The attitude is refreshing. “You die only once. But you die every day if you live in fear. So why live in fear,” young Mehwish told me with a smile in the lobby of the functional Marriott Hotel on Aga Khan Road.
There’s no trace of fear in Mehwish and other Marriott staffers, who are trying to project an air of normality in the hotel ravaged by a truck bomb on September 20, 2008, and struck by a major fire last Thursday.
This was a hotel, where the burly, six-foot plus doormen kindly opened your car door as you rolled in when I lived in Islamabad in the late 1990s. Today, no cars can enter the porch.
Given that I was a regular visitor to the Marriott, I was keen to find out whether the two burly gentlemen, who always stood smart in their bright-red uniforms, had escaped the blast.
The moment I set my eyes on him, I recognised him. “Aap kaise hain,” I ask him. “Aap dekh rahein hain,” the man in the bright-red tunic responded said, shaking my hand.
What about your other colleague, I ask Afzal. “He will be here at 3 pm. He’s fine.” I breathe a sigh of relief.
But 48 other hotel staffers were not so lucky. Tahir Mahmood Khan, public relations chief of the hotel, informed me that a “sahara” (support) fund had been set up to help the families of those who had been killed in the murderous suicide attack.
The Marriott, attack, was possibly the most sensational terror strike in the recent history of Pakistan. It brought home to the rest of the world the dangers inhabiting this troubled country.
Neither bomb nor fire has been able to keep the Marriott down. As many as 100 rooms are functional and 25 per cent are occupied. Not bad.
As I make my way to the refurbished Nadia coffee shop, the strains of a sitar are clearly audible. My mind goes back to the many lunches and dinners in the Marriott, with my wife desperate to force food into my obstinate daughter Anushka’s mouth.
I remember seeing Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan come into the coffee shop late at night for a coffee. But that was a different Islamabad. It was one without drop gates and soldiers.
A short distance from the Marriott is the President’s Aiwan-e-Sadar residence, the Cabinet Block of ministerial offices, the National Assembly and Supreme Court. All house important persons.
Regular Pakistan Army soldiers can be seen at adjoining check-points, some clean shaven; others with beards.
The last time I saw regular Army soldiers on the streets of Islamabad was when General Pervez Musharraf seized power from PM Nawaz Sharif in October 1999.
But this, I tell myself, is not coup time in Pakistan. It’s just that the jihadis who struck the Marriott can strike again. Any time.