Few things are simple, and Saturday's attack on the Islamabad Marriott hotel is no exception.
Just the Facts: And InnuendoYou've probably heard that the Marriott in Islamabad burned after a truck bomb attack last Saturday.
You may even have heard that it's America's fault. More specifically, it's the fault of the Marines.
Sure, the Anjuman Fidayeen-e-Islam, or The Fedayeen of Islam, a bunch that nobody seems to have heard of before, say they did it. But it was the fault of the Marines. Or America.
That seems to be the implication of an article in Prensa Latina, published today.
They could be right. I don't doubt the facts, as stated:
- "...The case emerged when Representative Mumtaz Alam Gilani denounced a mysterious and secret movement last Wednesday night by US Marines who supposedly were introducing iron boxes without being checked by security personnel of the hotel
- "This happened after the Chief of US Troops, Admiral Mike Fullen, had a meeting in Islamabad with the country's main military chiefs.
- "In a statement, the US embassy insists today that it was a support team that usually precedes or accompanies American authorities.
- "The News reports, however, that the government already had information that various rooms on the fourth floor of the Marriott were permanently occupied by US authorities and had equipment and other material used for espionage...."
As I see it, Prensa Latina's facts are
- Marines "supposedly" carried boxes into the Marriott without having the house detectives look inside
- An unusually anonymous source in "the government" says that there's a nest of foreign (American, in this case) spies in the hotel
- Some time after the Marines took the boxes into the hotel, a truck blew up at the gate
- Then the hotel burned down
It could be pure coincidence that the mailing address for Prensa Latina gives is "Calle 23 esq. N Vedado, La Habana - Cuba," but I think that Prensa Latina might have a well-defined editorial slant regarding America.
Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Everyone In BetweenSecret agents and mysterious iron boxes aside, there's quite a great deal of uncertainty about Saturday's explosion.
One of the few things that are known is that it was a big explosion, a big fire, and that a lot of people got killed. Over four dozen, at least. One Pakistani official called it the biggest attack in seven years.
At best, I think it'll be years before we know who actually sent some suicide driver in that truck. The modus operandi suggests Taliban and/or Al Qaeda: both of which have reasonably secure bases in the tribal regions of Pakistan. But methods can be copied, so it's anyone's guess who is responsible.
According to CNN, Al-Arabiya TV reported that it, Al-Arabiya, got an audio recording from some groups calling itself "The Fedayeen of Islam," but noted that it, Al-Arabiya, couldn't tell if the recording was the real McCoy, or if the name of the group was for real.
Assuming that CNN's coverage of Al-Arabiya's reporting of a previously-unknown group's audio recording is accurate:
- The Fedayeen of Islam say that 250 U.S. Marines and other U.S. and NATO officials were inside the hotel when it burned
- The Fedayeen of Islam 'regretted the attack,' but that it was necessary - They've got demands
- American-Pakistani joint efforts must end
- All military operations in Pakistan's tribal regions must end
- There's more, but CNN didn't go into that
- "Mujahadeen" prisoners in American prisons must be released
So far, we've got mysterious iron boxes, a claim of responsibility from an unknown organization that demands the release of prisoners that nobody else seems to know about. All the story needs now is the possibility that high-level Pakistani officials knew about the attack before it happened.
Dinner Plans, or No Dinner Plans: That is the QuestionOne of the questions, anyway.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry head, Rehman Malik, said that Pakistan's president, prime minister and other leaders had planned to dine at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday night. Then, President Asif Ali Zardari asked to move the event to the prime minister's compound.
Which was a good thing for President Zardari. If he'd been at the Marriott, he'd most likely be as dead as the Czech Ambassador, Ivo Zdarek.
The hotel management, on the other hand, insists that there were no dinner plans, changed or otherwise, for the Pakistani officials at the Marriott. And Pakistani Senator Javed Ashraf Qazi said he was invited to the dinner but it was always scheduled to be at the prime minister's office. Which could be true.
Even the professional and cautious CNN wrote that the lack of fit between the stories of the Pakistani Interior Ministry chief, a Pakistani senator, and the Marriott management "raised questions as to how much the government knew about the planned attack...."
Since the person who said 'plans were changed' was named, and since Rehman Malik is Pakistan's Interior Ministry head, I think there's a chance that plans were changed: possibly for innocent reasons. Innocent or not, if Senator Javed Ashraf Qazi's assertion isn't accurate, there's a whacking great coincidence here, at the very least.
With Friends Like These -Like Yemen, Pakistan is an ally of America. With Al Qaeda and Taliban bases operating within its borders.
Pakistan either can't or won't remove those bases.
And, Pakistan's government doesn't want any help. Last week, we heard that a Pakistani leader gave Pakistan's troops orders to shoot America soldiers if they tried to deal with Al Qaeda or Taliban forces inside Pakistan.
On the other hand, maybe they didn't. Some Pakistani officials said it wasn't so.
Now, the Associated Press is saying that two American intelligence officials reported Pakistani troops and tribesmen shooting at American helicopters inside Pakistan. And, that the Pentagon said it wasn't so.
Looking for Certainty? Read a Spy NovelAs I said about another issue, "If you're not a bit confused...you're not paying attention."
Good guys? Bad guys? It isn't that simple. We've got a situation where
- National leaders in the Middle East are dealing with people living within their territory who don't like the idea of nations - and have the firepower to be more than annoying
- Terrorists (or activists, or whatever you want to call them) are as hard to keep track of as mercury that's been hit with a hammer - They
- Aren't tied to one territory, as nations are
- May have the support of people who think that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar groups
- Are defending Islam
- Deserve support, based on tribal loyalties
- May dissolve and re-form under new names
- Conflicting accounts are broadcast around the world before bureaucracies get facts through 'regular channels' and decide what to say
- News organizations, from The New York Times and Prensa Latina to CNN, are dealing with a world that doesn't fit their Cold War templates
Oh the other hand, although there probably aren't (purely) good guys and (purely) bad guys, I think there are (fairly) good sides and (decidedly) bad sides.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian regime, and other like-minded organizations, do seem to have a clear idea of what they want: a world that's run much more tidily, and according to their rules.
The burqa-yes, trouser-no dress code alone would hard for westerners to live with. Never mind what would happen to the status of women, and anyone who didn't see eye-to-eye with the local imam.
Americans, and quite a few other people, have gotten used to living with a degree of personal freedom that doesn't seem to be part of Al Qaeda's dream.
We won't find perfectly good guys in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, or America. But I think there are people who are willing to keep followers of Osama bin Laden and Iran's ayatollahs from replacing the bikini with the burqa, and turning the clock back to the good old days, when the local despot had life-and-death control over his subjects.
In the news:
"Video emerges of Marriott bombing - 21 Sept 08"
- "Unknown group claims responsibility for Pak bombings "
Sahara Samay / Reuters (September 23, 2008)
- "Mystery Shrouds Pakistan Iron Boxes"
Prensa Latina (Cuba)
- "Dinner plans save Pakistan's rulers from hotel bomb attack"
CNN (September 22, 2008
- "Did Pakistan soldiers shoot at US helicopters?"
Associated Press (September 22, 2008)
- "Deadly blast targets Marriott Hotel in Islamabad"
CNN (September 21, 2008)
- "Officials: Taliban, Al Qaeda Behind Pakistan Hotel Bombing"
FOXNews (September 21, 20008)
- "Official: Hotel blast 'biggest attack' in 7 years for Pakistan
CNN (September 21, 2008)