The Marriott hotel in the centre of Islamabad has always been a major potential target for militants. For a long time it was the Pakistan capital’s only luxury hotel and it remains the favoured haunt of the city’s westernised elite. Only a few hundred metres from the National Assembly, opposite a compound of official residences for ministers, next to the new offices for Pakistan state television, an attack on the Marriott is an strike to the heart of the Pakistani state and the establishment elite of the 173 million strong nation.
And along with power, the Marriott symbolises something else for the ultra-conservative Islamic lobbies: Westernisation and its concomitant “moral decadence”. The swimming pool where expats swam in bikinis, the sports bar in the basement where alcohol was served, the lurid stories of debauch that circulated, all contributed to making the Marriott a target of choice.
So did the political situation. Two major elements have come together. First, the accession of a new president, Benazir Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari, who is known to be relatively pro-Western and spoke yesterday about his determination to stand together with the international community in the fight against terrorism. Secondly, a sudden uptick in activity in the violence-wracked tribal agencies along the frontier with Afghanistan involving highly controversial raids into Pakistani territory…