to the government and quite frankly, the locals had seen much worse than this.

“There is not a household here which is not scarred by an injury or death of a family member or an acquaintance. We live at God’s mercy; this is our life,” Haji Khadir Mohammad, a tea merchant, told me.

Khadirl’s shop was one of 10 destroyed by a bomb placed in his narrow street. His establishment was severely damaged and he lost more than 1,000 kilograms of tea bags. Media reports said the Taliban had been sending him and other businesses in the street letters demanding money.

The street is located a few yards from Mina Bazaar, a congested market for women and children, where 137 died in a 2009 bombing. The attack was the deadliest in this northwestern city regarded as the cradle of the al-Qaeda network.

“I still remember 10 funerals held after that. Many security guards later described hearing wailing voices in that market late at night,” said Khadir.

I used to go shopping in these narrow alleys with my mom in my childhood. Those were times when people from around the country used to flock to Peshawar, which was once the hub of smuggled goods from neighboring Afghanistan. The items, ranging from fabric to crockery, were readily available at cheap prices.

The Afghan refugee camps around Peshawar that sprung up during the Soviet occupation have now been turned into camps for internally displaced people who are victims of the Taliban insurgency. The markets for smuggled goods are now haunted and a shadow of what they were.

If I were to choose a place that was living proof of the effects the "War on Terror" is having in Pakistan, Peshawar would be my pick. All the important buildings here are now enveloped in barbed wire and sand bags. Policemen guarding the gates of religious places of worship are a common site.

A bridge under construction by the city’s main entrance and revamped city gates were the only signs of development I could notice in my recent visit to Peshawar. There were also a few painted buildings built in place of bombed ones.

“We are never threatened but the extraordinary security measures make life hard. Police have instructed me to remain in the parish house after 10 at night. The overwhelming atmosphere outside the Church buildings can be harmful for me,” a parish priest told me.

He may be right, but at the same time the concern of the provincial government for the safety of minorities is commendable. I do not remember a major Church attack in Peshawar since the 2001 killing of 16 Christians at St. John Vianney Church. Minorities in Federally Administered Tribal Areas enjoy protection despite a hostile Taliban in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions.

However, it is time to think beyond our own personal interests and support the country against all sorts of dangers.

Jihadi groups were recently in Islamabad after a "long march" to protest against the reopening of NATO’s supply routes to Afghanistan. They claimed to be the voice of the people against drone attacks.

Whatever the driving force behind them , the fact remains that grievances of the common man remain unaddressed. This can only be resolved by providing relief to citizens facing a financial crisis every week.

The government is now entitled to get the US “coalition support fund” which reimburses the country for the cost of counter-insurgency operations. Problems arise when the money doesn’t reach the masses.

I remember politicians urging people to stay calm when protests started against crippling power cuts. We have cut the supply lines but now you have to be patient, they said.

The government is now out of excuses. It must provide immediate relief to citizens since they are the ones paying the price of terrorism.

Peshawar, being on the front line in this violence, deserves the lion’s share.

Federal government should spend some time away from of its constitutional juggling and address basic things like improved infrastructure and a better standard of living.

Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic writer based in Lahore.

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