Like most other foreign visitors to Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, I knew the Marriott well. The hustle and bustle of the hotel’s main lobby reassuringly demonstrated that Pakistan was open for business.
Its rooms and restaurants offered a welcoming venue to guests from around the country and the world.
Because of the Marriott’s practical and symbolic significance, the tremors from this weekend’s massive suicide bombing will be felt beyond the immediate devastation, and that is precisely why the terrorists selected it as a target.
No one knows yet which terrorist outfit pulled off this attack, just minutes from the national parliament, supreme court and other government offices, but their intentions are easier to uncover.
Earlier the same day, Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, had delivered his inaugural speech to a joint parliamentary session.
Zardari, widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and inheritor of her left-of-center Pakistan People’s Party, has publicly and repeatedly sworn to fight terrorism and extremism in his country.
By demonstrating their ability to destroy one of Islamabad’s landmark destinations right under his nose, the terrorists sought to undermine public confidence and weaken the new civilian government.
The bombers probably also had a more ambitious goal: to drive a deeper wedge between Pakistan and the United States.
Late this summer, Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri released an hour-long video message to the people of Pakistan, arguing that it is the religious duty of every Pakistani to oppose cooperation with America.
Zawahiri framed Al Qaeda and Taliban actions as a defensive war against U.S. aggression.
Accepting Zawahiri’s logic, some Pakistanis may—perversely—blame America for this latest tragedy.
They may see this bombing as a direct response to newly intensified U.S. and Pakistani military operations along the Afghan border, and they may conclude that Pakistanis will suffer less if they break ties with the United States.
If that message takes hold and influences Pakistani policy, the terrible loss of the Marriott will be minor in comparison with our strategic setback in the fight against global terrorism.
Today, Washington and Islamabad must grieve their losses, but tomorrow—and well into the future—they must demonstrate political and military unity in the face of a threat that knows no humanity.
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