Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Purple Ink: For Many Women, A Sign Of Responsible Citizenship

Afghanistan -- An Afghan woman shows her inked finger after voting at a polling station in the northwestern city of Herat, April 5, 2014

Farishte Jalalzai
Millions of Afghans, including an unprecedented number of women, turned out to vote in the presidential and local council elections April 5 despite torrential rain across most of the country and weeks of heightened Taliban violence.
The first thing I did early that Saturday morning was call home and try in vain to convince my mother not to go out.
The attack on Kabul’s only five-star hotel, which was followed by a series of explosions and assassinations of candidates, election workers, and civilians was proof of the Taliban’s commitment to compromise the legitimacy of the process while terrorizing the electorate.
What the Taliban ultimately wanted to achieve was low voter turnout--one last blow to democracy building efforts before international forces pull out of the country at the end of this year.
Staying home and not voting would mean a step back into darkness for the country, but was voting worth risking one’s life? Thinking about my own family venturing out to vote, I couldn’t rid my mind of the bloody images from recent Taliban attacks.
But contrary to my expectation, I found my mother quite confident in her decision to vote. In fact, all of the women in our neighborhood had decided to go together.
She explained that they decided to vote "because it is about securing our survival as human beings. Staying at home today would be an act of cowardice. It would assure our return to Taliban rule, much like a gradual death."
For many Afghans, the act of voting itself was a way to send a message to the Taliban. That message being a resounding “no.”
Women cradling babies, the elderly, and the handicapped stood for hours outside polling stations in the pouring rain waiting for their turn to send that message.
"It’s pretty cool to be given a chance to say what you like and what you don't,” said Rabia, a 22- year-old university students. “I feel quite fortunate today because over a decade ago, women of my age were beaten in the streets for simply venturing out, in this very city." Rabia then raised her inked finger and said proudly, “I voted. I did my bit.”
Rabia’s comments about life under the Taliban brought back a flood of memories for me.

In the capital Kabul, women were beaten for wearing sandals in the summer. To make a phone call, one had to travel to neighboring Pakistan. Cinemas were abandoned, music and television were censored nearly to oblivion, and soccer was considered the game of Satan. Religious minorities were forced to bear yellow marks on their foreheads. Poverty was ubiquitous. The sight of children eating out of garbage cans was quite usual. Women who stepped out of line were shot to death in public and men were decapitated. Bloody, lifeless bodies hanging from trees in Kabul’s Central Park were a casual warning to shoplifters, muggers, and others who violated Taliban law.
"Our participation in the elections is a slap in the face to oppressors and terrorists," wrote Rabia on Facebook, again showing off her inked finger in a photograph she shared. "Isn't it enough for the world to know that we, the women of Afghanistan, are democrats?"
Kabul--Rabia, a young Afghan woman who voted in the April 5 presidential election, shows off her inked finger.Kabul--Rabia, a young Afghan woman who voted in the April 5 presidential election, shows off her inked finger.
Kabul--Rabia, a young Afghan woman who voted in the April 5 presidential election, shows off her inked finger.
Kabul--Rabia, a young Afghan woman who voted in the April 5 presidential election, shows off her inked finger.

People around the world knew Afghanistan as a country that fought off the Soviet invasion.
Later, it became a country associated with tales from a traumatic civil war.
By slipping into the hands of the Taliban, Afghanistan adopted the persona of a victim; of radical Islamic militancy, of terrorism, lawlessness, and violence. As the Taliban regime fell, the country opened its doors, and its people did not want to miss their chance to embrace the world.
Afghanistan's Independent Elections Commission reported that around seven million out of 12 million eligible voters cast ballots April 5 despite Taliban threats to disrupt the poll. In a country that has long suffered from ethnic and tribal divisions with virtually no exposure to pluralism, millions nevertheless showed faith in a democratic transfer of power.
They’ll have another chance to show their resolve in one year’s time, when Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held.
"The massive turnout carries a strong message for the Taliban,” said Afghan Member of Parliament Zakia Zaki. “Afghans are not going back to the Dark Ages. Now, it is for the Taliban to negotiate peace and become a part of the country's political life or lose everything all together."
Nearly 40 percent of voters in this most recent election were women, according to the Commission. Of the eight candidates vying for the office of president, none were women, though one candidate chose a woman as his running mate. Social media was overrun with women in blue burqas raising blue fingers April 5.
"It has become a fashion among women in our neighborhood,” my mother said. “It seems like to many, the blue ink has suddenly become a symbol of responsibility and consciousness."

