Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who Shares Blame for Islamabad Marriott Bombing?

According to media reports, suicide bombers killed more than 53 people (including the Czech ambassador) and injured more than 260 in an attack on the 290-bedroom Marriott hotel in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad at 8pm on Saturday night. Overwhelming majority of the victims were Pakistanis and Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. Witnesses believe a truck carrying 600kg of explosives could have totally destroyed the hotel if it had been able to ram past the security barrier. It was followed by at least another explosion. The bombs blew a 30-foot crater in the road in front of the hotel, which is popular with foreigners, diplomats and businessmen, and ignited gas cylinders in the kitchens. According to witnesses, security staff at the front of the hotel, where the blast was strongest had "simply been vaporised".

Mr. Sadruddin Hashwani, the hotel owner, says at least 700 people were in the hotel at the time of the attack, many enjoying iftar, the traditional meal at the end of the day-long Ramadan fast. The blasts caused the ceiling collapse in a banquet room where up to 300 people were eating, but another 300 eating under a marquee to the rear survived. The hotel has been attacked twice in the past and an attempted suicide bombing was foiled by a security guard in 2007. It was one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan in over a decade.

As usual, most Pakistanis find it hard to accept that the perpetrators of such a heinous act in Ramadan could be Muslim or Pakistani. It seems the whole nation is in a state of denial. The following music video titled "Yeh Hum Nahin" (It's not us) captures the common refrain heard in Pakistan:

The fact that the bombers were able to penetrate such a secure fortress inside Islamabad, and carry out the most deadly Marriott bombing just before an undisclosed Pakistani leadership dinner, shows that there are insiders involved. It’s an unfortunate fact that many Pakistanis (a significant minority) see this as jihad rather than the cold blooded mass murder of innocent people, while others sympathize with the perpetrators' cause or at least rationalize such dastardly acts by blaming America or the Pakistani military or someone other than the jihadis who carry out these murderous rampages. Just watch the apologists and the conspiracy theorists engaged in blame-America or blame-military or blame-anyone-but-us talk on Pakistani TV channels and you’ll see what I am talking about. To stop this senseless Muslim-on-Muslim and Pakistani-on-Pakistani violence, the people of Pakistan have to first acknowledge the reality of what is going on in their midst and purge violent jihadi elements. According to anecdotal evidence and some published polls, the support for war on terror is at a low point in Pakistan, in spite of the continuing killing of innocent Pakistanis. This is the sad reality of the denial and insensitivity within Pakistan. It has to change for sanity to prevail for saving innocent lives being lost on a daily basis. The tide of Pakistani public opinion must turn against the homegrown, violent, jihadi terrorists soon to stop the recurrence of more deadly bombings like the Islamabad Marriott's.


Nuzrah Jamal said...

Pakistanis are very adept in spinning conspiracy theories. The fact that a truck laden with huge explosive material can penetrate such a high security zone speaks volumes about the efficiency of the law enforcing agencies.

Riaz Haq said...

I think it goes beyond the incompetence of law enforcement. It is an issue of many Pakistanis either actively supporting or at least sympathizing with the perpetrators' cause and methods. Law enforcement alone can not handle such a difficult situation without the strong, popular support of the people to crush the terrorists responsible for such heinous acts.

libertarian said...

It’s an unfortunate fact that many Pakistanis (a significant minority) see this as jihad rather than the cold blooded mass murder of innocent people, while others sympathize with the perpetrators' cause or at least rationalize such dastardly acts by blaming America or the Pakistani military or someone other than the jihadis who carry out these murderous rampages.

The "significant minority" you talk about is alarming. This is the whirlwind of Pakistan's lurch to the far religious right between '77 and '88. The generation after Zia seems to view everything through the prism of Islam. Piety - most of it contrived - and conformity to suffocating Salafist norms is admired and often enforced by a small minority. What could the possible checks and balances be on this Wahhabi virus? The Army? Maybe an ideological broadside from the folks in Deoband themselves against these murderers? The state funds, regulates and broadens the curriculum at at-risk madrassahs? Absent some defense, this appears to be a lost cause.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a comment I received via email today:

Sanity sounded in your analysis(last para) at minimum calls for a reality acceptance and acknowledgment by the educated/learned/aware people.
What Jihadists are doing is "Chasing a Mirage", the term evolved by Tarek Fateh, author of book by same title, and a must read for all Muslims.
In the name of religion, with divine approval(as sanctioned by perpetrators) Muslim blood has most cheaply been shed by, for and from the Muslims. The significant minority(as noted by you) gets the direct or indirect support of the majority as the later wish to keep themselves out of committing an act against the religious teachings(unfortunately the significant minority are so aggressive in their actions that ample misunderstanding of religion persists).
I am in complete agreement with you and others who are trying to keep reason, logic and humanity as the guidelines that this life has to be lived under, the principles supported and held supreme by our religion.

