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View from Pakistan: Today's Blast

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Today was Rawalpindi's turn, again.

A few days ago, I was in Pakistan -- cautiously making my way through the cities and towns, wondering when the next bomb would hit.

Because these days in Pakistan, there's always a next bomb.

During Hillary's visit, most of us -- we, the people inside Pakistan -- felt relatively safe. There wasn't going to be any attacks on Islamabad, its twin city Rawalpindi, or Lahore while she was in town. Somehow, it just wasn't going to happen.

When Peshawar felt the brunt on her first day in the country, we all sighed, deep down knowing it got hit because it was easy.

"They are always hiding," a school kid in Islamabad told me about the groups behind these attacks, "then there's a new blast and then they hide again."

Schools are closed for weeks at a time now, students are emailed assignments that go unchecked. One mother told me the school system would likely make up for lost time on weekends and then holidays. "The children are enjoying their break, but it's not for free," the mother said, exhausted from long days of chasing cousins, classmates, sons and daughters around the house.

They may be enjoying the break, but most of these children know exactly why they can't go to school. I sit stiff as one boy looks up from his video game to tell me the school buses might not be safe right now.

In Islamabad and Lahore, I saw universities, grammar schools, pre-schools and colleges with armed men guarding their walls and entrances. The bricklayers of Pakistan are in high demand today as educational facilities are elevating their walls one brick at a time, hoping to avoid what happened at the International Islamic University of Islamabad just a couple weeks ago.

It's startling to see the bricklayers at pre-schools.

The weaving street checkpoints are also higher in number than during my last visit. In certain areas of town, cars are slowed down and swerved around twice or thrice through a short maze of security personnel who look in the windows and then wave the cars by with their semi-automatic weapons. Nearby, makeshift barricades house an officer with his automatic weapon poised, presumably loaded, and aimed in the direction of the checkpoint.

Nobody protests these stops. Everybody looks forward to making it through.

In the cities, it's getting harder and harder to ignore the war in the tribal regions. For decades now, Pakistanis in the Punjab and Sindh have felt distanced from the tribal areas of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), the NWFP (North Western Frontier Province) and even, to a certain extent, the Baluchistan province. Those places, especially the tribal areas, always seemed excluded from the rest of Pakistan -- somehow jumbled together as part of the buffer zone the British created between India and Afghanistan when the borders of Pakistan were scrawled onto a map.

Pakistanis don't like to think of their country in that way -- a manufactured interim zone -- there is an identity that they are proud of and it shows. It's not the type of entrenched nationalism you see from Iranians, for example, but rather a counter identification: Pakistanis are not Indians.

But the wars in Swat and now South Waziristan -- both areas in the tribal regions -- have actually brought all Pakistanis closer. The city attacks, primarily in Pakistan's largest province of Punjab, have brought the tribal wars close to home for the provinces that for so long felt detached from the tribal regions.

In a bloody, inconceivable way, the urban attacks have united Pakistan.

"Pakistan is fighting a proxy war," one young man told me in Lahore, referring to Pakistan's role in the War on Terror, "and now we are all exhausted from it."

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