Taliban Vows To Target Presidential Election

An Afghan woman shows her voter registration card.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
Afghan officials have dismissed a Taliban threat to disrupt the April 5 presidential election as a "mere propaganda effort."

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Najib Danesh, said on March 10 that the Taliban wants to "disseminate panic" among people.

Danesh said the ministry has worked out a concrete plan to ensure security during the election.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission said "all election workers are ordinary civilians" and that "civilians should not be targeted."

The Taliban said in a statement e-mailed to news agencies on March 10 that "we have given orders to all our mujahedin to use all force at their disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham elections."

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban is telling clerics across the country to spread the word that the election is "an American conspiracy."

The statement said Taliban fighters would "target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus, and offices" and that Afghans should reject the vote and not put themselves in harm's way by voting.

Previous Afghan elections have been marred by violence, with at least 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day in 2009.

The April 5 election is to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the UN-backed Bonn deal in late 2001.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Video New Film, Protests Highlight Disappearances In Pakistan

A wave of kidnappings and enforced disappearances has swept through Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The families of suspected Baloch separatists, dubbed "missing persons," claim their loved ones are being abducted by Pakistani security agencies without charges.

These family members, as well as human-rights watchdogs, claim that the suspected Baloch separatists are frequently killed and their bodies dumped. Others remain missing years after having been picked up.

A new short film, "The Line of Freedom," hopes to shed light on this largely forgotten crisis. It depicts the story of a Baloch activist who was abducted and tortured and then dumped after being shot.

The movie is based on the "true" story of a young Baloch activist, Nasir Baloch. Activists in the region claim Baloch was abducted twice in 2011. He reportedly survived the first abduction after he was shot and left for dead. He was later killed after being kidnapped for a second time while on his way to the doctor to treat his wounds.

The thriller was produced by Baloch political activist Noordin Mengal, his brother Bhawal Mengal, and British filmmaker David Whitney. Mengal says his aim was to spread awareness about the problems in the province.

WATCH: A full version of the movie is available on YouTube:

The issue is also kept alive by family members of some of the victims of the  disappearances in Balochistan. They are now holding a 700-kilometer-long march from Balochistan's provincial capital, Quetta, to Pakistan's largest city, Karachi.

The protest, which began in late October, is being led by Mama Qadeer Baloch, whose son, Jalil Reiki, was abducted in 2009. His bullet-riddled body was found dumped in a remote corner of Balochistan in 2011.

Global human-rights watchdogs have criticized Islamabad for its "kill and dump" operations in Balochistan. A February 2012 briefing by Amnesty International noted that at least 249 Baloch activists, teachers, journalists, and lawyers disappeared or were abducted from October 2010 to September 2011. The briefing called on Islamabad to "immediately put an end to the practice of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and extra-judicial and other unlawful killings carried out with total impunity by state forces in Balochistan."

In a July 2011 report titled "We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years," Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the "detailed descriptions of 45 cases of alleged enforced disappearances reported in Balochistan in 2009 and 2010." It called on Islamabad to "investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances until the fate of each victim is clearly and publicly established."

For years, the Pakistani Supreme Court has heard cases about the abductions but failed to push the authorities to either release the victims or hold transparent investigations into the issue. Elected civilian leaders in Balochistan have publicly admitted their failure in resolving the problem. Military officials, however, have largely been ambiguous about the practice.

Authorities in Balochistan now confirm some 2,500 people in the province remain "missing" since their arrest. Balochistan authorities say more than 590 mutilated bodies have been found in the province since 2010.

Baloch activists allege that more than 10,000 people, most of them sympathetic to separatists, have disappeared under unclear circumstances.

-- Abubakar Siddique

Who Killed Nasiruddin Haqqani?

Pakistani children point to bullet holes at the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated outside an Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu district on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 10.

Pakistani authorities appear to have few clues in the mysterious murder of a senior Afghan Taliban leader in the capital.

Police in Islamabad, where Nasiruddin Haqqani was gunned down outside a ramshackle bakery on November 10, have said little about his killing.

A police officer in the Bhara Kahu neighborhood confirmed to BBC that Nasiruddin lived there, and the police are still investigating his slaying.

But the killing of one of Pakistan's long-time Afghan jihadist allies has prompted much speculation about who might have been behind the brazen assassination of one of the top leaders of the Haqqani Network, which is considered the most lethal faction of the Afghan Taliban.

