Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 11:59 UK

The 'Talebanisation' of Pakistan

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and policemen enter the police training school in Lahore (Photo: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
Security forces recaptured the police training school after eight hours of clashes

On Monday, militants attacked a Pakistani police training school in the eastern city of Lahore. Jill McGivering was near the compound during the attack and spoke to people about how recent attacks are affecting their lives.

The young man had a police crew cut and bulging biceps.

As he came forward to speak to me, he was still trembling. He seemed shocked to be alive.

"We were taking our places on the parade ground for inspection, when there was an explosion. Then gunfire," he told me.

"It was chaos. Everyone ran. I hid behind a fruit stall for hours before I could escape."

As he talked to me, a sudden commotion broke out. Nearby a gunman had been arrested.

Minutes later, an explosion deafened us. My translator and I grasped at each other in fear.

Lahore - a city traditionally known for its tolerance and culture - was under siege

The rooftop, where we took cover for eight hours, was across the road from the police training school.

Gunmen had stormed the compound, disguised as police cadets.

The air, swirling with heat and dust, was also thick with noise - shouts, sirens, sustained gunfire, swooping military helicopters and bursting grenades.

Lahore - a city traditionally known for its tolerance and culture - was under siege.

Deepening fear

The next day, as local television showed pictures of the flag-draped coffins of those killed, I went back to thank the Khokhar family who own the rooftop we had used.

Pakistani police pay tribute at the coffins of policemen during a funeral in Lahore (Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Eight policemen were killed during the attack on the police training school

The Khokhar females, from babes in arms to an elderly matriarch, gathered round us in their courtyard, perched on stools and laps.

It was only a few weeks since the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, I said - and now this. How did that make them feel?

The men were feisty: "Pakistanis would fight back," they said. "This was the work of foreigners."

The women were more sober. "We're frightened for our children," they told me, "the violence is growing, day by day."

That sense of a deepening fear has travelled with me in the last two weeks as I have crossed Pakistan.

Open warfare between militants and Pakistan's army is sending shockwaves throughout the country

The North West, the mountainous tribal region which borders Afghanistan, is the epicentre of the violence.

It is been troubled for decades, barely controlled by the state. But in recent years it has become radicalised, home to al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters and other extremists.

They preach an oppressive brand of Islam which most Muslims here are eager to condemn.

As their influence has grown, the government has fought back.

Open warfare between militants and Pakistan's army is sending shockwaves throughout the country.

Frontier lives

In Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, I shared a lavish lunch with a wealthy family who have just moved away from the North West.

A map of Pakistan (FATA - Federally Administerd Tribal Areas, NWFP -North West Frontier Province)

They had spent all their lives in the main city there, Peshawar. But moved partly to escape the growing threat of kidnap, shooting and bomb attack.

I have reported from Peshawar several times in the last decade. Now it is simply too dangerous for a foreigner to stay overnight there or travel without an armed escort.

I asked the family to describe their daily life in the frontier city.

The glamorous wife waved a manicured hand and laughed. "I was little Miss Heroine," she told me.

"I always had a gun in my handbag. The children rarely left the house," she added.

"Sometimes we let them play tennis, but only with armed bodyguards there on the court."

Sheltering from violence

The rich are moving to safer cities or even safer countries. But many of those caught up in the fighting in the tribal areas are poor.

Refugees in Kacha Gari camp (Photo: TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
As militant attacks increase, more people are becoming refugees

More than 600,000 Pakistanis are now internal refugees.

Many live in camps under makeshift plastic shelters, on desolate mud plains, exposed to the wind, rain and sun.

I visited Kacha Gari camp, on the outskirts of Peshawar, escorted on the journey from Islamabad by a special military convoy.

I found a class of thin-faced schoolgirls, cross-legged in an airless tent, chanting the alphabet. Most had never been to school before.

Outside, among their mothers, I met Gulhayat, a strapping woman with crooked teeth and an open, hearty smile.

She had seven children, she told me and shared her husband with two other wives.

Back home, in their village, she used to live like a queen, she said. But two years ago, Taleban fighters came.

They stopped girls going to school. Women were not allowed to leave the house, even to go to the doctor.

"When my husband argued with them, they threatened to behead him," she told me.

Tough decisions

Everyone I have met here, from the camps to the cities, speaks of the future with trepidation.

They talk of Talebanisation, of creeping extremism, of spies and of the state loosening its tentative grip on power.

I heard numerous solutions. Education. Development. Sealing the border with Afghanistan. Sending Nato troops home. None of them easy and none of them quick.

Back in the camp, Gulhayat led me through the mud to the family's plastic shelter. I asked her what she thought the government should do?

She shook her head sadly. "They should bring peace," she said simply, "so we can go home."

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 4 April, 2009 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service



SEE ALSO
In pictures: Lahore siege
30 Mar 09 |  In Pictures
Gunmen shoot Sri Lanka cricketers
03 Mar 09 |  South Asia


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