Survivors shocked after double attack
The sickening smell of burnt flesh still lingers in the air at the women's university. All that remains of the bus students had boarded to travel home is a dark, twisted structure.
The bomb ripped off the roof, the ensuing fire so fierce it melted everything in its path. These buses were provided by the vice chancellor to encourage families to send their daughters to the university -- a safe means to get to and from home for young girls in a troubled province. But the attackers showed no mercy.
Books that were the path to a brighter future reduced to ashes strewn across the floor. Pencils and satchels -- the accoutrements of education -- destroyed like so many lives that were lost.
Militants, including a female suicide bomber, attacked the university bus on Saturday and then struck a hospital where the survivors were taken for treatment. The dead included students on the bus, four nurses, four Frontier Corps paramilitary troops and four militants, police said.
I came across a page in which one young woman had written an essay on Heraclitus, known as the "weeping philospher." Her words on the burnt page so poignant after the tragedy. She wrote about "the reality of change, the impermanence of being, the inconsistency of everything but change itself."
Twelve young women are confirmed to have been killed in this ruthless bus bombing, all of them students at the university. Some of them were the first women in their family's history to be sent to school and university.
Yasmin Baloch is one of them. Despite her severe injuries, doctors think she was in a second bus following behind the one that was attacked.
In the hospital ward where some of the most seriously injured girls are being treated, she told me how she and her family were so proud she made it to university.
Many of the friends she traveled with have been killed. She describes them as "good girls who studied hard."
Beside her, one young woman stares blindly into space, too shocked to talk.
Yasmin described the horror of the bombing. "I was sitting by window when the bomb went off. I had no idea what happened. Everything went dark. Then I realized I'd injured my legs. I cried for help, hoping someone would save me."
Her leg is broken, she has burns all over her body, shrapnel has cut her face. But like any young woman would, she whispers that she is worried if her hair will ever grow back. She lifts up the surgical cap and shows me.
As she holds my hand she boldly says: "The people who did this are very cruel." And asks: "We are just students - what did we do to them, to deserve this?"
Walking across the hospital ground a lone woman approaches me. Tears in her eyes, Farzana Pervez tells me her 20-year-old daughter is in intensive care. Part of her skull is missing, but she thanks God surgeons managed to save her life.
Farzana explains how much sending her daughter to university means to the family. "We are really poor people. My husband has worked hard to send our daughter to school and university. So she could have a better future than us. She was supposed to have an exam today." Her voice breaks. She asks us to pray for her daughter.
Investigators are now going through the wreckage piece by piece to identify the exact nature of this blast. A senior intelligence official, who didn't want to be named, told CNN it was a female suicide bomber that targeted fellow young women at the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University.
The bombing was just the beginning. A group of militants was waiting at the hospital down the road.
The Bolan Medical Complex is the largest government-run hospital in Balochistan. Militants attacked the hospital as the young women injured in the bus bombing were rushed there.
Hundreds of people were held hostage -- patients, doctors, nurses and survivors -- until police and paramilitary forces took control after a five-hour shootout. Now the hospital is sealed off and shut down -- guarded by paramilitary forces.
Quetta, Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan is still struggling to understand the attacks, shattering innocent young lives and those of their friends and family.
Across the city there is a sense of shock, pain, confusion and helplessness. In a restaurant a man tentatively asks me "who did this?" He seems scared to even ask.
In a culture where women have long been oppressed, the university was a shining light -- a symbol of hope and women's rights -- where 3,000 women studied.
Families have made groundbreaking decisions to be the first to send their daughters to study for a degree with the hope of a career and brighter future.
Vicious attacks like the bus bombing are doing their best to set those groundbreaking decisions back -- to ensure regret, to scare people and in particular young women back into their homes.
Yasmin had been studying to be a teacher and says she won't give up. She looks me straight in the eye and says with confidence: "We won't stop learning because of the people who attacked us. Education is everything. As soon as I get better, I'll go back to university with even more drive and hope."
And for the first time in this hospital ward, I see a young woman smile.