Nepali Times
Picking up the pieces in Pakistan


ISLAMABAD-A month after a suicide bomber struck the Marriott here on 20 September, killing 55 people, the hotel is getting ready to reopen in the new year.

Owner Sadruddin Hashwani has made it his goal not to be cowed down by terrorism, and is determined to bring the hotel back into operation. Bulldozers are busy clearing the debris, workers are up in the rooms facing Constitution Avenue, putting up new windows and repairing the charred fa?ade.

Shock waves from the blast and the ensuing flames twisted the window frames. Every window of not just the Marriott but also a neighbouring government building, is smashed. There is nothing left of the bedrooms, they look dark, abandoned, haunted. The truck bomb left a crater 10m deep in front of the hotel and among the dead was the Czech ambassador.

In early October the UN approved Security Phase-III, which requires the children and spouse of the international staff to leave Pakistan and relocate for an interim period. Various places in the city are off limits, checkpoints are placed all over the city and routine security alerts are circulated.

Even a month after the bombing, restaurants and parks are empty, shopping centres wear a deserted look and less people come out during the evenings with their families. There's fear that things will get a lot worse before it gets better and expats want to leave before it is too late.

Some have called the 20 September Marriott Hotel bombing Pakistan's 9/11. The attack in Islamabad was symbolic and the message that the attackers were trying to convey was clear?they are getting stronger and they don't care about democracy.

Pakistan's problem with terrorism has its roots in the Cold War years-their support for the Afghan Mujahideen, who were assisted by the US in their fight against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan, and later became the Taliban. In the post 9/11 world, Pakistan reluctantly let go of its ties with the Taliban and joined hands with the US to drive them out of Afghanistan. The Taliban fled to Pakistan's northwest tribal areas where the Al-Qaeda was already operating. It shared an intense hatred towards the US that brought the Taliban and Al-Qeada together.

For those who weren't ready to accept it, the Marriott bombings made one thing clear? the Al-Qeada and Taliban are not just enemies of the US and Afghanistan but also Pakistan.

As a Nepali visiting Pakistan during the country's difficult times, one wants to understand their struggle and draw parallels between the war we just came out of and the one that's going on in Pakistan. Although a past American ambassador tried to represent Nepal's anti-Maoist war as a part of the global war on terror, it was clear that there weren't any links.

Our war was internal, it was a domestic response to domestic grievances that had piled up over the centuries. Nepal is not geo-strategic the way Afghanistan always was ever since the Great Game, and we don't have oil?so we have less to fight over. Nepal's giant neighbours both want political stability in Nepal, so there isn't the need for a turf war.

After almost a decade-long military-led regime of Pervez Musharraf, like Nepal, Pakistan has a new government in place. This government has made it clear that it wants to revise the past policies and is willing to do things differently. Taking this approach is not possible unless there's peace in the country, and the new government is able to resolve the economic issues. Pakistan is nearly bankrupt because of falling investment and exports.

Nepal has its own set of problems, but we are not fighting a bloody war anymore, our military is not engaged in operations around the country, innocent civilians are not dying or fleeing their homes every day and there are no terrorist attacks on the scale you see here. Our differences are being sorted out through dialogue. While there's a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in Pakistan, overall in Nepal there's hope for a better future, for a New Nepal.

However, unless the Madhes issue is resolved quickly, and the various political groups and crossborder quasi-criminal gangs are neutralised, it could flare up. If it does, the mix of ethnic volatility with social grievances can be a potentially deadly mixture. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are examples of what will happen if we ignore the Madhes.

Pakistan, pressured by the US, is still taking a heavy-handed military approach along the Afghan border. Many are dead and thousands left homeless are now living in refugee camps in Peshawar. US-led airstrikes kill people every other day. The one important lesson Pakistan can learn from Nepal is that a military-only option doesn't work and it is absolutely doomed to fail if the political government doesn't respect the aspirations of its people.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)