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Peshawar: City on the frontline

Attack in Peshawar 19.04.10
Hundreds of people have been killed in militant attacks across Pakistan

By Haroon Rashid
BBC Urdu

The Pakistani city of Peshawar is on the receiving end of violence and militant intimidation once again.

Militants have been spreading their attacks outside the traditional theatre of war in the north-west, but Peshawar is not forgotten.

Since late 2009 a renewed spate of attacks has shaken the more than two million residents of this city.

Map

But this has been Peshawar's reality for the past three decades.

Peshawar has long been a place that has hovered on the edge of war. Many local residents blame its proximity to the lingering war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's lawless tribal region for its violent troubles.

Peshawar's western border touches the tribal region of Khyber while the Afghan border is only one hour's drive away.

In 2008, militants on the outskirts of the city appeared to grow so strong that people started talking about its imminent fall.

History of violence

It all began with Soviet troops entering neighbouring Afghanistan in 1979.

Afghan refugees came pouring into the city in their millions from across the historic Khyber Pass. The city witnessed another influx in 2001 after the US destroyed the Taliban in Afghanistan.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan started supporting the mujahideen against the Soviets.

In return, many believe the Soviets started paying back in the same vein with daily bomb blasts in Peshawar.

Scores of its residents lost their lives for a war they had nothing to do with. I still remember the blast in Peshawar's cantonment area in front of a busy shop in 1993 that killed more than 60 people.

The city is well protected, with an extensive police and military presence.

Pakistani tribal families who have been displaced from Bajur and Mohamand regions due to fighting between security forces and Taliban militants, wait to receive food relief at Jalozai camp in Peshawar, Pakistan on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009.
Peshawar has long been a destination for refugees

This reassures its local residents. Many believe a militant takeover is no real possibility - but militants have proved time and again that they can target the city at their will.

The heavy presence of local security forces lead some to think this is why the militants have sent bombers to Peshawar's busy markets.

"They have to show their anger, no matter who is killed," says a local resident.

But it is also becoming clear that in their increasingly desperate struggle against the Pakistani state, militants once again regard ordinary citizens as "legitimate targets".

Recent major attacks in Peshawar have made it evident that the war is no longer just between security forces and the militants.

Common citizens are directly involved now. Ever since attacks began following interventions in Pakistan's tribal areas in 2002, militants have taken care not to target civilians in fear of losing popular support.

Cornered animals

There has been popular support for militants because of the anti-American feeling endemic in this part of the world.

OTHER RECENT MILITANT ATTACKS IN PAKISTAN
1 January 2010 - A bomb at a volleyball match kills about 100
24 December 2009 - Four people die when police stop a suicide bomber on his way to a market
28 October - More than 120 die from car bomb in a packed market
15 October - About 40 die in a series of gun and bomb attack
12 October - Security convoy attacked in Swat valley, 41 die
10 October - Militants attack Rawalpindi army HQ - 20 killed
9 October - At least 50 die in Peshawar suicide blast
5 October - Five killed in suicide bomb at UN Islamabad offices
26 Sept - 16 die in suicide car bombs in Peshawar and Bannu

But the more militants feel hemmed in by the Pakistani military around South Waziristan and elsewhere in the volatile tribal belt, the more they fight back like cornered animals.

Everyone is now a target, whether it is the UN or the common man.

The violence brings back memories of that time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were attacks and blasts in roads and markets across the city.

This was at the height of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion.

The government is now more open about these matters and recognises the sacrifices that Peshawar has made in this and previous wars.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rahman Malik said in the aftermath of one major blast that the sacrifices made by this region were beyond estimation.

But no-one can answer the question - when will it finally end?



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