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Talking terror in Pakistan

All it takes is an hour-long drive across Islamabad to illustrate that if there is one common concern that binds India and Pakistan today,it is the looming spectre of terrorism....

Written by Raghvendra Rao | Islamabad |
June 30, 2010 3:10:25 am

All it takes is an hour-long drive across Islamabad to illustrate that if there is one common concern that binds India and Pakistan today,it is the looming spectre of terrorism. And having suffered a spate of bomb explosions in the past couple of years,Islamabad is not taking any chances.

Having replaced Karachi as Pakistan’s capital in the 1960s,Islamabad is a present-day fortress with a police checkpost every few hundred metres,particularly in the area surrounding the Pakistan Secretariat. In an hour’s drive around the city,one’s vehicle is likely to be halted at least a dozen times. Each time,a policeman goes through the drill of checking the vehicle,and questions the driver about the identities of the passengers.

Hotel Serena,where the recently concluded SAARC Interior Ministers’ Conference took place,is an example of how Islamabad has responded to the possibility of terror attacks. To thwart any future attempts of a repeat of the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing,an elaborate multi-layered security mechanism has been put in place. Besides manual checking,this includes electronic sensors to run a complete scan on vehicles,right at the outer perimetre of the complex.

Guests are made to disembark a fair distance away from the main entrance to the hotel lobby. They have to clear multiple security checkpoints including manual frisking and baggage screening. Only a handful of privileged guests,mostly politicians and foreign diplomats,get the facility of being driven right upto the entrance to the lobby.

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Clearly,the 26/11 Mumbai carnage is still the biggest talking point in Pakistan whenever the strained ties between the two neighbours make their way to a discussion table. Many in Pakistan still believe that their country had nothing to do with what happened in Mumbai in November 2008.

“The day 26/11 attacks happened,there were only two theories that were being talked about in Pakistan. One,that the attack had been orchestrated by the US to jeopardise the significant strides both the neighbours were taking towards normalisation of relations at that point in time. Two,that India itself had engineered the strikes to discredit Pakistan in the international community,” says a Pakistani journalist,adding that Ajmal Kasab,the lone surviving terrorist from the 26/11 attacks,is not a Pakistani national. “His father was a peon in the Foreign Ministry who served in Nigeria for some time,where Kasab was born. So technically,he is a Nigerian national,” he reasons.

But terror,26/11,mistrust and hostilities apart,the mere mention of your Indian nationality gets the red carpet rolled out. “Isme koi shaq nahin ke dono mulkon ke awaam ek doosre se mohabbat kartey hain. Yeh sirf dono taraf ki siyasat hai jo dilon ko judne nahin dena chahti,” says Maqbool,a cab-driver from Rawalpindi who also runs a rent-a-car service in Islamabad.

Tell a local shop-owner that you have come from India and chances are that you will walk away with substantial discounts. A visit to Saeed Book Bank,probably Islamabad’s biggest and most well-stocked bookstore,in the Jinnah Supermarket area,reveals that terror continues to dominate the mindspace of the thinking Pakistani. Rows after rows of books dealing with terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan line up the shelves. Interestingly,late Benazir Bhutto’s niece Fatima’s book Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir is available here in Indian currency since the edition has been printed in India. Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah has already sold over 4,000 copies in English and is now available in Urdu. Oxford,in fact,has now come out with a Pakistani edition of the book which is still doing brisk business.

The word “Kashmir”,too,pops up every now and then across Islamabad — from signboards indicating the direction of the “Kashmir Highway” to a “Kashmir Chowk” in Islamabad city to a “Kashmir Restaurant” in a quiet upmarket shopping area to the AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir) numberplates on vehicles.

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