Belmont Club

Fear and loathing in Islamabad

BecauseWhen a truck bomb goes off a hotel, the first question the press asks is “why do they hate it so?” The Washington Post laid out the dry facts surrounding the destruction of the 290 room Marriott Hotel in Islamabad by a car bomb. “Employees and guests drenched in blood streamed into city streets. The building’s simple red Marriott logo was shown going up in flames on cable television. Chief executive Bill Marriott said in a blog post yesterday evening that many of those killed were employees.” One of possible victims was the Czech ambassador to Pakistan. Bloomberg says “an explosives-laden truck blew up at the Marriott’s front gate, creating a 6 meter (20 foot) deep crater at the main entrance and sparking a fire that burned through the building for hours. More than one metric ton (2,200 pounds) of explosives was used in the device, GEO TV reported, without saying where it got the information. The detonation was heard 30 kilometers (18 miles) away in neighboring Rawalpindi. ” That’s what happened. As to why it happened, we must turn to the Guardian.

The target of yesterday’s lethal and devastating attack in the heart of Islamabad should not come as a surprise. The Marriott hotel has always been in the sights of militants. For a long time it was the Pakistani’s capital only luxury hotel, and remains the favored haunt of the capital’s Westernized elite. It stands only a few hundred meters from the National Assembly, opposite a compound of ministers’ residences and next to the new offices for Pakistan state TV. An attack on the Marriott is an strike to the heart of the Pakistani state and the perceived elite of a nation of 173 million people.

Along with power, the Marriott symbolizes something else for ultra-conservative Islamic lobbies: Westernization and its concomitant ‘moral decadence’. The swimming pool where expat women swam in bikinis; the sports bar in the basement where alcohol was served; the lurid stories of debauchery that circulate and even the Internet center all contributed to making the Marriott a target of choice.

In any case, the finger of blame must always point to America. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, according to Bloomberg,  believed there was “a possibility of involvement by foreign elements in this attack”, and that “sophisticated weapons have been smuggled into Pakistan from Afghanistan” despite the fact that the modern equivalent of the expression “carrying coals to Newcastle” is “smuggling car bombs into Pakistan”.   In reality the bomb probably originated from a location nominally located within Pakistan itself.  Despite the rhetoric, the huge explosive device probably wasn’t directed in the abstract at swimming pools, bikinis or Internet centers at all, but towards the very concrete and proximate goal of seizing power in Pakistan itself.  But with political coalitions so fragile any flare-up could prove fatal and with water lapping at the very gunwales of his ship of state, President Zadari had little choice but to sit perfectly still and try not to make waves.

In his speech to parliament yesterday, Zardari said his government has a three-pronged strategy for terrorism. It includes offering a truce to militants who give up fighting, funding development projects in tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan to boost their economies and using force only as a last resort against those who attack security forces.   … Pakistan has blamed U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan for carrying out attacks on its territory in the past few months and has demanded an end to such raids, saying they promote militancy as well as violating its sovereignty.

Rarely have ‘militants’ been given so handsome an offer. They don’t have to pay for their crimes, are being offered money and will only be resisted when it’s too humiliating not to do so. That and blame America. Hard to do better than that. But how long the wolves can be kept from ripping at Pakistan’s vitals by showering them with snacks is an interesting question. Most observers feel that if the situation deteriorates far enough the Army will step in, as it has often done in the past. But that’s not a solution, simply another borrowing against Pakistan’s already doubtful future.  Maybe the question “why do they hate us so” should be replaced by “why do they hate themselves so?” No: that’s too politically incorrect to ask.

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