Omar Waraich: Bin Laden's old town just got even deadlier

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The Independent Online

With its crowded bazaars and old-quarter alleyways, Peshawar is no stranger to militancy. In the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden moved his family here from Saudi Arabia and built his reputation as a supporter of jihad. Everyone from Alexander the Great to Howard Marks has been drawn to this city. And now, with seven deadly attacks over the last month, it is Pakistan's militants who seek to draw a tightening noose around Peshawar, located on the edge of Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

Today, transport vehicles supplying Nato troops in Afghanistan are ritually looted or torched near the Khyber Pass, while kidnappings and murders menace the city's well-heeled neighbourhoods.

But the devastation caused by Tuesday's attack on the Pearl Continental has shocked the normally unflappable residents of this rough-and-tumble city. As the death toll and the scenes of devastation sunk in yesterday, the city streets, normally teeming and anarchic, fell eerily quiet.

The Pearl Continental lies in the heart of the heavily garrisoned military quarter, with the regional army commander's home on one side, and the red-brick British colonial-era fort that houses the Frontier Corps a mere stone's throw away. If such a tightly protected target is vulnerable, nowhere is safe.

The local police are ill-equipped in the face of the threat. "We have very meagre resources, and we are short of men," says Qazi Jamil, a senior police official. "It's a full-fledged insurgency we are dealing with now. The police are neither trained nor prepared for this."

Even in the hospital people are jittery. In Dera Ismail Khan, another city in the region, long famous for its workshops turning out weapons of every description, attacks on hospitals have followed suicide bombings. "Don't spend long here," said Dr Ayaz Khan. "The hospital is under threat."