ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le Pakistan face au piège terroriste
by Hassane Zerrouky
Translated Saturday 27 September 2008, by
Islamabad. Barely sworn in as head of state, Ali Asif Zardari must answer the challenge issued by the Islamists, who demand that he choose between his U.S. ally and supporting the Taliban.
Fifty-three dead: that is the toll taken by the truck bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, despite the close police protection accorded to the hotel. Among the victims, most of whom were Pakistanis, was the Czech ambassador to Pakistan, Ivo Zdarek. It was no accident that the blast occurred at the break in the Ramadan fast. This fact corresponds to the exploitation of religious symbolism in Islamist thought: a mujahid who sacrifices himself at that precise moment is believed to go directly to God’s heaven! And all the more so as, in the eyes of the mujahideen, the customers at the luxury hotel, rich Pakistanis who are close to the inner circles of government, and those who work at the hotel, are just infidels who deserve to go to hell!
A declaration of war on the government.
This attack, the latest in a long series of bombings perpetrated in Pakistan (over 15), is the most deadly since the double kamikaze attack that targeted the crowd hailing the return of Benazir Bhutto on October 19, 2007, and which cost the lives of 139 people. Coming a few hours after president Ali Asif Zardari’s speech, in which he called for “the eradication of terrorism,” at a time when the Pakistani army is engaged in an offensive against the Islamists in the Bajur tribal zone on the Afghan border, and above all in the context of tense relations between Islamabad and Washington on account of the U.S. raids on Pakistani soil, this attack is truly a declaration of war on the brand-new Pakistani government. What is more, on the seventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a video distributed by Al Qaeda called for a reinforcement of the jihad in Pakistan.
Support for the Islamists within the government.
In the opinion of Talat Massod, a retired Pakistani army general and a specialist on defense questions, “the message is very clear and unambiguous: if the government pursues its policy, this is what it will get in answer. With this bombing, they (the Islamists) have shown that they can strike anywhere, at any time, no matter what the security measures may be. (...) They are also addressing a message to the Pakistani people: your government and your army are allowing the Americans to attack our soil.” In other words, by pressuring not only the people, but also the army, the Islamists are demanding that they choose sides.
Less than three weeks after his election as head of state, president Ali Asif Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is having to face a serious challenge. Of course, on Saturday, reacting to the attack on the Marriott hotel, he said he was determined “to rid the country of this cancer,” certifying that “the government will continue to fight against terrorism and extremism in all their forms and manifestations, and that such ignoble acts cannot weaken the will of the government to fight against this threat.” But he knows that the hardest part is only beginning and that he will have a hard job of it. Indeed, it is generally admitted that the Islamists can count on numerous supporters within the “state within the state” – the ISI (Pakistani intelligence services). It was the ISI that, together with the CIA, created the Taliban in the early 1990s, after having helped the Afghan mujahideen in their “jihad” against “the communist enemy” in the 1980s!
The ISI’s double play.
Moreover, some retired ISI brass who still exercise a certain influence, had been accused, notably by Benazir Bhutto, not only of having organized the overthrow and assassination of her father, former socialist prime minister Ali Bhutto, in 1979, but also of having been behind the assassination attempts that targeted her return to the country on October 19, 2007! This is not because the Pakistani intelligence services have been infiltrated by the Islamists. But for reasons of stability and domestic and foreign policy (the case of Kashmir and relations with India), there is a whole current of thought within the Pakistani military and civilian ruling classes which fears that the implosion of Afghanistan (a multi-ethnic country) would have serious consequences on Pakistan’s territorial integrity, and this at a time when its powerful neighbor, India, is firming up its position in Southeast Asia. Hence the ISI’s double play, which consists in allowing the Taliban free rein when this serves the interests of the Pakistani ruling classes in the region and in neutralizing them when they become problematic. In the long run, the ISI runs the risk of being trapped by its own double play.