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Massive bomb blast in Pakistan, at the Marriott

Islamabad is the capital city of Pakistan, and the home to its political leaders and a military garrison as well. One would expect that the city has many layers of security, especially since there is an open conflict between the Pakistani Government (under incredible pressure by the US Government), and the Pakistan Taleban and Al-Qaeda (both of whom oppose the policies of the Pakistani Government). There have been attacks in Islamabad (and other Pakistani cities) before, but the latest truck bombing of the Marriott takes the situation to a new level. The very scale of the attack, which has almost destroyed the hotel and led to a huge number of casualties shows an escalation of the attack on the Pakistani state from the terrorists within. The Marriott is very close to the Parliament building, and in an ironic note, the Pakistani President had just given a speech in which he had promised to combat terrorism. The Marriott is also a symbol, being a favorite gathering point for foreigners and for the elite within Pakistan; and has been attacked before (the last time a security guard died when the suicide bomber he managed to prevent from entering blew himself up):

Officials said they were worried the building, which burned through night after after the blast ruptured a gas pipeline, would collapse. A security official said many people leapt to their deaths from upper floors. The bombing came shortly after new President Asif Ali Zardari, who faces a desperate struggle against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, delivered his inaugural address to parliament only a few hundred metres away.
The attack appeared to be timed to cause the maximum number of casualties, coming as the hotel was thronged with families holding their evening meal to break the daily Ramadan fast. Eyewitness Mohammad Jamil said the truck exploded just outside the heavily-secured hotel’s gates. He said the force of the blast sent the truck flying into the air, and knocked him over onto the street.

This attack, in a zone that is supposed to be security intense, was all the more shocking for the sheer scale and enormity of the damage (the bomb blew a crater 40 feet deep in front of the hotel, and caused a fire inside the hotel). It is also an intelligence failure of the highest order, given that the Government had no warning that such an attack was imminent, and will also lead to speculation about the involvement of the intelligence agencies in such an attack. Further, there were some US intelligence agents visiting Islamabad at around the same time, and there is speculation that the attack could have been aimed at these visitors as well.
Pakistan is confronted with grave choices – It has to decide whether it wants to cave into these terrorists or to prevent the country from slipping into their hands. It has tried to make peace with them, but that does not work since the Pakistani Taleban believe that they are in the right and their ideology and practices have to prevail. It also makes the rest of the world suspicious about whether Pakistan really wants to fight these terrorists or not.

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