Adil Khattak eyed the smashed buildings gloomily. “I was standing not far away when I heard a small explosion. I rushed to the site and saw three people lying on the ground, injured. About ten minutes later there was a much more powerful explosion – I had no idea what had happened. I remember a fireball, screams, broken concrete, and blood.”
The attack on Khyber Super Market in Peshawar, on 11 June, killed 34 people and injured more than 100. It was the fourth attack on Peshawar in just twenty days. Adil Khattak, who is 25-years-old and studying commerce, still lives in a rented flat nearby, but he hopes to move. “I am visiting property dealers, looking for an apartment in a safer part of town.”
Violence has become an everyday part of life in the city. Many are afraid, but there is also surprising resilience and stubborn courage on the streets of Peshawar. People are determined to get on with their lives.
Khyber Super Market is located on Bara Road in the Cantonment, close to Qayum Sports Stadium. The Pakistani army dominates the area, which is also home to numerous media organisations, such as PACT Radio, The News and Geo TV. Though no one claimed responsibility, it is widely believed that the intended targets of the 11 June attack were local journalists socialising in the popular Lala Hotel, which was completely destroyed in the blast. Several journalists were killed and injured.
Militants in Pakistan regularly intimidate and attack journalists. Unbiased reporting and careful investigation is a threat to their activities. Most of the victims, however, are just unlucky – people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The violence is indiscriminate.
Obaid Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy from Bajaur, was one of the unlucky ones. “We live in a flat nearby,” says his uncle, “Obaid ran out to buy bread. When we heard the blast I rushed to the site and… I found his body.” He breaks off, unable to continue.
“The first blast was small,” says Hezar Khan, the manager of the Lala Hotel, “it drew people to the area. When they gathered the bomber blew himself up in order to cause the maximum number of casualties. Our hotel was completely destroyed; we lost more than two million rupees. Still,” he says, striking a typically defiant note, “reconstruction work has already started and soon we will re-open.”
The police, themselves often the target of terrorist attacks, are ill equipped to deal with the threat. They lack the weapons, training and morale to take on battle-hardened, well-organised militant groups.
“How do the terrorists manage to get past all the checkpoints?” complained one man, who requested not to be named. “All the police do is cordon off the area when the damage is done and create more problems for us.”
One thing is clear: Peshawar is becoming more dangerous; the attacks more frequent.
“Whenever I see crowds of people or a vehicle standing in the rush, I fear that a blast is about to occur,” says Maroof Ahmed, who works as a civil servant. “For the last seven months I have not offered prayers in the mosque because I know that the terrorists are not true Muslims and are capable of attacking anywhere.”
Despite the constant threat, the markets and streets of Peshawar are as busy as ever. After an attack, shops soon re-open and people are quick to return to the area.
“The targeting of common people has presented a challenge to the city,” says Afatab Ahamad, a schoolteacher, sitting in his family’s hujra. “Regardless of the threat, the people of Peshawar have not allowed it to break their resolve; they will not give in.”