Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Time was when every time militants set off a bomb in Pakistan, India’s strategic establishment would turn around and say “we told you so”. This is what happens when you play with fire … jihad is a double-edged sword, they would say, pointing to Pakistan’s support for militants operating in Kashmir and elsewhere.
Not any more. When India’s opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party – which has consistently advocated a tougher policy toward Pakistan – tells the government to be watchful of the fallout of the security and economic situation in Pakistan, then you know the ground is starting to shift.
“Pakistan is on the verge of an economic and political collapse,” party leader and former foreign minister Jaswant Singh said in remarks that seem to have escaped much public attention. “It is time we understood the influence and be prepared to face it.”
Former Indian High Commissioner to Britain Kuldip Nayar, who is from the opposite end of the political spectrum, made a similar point shortly after the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott hotel.
The weekend bomb which tore through the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing 53 people, was a reminder that Pakistan is entering the eye of the storm of Islamist militancy. But for me, it was also a more personal reminder of a childhood friend who went from a suburban upbringing in London to become one of Pakistan’s most notorious militants.
Omar Sheikh, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of the Prophet) organisation which has been linked to the bombing, is currently on death row in Pakistan for organising the kidnapping and beheading of the brilliant Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in February, 2002.
I had long since lost contact with Omar since we both graduated from Forest School in north London in 1992 and the sight of a heavily bearded Sheikh flanked by Pakistani police during the Pearl trial came as a shock. My jumbled memories of Omar were of a tall, lantern-jawed adolescent with dark-rimmed glasses, a serious but polite demeanour, a childish sense of humour but an unblinking, fearless appetite for a fight. Even as a boy, he spoke feverishly and often of “My Country” and praised the authoritarian and strictly Islamic regime of General Zia — who ousted and killed Benazir Bhutto’s father and helped the mujahedin throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
Just two days after a suicide bomb attack on the Marriott killed 53 people in the heart of Islamabad, there were reports of trouble both on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and on the Line of Control with India.
On the Afghan border, Pakistani troops fired on two U.S. helicopters that intruded into Pakistani airspace on Sunday night, forcing them to turn back to Afghanistan, according to a senior Pakistani security official. On the Indian side, Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged fire across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, in the latest breach of a ceasefire agreed in 2003. And as if that was not enough, Afghanistan’s top diplomat was kidnapped in Peshawar.
A suicide truck bomber hit the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday, killing at least 40 people, wounding nearly 250 and starting a huge fire.
The explosion came hours after President Asif Ali Zardari made his first address to parliament a few hundred metres away, calling for terrorism to be rooted out.