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Pakistan bombings by Taliban hit lower classes hardest

On Tuesday, the latest Taliban bomb went off in Peshawar, killing three. The Taliban targets upscale buildings and neighborhoods, but many of the injured – and those hit hardest economically by the bombings in Pakistan – are the poor.

By Carol HuangStaff writer / December 22, 2009

Pakistan army soldiers stand at a gate of the press club after a suicide attack in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

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Islamabad, Pakistan

In their bomb attacks against civilians, Pakistani militants have sought to maximize shock value by hitting elite, high-profile targets like five-star hotels and marketplaces in the country's upscale neighborhoods.

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But the repercussions from these bombings hits the less well-off, too, the urban poor who have fewer means to protect themselves, bounce back from economic loss, and even cope with the added anxiety.

“A lot of the elite targets is to show they can do these things, but whenever they do, they strike other targets,” says Haris Gazdar, an expert on poverty at the Center for Social Science Research in Karachi. “Even if they’re in a rich area, a lot of poor people walking in the street die,” he says.

Though the assaults on symbols of power and wealth have grabbed the most attention, more often militants settle for victims who are easier to reach. Peshawar, the main town nearest the Taliban’s base in the northwestern tribal areas, has been struck more times this year – and again Tuesday – than either of the wealthier, more central cities of Lahore and Islamabad, says Abdul Basit, head of security research at the Pakistani Institute for Peace Studies.

 In October and November, the Institute counted 93 terrorist attacks in the North West Frontier Province, compared with fewer than 10 in Islamabad and Lahore. In Tuesday's suicide bombing of the press club in Peshawar, three people died and 17 were injured. Many of the injured were on a bus passing by when the bomb went off.

Top-notch security, for some

The rich and powerful, meanwhile, can secure first-rate protection. And Pakistanis with money and foreign passports have the option of moving abroad – not an easy decision to make, but a reassuring escape hatch.

The president, parliamentarians, and Supreme Court justices in Islamabad work behind a fortified zone ringed with guards and checkpoints, overlooking a broad avenue nearly emptied of traffic. One third of the 90 permanent checkpoints set up in the capital protect this road, says Kalim Alam, inspector general of the Islamabad police force. Another 18 are moved around based on intelligence about possible targets, usually also high-value ones.

 Of the private security guards increasingly in demand, the truly effective ones come with a steep price tag.