|There have been three attacks around the capital, Islamabad, in recent days [AFP]|
It’s a clear sign of the worry and tension that grips Pakistan.
In the upscale F6/3 sector in the heart of the capital Islamabad, the Kohsar market would normally be packed. But the shops are empty, the coffee shops which normally would be packed, have just a handful of customers, the streets are deserted.
Suddenly a young boy races out of the mosque. His face is flushed and he’s breathing heavily with worry. He rushes his words, telling us he saw a man leave a package and then run out.
People hang around warily near the entrance. A police officer appears and goes inside. It’s clear the boy – who is nor more than 13 or 14 years old – is shaken.
It’s a false alarm and everyone gives a nervous laugh and shake their heads, but all are quietly grateful for the youngster’s vigilance.
We walk around the market, looking at the stalls, talking to the shop owners.
This is a place popular with foreigners and dignitaries who live nearby. That would make it a prime target for attack. And that’s why the streets are so empty.
With three attacks in and around the capital over the past few days, you know that everyone is wondering where next.
One trader tells us: “I used to sell 20 cartons of water a day – now I have trouble selling that in a week”.
Suresh Kumar has run his store here for four years. It sells a wide range of goods, from pashminas to boots. It used to provide a good living for him, his son and their one employee.
But security worries have put him on the brink of closure.
“Because of this terrorism, all these explosions all over the country, people are scared and don’t come to the markets …”
“Because of this terrorism, all these explosions all over the country, people are scared and don’t come to the markets so business is very slow,” he says.
“If it continues in this way for much longer we’ll have to shut down our store.
“Before the attacks foreigners were our main clients. My business has slowed down. What am I talking about? I have no business.”
It’s not just the markets and it’s not just Islamabad.
Across the country, people are reporting quieter roads, cinemas almost empty, and businesses desperate for customers. People are staying at home. No one wants to take a chance. No one wants to be the next target or the next victim.
We stop a couple of men and ask them what they think.
One man works as a watchman. He says he can’t relax. Every car is a potential threat, every new face to be regarded with suspicion.
“The problem is that we all look the same, we’re all Muslims so we can’t tell who is a traitor and who is good,” he says.
Just a few steps away – a slightly younger man, with a salt and pepper beard, listens to what has been said. He seems more relaxed, more composed. His message though is very much the same.
“Every person is afraid. Every person is worried that they may die at any given moment. No one is safe anywhere. Every single person is afraid for themselves,” he says.
The Pakistani government knew when it launched its offensive in South Waziristan there would be a backlash. Now it has to work out how to deal with it.