I don’t even remember the first terrorist attack or suicide bombing I reported on after arriving in Pakistan, there have been so many. Over 60 a year since we came here in late 2007.
Initially it was just the security forces – their vehicles and check posts in some place that was just a spot on the map for me. Then it was Lahore and Rawalpindi before the terrorists struck in Islamabad.
With each blast, things become almost mechanical. Calls to contacts, officials or colleagues with the same old questions – where, what was the target, how many dead and injured? So cold and clinical, like most of the stuff which journalists do in such situations. After all, we were always taught to be objective by seniors in our days as cub reporters.
But once in a while, the terror does strike closer to home. I still remember the call I got from my colleague in Lahore early one morning last year, saying he wouldn’t be able to work for the rest of the week.
My colleague is a guy who always has a smile on his face and an easy laugh, never takes an off (like most journos in Pakistan) and never shirks – but this time he had a compelling reason.
His brother-in-law, a major in the Pakistan Army who had been through several scrapes during operations against the Taliban in Swat valley, was ambushed and killed while going to the rescue of some other soldiers.
We try not to think about these things and put them away in some corner of our mind. While talking to folks back home, the usual questions about our safety are answered with: “Oh, we’re ok. That attack happened far away from our home.”
But the fear is there, nagging away in some dark recess. Having heard so much from colleagues about how the terrorists were using mobiles to trigger their explosive devices, I almost freaked out when I heard someone tapping on the keypad of cell phone during the Friday prayers at our neighbourhood mosque.
I ignored the instructions drilled into my head by my grandfather that one should not allow anything to disturb the namaz, and turned to see where the sound was coming from. It turned out to be a young boy in the row behind me playing with his cell phone.
One tries to make some sense of the human cost of these senseless terror attacks and suicide bombings. Each of those hundreds of people killed that we report about have families and loved ones who will have to grapple with a sense of loss for a long, long time.
And one finally realises that one can’t really make much sense of things. What really drives these men who blow themselves up? What goes through their minds as they press down on the switch that sets off their explosive jackets or when they drive their explosives-laden vehicle into a target?
These are questions that people in Pakistan will have to grapple with while trying to find ways to end the militancy and terrorism in their country. We can only wish them luck and say a prayer for them.