Fortune Park Hotels Ltd said...

The recent Mumbai terror attacks have not only attracted world wide condemnation and left the city and the country numb and alarmed, but have also usurped a big question on the political system and security format of the nation. Unbelievable carnage of such landmarks as the Oberoi and the Taj and rampant and indiscriminate firings have left the people shocked and suspicious of our security system. Following the attacks, the security has been beefed up in the places like cinema halls, malls, hotels, and other public places. For quite some time Bangalore has been touted as one of the prime targets of terror attacks. Following the attacks in neighbouring Mumbai, the big hotels in Bangalore have tightened security measures considerably. Many Bangalore hotels are either installing their own security gadgets and risk management plans or are hiring the services of the risk management companies. Not only the five stars but even the budget hotels in Bangalore are gearing up to have an elaborate security check for security reasons.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times recent story about Dr. Umar Kundi who was alleged to be involved in Lahore attacks on Pakistan's ISI and Sri Lankan cricket teams:

Umar Kundi was his parents’ pride, an ambitious young man from a small town who made it to medical school in the big city. It seemed like a story of working-class success, living proof in this unequal society that a telephone operator’s son could become a doctor.

But things went wrong along the way. On campus Mr. Kundi fell in with a hard-line Islamic group. His degree did not get him a job, and he drifted in the urban crush of young people looking for work. His early radicalization helped channel his ambitions in a grander, more sinister way.

Instead of healing the sick, Mr. Kundi went on to become one of Pakistan’s most accomplished militants. Working under a handler from Al Qaeda, he was part of a network that carried out some of the boldest attacks against the Pakistani state and its people last year, the police here say. Months of hunting him ended on Feb. 19, when he was killed in a shootout with the police at the age of 29.

Mr. Kundi and members of his circle — educated strivers who come from the lower middle class — are part of a new generation that has made militant networks in Pakistan more sophisticated and deadly. Al Qaeda has harnessed their aimless ambition and anger at Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, their generation’s most electrifying enemy.

“These are guys who use Google Maps to plan their attacks,” said a senior Punjab Province police official. “Their training is better than our national police academy.”

Like Mr. Kundi, many came of age in the 1990s, when jihad was state policy — aimed at challenging Indian control in Kashmir — and jihadi groups recruited openly in universities. Under the influence of Al Qaeda, their energies have been redirected and turned inward, against Pakistan’s own government and people.

That shift has fractured long-established militant networks, which were once supported by the state, producing a patchwork of new associations that are fluid and defy easy categorization.

“The situation now is quite confusing,” said Tariq Parvez, director of the National Counterterrorism Authority in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. “We can no longer talk in terms of organizations. Now it’s a question of like-minded militants.”

The result has been deadly. In 2009, militant attacks killed 3,021 Pakistanis, three times as many as in 2006.

The issue is urgent. Pakistan is in the midst of a youth bulge, with more than a million people a year pouring into the job market, and the economy — at its current rate — is not growing fast enough to absorb them. Only a tiny fraction choose militancy, but acute joblessness exacerbates the risk.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a Wall Street Journal report on suicide bombings teenage recruits in Pakistan:

KARACHI, Pakistan—The recruitment described by a 14-year-old alleged terrorist in this teeming port city shows the growing spread of a web of extremist groups in the region.

On Monday, Mohammad Salaam and two alleged members of the Pakistan Taliban, which is locked in a two-year-old war with the Pakistani state, were arrested by police as they allegedly prepared a suicide attack.

In an interview at a Karachi police station, with policemen present, Mr. Salaam described a short path to becoming a suicide bomber. "They would brainwash me by talking about jihad all the time," he said of his Pakistan Taliban minders. "I could feel it in my soul."

Mr. Salaam remains in detention, but hasn't been charged. Police said he will be released because he is a minor.

The Pakistan Taliban, which operate chiefly from remote tribal areas, have been able to forge deep ties in this city of 18 million, and in other cities and towns, through connections with local Islamist extremist groups that procure funds and recruit would-be suicide bombers.

