Peshawar is a city on the front line, only a few miles from the Taliban-held barren mountain badlands, the ill-defined border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like all border cities, Peshawar is a cultural melting-pot: a city of smugglers and spies, traders and refugees, tribal factions and political intrigue. Afghanistan’s troubles have always spilled over the border, but recently northwestern Pakistan has become swept up in the turmoil of its neighbor – with a vengeance.
The bombing of October 28 2009 was an unconscionable act of wickedness even by terrorist standards. A car exploded in a preserve of women and children: the women-only Peepal Mandi shopping street in the Meena Bazaar. The bomb was massive – 150 kg (330 lb) of explosives – and the blast could be heard throughout the city. It ripped through the congested alleys of the bazaar, where Peshawari housewives pass the time of day haggling with stallholders over piles of cheap fabric, costume jewelry and shoddy household goods.
The explosion caused an inferno. Highly inflammable artificial materials in the garment stalls immediately caught light, melting into lethal fireballs; a two-storey building collapsed and a mosque and four other buildings were badly damaged. The dead and injured lay strewn in the rubble in a scene from the apocalypse: bloody-faced screaming infants, terror-stricken mothers, and everywhere the smell of burning flesh in the air.
The emergency services failed to respond. The injured were ferried to hospital in rickshaws and taxis as there wasn’t an ambulance in sight; and when the police finally arrived, they started firing into the crowd to ‘restore order’.
The attack was blamed on the Taliban, but they countered with accusations that it was the handiwork of American or government undercover agencies, designed to foment disgust with Islamists; or it could even have been a personal vendetta that went tragically awry.
When: October 28 2009
Where: Peshawar, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan
Death toll: More than 100 died and over 200 were injured, mostly women and children, in the deadliest terrorist attack in Peshawar’s history.
You should know: Since 2007 a wave of terror bombings has engulfed Pakistan; they have become so commonplace that news of them scarcely registers in the Western media, in 2007 there were 18, rising to 25 in 2008 and more than 40 in 2009.2010 got off to a horrifying start: there were nine bombings in January alone.