Pakistanis bear brunt of bomb blast 
 By Ilyas Khan 
BBC News, Karachi  

Suicide bombers have hit the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on a number
of occasions in recent months, but the blast on Saturday was on an
altogether different scale.  
The man who rammed his
truck into the front gate of the Marriott Hotel was sitting on an
estimated 1,000kg (one tonne) of explosives, a quantity never before
used by militants in attacks inside Pakistan. 
The number of dead may rise well above the official
toll of 54 once salvage workers get to the rest of the hotel's
burned-out rooms. 
The Marriott was the first five-star hotel to be built
in Islamabad and has been a favourite haunt for diplomats, dignitaries,
the city's Westernised elite and well-off foreign visitors. 
As such, it has been an obvious target for Islamist
militants. Twice in the past it has suffered bomb attacks. On both
occasions it sprang right back to business as usual. 
But that won't happen this time. The huge truck-bomb
set nearly the entire building on fire. It was a blaze that lasted for
well over eight hours. 
Some reports say the target this time around may have
been some US security officials staying at the hotel. But once again it
looks like Pakistanis bearing the brunt of militant anger at the United
Nearly all of the identified dead so far are Pakistanis. 
High-profile target  
No militant group has accepted responsibility for the attack. But the
obvious suspect is the Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP), a loose
umbrella organisation of militant groups in the north-western tribal
areas, on the border with Afghanistan. 
The head of the TTP is the feared militant, Baitullah
Mahsud, the man the previous government said planned the assassination
of Benazir Bhutto. 
He operates from the South Waziristan region which is
known for its camps of suicide bombers who are mostly recruited from
schools and religious seminaries. 
Over the years, the TTP has displayed the ability to penetrate
high-security zones, often hitting close to military or other
high-profile targets. 
Saturday's blast occurred in just such a high-security
zone. Security all over the capital had been upgraded because the
country's new civilian President, Asif Zardari, was giving his maiden
speech to parliament. 
That event, which took place just four hours before the
blast, brought together the entire political leadership of the country,
the military top brass and the diplomatic corps under a single roof. 
In a brief address to the nation after the blast,
President Zardari said: "We are not afraid of death, it will come at
the appointed time, but we are determined to clear this cancer [of
militancy] from Pakistan." 
He called upon "all democratic powers" to help save Pakistan against this 
But few Pakistanis expect a quick victory over the militants. In fact,
many believe the situation has gone from bad to worse since the
spectacular defeat of the allies of former president and military chief
Pervez Musharraf in February's general elections. 
Red Mosque catalyst  
Saturday's attack is the 11th by a suicide bomber in the country this
year. It is the sixth in Islamabad since July 2007, when the army
carried out a bloody 10-day siege of the city's radical Red Mosque. 
More than 100 people, most of them members or backers
of a vigilante group raised by a seminary attached to the mosque, were
killed in that conflict. 
Many analysts consider the Red Mosque confrontation to
be the catalyst that sparked the beginning of the end for Pakistan's
earlier policy of appeasement towards the Islamic militants in the
north-west of the country. 
Before the Red Mosque, the reluctance of the state to fully take on the
Islamic militants led to policies that weakened both the tribal
administrations and the military, leaving the militants in control of
huge areas of the region bordering Afghanistan. 
The Red Mosque deaths provided the trigger for certain
militant groups - notably those in the eastern parts of South
Waziristan and further north in Swat and Bajaur - to decide that the
main target was the Pakistani state. 
Within four months of the siege, these groups came
together in the TTP alliance, with Baitullah Mahsud as its head. Since
then, dozens of attacks on military, police and diplomatic targets have
shaken the military and embarrassed the government. 
Pakistani establishment  
During September alone suicide bombers have hit targets in various
parts across northern Pakistan, such as Islamabad, Lahore in the east,
and Mardan and Charsadda in the west. 
These attacks have come in the wake of intensified military action against TTP 
groups in Swat and Bajaur. 
Bajaur has seen the most sustained operation by the military against
militants. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced by
the fighting. 
Added to this volatile cocktail are the recent US missile strikes and one 
ground operation in the tribal areas. 
These have helped the militants regain some of the public sympathy they
have progressively lost during the last year. Whatever goes wrong now,
many people blame the Americans. 
Saturday's attack is interpreted by analysts as
indicative of the pressure the militants appear to be under in Swat and
The fact that they are gunning for the Pakistani
establishment - and the Marriott Hotel is very much a symbol of that
establishment - may also suggest the militants have lost some of their
global ambitions they had after 9/11. 
The Pakistani government and the militants are also engaged in a battle for the 
support of ordinary Pakistanis. 
It remains to be seen what impact the televised images of the charred
wreck of the Marriott, where hundreds of Muslims had been taking their
evening Iftar meal during Ramadan, will have across the nation. 
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/21 09:17:39 GMT


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