Saturday’s bomb blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was devastating, [see related CHUP post], with media outlets now reporting that at least 40 were killed and hundreds were injured. Below, Shaheryar Mirza, a freelance journalist from Rawalpindi, Pakistan who recently completed his masters degree in journalism, comments on the significance of such an attack and the ramifications it holds for Pakistan:
Another blast to add to the string of chaos that has engulfed Pakistan in recent months. The blast at the Marriott is being coined, “Pakistan’s 9/11.” Is this finally an admission that Pakistan is caught up in a war that it cannot pawn off as “America’s war?”
On the eve of President Zardari‘s visit to New York, this blast serves as a stark reminder that the Pakistani government is on the losing end of a war which is tearing apart the very fabric of Pakistani society. Our society, government, and law enforcement’s complacence is to blame for these tragic events. It may be an individual militant who pulled the trigger, but it is ultimately the state and society as a whole which has given the extremists the power that can bring a city to its knees.
Intelligence warned that four to five suicide bombers were on the loose in the capital, but that still did not deter the militants’ aims. Is the resolve of the militants stronger than our government and law enforcement’s resolve? To be fair, it is extremely hard to prevent these kinds of bombings. But in the capital of the nation, a dump truck laden with several hundred kilograms of explosives was allowed to breach one of the most heavily guarded cordons in Islamabad. Surely someone must be held accountable. Driving from Rawalpindi to Islamabad, one encounters so many police checkpoints that it is hard to imagine that nobody questioned why a dump truck was making its way to the Marriott. It may be safe to assume that that road is not the typical trucker’s route.
Many ministers have now come out on news channels asserting, “We won’t be scared or deterred by these attacks” and other statements to that effect. They go on to state that they will bring those to blame to justice. Those accountable for this tragedy are not only the ones hiding in the Frontier and Balochistan but they are also those in plain sight who have ignored the rise of extremism in our country.
Occasionally sending in the military to fight militants is not alone going to solve the problem. Is the government still planning on registering all the madrassas and checking their curricula? Granted, not every madrassa is breeding young extremists, but a very significant number are. Is the government ignorant of where the funding is coming for these Wahhabi-styled madrassas? Are they completely incapable of keeping a check on these schools, or are they just unwilling? One cannot blame madrassas for everything that happens, but the fact remains that some of the blame lies with them. And if they run rampant as they do these days, then groups like Al Qaeda won’t even need to recruit people because they are being bred free of charge. Keeping the madrassas in check is the government’s responsibility and every successive government since Zia’s time has failed in doing so. Who will hold our government accountable?
This is where civil society comes in. Our judiciary is ready to protest to the hilt when its power has been compromised, but are they ready to stand up when the law of the land is compromised by militants on a daily basis? The educated public in the cities line up to protest America’s war in Iraq but do we see them standing up and protesting the militant’s war on our own nation?
Our citizens and government officials are angered when they see America crossing over into Pakistan to fight militants. The U.S. apparently comprises Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty with these cross-border incursions. The question is, then, what sovereignty are they referring to? The Frontier and Balochistan have become the preferred destination for extremists from around the world. Why aren’t the government and public up in arms about Pakistan’s sovereignty when it is being breached by extremists? Militants from around the world and within Pakistan are launching a war against the nation of Pakistan and we seem to be concerned about America compromising our territorial integrity to fight the very people who are destabilizing our own country. It seems counter-intuitive. Nobody is suggesting that America be given free rein in our territory but our own government has completely failed in securing our tribal areas.
The ISI is completely without accountability to the people of Pakistan and have aims which run contrary to the aims of the average Pakistani. Esteemed journalists like Ahmed Rashid have suggested time and again that the military and the ISI have kept the Taliban alive to serve as a tool against India. And he goes on to rightfully state that now they are out of the ISI’s control. The fact remains that the Taliban and its militant guests from around the world are fighting a war against Pakistan, not India.
The ISI needs to re-evaluate its support of the Taliban if the country is to stabilize the border regions. The government needs to bring some accountability to the ISI. The public needs to bring accountability to the government by standing up and making it known that the fight against extremism is our own war and no one else’s. It’s unfortunate to say, but perhaps an attack of this nature will lead people to lose any sympathy they had for the extremists. Maybe the government will aggressively tackle the causes of and sources of extremism. Making deals with the Taliban has proven to be making a deal with the devil.
One can go on endlessly about how extremism of this sort is a result of American foreign policy in the Muslim world, but that is only part of the equation. If this sort of extremism is retaliation to the West, as Muslims we should still hold our fellow Muslims accountable for reacting with such extreme violence. There is no justification for the actions of the extremists and the argument that it is America’s fault is a tired and outdated notion. American policies may have ignited the flames but we are fanning the flames by not holding our own people accountable for perpetuating the violence. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Attacking the Marriott in Islamabad has nothing to do with America’s policies in the Middle East.
Pakistan teeters on the brink in plain view and it is becoming impossible to sweep it under the rug. Hopefully our government will now treat this is our own war and actually start protecting its citizens against a war which is home-grown. None of this will happen until Pakistanis and the government are ready to admit that Islamic extremism is breeding like wildfire in our own country and it is a result of our own complacence.
CHUP welcomes your thoughts on this incident. If you would like to contribute a guest post on the Islamabad bomb blast, or related issues, please email changinguppakistan[at]gmail.com with your piece, name, and affiliation.