- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

LAHORE, Pakistan | Tensions remained high across the country with anger mounting against the Pakistani government a day after Saturday´s bomb blast in the capital, with additional attacks feared in the final week of Ramadan.

The toll from Saturday’s bombing rose to at least 60, including the Czech ambassador to Pakistan, along with three Americans based at the U.S. Embassy. At least 200 were wounded, including three Americans.

As rescue workers struggled to drag bodies out of the shell of the bombed and fire-gutted hotel, an icon of Islamabad and popular with locals and foreigners alike, critical questions were being asked in the rest of the country: Who was behind these attacks, and why weren´t they prevented?

“Please don´t glorify these terrorists,” begged an emotional Rehman Malik, the prime minister’s adviser on interior affairs, during a news conference on Sunday. “We need to save this country.”

Mr. Malik showed footage from a hotel surveillance camera where at 7:49 p.m., a heavy truck is clearly visible as it speeds up and rams into a metal barrier, halting a mere 60 feet from the hotel.

The bomb exploded at the height of the evening feast that follows each day of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to end Sept. 30.

Guards can be seen hesitantly coming forward to look at the truck, and then scattering once the vehicle catches fire. The footage shown did not catch the final blast, which occurred after the truck had burned for several minutes.

While showing this closed-circuit footage, Mr. Malik pointed out the heroic efforts of a policeman trying to extinguish the fire as proof that the “government did their best.”

But reports that the government had received intelligence information of an attack in the capital two days earlier had many in Islamabad and elsewhere in the country enraged.

“The intelligence agencies had done their bit. Their job is to gather the information, and they had done this,” said retired Gen. Hamid Gul, former director-general of the nation’s intelligence agency. “The failing is on the part of the government, and it´s a huge and shameful failing.”

Gen. Gul, who was instrumental in forming the Afghani Taliban in the 1990s, says the police and other security agencies were so busy in arranging protection for President Asif Ali Zardari´s first address to the parliament that they had ignored the security of the ordinary public.

Pakistan has limited resources, he said. “And when we dedicate these resources to over-protecting one man or a few VIPs, then the result is going to be underprotection of the rest of the city.”

Security specialist Ikram Sehgal also pointed out loopholes in the government´s efforts, which led to the bomber´s success. “The government could have acted more swiftly,” he said. “The key is to prevent the bomber from getting on the streets, not to try and safeguard targets once the bomber is out and about.”

Even 24 hours after the bomb blast, rescue teams continued searching room after room of the five-story building, parts of which were still smoldering from the impact of 1,300 pounds of military-grade explosives.

All over the country tears flowed easily and an enraged public stayed tuned to their television screens, constantly asking the question: Who was behind this? “I just want this to stop,” said Mahrukh Ali, 30, a resident of Islamabad who hadn´t stepped out of her house since the attack. “And I want whoever did it to be brought to justice.”

While speculation is running wild, most fingers at being pointed at Baitullah Mehsud´s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which operates from the northwestern tribal area of Bajaur and the once-popular tourist attraction outside the tribal areas, the Swat Valley.

Speaking to The Washington Times, Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban, expressed regret over the bombing. “It´s shocking and devastating, and we regret the loss of so many lives,” he said. “We have nothing to do with this attack. The agencies are definitely behind it.”

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