Pakistan Reeling After Wave of Blasts

by Tanya Thomas on  November 7, 2009 at 11:04 AM General Health News
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The anxious wives were on the phone again to their husbands in the Pakistani garrison town of Rawalpindi, a terrorist target where daily routine can turn to horror in an instant.
 Pakistan Reeling After Wave of Blasts
Pakistan Reeling After Wave of Blasts

"She's very worried," Abdul Habib said after putting down the receiver while visiting a friend's carpet shop close to the site of a bombing which left 35 people dead.

Not far from the carpet shop, Junaid Anwar Baig's wife had also phoned.

"She calls two or three times a day," said Baig, 62, who sells copper ornaments and other handicrafts.

"She always says: 'Be careful. Don't move around.'"

Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists have carried out a two-year campaign of attacks that have killed more than 2,400 people in Pakistan, which has a population of around 167 million.

The indiscriminate killing, beamed into living rooms by television channels broadcasting round the clock, is cultivating a state of fear and uncertainty across Pakistan.

"The whole nation is in a state of trauma," said Naima Hassan, a psychologist who has counselled victims of the attacks.

There have around 300 blasts since the wave of violence began. Last week in northwestern city Peshawar 118 people -- many of them women and children -- died in a market bombing that was the country's second-worst attack.

"The problem is this: you can't stop it," said Habib, 57. "Anything can happen at any time. Mentally, everybody's upset."

That feeling of helplessness is common, said the psychologist.

"They feel that they are unable to cope with this terrorism," she said.

Along Mall Road, a wide, busy street in front of the carpet shop and Baig's business, they have already had a lot to cope with.

In the latest attack to strike this city adjoining the capital Islamabad, a bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up close to people queuing for their salaries outside a Pakistani bank and hotel, police said.

The bomb site, still blocked by police, is about 200 metres (yards) from army headquarters where last month 10 gunmen kept up a nearly 24-hour siege that left 23 people dead and deeply embarrassed the military.

A short walk from Baig's shop, another suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden car into a convoy, killing the military's top doctor and at least seven other people in February last year.

Similar violence across the country has left people suffering "at extreme levels", Hassan said.

"Their mental well-being is at stake."

Pakistanis are "losing quality of life", constantly in a state of fear and anxiety which is leading to ailments as well as sleep disorders, she said.

Baig has been in business for a quarter of a century at the same location, which he remembers was once "a very peaceful place".

Sitting behind his desk, the man with a long beard and glasses still manages to chuckle and smile but says the security problem has produced two types of personalities.

"One group of people is very much depressed," he said, while others feel: "We have to fight."

He is no psychologist but says: "There is an effect on the mental soundness of Pakistanis." So focused on militants, the country is unable to move forward, he said.

"When I go out from my home, I am ready for death," says Muhammad Idress, 29, who runs a simple medical clinic built of plywood within sight of the spot where the military doctor died.

Idress's attitude is typical, Hassan said.

"They always think that they are close to death," and are extremely worried about the future of their children, she said. "This the majority of the population."

Naseem Akhtar, 29, said her worried family told her to stay away from work at Idress's clinic after the latest bombing.

Just a few months after moving to Rawalpindi from her farming village southwest of the city, she says she is going back for the sake of her two children.

"I am so afraid that I don't want to send them to school in the city," she said.

The nation can eventually recover from its moderately traumatised state if government forces can exert control and prevent attacks, Hassan said.

Prolonged insecurity will lead to severe psychological trauma that will badly damage people's lives and place them in need of longer-term counselling support, she said.

"This is not a headache which you can remedy by taking two aspirin," the psychologist said.

Source: AFP

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