Tribal Feud?

One source close to the Afghan Taliban suggested to RFE/RL that Nasiruddin might have been the victim of a tribal feud within the large Zadran tribe, whose homeland in the southeastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika is the key theater for Haqqani Network operations.

ALSO READ: Haqqani Leader Lived, Died In The Open In Pakistan

The source, requesting anonymity out of fear of reprisals, said the feud began after the murder of an Afghan man in Islamabad two years ago. The source described the victim as the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, Haji Khalil Zadran, who had reportedly vowed to avenge his son's killing. (The "Daily Beast" cited reports of a feud but identified the victim as Zadran's brother.)

"The New York Times" recently reported that Zadran tribe members had previously broken ties with the Haqqanis because of their association with Pakistan. In addition, Haqqani fighters have targeted tribal leaders and terrorized villagers. The tribe observes an ancient tradition of reprisal killings in family or clan disputes that can last for generations.

Pakistani Taliban

The source close to the Afghan Taliban also singled out the Pakistani Taliban as another group that might have been behind Nasiruddin's murder. He said that slain Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud had turned against the Haqqanis because of their long-standing alliance with Pakistan's powerful military establishment. The source said Taliban insiders had told him that days before his death, Hakimullah Mehsud had vowed to take on the Haqqanis and Asamatullah Muawiya, leader of a Pakistani Taliban faction now sheltering with the Haqqanis in their North Waziristan stronghold. The source said that Mehsud had publicly chided the Haqqanis for their alleged ties with Pakistani intelligence services.

A senior Pakistani politician told RFE/RL that the Haqqani sanctuary in North Waziristan was threatened by a deepening rift with Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a powerful Pakistani Taliban leader. The politician said that Bahadar and his supporters were unhappy with Nasiruddin's brother Sirajuddin Haqqani because of his support for radical fighters from the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab. Such fighters, dubbed Punjabi Taliban in Pakistan, are widely seen as insensitive to local sentiments in North Waziristan, whose Pashtun population strongly resents the decade-long insecurity in the region.

The BBC reported that the Taliban factions and allied extremists are uneasy over the prospect of a power struggle after NATO's withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan next year. A BBC report said that the Haqqanis are opposed by local militants from Waziristan over the former's presumed ties to Pakistani intelligence services. But the Haqqanis now face additional pressure from the Punjabi Taliban, who are said to have turned against the Haqqanis despite being initially hosted by them.

Intelligence Services?

For its part, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban's umbrella alliance, has accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of orchestrating Nasiruddin's murder.

Pakistan's daily "The News" reported that Nasiruddin's assassination might herald the end of a decades-old alliance between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani intelligence services. The newspaper said Islamabad was unhappy with ties between the Haqqanis and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.

In late 2010, Washington designated Nasiruddin a "global terrorist." U.S. Navy SEALs killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin near Islamabad in the garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011. Scores of Pakistani, Afghan, Arab, and Central Asian militant leaders have died in suspected U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan and the adjacent tribal regions during the past few years.

-- Abubakar Siddique

The Wind Beneath Her Wings: A Look At The Family Behind Malala

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai (center) recovering in a U.K. hospital with her mother, Thorpekai (left), brothers Khushal Khan (third right) and Apal Khan (far-right), and her father, Ziauddian.

My introduction to Malala Yousafzai through her schoolteacher father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, was somewhat accidental.

It happened during the Taliban's unprecedented ban on girls' education in Pakistan's Northwestern Swat Valley in December 2008.

I had been covering the story for the BBC's Urdu-language service. The ban prompted me to pitch to my editors the idea of enlisting a young schoolgirl to write a blog for our widely read website.

The concept was simple -- to document life under the Taliban as seen by a schoolgirl.

After getting the go-ahead from the editors, I approached one of my key contacts in Swat, Ziauddin. He ran a private school and was a vocal member of the anti-Taliban Swat Qaumi Jirga (community assembly), and provided great insight into his troubled homeland.

Within days he introduced me to one of his 10th grade students who was eager to write the blog but soon backed out because of parental pressure.

Nonetheless, I persisted and pressed Ziauddin to help me in finding a replacement. He eventually turned to his 11-year-old daughter, who gladly accepted the challenge.

It was the worst of times in Swat. After years of fighting in the remote western tribal regions along Afghanistan's border, the Taliban had expanded their reach and captured a strategic district close to Pakistan's heartland and imposed harsh rule.

