Marriott bombing: a missed opportunity
October 3, 2008
The Pakistani nation is even more confused today about who it is fighting than it was seven years ago, when the “war on terror” began in the Musharraf regime.
The night of September 20 when the Islamabad Marriott was going up in flames after being hit by the single biggest terrorist bomb in Pakistan’s history, one thought ran through the minds of many Pakistanis: “this is our 9/11”. But influential voices that urged the government to make use of the moment to rally the country in the fight against the Taliban, terrorism, militancy and extremism are in despair now that the opportunity was passed up.
The new government has spoken several times of the importance of building a national consensus on Pakistan’s need to battle terrorism for its own survival. The aftermath of the devastating bombing, some observers are saying, was the right time to build such a consensus.
Instead, as Mr. Zardari flew to New York the next day for the U.N. General Assembly after a botched-up address to the nation — the state-run Pakistan Television showed a rehearsal instead of the final recording — and the Prime Minister left for Lahore, the moment passed.
Except for a brief visit by Rehman Malik, an adviser to the Prime Minister who functions as the Interior Minister, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, no prominent government figure went to the site of the blast. Not a single opposition party, including Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N), condemned the attack.
Within a few hours of the attack, Pakistan’s “aha” moment had given way to a bagful of media-led theories leading up more to a justification of the action, rather than its condemnation. Television talk shows connected the hotel attack to the ongoing military operations against Taliban militants in Bajaur, or to the American missile strikes in the tribal areas, or the presence of American marines in the hotel, or to the “root cause” – former President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to participate in the “war on terror”.
It was Mr. Malik, the de facto Interior Minister, who, when asked by reporter at a press conference on the presence of American Marines in the hotel, came closest to framing the problem that Pakistan faces today with any clarity.
“What is the matter that our media never condemns the militants?” he asked. “It is the militants who have heaped up so many corpses today, martyred so many — I want to make a request, that our television anchors, our print journalists, why are they not saying that what these people are doing is against Islam?... For the sake of god, the glorification of terrorists must stop. This is a crime in the world… Marriott is an international chain. Investors stayed there, international journalists stayed there, it is possible that some U.S. Marines also stayed there. But just because two Marines were present among a thousand Pakistanis does not mean you can give permission to anyone to blow up the building. This cannot be a justification. Please consider this request, and consider it in the context of Pakistan.”
But if anything, the Pakistani nation is even more confused today about who it is fighting than it was seven years ago, when the “war on terror” began in the Musharraf regime. Such is the confusion that now when government spokesmen say “no Muslim could have committed such an act of terror,” the media takeaway from that is a non-Muslim “foreign” hand was involved.
Soldiers deployed in the north-west frontier regions do not want to fight the Taliban because they are fellow Muslims. And among the people, the view persists that the Taliban are “our misguided brothers” who can be talked back to the straight and narrow. All the country’s current problems will vanish, it is being said, if only Pakistan would assume a “neutral” position in U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, because it is “not our war.”
On television screens, anchors are foolhardily urging that the Pakistan government show the Americans their place at least by blocking their main supply route into Afghanistan through Pakistan. The argument forwarded is that Pakistan became a target for terrorists only after 2001, when it got drawn into the American-led war in Afghanistan; no suicide attacks took place on Pakistani soil before that..
It is true that Pakistan is unsafe now, more than it was before 9/11, notwithstanding Mr. Zardari’s praise of U.S. President George Bush for making the world a “safer” place. Each callous missile strike by the United States on Pakistani soil serves the cause of the Taliban militants as it feeds into the country-wide anti-Americanism.
But a small section of the country’s opinion-makers, barely audible over the babel, has also begun asking if anything will be resolved just by pulling out of the U.S.-led war. These voices are pointing out that the present situation is not just the result of the American war in Afghanistan, but a blowback of the policies of pre-9/11 Pakistan. Suicide bombings were unknown in Pakistan then, but plenty of militant groups were born and nurtured by a state apparatus that funded them and trained them to fight proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Writing in the The News, commentator Farrukh Saleem estimated that the Taliban and the jihadis, a once-vital leg of the country’s national security doctrine, had killed 10,267 Pakistanis in five years, 6,000 more than the total number of Pakistanis killed in the 1965 war with India.
