ISLAMABAD: It is official. The peaceful interlude in Islamabad is over. Two consecutive blasts, including the suicide attack on a bank on Monday, have shattered the calm that pervaded in Islamabad for over a year, though security experts are still unclear of the significance of the two targets.
After a succession of blasts in the capital that kept its residents feeling insecure till the end of 2009, the last year was blast free and life in Islamabad had returned to normal. But the two blasts in two days have once again given rise to fears.
Safdar Saleem, a resident of Sector I-8, who is a government employee and lives close to the attacked Silk Bank, said his family was in a state of shock. “My children are not even willing to go the market.”
Ali Zaidi, a resident of sector G-9/3, said the situation had become tense due to terrorist attacks.
One of the main questions security experts are being asked is whether the attack on a private bank means that the terrorists are now focusing their attention on soft targets.
It is noteworthy that most of the attacks in the capital in the past aimed at state installations, especially those of law enforcement agencies or intelligence agencies or Western targets such as embassies. Perhaps the notable exceptions were a lawyers' convention or the Marriott Hotel or Melody Market; the latter blast took place on the anniversary of the Lal Masjid operation. There were attacks on the imambargahs in or near the capital but these too were not unexpected as the extremists are against the Barelvi values associated with shrines.
Within this context, these two blasts make little sense. The bank is privately owned and has no obvious links either with the state or with the West.
If the objective of the terrorists was to spread fear then would it not have made sense to attack a bigger bank which would have a busier office?
Though the coming days and investigations may throw up some answers, security organisations officials are saying that there are two possibilities – the terrorists are focusing on soft targets as security installations and embassies are now well protected or that the bank was not the primary target.
However, they are all agreed that an increase in terrorists attacks was expected and anticipated since the May 2 US raid in Abbottabad in which al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed.
Dawn has learnt that intelligence agencies had warned the local police and others that Islamabad would be the main target of the blowback of the May 2 raid. One security official who did not want to be named said that the possibility that the suicide attacker was aiming for something other than the bank office cannot be ruled out.
However, the CCTV footage that was broadcast by news channels later at night showed the purported suicide attacker climbing the stairs to the bank. This does indicate that the bank was the target.
But not everyone is agreed that the attack on the bank indicates a focus on softer targets.
“I do not see any significant shift in the terrorists' strategy as they strike both hard and soft targets and we have seen this in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad,” Zahid Hussain, a journalist and security analyst, said. In his opinion, terrorists sometime intensify their attacks and sometime they do the opposite; he added that after regrouping they again came up with an attack strategy.
It remains to be seen if Hussain will be proven right. But if softer targets become the focus as they have been in Karachi and Lahore, the capital may as well brace itself for worse to come.