Floggings of alleged thieves and fornicators, beheadings, suicide attacks, and targeted killings were everyday occurrences. Raising a voice against Taliban atrocities in Swat was practically akin to signing your own death warrant.

Gaining In Confidence

I was impressed by Malala's intelligence. Long power cuts and almost no Internet in Swat Valley forced me to ask her to dictate her blog over the telephone.

I wanted to protect her identity. So I used to call her from my wife's cell phone. I strongly suspected the Pakistan intelligence services of tapping my telephones because of my critical reporting of their operations against the Taliban. As a further security precaution, I gave her a pen name, Gul Makai -- Pashto for cornflower.

Malala was very shy initially but gradually gained in confidence and it was very easy to work with her. Her blog attracted a lot of attention within Pakistan and gained international fame after the BBC began to translate it into English for its global audience.

Gul Makai's real name was revealed to the world in 2011 when she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

But the Taliban were not happy with her prominence. Malala's name resonated around the globe after a Taliban assassin failed to kill her in October 2012. Following her miraculous recovery, Malala turned into a global icon. Her story reverberated across continents and inspired millions.

Despite her global fame very few people know the folks who raised Malala.

Her father, Ziauddian, and mother, Thorpekai, have done much to turn their eldest child into an independent individual who is courageous and articulate.

Ziauddin, a short moustachioed man with neatly combed hair, has mentored Malala. He once told me that he encouraged Malala from a very young age to grow as an independent person.

"I wanted her to be my friend -- someone who can be a comrade in my struggle and believes in my mission and philosophy," he said. "I never tried to clip the wings of my daughter who was meant to fly high in the sky."

Standing Up To The Taliban

By 2005, Swat gradually turned into the personal fiefdom of Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.

Ziauddin was one of the handful of local activists who dared to oppose him openly. His witty and incisive speeches were appreciated in Swat and he was widely quoted in tea houses and drawing rooms.

His efforts were aimed at uniting the people against Taliban atrocities.

"Swat has been treated like a poultry farm," he told one gathering. "The Taliban are slaughtering us one by one. We should see the writing on the wall and respond to their mayhem collectively."

At the height of their reign of terror in Swat in 2008, the Taliban identified Ziauddin as one of their opponents in one of their FM radio broadcasts.

Such pronouncements were considered to be a death sentence in Swat.
Malala's mother, Thorpekai YousafzaiMalala's mother, Thorpekai Yousafzai
Malala's mother, Thorpekai Yousafzai
Malala's mother, Thorpekai Yousafzai

Ziauddin was not deterred. Instead of publicly renouncing his struggle, Ziauddin moved underground. For many months of that year, he never spent a single night in one place.

After the Taliban were driven out of Swat in a huge military offensive in 2009, Ziauddin recalled the dark days under Taliban rule.

"Malala and her mother kept a wall ladder ready in the house," he said. "They thought it was my last lifeline if the Taliban came for me."

The overwhelming atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Swat prompted many of his relatives and friends to urge him to give up his public opposition to the Taliban.

But Ziauddin never regretted his opposition to the extremists.

"Cowards would always expect you to be frightened," he said. "But brave people would expect you to stand up."

The Pakistani military government's failure to confront the Taliban in Swat pushed Ziauddin to conclude that his country's security establishment wanted to keep its Taliban allies alive to use them as proxies in neighboring India and Afghanistan.

"First we were seduced to become the Taliban," he said. "We were then held responsible for being extremists and were killed after being labelled as the Taliban."

He often ridiculed the meagre compensation Islamabad offered to victims of Taliban violence.

In one of his speeches he called attention to how the blood of people in Swat was cheaper than cattle. "The compensation for a Pashtun victim is less than the price of a buffalo," he said. The horned animal favoured for its milk costs nearly $3,000 in Pakistan whereas the compensation paid at that time for someone killed by the Taliban was $1000.

Taking The Military To Task

Ziauddin once likened Islamabad to bad parents. "A state treats its citizens like children but unfortunately we have been cheated by our parents," he said.

Months before Malala's shooting in late 2012, Ziauddin's friend Zahid Khan, was attacked and injured by the Taliban. Members of the Swat Qaumi Jirga that Khan headed called on the local Pakistani military commander to consult with him about their anxieties.

