‘This isn’t a major blast,’ says Abdul Haq, a veteran member of the police bomb squad who is one of a handful of men in the city who physically disarms retrieved explosives. ‘It’s terrible to see anyone killed. But compared to what we face, this wasn’t a major incident.’
As he’s talking, the twisted, burnt remnants of what was once a school bus are dragged away. Haq leaves after answering my questions, and within an hour the other police, officials and TV crews have all departed too. It’s as if everything is back to normal.
At Lady Reading Hospital, the largest in the province and the one forced to deal with more terrorism victims than any in the country, head of the emergency room Dr Shiraz Afridi receives the corpse of the young worker who has just died.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘He was walking past the bus as the bomb exploded,’ Afridi says. A piece of shrapnel from the blast apparently entered the boy’s heart. It would have been a quick death, Afridi adds.
I ask him if he ever gets used to seeing such carnage. ‘You don’t ever get used to it. But you do grow stronger,’ he says. But he suggests that the aftermath of the Meena Bazaar bombing in 2009, in which more than 100 people—mostly women and children—were killed by a suicide bomber, was particularly harrowing, even for him. ‘We received so many dead and dying people.’
Outside the hospital, police continue setting up checkpoints in the neighbouring Storyteller’s Market of the old city in preparation for the Ashura events that are to commence over the next three days.
As I walk outside, mourners are preparing themselves for one of the first big processions in Peshawar Cantonment. On the loud speaker, the cleric at the local Imambargah wails as he describes in detail the murder of Imam Husayn and his family in the city of Karbala, in modern day Iraq. I notice Haq ordering his men to fan out across the wide boulevards that will shortly be filled with mourners. Bombs could literally be anywhere, he says—‘hidden under rubbish bins, in parked vehicles, even inside drains.’ I suddenly become a little paranoid as I notice I’m surrounded by rubbish bins and drains.