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Pak has a raging fire on its hands

Islamabad is still coming to grips with the seismic shock of a suicide bomber ploughing an a 1,000-kg-explosive-laden truck into the Marriott Hotel, reports Amit Baruah.

world Updated: Sep 22, 2008 00:59 IST
Amit Baruah

The Saturday before this weekend’s was India’s Capital. This Saturday, it was Pakistan’s. Both were victims of deadly terror strikes; Delhi debilitated by a string of bombs planted in dustbins, Islamabad ignited by a truck bomber.

Even as the Delhi Police claimed to have “cracked” the September 13 serial bombings, Islamabad was still coming to grips with the seismic shock of a suicide bomber ploughing an a 1,000-kg-explosive-laden truck into the Marriott Hotel.

The Marriott, at the foot of Islamabad’s green Margalla hills, was frequented by the city’s rich and powerful; joined by the Serena recently, it was the only five-star hotel in the Pakistani Capital.

“We have a full-fledged, raging fire on our hands,” Ayaz Amir, Pakistan’s leading columnist, told HT on telephone from his Chakwal residence near Islamabad.

The 60 people killed in the Saturday attack were mute testimony to Pakistan’s failure to come to grips with the terror.

Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid wrote in his book Descent into Chaos that Pakistan witnessed 56 suicide bombings that killed 636 people in 2007, compared with only six such attacks in 2006.

“Despite this tenfold increase in suicide bombings, the regime had failed to track down a single culprit,” says Rashid.

Already, over 510 persons have died in suicide attacks in the country this year, says Rashid. The count, says the author, does not include bomb attacks and sectarian clashes’ toll.

So, why was Islamabad hit on a day President Asif Zardari addressed Parliament? “It is a reaction to the Pakistani military’s operations against terrorists in Bajaur tribal agency,” a Pakistani Army officer said.

“They could only hit a soft target,” the officer said.

How would the military respond? “Apart from overt operations, you will see a strengthening of the intelligence network,” he said.

“The suicide attack was to “welcome” Zardari,” a retired Army officer said, adding that the message from the terrorists was: “Don’t go after us.”

Fahd Hussain, Lahore-based director of Express Television, believed the Islamabad blast had an Al Qaeda signature. “It’s obvious the terrorists have upped the ante with this attack.”

“The military have to show they are in control. Some visible steps will have to be taken,” Hussain, a television personality in the country, said.

Amir and Hussain believed the Bajaur military operation in the northern Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was a major one.

Both insist Pakistan’s efforts in tackling extremism hadn’t been successful because people perceived the “war against terror” as an American one.

“This is our war. And we need to fight it,” Hussain added.

On the other hand, US presidential candidate Barack Obama said the Islamabad bombing showed that terrorists’ threat knew no boundaries.

Many in India appreciate Obama’s contention; at the same time, they point out that it was Pakistani as a state that had long fed the hand that was now biting it.