One of the participants told me that Ziauddin told the officer that the real war was supposed to be between the Taliban and the army. "

We have never heard about the killing of any army officer," he told the general. "Instead the leaders and opinion makers who are backing you are being targeted. Why?"

The participant said that Ziauddin's question left the officer speechless.

Malala's mother, Thorpekai, a modest housewife, has gifted the qualities of humility and simplicity to Malala. She is the unseen force behind her husband and daughter's courage and forthrightness.

Thorpekai never went to school but she was inspired by her father, Jan Sar Khan. He was a dedicated follower of the 20th-century Pashtun pacifist

Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was allied with Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. They used the power of non-violence to humble the mighty British Empire.

Thorpekai has never been part of a political movement but she has proved a wise counsel to her husband.

Ziaudin was once attracted to jihadists but Thorpakai’s father and brother convinced him to distance himself from a local cleric who was brainwashing youngsters to send them to Afghanistan for jihad.

The cleric was associated with the Panjpiri sect -- a local version of ultraconservative Salafi Islam.

Ziauddin told me that Thorpekai saved him from a nervous breakdown after Malala was shot.

He told me that one day he asked her "if Malala dies people will hold me responsible for her death."

But Thorpekai replied, "Never. You never groomed her to become a criminal or a terrorist. She stood for a noble cause."

-- Abdul Hai Kakar

On Landgrabs, Afghans Say Name Names, But Make Them The Right Ones

Many Afghans accuse people connected to the government of stealing land.

A major report revealing the names of thousands of alleged land-grabbers in Afghanistan has been released after pressure from lawmakers.

Afghans have long complained about the widespread practice of land-grabbing by well-connected and powerful figures in Kabul and around the country.

To address the issue a special body, the Commission on Monitoring Government Acts of the Afghan Parliament, was set up nearly eight months ago to investigate the seizure of state-owned and private land.

But despite the passing of a draft law by the lower house of parliament in September to prevent land-grabbing, some Afghan lawmakers have been frustrated by what they see as the commission's inaction, in particular in regard to naming names.

Speaking on the phone, Zalmai Mojaddedi, the head of the Commission on Monitoring Government Acts of the Afghan Parliament, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on October 21 that the commission had been "forced to release the report."

"Certainly we did this under pressure. Actually, doing so had its problems from a legal point of view. Unless the court has sentenced someone, we cannot give them to the media and cannot say that they have been sentenced,” Mojaddedi said.

Mojaddedi said that his oversight commission has compiled a 2,500-page report that lists more than 15,000 individuals allegedly involved in grabbing over 500,000 hectares of land, worth $7 billion, mainly in the Helmand, Balkh, Kabul, and Herat provinces.

The report singles out 19 people as the main offenders who are alleged to be involved in taking more than 4,000 hectares of land around Afghanistan. Most of these names are lesser-known individuals, although one of them is Said Ishaq Gilani, a former lawmaker.

Gilani was registered to run in the April 2014 presidential election until he was among 16 candidates disqualified by the Independent Election Commission on October 22. The election commission has said that the candidates were disqualified because of improper documents and because they could not collect the required 100,000 signatures from supporters.

The identity -- and exposure -- of the land-grabbers is a highly charged political issue in Afghanistan, with politicians regularly trading accusations.

According to, commission head Mojaddedi recently accused the party of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord, of being involved in landgrabs -- claims that were rejected by his party.

"There are some circles that have plotted and started conspiracies against Jumbesh-e Milli and the Commission on Monitoring Government Acts of the Afghan Parliament is a part of this," said Tayanj, a spokesman for the party.

Dostum is a running-mate of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadza, a leading reformer and former World Bank executive, in the upcoming election. Unlike the disqualified Gilani, Ghani made the cut and is on the list of 10 remaining contenders in the upcoming presidential race.

The timing of the report's release has been criticized by some Afghan analysts.

Wadir Safi, a law professor at Kabul University, told Radio Free Afghanistan that some lawmakers are trying to purposely discredit some election candidates.

“It seems to be a political maneuver. Other than that, if the government wanted it could have released the names of the land-grabbers beforehand and the land could even have been taken away from them by now," Safi said. Touching on the issue of naming names, Safi said: "I don’t think that the names of big shots can be released under the current government or that their cases will be even sent to court.” 

He added that most of the land-grabbers in the country are the friends and allies of Karzai’s government.

That is a sentiment shared by many ordinary Afghans.

Commenting on Radio Free Afghanistan's Facebook page for young listeners, Arianpoor Afkhami said that the land-grabbing won't be resolved by naming powerless individuals.

