Posted by: Titus Presler | May 13, 2011

Charsadda bombing: Terrorism’s reach & a missional response

It is a measure of how much bomb attacks have become routine in Pakistan that today’s horrific suicide bombing in the Charsadda area not far from Peshawar was not the first item on the evening news on Pakistan’s only all-English TV channel, Express 24 – this despite the death toll of over 80 being the highest in years.

Instead, today’s parliamentary session on the USAmerican raid that killed Osama bin Laden led the news, even to the extent of a long interview with a veteran Pakistani journalist about the political machinations of the parliamentary debate intervening before a report on the Charsadda carnage finally arrived.

Meanwhile, the attack is the second highest story on the New York Times online global edition, and this evening the BBC’s program, “World Have Your Say,” which enables people around the globe to chime in on selected topics, opened with discussion of the bombing in Pakistan.

The contrast reflects partly how fixated Pakistan’s chattering class has become on the political maneuvering within the country that the Abbottabad raid set in motion.  Yet it also reflects how routine such attacks have become.

Allowing horror to become routine is doubtless a survival response, else people become hobbled by fear and their worldview shrinks.  It may be partly this response among Pakistanis that has allowed many in the wider world to forget the toll that people in this country have borne as Taliban extremism has reached further into the country over the years.  The figures I’ve heard have been 30,000 civilians and 5,000 soldiers killed.

This toll reaches into the life of Edwardes College.  A few days ago some students were showing me around bits of the campus I’d not seen.  In the “mess hall” there are several large framed black-and-white photographs, probably at least 50 years old, that depict mountainous areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border.  One is of the Khyber Pass itself, the old bulwark of which appears on the college seal.  Another highlights Parachinar – the place name itself is lilting: you roll the r’s and leave the accent until the last syllable.  Chinar, by the way – and, again, the accent is on the last syllable – means maple, and para means leaf, so the place name is Mapleleaf.  The photograph suggests a place as lovely as its name.

Well, among the students showing me around was one from Parachinar who has not been able to return home for a year because the road to Parachinar continues to be closed by the militancy in the area, and there are other students from there in the same predicament.  Yesterday I met with a student who lost a year because he was kidnapped for ransom and now wishes to re-enroll in the college.  Planning for any large gathering here has to be tempered by security concerns.  Meetings of people who don’t live close together generally happen during the day because folks don’t want to be driving around Peshawar at night.

The overall effects are painful for all – sudden horrors such as today’s in Charsadda; generalized anxiety; shrinking opportunities; stymied assistance for the poor and the isolated in remote areas.

Carrying on in gospel hope and as a community of interfaith harmony in this environment is a Christian mission.  Collaborating in a growing work of higher education under the auspices of the church is a vital ministry.  It keeps the sun shining when so much else feels like dusk.

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