“Our own proxies are hitting back at the very soul of Pakistan,” he wrote. “It’s neither about religion nor about tribal traditions. This is an active insurgency whereby our ex-proxies are struggling to suck the soul out of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and then hold physical terrain from where to effect their agenda… our national defence strategy has long been due for a major makeover. But, we have long been in a state of denial.”
In the same newspaper, Shafqat Mahmood, a one-time adviser to Benazir Bhutto, said: “Let us clear the cobwebs from our mind. There is the American angle and it complicates the situation mightily for us but we are fighting a home-grown terrorist minority… There is an enemy within. It must be fought with the combined will of the nation or little will remain of us.”
He made the important point that state support to militancy began under the Zia-ul Haq dictatorship without the people’s consent and was later quietly continued by an autonomously functioning Army. In private discussions, influential Pakistanis acknowledge that the first step in Pakistan’s road to recovery has to be a national discussion — in parliament or in an all-party conference — on the state’s three-decade-old jihad policy, a no-holds-barred appraisal of its costs, and its compatibility with what Pakistan wants to be and where it wants to go. It will be difficult — the elected government of the day must take the lead, the Pakistan Army must be on board, and opposition politicians, the media and other opinion-makers must be persuaded to join in. But then, this is what leaders are elected to do.
Some journalists — it first came up at a conference of women media professionals — have also begun to debate how language and the use of words affects the media’s message. The most widely used Urdu word askariyat pasand — literally those who like weapons — it is argued, does not convey any horror. Quite to the contrary, as I. A Rehman, a leading political commentator, wrote in the Dawn, ‘askar’ — arms — ‘askari’ and ‘askariat’ are sacred words and ordinary Pakistanis would not associate any wrong with them. Another columnist in the same paper pointed out that at least one television channel was even describing the Taliban as mazahmat kar, Urdu for resistance fighters.
As the debates rage about right and wrong, the government appears unsure — some would say divided — on whether it really wants to turn the page on the chapter of state-sponsored militancy. A Pakistani friend who recently returned from a trip to southern Punjab related how banned groups such as the Jaishe-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are regrouping, and canvassing in small towns and villages. Hafiz Saeed, the LeT chief, who also heads its legal front Jamat-ud-Dawa, addresses rallies — most recently in Karachi — at which he openly espouses jihad in Kashmir. The banned Sipah-e-Sahaba held a massive rally in the same city recently. When asked why the government was not doing anything to stop them, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s reply, just two days before the Marriott blast, was that a democratic government’s credentials would be called into question if it began banning “peaceful” rallies. Days after the Marriott attack, a police raid on a safe house of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Karachi ended with three would-be suicide bombers blowing themselves up, and the arrest of their leader.
When Mr. Zardari says he wants to “suck out the oxygen” from the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, no one doubts his sincerity. But the question being asked from New York to New Delhi, and also in Pakistan, is whether he has what it takes to rally the nation, his party and the entire state apparatus for the task ahead.
Source: The Hindu, New Delhi.
Date: 4 Oct 2008 07:37:28 -0000 [01:07PM IST]
From: jamsheed basha abumohammed
Dear Editor, Salam,
Kindly print the following article under comments column: "Does Zardari have the guts to "suck out oxygen" from Taliban.
Jamsheed Basha, Chennai.
This is in response to ?Does Zardari has the guts to ?suck out oxygen? from the Taliban??. When Mr. Zardari said that he wanted to ?suck out the oxygen? from the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, no one doubted his sincerity because he was speaking the language of Bush administration. Now the question is whether he will suck out oxygen from the Taliban or vice versa. It remains to be seen. Zardari is a moderate we all know but he is a known supporter of Bush. It is natural that he would speak their language only. It is to be seen whether he would sway political and public opinion in his favour while dealing with Talibans and Taliban trained militants operating nonchalantly in Pakistan. It is no denying the fact that US has miserably failed to curb the growing influence of Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is no exception to it given the conservative and very closed Islamic culture it has.