“The current list does not include the names of the main land-grabbers. Most of the public properties have been grabbed by high-ranking government officials. The Sherpor area in Kabul, residential areas built in parts of Kandahar, and the lands of Dahana-e Ghori in the Baghlan Province are prominent examples of land-grabbing by senior officials in the current government,” Afkhami said.

Asar Hakimi, a young activist in Kabul, told Radio Free Afghanistan that the list prepared by the oversight commission only contains the names of people who lack connections to the government.

“Even if it contained the names of big shots and powerful individuals, they would have been acquitted by the system. This is actually ridiculing the people of Afghanistan,” Hakimi said.

-- Mustafa Sarwar

A Pakistani Widow's Plea To The Taliban

Pakistani volunteers search a bus after it was ripped apart in an explosion in Peshawar on September 27. Schoolteacher Haroon-ur-Rashid was one of the 19 who died on the bus.

Four-year-old Sudhais is too young to understand the meaning of death. However, he easily realizes that his "Baba" (father) has not come home for the past several days.

Sudhais fastens his eyes on the house's main entrance as soon as the clock ticks five o'clock in the afternoon. Full of hope, he then forces his dejected mother to take him out to call for his father. His insistence soon turns into cries when he doesn't see his father standing behind the main gate with a few small gifts and a plastic bag full of seasonal fruit.

This is the story of the youngest son of an unfortunate schoolteacher, Haroon-ur-Rashid, who along with 18 other people lost his life in a bomb blast on September 27.  

Haroon was on way home from his duty station in a bus carrying employees of the Civil Secretariat in Peshawar, a northern Pakistani city bordering Afghanistan, when a bomb ripped through the bus, killing 19 people and injuring more than 40.

And in June 2012, an identical attack was carried out on a bus carrying employees of the Civil Secretariat and Haroon was among those critically injured. He was lucky enough to dodge death that time, but not so lucky when "unidentified" attackers planted another bomb on a bus on which Haroon happened to be traveling.

It was sheer luck that he escaped the first attack and sheer misfortune that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on September 27. In Pakistan in general, and the northern areas in particular, many people believe they face the prospect of death at any time, mainly because of the increasing terrorist attacks in cities and the adjacent tribal areas.

Two days after Haroon's death, a powerful car bomb went off in Peshawar's historical Qissa Khwani Bazaar, or market of the storytellers, killing 42 people, including 15 belonging to the same family

The family members of Malak Taj, including women, children, and two men, had gone to Peshawar from the Charsadda district to extend invitations to their relatives and family friends to attend a marriage ceremony on October 20.

Sitting in a van, the 15 family members were passing through the Qissa Khwani market when the huge explosion took place. Like Haroon-ur-Rashid, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Haroon's wife says they were extremely happy when he survived the first blast in June 2012. "I was in a state of shock when someone told me once again about a blast and my husband's death," she says. "I couldn't believe my ears.... I still can't believe that he is dead.... Everything seems like a nightmare to me."

Haroon left behind three sons and a widow. He was the sole breadwinner for the family. His elder son, 9-year-old Haris Khan, says his father "used to help us with our school homework in the evening. He used to bring gifts, sweets, and fruit for us."

In Pakistan, it has become the practice that the government announces compensation money for families of those killed and injured in terrorist attacks. The usual amount announced for a dead person is 500,000 rupees ($5,000) and 100,000 rupees ($1,000) for an injured person.

Haroon's younger brother Hammad says 100,000 rupees was promised by the government to Haroon's family when he was injured in the first bombing, but then they were offered a check for only 10,000 rupees.

The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has announced an amount of 500,000 rupees for those killed and 100,000 rupees for those injured this time. As Haroon was not lucky enough to survive the second blast, his family will be offered 500,000 rupees, although Haroon's wife says she does not need anything from the government.

"The only thing I want from the warring sides is don't snatch the shawls from our heads," she begs, using an expression referring to the killing of a family's breadwinner. Her voice chokes and tears roll down her cheeks.

"For God's sake, stop this war and let us live in peace."

-- Daud Khattak

About Gandhara

Gandhara is a blog dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan written by RFE/RL journalists from Radio Mashaal (Pakistan), Radio Azadi (Afghanistan), our Central Newsroom, and other services. Here, our people on the ground will provide context, analysis, and some opinions on news from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Send comments or questions to gandhara [at]