Survivors reflect 7 years after terrorist attack in Peshawar

Danish Yousafzai

Syed Asad Ali Shah on December 14 in Peshawar ties the shoelaces of his father, Syed Ali Shah. The elder Shah lost his legs in an October 2009 bombing in the Cantonment area of Peshawar. [Danish Yousafzai]

Syed Asad Ali Shah on December 14 in Peshawar ties the shoelaces of his father, Syed Ali Shah. The elder Shah lost his legs in an October 2009 bombing in the Cantonment area of Peshawar. [Danish Yousafzai]

PESHAWAR -- Victims of a terrorist attack seven years ago recall the pain and trauma they experienced that day, and the suffering they have endured every since.

The attack on the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the police, situated a few metres from the Swati Phatak military post in the Cantonment area of Peshawar, killed 15 people, including two children, and injured 15 others on October 16, 2009.

A father and his two daughters were among those killed. Syed Ali Shah was severely wounded.

An unforgettable disaster

On the day of the attack, Shah was on routine duty as commander of the armoury at the SIU.

"I checked all the weapons," he told Pakistan Forward, recalling his last day of active duty. "My superiors told me to sit and keep an eye on the gate as the constable next to me was new."

The explosion took place at about 1pm, carried out by a suicide bomber driving a car packed with about 70kg of explosives, according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bomb Disposal Unit officials.

Initially, Shah said, he was traumatised and unable to understand what was happening around him. The blast wounded his legs and right hand.

"I was in pain, and the doctors told me that they would have to cut off my legs," he said, adding that amputating his legs was the only way to save his life as his infected wounds were not healing.

Even though he suffered major injuries and trauma in what he calls an "unforgettable disaster", Shah maintains a positive outlook. "It is a blessing for me and for my family that I am still alive," he said.

Shah receives a nominal pension from the police department, and although he is disabled, he supports his six school-aged children by working as a property dealer.

Unjustifiable brutality

Shah condemns terrorism in the strongest terms and said that every time he hears of an attack, he relives the pain and fear he experienced seven years ago.

"I feel a lot of pain because it reminds me of the blast at SIU," he said.

"Such taking of innocent life is unacceptable in any religion. Nothing can justify such brutality," Shah said. "I always pray that no one ends up like me."

Shah's family say they try to keep him from watching television because he starts weeping when he sees news of terrorism.

"My father was a devoted soldier; he always preferred his duty over everything else," said Syed Asad Ali Shah, 22, son of Syed Ali Shah.

"I am proud of my father," he told Pakistan Forward. "He passed through a very tough life."

As a result of his injuries, Shah uses prosthetics and walks with crutches.

Asad said that sometimes it makes him cry to tie his father's shoelaces, recalling how, before the attack, his father would tie shoelaces for him.

Thousands of lives destroyed

Terrorist activities destroy hundreds of families, Asad said. "It is shameful and inhuman to kill innocent people."

Shah said he prays to God to protect everyone from the disaster of terrorism. However, he said, without confronting the root causes of terrorism, the government will not be able to contain it.

More than 61,490 people have been killed in terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan from 2003 through December 18, 2016, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).

The statistics indicate a decline in the number of people killed in recent years due to the government crackdown and a military offensive against terrorist and extremist groups active in the country.

This year, 610 civilians and 293 security personnel were killed, representing the fewest casualties in the past ten years.

Civilian deaths peaked in 2009 and again in 2012, with 2,324 and 3,007 deaths respectively.

Amir Khan, 26, lost his father and two sisters in the brutal SIU attack in October 2009.

Amir's father worked at the Pakistan Air Force Degree College in Peshawar. One of his sisters taught there and the other, aged 10, was a pupil. All three were killed in the blast as they headed home from school.

"I cannot forget that day. My life can never be the same again," he told Pakistan Forward. "I lost everything and still cannot believe all that suddenly happened."

Not only did Amir lose his family, but also his future, as the slayings cut short his schooling and he must support his remaining family members.

"I pray to Allah that no living person goes through my experience," he said.

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