The reports coming in from Peshawar were dreadful, the blood, the burnt bodies, chaos and the panic. How much can this frontier city and its people take, one wonders?
In the spacious corridors of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad, a few families made their home after two suicide bombers struck the All Saints church in Peshawar on Sunday, September 22.
Three children were admitted to the burns unit here and the oldest of them, eight-year-old Arsalan didn’t return home. When he was brought here, his mother Raziabibi and uncle Akram were waiting in the corridor on a bedsheet spread out with some belongings. They excitedly showed me a small taped plastic box with a bloodied lump in it, possibly ball bearings congealed in flesh and blood, removed from the side of Arsalan’s throat. They didn’t know at that time but it will probably the only souvenir they will have of the boy, other than memories.
Arsalan went to church every Sunday with his father, who suffered a fracture and is in a hospital in Peshawar. ”Every home that day had at least four funerals,” Razia had said. Well, she didn’t know at that time that her youngest of five sons would succumb to his injuries.
Arish, a first year college student is here for his sister Simran – she is hurt all over, her body spattered with shrapnel, and only her face was spared, he says. She had two operations already. His younger sister a six- year- old is in hospital in Peshawar. “They all loved church- they went to Sunday school with great enthusiasm,” he says.
For Asma and her family the bombing will leave a bitter mark forever. A day earlier it was a celebration of her 25th birthday. The young school teacher lost her father and brother in the bombing. “I can’t speak about it and I can’t forget that scene. I couldn’t do anything for them,” says Asma. Her niece, three- year- old Mehek with a head injury is in a critical condition in the burns unit and is expected to take three weeks to recover. Asma’s younger brother too is in hospital.
She had to come to Islamabad as Mehek’s mother is coping with the loss of her husband. Asma says her brother Imtiaz had joined the police recently. “My father had stepped out of the church after Mass and since they were serving food in the compound, he was eating when the bombs went off. I was inside trying to leave,” she says.
For many, a happy Sunday ritual ended in tragedy and bloodshed. But that was the first of the bomb blasts that week in Peshawar and in less than a fortnight the number has gone to five. A bus carrying government employees and later the historic Qissa Khwani bazaar were the targets of the bombers who seem to take some perverse pleasure in targeting innocent men, women and children. By the time I visited the families at PIMS there were two other blasts to report on. Events were happening every other day and the survivors of the church blast were left to their sufferings while Lady Reading hospital coped with another flood of the dead and wounded.
The reports coming in from Peshawar were dreadful, the blood, the burnt bodies, chaos and the panic. How much can this frontier city and its people take one wonders? It reminded me of Mumbai and its bomb blasts which happened with unfailing regularity. I also read the all too familiar stories of resilience in Peshawar, just as we keep saying Mumbai is an unbreakable city. I wondered if Lady Reading hospital was like KEM with its huge infrastructure or like J J hospital. Both hospitals did a marvelous job each time there was a crisis.
Far from resilience, in the eyes of the people I met I only saw pain and horror. Arsalan’s mother kept wondering why the church was bombed and she told me that her son was getting better.
As the government mulls over talks with the Pakistan Taliban, there is no let up in these continual assaults. There were reports that the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) didn’t support the church strike and that another Taliban commander was not happy with it. That’s a big comfort am sure to all the families who lost their loved ones or have to look after those maimed for life.
After announcing talks with the TTP, the government seems to have lost the advantage and is jumping from one crisis to another. In the renewed debate on whether talks should be held or not and calls for distinguishing between the Good Taliban and the Bad and even opening an office to facilitate talks as suggested by cricketing icon turned politician Imran Khan, more lives have been lost and more are going to fall prey to indecision and lack of direction by the powers that be. Such a familiar state of affairs!