Admit it: this is Pakistan’s war

Twelve hours after the blasting of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the flames had still not been doused. The medium-sized Shehzore truck, packed with 600 kg of RDX explosives, drove up to the hotel barrier and exploded, setting the hotel on fire. It is more than likely that, just as he was “pleasantly” surprised by the result of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, Osama bin Laden must have been “happily” surprised by the total annihilation of the hotel with a truck that, according to the owner Mr Sadruddin Hashwani, was not even allowed to enter the premises but stopped at the barrier near the main road by the hotel guards.

Islamabad has received major attention from Al Qaeda after the elections in 2008, at the rate of almost once a month. Al Qaeda has acknowledged bombing the Danish embassy while letting its Taliban minions accept responsibility for others. And Al Qaeda is not new to the task. In 1995, by his own admission, Aiman al Zawahiri had proclaimed his theory of al adu al qarib (the near enemy) by bombing and completely destroying the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. However, despite all this special attention from Al Qaeda, the security agencies have not been able to “secure” Islamabad. One reason is obvious. Suicide bombers are virtually unstoppable. Another is the existence of Al Qaeda sympathisers and facilitators at every level of Pakistani society, but especially at the lower level. A third is the lack of anti-terrorist training in our civilian intelligence agencies which are ill-staffed and ill-equipped. Low levels of pay account for low levels of motivation too.

The target may have been the parliament building where President Asif Zardari made his speech in the presence of all the important personages of the state. A truck laden with explosives was allowed to move on the roads of the capital city without sufficient checking. One reason is that it was camouflaged as a contruction-goods carrier, which made it congruous with the construction sites across the city. Apparently it was “checked” a short distance from the Marriott but the checking was confined to diverting it in one sensitive area rather than examing its contents. According to former secretary FATA, Brigadier (Retd) Mehmood Khan, the explosives could be from the Wah munitions factory, contents of a truck hijacked by Al Qaeda not long ago. Al Qaeda was thus using local resources.

The Marriott Hotel was probably the secondary target. Unfortunately, no one in Islamabad possessed the imagination to visualise what Al Qaeda could do with suicide-bombing. The hotel had received three hits before this, once clearly threatened by the clerics of Lal Masjid who boasted having many suicide-bombers in reserve, an oblique reference to the destructive ability of Al Qaeda, the patron of the growing strength of violent clergy in Islamabad, with nearly a hundred madrassas, many of them illegal. The seizure of Islamabad is on the drawing board of the leaders of Al Qaeda.

Regrettably, there was some “deflective” journalism in evidence soon enough. One commentator said President Zardari should go to the US, stare President Bush in the eye and challenge him. Another seriously wondered if the blast might actually have been caused by “foreign” powers, a reference that could embrace anyone from India, Afghanistan, Israel and Russia to the United States. One journalist alleged that the Marriott was a target because some American Marines had secretly holed out there during Admiral Mike Mullen’s visit to Islamabad last week. A cleric in Quetta said he could not condemn the attack because it was a fidai hamla (suicide attack) aimed at “America and its accomplices”. A leader of Jama’at-e Islami thought it could be a sequel to blasts in India, meaning that it could be a tit-for-tat incident from India and not from someone inside Pakistan. It is amazing how these people are deceiving themselves and the people of Pakistan by not calling a spade a spade —Al Qaedi did it — because of their anti-Americanism, however justified that may be.

Thankfully, it was Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who was direct and clear in his designation of the enemy. He said the attack had come from Al Qaeda and its thousands of “foreign” terrorists now located in the Tribal Areas. President Zardari was more exhortative when he said he and the people of Pakistan would together face the onslaught of terrorism and referred to “the wife that he had buried” after she fell victim to the same terrorists not too far from Islamabad last December. It was also good to see Rehman Malik, the advisor to the interior ministry, arrive at the site and take charge minutes after the incident and facilitate the treatment of the casualties in the various hospitals of the city.

Let us admit it. This is Pakistan’s war that Pakistan’s army is fighting. Let us also admit that Pakistan needs alignments at the global level to even diagnose what is happening to it, apart from the crucial intelligence about the movement and intent — through tapped phone calls — of Al Qaeda and those who serve it. And let us admit that, given its economic crisis, Pakistan cannot even deploy the muscle it possesses against the terrorists unless it is assisted with funds, expertise and technology from its friends abroad. (Daily Times)