As the cleric’s sermon ends, the mourners filter purposefully out of the Imambargah and onto the boulevard. The vibrant flags of Imam Husayn flutter in the breeze as men and boys of all ages begin flagellating themselves with small, ritual blades, the bright red of their own blood matching the colours of the flags. ‘Try to finish your work early,’ Haq says to me in a fatherly way. ‘The most dangerous time is after 5 pm.’
Although today’s procession ends without any disturbance, that evening a girl is killed in a grenade attack outside a mosque in the old city of Peshawar. As I rush to the scene of the blast, police are already scattering across the narrow streets and lanes, pushing bystanders away from the area. I slip through the commotion to the spot where the grenade went off, now marked by a small crater surrounded by debris and faint splashes of blood. But again, just as with the earlier IED attack, there are signs that life is already returning to normal despite this latest disturbance.
Haq and the police bomb squad leave almost as soon as they arrive, and the makeshift barbwire barricades set up by security forces while investigators inspected the scene are slowly being dismantled. The victims of this latest blast, I’m told, have been taken to hospital.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
This time, Lady Reading feels more chaotic. The parents of children injured in the latest blast pour into the emergency ward, crying out for someone to help. In the corner, the mother of the murdered girl screams uncontrollably, shaking her arms in distress. Doctors and medical staff swing calmly into action, despite the disturbances around them. They’ve apparently seen all of this before.
There’s a lockdown in Peshawar’s old city as Ashura commences. Narrow streets and dusty ancient bazaars that are normally brimming with the sights and sounds of a vibrant city are eerily quiet. The shops have all been shuttered. Police barricades have closed off every entry point into the old city, which is home to thousands of Shia Muslims.
Processions continue from morning to night as Shia Muslims drift out of the old city’s Imambargahs and onto the otherwise empty streets. Along with the regular police, there are voluntary security guards manning makeshift checkpoints with metal detectors. Most are Shia, but many are not—including Malik, a Sunni Muslim who guards the entrance to the local Imambargah of a childhood friend.