As the assailant failed to explode a bomb inside the Islamabad airport another succeeded earlier to explode one at the Marriot Hotel often used by foreigners and diplomats for meetings has once again brought focus into the issue of terrorism from Pakistan. Coinciding with the Shiite festival of Ashura, another bomb in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province last month had killed 14 police personnel.
It is easy to dismiss the Pershwar incident as a continuation of the ongoing sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shias in Pakistan. But that bomb has to be read in the context of the other two incidents in Islamabad and the resurging Taliban in Afghanistan, the failed peace treaty signed by the Pakistani government with the Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Areas (FATA).
A called claiming responsibility for the Marriot bombing attributed the attack on the ongoing American action in Iraq. The question is why the bomber should attack an economic target in far away Islamabad for developments in Iraq. The answer is that the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan that is continuing to operate with impunity, holds President Pervez Musharraf responsible for stopping them from attacking American troops in Afghanistan and also extend operations in Iraq. Poor and illiterate Muslims in Pakistan and most of the Islamic world see the American operation in Iraq as another attempt by the West to kill Muslims. Fed divisive rhetoric in Madrasas, or Islamic seminaries, younger generations of Muslim children are being told that the U.S. and the West are coming to West Asia for another round of crusades to kill Muslims and take over the wealth (oil and natural gas). They cite statistics where 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion, half a million babies have disappeared in the previous decade because of debilitating and non-humanitarian sanctions, and the occupation of Saudi Arabia by American troops.
The last hype is the most dangerous and also the most poignant. This is because of the al Qaeda's belief that it is the corruption of House of Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia that controls the holiest cities of Islam (Mecca and Medina) that has kept the Muslims world over under poverty. The lack of adherence to Shariat Law, the Westernization of the Islamic world, the overt dependence on Western arms, etc have been cited as the outcome of such corruption. Interestingly, the Whhabbi Sunnis who believe this theory have major opponent in Shias and Sunni governments. However, the al Qaeda has managed to bring together disaffected population of the Muslims to fight against oppressive rule, repressive institutions, and economic backwardness. They justify their own repressive and retrograde agenda from the illiterate and uneducated masses projecting themselves as the saviors of Islam who will bring them salvation.
Since Iran, a Shia state, opposes this view in lieu of their own agenda to dominate the Islamic world, the terrorist elements target Shias. Since Musharraf has, at least publicly, sided with the Americans and stopping large scale open violence against the U.S., they have targeted him. With most of their attempts on Musharraf failing, they have now chosen to create anarchy by targeting soft economic targets to create confusion, panic, and instability in Pakistan that they can then take advantage of.
Strangely, the changed situation has been largely sparked by Musharraf himself when he signed the peace deal last year with the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan. At that time, we had projected that the deal will allow the free flow and their joining of forces with the Afghani Taliban and increase their action against Pakistan. This has happened and everyone, including Musharraf, acknowledges the dangers of this collusion and the dangers they represent to the Pakistan. However, this is nothing but crying over spilt milk and attempting to divert attention away from his strategic mistakes aimed at political pay-off.
India cannot be happy with this changed circumstance not should it be. While it has increased Musharraf's inconvenience and would also weaken his resolve to foment terrorism in India, it also means that there is increase instability in Pakistan which will have collateral effects on the region. A victory for terror in Pakistan is a defeat for the rest of the world. Musharraf knows this and hence holds the world hostage so he can reap a bigger windfall. Again, if he follows through with this strategy, he will again commit a major strategic error.