Saturday, September 20, 2008

Deadly Blast in Pakistan's Capital and its Repercussions

The Marriott Hotel in Islamabad has been hit by a massive bomb attack, killing at least 40 people and injuring scores others. According to news sources, a truck carrying 500 to 1000 KG of explosives blew up at the security checkpoint near the entrance. Most of the victims were security guards and car drivers, although an eyewitness talking to a Pakistani news channel said that first a small car came, crashed into the entrance, warned people to run away in three minutes to save their lives, before the deadly truck came. A gas pipeline also blew up, according to some sources, causing fire to reach the top floors of the hotel. The prestigious Marriott hotel in Islamabad is a top meeting and socializing place for Pakistani elites and foreign dignitaries and officials. Besides being an obvious incident of terrorism, was there a specific target in this blast? It's too early to tell. But, clearly, the repercussions are going to be quite severe.

Pakistan has seen a lot of violence over the past couple of years. Just this year, in the first eight months, there have been over 324 blasts, including 28 suicide attacks, that left more than 610 dead in various areas of Pakistan. Loss of any innocent life is sorrowful, whether in FATA, D.I.Khan, Wah Cantt, or elsewhere. The current tragedy, however, will gain prominent attention in the international media because it hit the foreigners and Pakistani elites and happened right in the State's capital, near the Parliament. Some Pakistani analysts are already calling it a 9/11 of Pakistan. This was the second attack at the Marriott in Islamabad. Last year a suicide bomber killed himself and a security guard.

The negative image of an unstable and unruly Pakistan in the minds of the international community is further reinforced by this tragedy. Our financial and political crises along with continuous unrest and violence on the ground are not helping either. The current incident could possibly result in a further intensification of the ongoing US campaign that Pakistan is not capable (or trustworthy) of either tackling the Taliban or protecting its nuclear assets from getting into the hands of extremists. According to a former Chief of General Staff, under extreme conditions, Pakistan's nuclear arsenals could be declared dangerous under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and ordered to be placed under custody of the IAEA. It is not too uncommon these days to hear these anxieties from retired military generals - some still very influential in politics and often aligned with the establishment - and political analysts in news media within Pakistan.

However, this is but one of many possible (and probable) scenarios. In any case, the civilian government and the military establishment will face immense pressure now, both from the local elites and the foreign powers, to intensify its operations against terrorism. This event will give further excuse to the US for its violation of territorial integrity of Pakistan and the bombardments in FATA areas. The pressure to 'reform' ISI will also intensify.

The common people in the streets of Pakistan and the 'experts' on news channels will have a range of answers, holding responsible one or another combination from among the Taliban, civilian government, military, ISI, CIA, RAW, Mossad, Afghanistan, and so on. When I talk to people, many have anti-American/Bush sentiments, some developed them very recently in response to the American incursions or during General Musharraf's time. But not all of them are supportive of the Taliban and their kind of intolerant Islam. They agree with the goal of ending terrorism, but not the tactic of unfettered and indiscriminatory violence that is being used by the Pakistani and American security forces in the region. Many believe that the state violence and the loss of hundreds of lives as a result is fueling terror and inspiring extremism.

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