PESHAWAR: Qissa Khwani Bazaar was widely known for its history — traders from India and Central Asia stayed at its inns and exchanged stories from their regions. And for its traditional qehwa (green tea) that people often sip, particularly after meals.
For a long time, Peshawarites took pride in what Qissa Khwani was famed for. And tourists, domestic and foreign, would consider a visit to Peshawar incomplete without seeing it.
Gone are the days now, say people. Now, the fame is replaced with infamy and the talk of its storytelling history with the talk of bomb blasts, killings and fear.
The Qissa Khwani, which means in English the ‘Market of the Storytellers,’ is associated with deadly militant attacks in today’s Peshawar. Militants have frequently struck at this historic bazaar and in its surroundings, killing important figures and hundreds of people. The latest of the attacks was on Bashir Bilour, Khyber Pakhunkhwa senior minister and a symbol of opposition to terrorism. He lost his life in it.
On November 8 this year, SP Investigation Hilal Haider was killed in a suicide blast. Several cops also died. In an April 2010, a suicide bomber mowed down over 23 people including Jamaat-e-Islami leader Dost Muhammad and other workers. DSP Gulfat Hussain, JUI-F district office-bearer Qari Muhammad Amin and several police officials were among the dead.
A suicide car bomb ripped through Soekarno Chowk, a few hundred metres away from Qissa Khwani in the adjacent Khyber Bazaar, on October 9, 2009 and killed around 50 people. Kabuli Cinema and Muhammad Ali Jauhar Road also add to the notoriety of Qissa Khwani.
The deadliest of the attacks in Peshawar that killed 137 people was carried out on October 28, 2009 in Meena Bazaar, a market close to Qissa Khwani.
Brave police officer Malik Saad was the first high-profile figure who was targetted and killed near this bazaar at Dhakki Dalgaran. The attack that also slew DSP Khan Raziq and scores of others took place in January 2007.
“Qissa Khwani was known for its history of storytelling, qehwa and business but now it’s related to bomb blasts,” deplored Abid Hussain, vice president of the traders’ union in Qissa Khwani. “When we would cast eyes outside on the street, we would see groups of cheerful tourists looking for shopping. Now, we look for them but they don’t turn up,” he said.
Majority of the shops remained closed on Sunday. Traders said shopkeepers did not open shops due to fear and grief. Some said the union had given a call to shut down businesses till the funeral of the slain minister.
The bazaar that mostly remains jammed due to traffic had a few clattering rickshaws and motorcycles. The streets were deserted, where people walk their way through the crowd on normal days. The environment was dull and the people with poker faces.
In the tense atmosphere, people had unending questions. Why all this is happening? Who is perpetrating it? Why is Qissa Khwani the target? What should we do? When will this spat of terrorism end? Who will end it?
“[President Asif Ali] Zardari issues condemnations. We don’t need condemnations, we need action,” said Ibrahim Rashid, tossing up his hands into the air in anger. Looking at his friend who was standing beside him, he said, “This is Tehsin Raza. He miraculously escaped a suicide attack that occurred right here in front of his shop. Who knows when another attack takes place? And who can guarantee he will survive that, too?” he said.
Frequent attacks in Qissa Khwani where government installations don’t exist puzzle many. However, Abid Hussain blamed political activities and police movements for the violence. “The political parties have turned this bazaar into a political field. Their top leaders come here and hold rallies. Police come to provide security. And both lure bombers to this place, who mostly kill innocent civilians,” he added.
The traders’ leader demanded of the administration to remove encroachments and provide security to the bazaar.
“You see my shop is open, but I am outside. Due to fear, I don’t sit inside,” a shopkeeper Imran said, standing near a monument built to pay tribute to around 400 people martyred by the British Army on April 23, 1930.