Thursday, June 11, 2009

Peshawar PC Bombing

I got an email last night from a friend in Washington: Are you ok?

I thought he was just checking in since I hadn’t responded to his last email.  Then I saw another similar email and a few texts.

The Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel in Peshawar had just been bombed.  I had reservations there 3 weeks ago when a friend and I visited Peshawar, en route Afghanistan.  The Red Cross runs a courtesy flight between Peshawar and Kabul, which our host NGO in Afghanistan arranged for us to take. 

But we were nervous about Peshawar so our plan had been to camp out at the hotel, which is very close to the airport.  An American friend confirmed the plan was fine.  It is totally secure, he assured me, so secure that the U.S. Embassy is planning to buy it.

My uncle in Pakistan, who facilitates everything I do while warning that it’s a bad idea, discouraged staying at the PC.  There is a rumor that the Americans want to use it as a base, he said, and hotels are obvious targets.

I trusted the Americans’ security assessment over my uncle’s paranoia, and made reservations. But we cancelled them once we landed, worried we would get bored at the hotel.

Still, we convinced the family friends hosting us to take us there. I had been told that eating a sandwich at PC cafe was the most exciting thing to do in Peshawar.  But when a car bomb went off at a cinema that evening, we cancelled our tour.

If word gets around that the Peshawar PC was being used as a political and intelligence hub for the U.S., there are people in Pakistan who will feel it was a legitimate target.  Yes, this is the messy web that constitutes the Pakistani Taliban, but it is also the numerous Pakistanis who do not trust American intentions here.  

But the hotel was also being used as a base for UN and international aid organizations for IDPs in the region.  The injury of two UN aid workers in the attack means that desperately needed humanitarian efforts are likely to be curtailed.  If this happens, then the long-term secondary effects of this attack may be broader than the original blast.