In Pakistan's terrorist attacks, who gets the blame?

Many Pakistanis have previously accused the government of provoking the Taliban. This time, residents directed their anger at both sides.

Mohsin Raza/Reuters
A policeman stands guard at the site of a bomb attack in Lahore May 27, 2009.

A suicide bomb in Lahore Wednesday killed 30 people and wounded more than 250, an attack that some government officials and analysts saw as retaliation for military operations against the Taliban in the northwest.

In the aftermath of previous terrorist attacks, many Pakistanis have blamed their government for the casualties, which they see as a response to its supposedly fighting America's war against militants.

By contrast, in their responses to Wednesday's attack, local residents seemed to direct their anger at the perpetrators, though they also expressed frustration at the government for failing to provide sufficient security.

The attack targeted the police headquarters and local Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) office, and was one of Pakistan's deadliest attacks this year.

"This [bombing] is a double-edged sword – by attacking Punjab, you risk a greater backlash. It may strengthen the resolve of the political forces," says security analyst Gen. (ret.) Talaat Masood.

President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement condemning the attack and said his government remained committed to fighting terror.

Mr. Masood suggests that densely populated Lahore makes a softer target for militants than Islamabad, the capital, which is "more defense-oriented."

Wednesday's bombing was the eighth major militant attack in this city since January 2008.

"Lahore is so crucial because it is the heart of Pakistan – if you hit Punjab [Province], you make a very large impact. The psychological impact is so much greater," he explains.

The glass fronts of buildings hundreds of yards away were shattered and more than 70 cars lay twisted and burned, a result of the impact of a 220-lb. blast that was felt up to four miles away. Rescue services strove to recover the injured.

"Enough is enough. The Taliban must be stopped," cried Asra, a mother of two who rushed to a nearby high school to make sure her two sons were alright.

Dismayed shopkeepers

For shopkeepers who had seen their property destroyed in a similar attack in March 2008, on the Federal Investigation Agency, it was a case of déjà vu.

"This just shows events are out of control now. There is nothing anybody can do," says Muhammad Jibran, a tailor, who estimated that the cost of his wrecked windows and appliances would come to half a million rupees ($6,200).

"The government promised us compensation last time," he continues, "but nothing came of it – we don't have much hope this time."

Unlike the fallout from last year's blast, where angry citizens formed a protest against the government of then-ruler Gen. (ret.) Pervez Musharraf, most residents interviewed Wednesday said they did not fundamentally disagree with the government's policies of fighting the Taliban. But they did express frustration at its seeming inability to provide for their safety.

"The way they fired indiscriminately at innocent people – it's hard to call them human beings, let alone Muslims," says Rehman.

Disgust at poor security

His anger at the militants, though, is matched by his disgust at the poor security arrangements. "This was a high-profile target, which people say had received threats. Couldn't they do any better?"

Badar Alam, the Lahore bureau chief of Herald, a leading weekly, says the most obvious motive for the attack was to kill members of Pakistan's infamous intelligence agency.

"The ISI headquarters in Lahore are a visible target – their headquarters aren't known in Islamabad for example," says Mr. Alam.

According to an intelligence source, eight ISI agents were killed in the attack, including a senior officer in charge of an antiterror cell. Interrogations of terrorists were also carried out in the building, he says.

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