Those bonds are one reason the Pakistani military is reluctant to act on mounting pressure from the U.S. to broaden its war in the tribal regions in the northwest of the country. U.S. officials say an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region is needed to root out Afghan Taliban and allied groups that attack U.S. troops over the border in Afghanistan.

But Pakistan's military says such an operation would be met by an escalation of attacks by Pakistan Taliban and its allies, unleashing retaliatory strikes in Karachi and other major urban centers they have infiltrated across the country.

"There would be a wave of suicide bombings across Pakistan," said Gen. Athar Abbas, the military's chief spokesman.

After the current offensive against the Pakistan Taliban began two years ago, the group retaliated with attacks in several cities against government, police and military targets, as well as shrines seen by extremists as heretical.

The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack this month on Karachi's revered Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine, which killed eight people. An attack Monday on a shrine in southern Punjab killed five.

The group has also attracted recruits from outside Pakistan. The failed Times Square bomber, Faisal Shehzad, said he trained in North Waziristan with the Pakistan Taliban.

Links between the Pakistn Taliban, a network of militants mainly from the Pashtun Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan, and extremist groups in Karachi have deepened in recent months, local police say.

One of the men arrested on Monday, Sher Rehman, was an operative with the extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who worked for the Pakistan Taliban, police officials said.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi began in the 1990s in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province as a Sunni sectarian group targeting minority Shiites. Pakistan banned the group, along with a number of others, under U.S. pressure in 2001. Its fighters, largely ethnic Punjabis, many of whom had fought in Afghanistan and against Indian troops in Kashmir, sought shelter in the tribal regions, deepening bonds with the Taliban on both sides of the border.

It was Mr. Rehman's job to recruit fighters among Karachi's youth and to extort money from local businesses to provide funding, police said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from Christian Science Monitor report on recent decline in terror attacks and casualties in Pakistan:

A downturn in major terror attacks in the second half of the year and an overall decrease in civilian casualties at the hands of terrorists point to better policing and a gradual decline in the potency of militant groups, say officials and experts.

"Earlier, the Taliban would come with heavy weapons and attack and kill and slaughter at will. Those days are gone," says Fiaz Toru, former inspector general for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, credited with implementing a set of sweeping reforms to combat the threat posed by terrorists surrounding the province's main city of Peshawar.

In Pakistan's major cities, there have been no spectacular attacks since a daring siege carried out over two days by Taliban militants on a Karachi naval base in May in revenge for the bin Laden raid. Some 1,022 civilians have fallen victim to bomb attacks in 2011. Barring a late-year surge, this represents the lowest figure in four years, according to monitoring conducted by the New Delhi-based South Asia Terrorism Portal (last year the figure was 1,547, and it stood at 1,688 the year before).

A major part of that has to do with the removal of soft targets, says Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad: "They [now] have genuine difficulty carrying out spectacular attacks."

In Peshawar, that has meant equipping police with heavy weaponry including mortars, grenade launchers, and heavy guns, as well as deploying some 2,000 police at more than 42 checkpoints on the outskirts of the city, says Mr. Toru, the former inspector general, and arming citizens to create a community police force that can act as authorities' eyes and ears.

"We've adopted a policy of proactive policing," explains Toru. Police are now routinely sent on operations in Peshawar's suburbs to root out suspected militants and materials used to construct bombs. The police's increasing responsibility has been accompanied by a doubling of salary and an increase in "martyrdom payout" (a kind of life-insurance payout that now stands at some $35,000). Perhaps, too, the Pakistani Taliban are aware of the cost of suicide attacks, adds Dr. Hussain: Where once the public sympathized with militants, groups that carry out suicide attacks are now ostracized.
Still, the overall picture is far from rosy: While organized terror strikes may be down, sectarian attacks carried out largely by LeJ against Shiite targets have in fact surged, particularly in the western province of Balochistan.

"The cities seem to be ominously quiet right now, but sectarian violence [in other areas] continues. A key test will be Muharram – how peaceful or how violent that will be," says Hussain, referring to the first month of the Islamic calendar, in which fighting is prohibited.

And while Pakistan's security forces may have gotten better at dealing with terrorism, Toru says internal reforms can only go so far. "I am optimistic, but the key lies in Afghanistan.… You need a stable Afghanistan to have a stable Pakistan. But we've come through the most critical phase of our struggle."