Breaking News: Blast in Islamabad

A blast went off this evening in Islamabad (F-6, Supermarket area) at the Luna Caprese, an Italian restaurant frequented by foreign diplomats and journalists (it serves alcohol).

The Victims
According to the director of the Poly Clinic hospital, at least one individual has been killed. She is a Turkish national who either worked a nurse in the U.S. embassy or for an NGO operating in Kashmir.

The director said the hospital has received 11 injured individuals consisting of:

  • three Pakistanis (two critically injured);
  • a Canadian national of Somali descent;
  • a Japanese national;
  • at least five Americans (the sixth could be a Brit).

Other reports have listed a total of 15 injured. Three victims were taken to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences hospital.

Aaj Television reported that some American victims were taken away in U.S. embassy Land Cruisers to an unknown location, perhaps the embassy and seemingly not to Pakistani government hospitals. The same has been reported for at least one British victim. The spokesperson for the U.S. embassy refused to comment about this when questioned. Another report also states that medical staff from the U.S. embassy also made their way to one of the two hospitals to assist.

The news channel also posted a list of the injured. Pakistani television stations immediately note the names of the deceased and injured, irrespective of whether family members have been notified. At least two of the Americans injured are defense policy experts with a major think tank.

The Blast
Aaj Television’s Talat Hussain reports that the restaurant’s entrance had “scanners,” perhaps referring to metal detectors. The blast went off in the restaurant’s outdoor dining area. Authorities remain open to the possibility of a grenade having been thrown from an adjacent ally. At the moment, however, they seem to favor the idea that a planted device was responsible. If true, was it a timed device or remote-detonated? And when was it planted? Was the entire property, not just the indoors location of the restaurant, secure when closed? If not, it is possible a device was placed into the restaurant’s open area during off hours.

Despite today’s security breach, Islamabad was put on high alert yesterday with strict checking of cars leaving and entering the city and a newly instituted no tolerance policy for street beggars. On February 25, a suicide bomber disguised as a beggar detonated himself near the vehicle of the Pakistan Army Surgeon General Mushtaq Baig, killing him and several others.

The Motive
What was the intent of the attack? Were the terrorists simply out for Western blood? Or was there a particular stimulus or target?

There are several facts to consider.

One, Islamabad is currently replete with foreign journalists covering the formation of the next government and the new parliament’s opening sessions. Many targets around.

Two, U.S. military advisers training the Frontier Corps began arriving in Pakistan earlier this month. Over recent months, local papers have reported a growing presence of foreigners in local dress across the country–including in Quetta. Militant networks could have detected a greater presence of Westerners in the country. Moreover, they read the papers and have complete access to reports in the Pakistani papers about the military training program.  In fact, Maulana Faqir Muhammad, a Pakistani Taliban leader, criticized training program today, referring to it as “an insult to one of the world’s best trained armies.”

Three, legislation for the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was introduced in the Senate yesterday. While Pakistani militants don’t read Congressional Quarterly, the local press does provide timely news of relevant developments in Washington. The ROZs have been in the press for months. They are now closer to fruition. Aid agencies have already begun actively recruiting senior management staff for related projects. In late February, militants attacked the Mansehra office of a British aid agency in February, killing three.

And so it is conceivable that the militants are trying to discourage a greater presence of military advisers and aid workers in the country.

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The Second Battle of Islamabad

captisl10409290711pakistan_politics_isl104.jpgIslamabad, once Pakistan’s most serene and perhaps sedating city, is now at the center of its political storm. In the summer, its Red Mosque lived up to its name after days of gruesome violence left dozens killed and more injured in clashes between security forces and militants-students affiliated with Abdur Rashid Ghazi.

Today, the violence has shifted to the Election Commission, located (quite ironically) on Constitution Avenue. The Lawyer’s Movement gathered outside the Supreme Court to continue their protests against Pervez Musharraf and his bid for re-election. A few hours into the protests, they made their way toward the Election Commission headquarters, which has superseded the Supreme Court as the center of political contention.

The EC HQ was off-limits to them. Islamabad has been under a high state of alert, but the locus of the security presence was around the EC HQ. As lawyers (and media following them) made their way toward the cordoned off building, they were met with severe violence at the hands of state security apparatus.

The violence toward the media has been complemented with a television blackout in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area. This violence occurred while Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz remained inside the Election Commission headquarters (trapped for a bit) along with Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, Chaudhry Shujaat, Farooq Leghari, Mushahid Hussain, and Arbab Ghulam Rahim. Farooq Sattar, a senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader wasn’t so lucky as he was outside of the gates of the EC HQ, and was beaten up by a group of lawyers. This is a dangerous development, perhaps opening the gates for MQM-led violence against lawyers and the opposition (especially the Jamaat-e Islami) in Karachi. Rather than controlling his political opposition, Pervez Musharraf has perhaps catalyzed a broadening of political violence into Pakistan’s largest city.  Moreover, he’s relinquished the slight increase in credibility he received yesterday after the Supreme Court’s decision in his favor.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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