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Who Was Behind the Islamabad Marriott Blast

Al Jazeera, Doha, QatarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

xSeptember. 22, 2008 - DOHA, Qatar -- Inteligence analysts and Pakistani officials have speculated that the suicide attack on Islamabad's Marriott hotel, which killed more than 50 people and left hundreds injured, was masterminded by al-Qaeda.

The hotel, part of an American-owned chain, was popular with Westerners and the Pakistani elite. A number of foreigners were among the dead.

The Pakistani interior ministry has blamed al-Qaeda, but no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Imtiaz Gul, a political analyst who was in the Marriott at the time:

It's very obvious that the forces who the Pakistani authorities, as well as the Americans, are trying to hunt down -- the Taliban, al-Qaeda, whatever name you give them their interests converge so every group that is against the United States and those who are co-operating with the United States their agenda has become one -- attacked the targets.

They have chosen to attack the symbols of Western civilisation, choosing targets like hospitals and hotels -- particularly the Marriott hotel where mostly foreigners stayed.

It's a very counterproductive move for these groups. I think all they are up to is to destabilise the country, to create a feeling of instability in Pakistan.

Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, an independent security and military analyst in Islamabad :

What is the Taliban? Who are the militants? There are a whole bunch of militants who are operating in the country.

The Taliban, so far, have not taken responsibility, so it is the government that is saying so -- but the previous government was equally quick to hold Baitullah Meshud [a pro-Taliban Pakistani fighter] and the Taliban responsible for [former prime minister] Benzir Bhutto's death last year.

We don't know who's done it. Let's not be that hurried to judge who's behind it.

Pakistan has a new president, yes, but there is no change in policy. Whatever Pervez Musharraf, the former president, was doing is happening now ... the same thing is being repeated.

I think the Americans don't trust the Pakistani military at the moment. They're trying to set up this one-window operation through President Asif Ali Zardari -- therefore he has just shot off to the US a few hours after the attack -- but I don't think they have the confidence that he can deliver.

They believe there are elements within the military which are supporting the Taliban and supporting the militants.

This blast in Islamabad was a case of a security lapse. They [the security forces] manage to protect the parliament and the presidency, but what about the Marriott or the Serena -- these are the two five-star hotels where many foreigners go?

I am suddenly reminded of an incident many years ago when General Zia ul-Haq [Pakistani president from 1978-1988] went out on a bike ride, and while he was doing that, the American embassy was set on fire. This is a case of a security lapse -- to protect the VIPs of Pakistan you allow the threat to go somewhere else.

This was a high security risk area and there was very little security. After the blast, when we went around town, the checkpoints had been abandoned by the police.

And the city itself is not in a position to cater to such kind of a crisis. The fire brigade, for example, did not arrive in time and did not have the facilities to put out the fire so the entire hotel burnt down.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst based in Kabul, the Afghan capital:

I don't know if it's appropriate to call this Pakistan's 9/11. I think Pakistan has been having mini-9/11s regularly since the actual 9/11.

I think there's been a fundamental failure within the Washington establishment -- and in London and other global capitals -- about what Pakistani society and the Pakistani state needs to deal with this.

Certainly both the state and Pakistani society have made mistakes ... Those mistakes need to be corrected and it's important that the international community, particularly the US, step up the level of their assistance.

Inside Pakistan, I certainly think there'll be a much more resolute political response to this than we've had in the past. But I'm not sure that the mobilisation of Pakistani public opinion will take place in the same way it did [in the US] after 9/11.

Certainly any of Pakistan's English-speaking, urban and expat elite -- and by elite I don't mean economic elite, but 'opinion elite' -- any of those people who were sitting on the fence are certainly going to be pushed off it by this explosion.

But what I don't think will happen -- I don't think Pakistan's religious parties are going to get with programme. I think they are going to continue to ask for an end to the operation in Bajaur [a district in Pakistan's tribal region where the Pakistani military is battling pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked fighters].


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Copyright (c) 2008, Al Jazeera, Doha, Qatar

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