THE carnage at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel has shocked Pakistan and has been rightly condemned. The target may have been ‘western’ but the timing — soon after iftar — ensured that the majority of victims were Pakistani. In the days ahead, the bombing will take to a fever pitch the debate about whether Pakistan is fighting its own war against terrorism or America’s. The debate will miss the point: it is an internal war, and it goes to the heart of what we want Pakistan to be. Do we want a country that provides a decent standard of living in a safe environment for its citizens? Or do we want to fight ideological wars that will condemn us to a vicious cycle of death and destruction? For the terrorism apologists, a strange distinction holds: that those opposing the Americans or Indians or the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan are not our concern because they do not want to harm us. This is not true. They do harm us because they retard our future and, as the Marriott bombing so viciously demonstrated, they destroy our present.
More urgently than ever, the defence establishment needs to get its act together. The civilian leaders and their uniformed counterparts must draw up a clear policy to fight terrorism. Pakistan is not faced with an ordinary law and order situation and the terrorist violence is not confined to a few areas. A counter-insurgency strategy is needed for all parts of Pakistan and the defence establishment must quickly pull together every strand of available resources. No doubt even the most efficient administrations in the world would be taxed by such a task. But what is truly distressing about Pakistan is the utter lack of any visible direction. Since Aug 6, Pakistan has been fighting militants in Bajaur. Yet virtually no one in the country is aware of who we are fighting and why. Worse yet, it’s not clear who is responsible for the operation: the political government, the military or both? Is it any surprise that the people are confused and split when they do not know who we are fighting, why we are fighting and even who ‘we’ is?