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Staff at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar work with victims of a terrorist attack. – Photo courtesy Media Cell, Lady Reading Hospital
Staff at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar work with victims of a terrorist attack. – Photo courtesy Media Cell, Lady Reading Hospital

“Two killed, 19 injured in Peshawar attack,” read the headlines on a busy Monday morning in Pakistan. The attack, in the terror-hit province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, came three days after a bomb ripped through a busy market, killing 11 people.

A few months ago – when I was visiting the province – I met with the staff at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), which remains at the forefront of catering to victims of terror attacks that have been plaguing the region for the last six years.

The list of victims is ever-growing, as is the endless task of their medical healers.

“The situation had improved for a while, but it is back to being the same again,” said Yasar Yousafzai, who works as coordinator of the Vesicovaginal Fistula unit at LRH.

Over 200 acts of violence, including bomb attacks, targeted shootings and improvised-explosive-device (IED) attacks, have been reported in the province and its adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) up until August this year. Last year, 1,206 people died (511 civilians, 364 militants and 331 security personnel) in 242 incidents of violence, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), whose timelines for both years present a gruesome picture.

“Every second person from the tribal areas has lost a family member to militancy,” said Dr Nasreen Ruby Faiz, Head of the Department of Gynecology at the hospital.

According to Dr Rahim Jan Afridi, a forthright man who was until recently serving as the Medical Superintendent at LRH, one bomb blast can result in hundreds of casualties, of which, most arrive here.

“We treat almost 90 per cent of bomb-blast victims of the province. It is a very busy place – and not in a good way. What is most painful is to see is when children and women are also among the casualties. One blast can result in hundreds of casualties.”

Afridi himself hails from Khyber Agency in Fata.

“Sadly, we are able to do very little for the injured in those areas, as we have our limitations as medical practitioners. Most hospitals in the tribal areas have been shut down due to drone attacks and bomb blasts. We are unable to help them. Government servants in the tribal regions don’t venture due to threats of terrorism. Even I cannot even go to my hometown, even for a wedding or a funeral. I joke that I am an IDP (Internally Displaced Person),” said Afridi, frustrated at his helplessness.

Dealing with thousands of casualties in a month or hundreds in a day can be traumatic.

“It’s not just the medical staff. I believe the whole community of this area is psychologically affected. Over time, the medical staff has to develop psychological resilience. Our feelings are very real, but fear takes over the sadness. The fear of getting abducted. Every morning, at every signal, I fear for my safety,” confessed Afridi.

When terror victims are brought to public hospitals, they not the only affect the people working on them, but also those who have spent hours and days awaiting the medical staff’s attention.

“Obviously, the terrorism-victim patients are VIP patients for us. All their treatment is free of cost and they get our utmost attention,” said Afridi. Consequently, other patients slide down on the priority list.

Investigating the plight of bomb-blast victims and hospital staff who treat them, I met with victims of the Parachinar suicide blast on February 17, 2012. The powerful explosion after Friday prayers ripped through Kurrmi bazaar and subsequent open-fire on protestors by security forces resulted in 43 deaths. Some of the injured were still being treated when I met them.

Thirteen-year-old Abrar Hussain was lying helplessly on the bed, partially conscious under the effect of the pain killers he had been given, with blood being transfused. I couldn’t help stare at this innocent, handsome young man, who was unlucky enough to be in Kurrmi bazaar to buy a pair of chappals for his mother.

A few beds down the huge hall that houses several bomb-blast victims who are lucky enough to have survived, was Qaiser Hussain, 14. A student of seventh grade with the sole aim of recovering in order to “go back to school.” His mother, Fatima Bibi, could not answer my questions despite the presence of a translator, simply because she could not stop crying. The family had lost two relatives in the same blast. The doctors told me that Qaiser was still serious, with severe abdominal and limb injuries. Many a night, I have wondered how Qaiser is. Has he gone back to school? Is he okay? How many Qaisers have been added to the list of casualties since my trip?

The people of KP are stuck in an abyss. Will they ever come out of it?

The author is a freelance writer, activist and blogger.