The threat to US presence in Afghan from the Taliban is real and US is desperate to counter it through mindless bombing of the tribal areas deep down in the Pak-Afghan border. Gen. Kiyani was well aware of the impending US strikes but feigned ignorance. The reported anti-aircraft fires at the invading US choppers was nothing but a drama enacted by the Pakistan army. Zardari is US man and he will allow Pakistani territory to be used against Talibans. He has full of promises starting from Kashmir down to destroying Taliban.
All he would do is to say all these to please his masters in US. He single-handedly cannot rally round the conservative people of Pakistan. The influence of these Talibans is so strong that it has gone deep into the society of Pakistan, and that it would not only be hard but also impossible to separate it from them. Pakistan is thus a failed state. it is the sanctuary of militants and safe haven for dreaded criminals like Dawood and company. Today, Pakistan is feeling the heat when the law of harvest is in full swing, reaping what it has sown.
The Marriott bombing is a grim reminder for what is in stores for the likes of US administration. US troops are playing with fire and they are up against a nation never subjugated in the past by any force on earth. The US must understand that Afghanistan is no Vietnam or Korea. If it continues to carry out such indiscriminate bombing of the tribal areas, the whole region would erupt against its occupation in Afghanistan that would ultimately affect Pakistan also. If that happens, then it would be a death knell for US influence in the region. It is but essential for the US to use restraint in dealing with the powerful guerrilla group armed and aided by Talibans.
The more the missile attack, the more it would serve the cause of the Taliban militants as it feeds into the country-wide anti-Americanism. There is also a growing disenchantment among the people over US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and any misadventure in the name of counter terrorism would prove counter productive to the US interest in the region. So far so good, the people of this area have tolerated them and this would not last for long. Its influence would soon come down and if that happens then, other groups waiting in the wings would take over the role of US in the region. This is the impending danger of the reckless US policy in this volatile region. The argument that Pakistan was alien to suicide bombing and that post 9/11 has made it more vulnerable to such attacks due to animosity towards repressive policy of US against Muslims in the world is far from satisfactory explanation. This argument many not be wholly true because even before 9/11 happened, Pakistan was responsible for creation and nurturing of many militants groups to foment trouble in Kashmir as a proxy war against India and against occupation forces in Afghanistan.
It is stated that the Taliban and the jihadis, a once-vital leg of Pakistan's national security doctrine, had killed 10,267 Pakistanis in five years, 6,000 more than the total number of Pakistanis killed in the 1965 war with India. Writing in the The News, commentator Farrukh Saleem was emphatic in saying, ?Our own proxies are hitting back at the very soul of Pakistan. It’s neither about religion nor about tribal traditions. This is an active insurgency whereby our ex-proxies are struggling to suck the soul out of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and then hold physical terrain from where to effect their agenda? our national defence strategy has long been due for a major makeover. But, we have long been in a state of denial?.
Many pessimists among the Pakistanis were of the strong opinion that these home grown terrorists are striking at the very root of their society and unless there is a combined and strong political will to tackle the menace of terrorism, Pakistan will never recover from its after effect. The enemy from within is more dangerous than the one from outside. The danger is far more serious than an average Pakistani would feel and that is its very existence would be at stake.
The high sounding statement emerging from the newly elected President of Pakistan Zardari on the eve of his visit to New York and his mentor's White House, was aimed at audience in Europe and America with whom he has high influence because of his known allegiance towards their policies. But it has no co-relation to the ground reality back home in Pakistan. It may be remembered that his wife, slain leader Benazir Bhutto earned the wrath of the Talibans and other militants when she sounded warning on them but met with the fate accompli when she was killed by an assassin bullet. Zardari is well aware of these complications and he must stop playing to the gallery.
The bombing of Marriott Hotel would have shocked the world but failed to shake the politicians in Pakistan which is evident from the fact that neither Sheriff condemned it nor there was a visit to the site by any high dignitary from Pakistan Govt. It was nothing unusual for them. It was one of the many suicide bombings they were used to it. If this is anything but a lesson to US that they have no friends in Pakistan.
It is now left to US to drastically change its policies in the region or be prepared for the worst in future as the future events would be more deadlier than Marriott bombing. This is only a prophecy from the events we have seen of late, than any warning.
By Jamsheed Basha, Chennai, India.