Fidad Khan, a $2-a-day concrete pourer, had just finished his 12-hour shift Tuesday and was walking home in the twilight with his son. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As they walked hand in hand past the ramshackle Venus Hotel at the main intersection of this sleepy town, in northwestern Pakistan 30 miles from the Afghan border, more than 10 pounds of plastic explosives hidden in a sewer erupted in a blinding blast.
Diners at the hotel were thrown into the street. Bricks and windows and door frames became missiles. And Fidad Khan, 50, his son, Jum Khair Shah, 13, and five others who were killed became innocent victims of an undeclared war.
The blast was hardly noticed elsewhere in this country of 100 million people, where bombings, sabotage and terrorist deaths have come to be almost a part of the daily routine.
Indeed, in the last two years Pakistan has become a terrorist playground. According to a recent State Department report on world terrorism, more people were killed and wounded last year in terrorist acts in Pakistan than in any other country. Of the 633 deaths attributed to terrorism worldwide in 1987, a third were in Pakistan.
Hundreds more people here have been killed already this year. And the last three weeks have been the nation’s worst period of terrorism so far in 1988.
The State Department report blames much of the terrorist killing on agents of Khad, the Afghan intelligence service. It notes that most of the attacks last year were directed against the 3.2 million Afghans in Pakistani refugee camps and the Pakistani civilians who have given haven to their Islamic neighbors since Soviet troops were sent into Afghanistan in 1979.
“The terrorism here really is an extension of the war in Afghanistan,” a Western diplomat in Islamabad said. “The Soviets and the Afghans are not prepared to go to war with Pakistan, but they are prepared to sponsor terrorism here to stop Pakistan from aiding the resistance.”
But now, with the Soviet troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, most observers agree that the terrorist campaign no longer has the support of Moscow.
“It’s still the Afghans,” the diplomat said, “but now they’re doing it on their own, to keep Pakistan and the Afghan resistance at bay so (Afghan) President Najibullah can remain in power.”
But Minister of Justice Wasim Sajjad, referring to Pakistani elections scheduled for Nov. 16, told an interviewer that the terrorists hope “to subvert our political process.” He said they feel that the elections will strengthen Pakistan, and “in a stable Pakistan, the terrorists would be virtually erased.”
Referring to the death last Aug. 17 of President Zia ul-Haq, he said, “At the moment we have a tremendous political vacuum in our country, and the longer it continues, the more doubts it is going to create in the minds of our people.”
Evidence produced this week in the border city of Peshawar tends to support Sajjad’s view.
Peshawar is where most of the Afghan resistance groups have their headquarters, and it has been the site of many recent bombings. On the day of the Charsadda bombing, a police official in Peshawar showed a reporter 14 bombs his men had seized from two Afghans he identified as Khad agents.
“These men confessed they had a plan to plant those bombs at polling stations on Nov. 16,” Inspector General Ali Shah said. “These were definitely election bombs. If we go through this election successfully and have a popularly elected setup here, it would be a big step toward stability in Pakistan.”
Ali Shah said the terrorism is a reflection of Pakistan’s precarious location. To the west lies Afghanistan, where Afghan resistance fighters, the moujahedeen, have received military, political and physical support from Pakistan. To the east lies India, which has gone to war with Pakistan three times.
Regarding both these countries, the charges of terrorism cut both ways. Pakistan is openly helping the Afghan resistance to destabilize the government in Kabul by maintaining a supply line for weapons used in terrorist attacks. India has often accused Pakistan of arming and training Sikh terrorists.
Pakistani intelligence agencies say they have determined that terrorists from India were responsible for a violent outburst this month in Pakistan’s Sind province, where masked gunmen killed more than 200 people.
“In Sind . . . the enemy is on a different side,” Ali Shah said, “but the aim of both is the same--to destabilize Pakistan.”
He agreed, though, that the recent bombings on the western border are political, timed to coincide with the elections. The bomb outside the hotel in Charsadda was a classic example, he added.
Charsadda’s senior federal official, Deputy Commissioner Ziarat Khan, said he thinks his town was targeted because it is the hometown of a Pakistani opposition politician who has been sharply critical of the government’s support for the Afghan resistance.
“There is no doubt this bomb blast was the work of Afghan agents, and it was aimed only at creating political turmoil,” Ziarat Khan said. “The thinking of the terrorists was that this bombing would be exploited by the local politicians, who would cry out that everyone here will be blown up eventually if the Afghan refugees aren’t sent back.
“But we were all pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t (exploited by politicians). And in spite of all these bombings all over Pakistan for the past few years, the terrorists so far have not succeeded in turning the Pakistanis against the moujahedeen .”
In Charsadda, the owner of the Venus was asked who it was that had destroyed his hotel.
“Terrorists,” he replied. “It’s because the Afghan refugees and moujahedeen are here. The moujahedeen go across into Afghanistan and blow things up, so the Afghan agents come over here and blow things up.”