The city of Lahore has a reputation as the cultural center of Pakistan, and until recently, even the jihadists had left it alone. Now, no city in Pakistan can consider itself safe, as two suicide bombers blew up a house and a police headquarters there today, killing 24 and wounding more than 200:
The two blasts happened about 15 minutes apart in different districts of this eastern city. The first tore the facade from the Federal Investigation Agency building as staff were beginning their working day. It also damaged scores of homes in the neighborhood.
City police chief Malik Mohammed Iqbal said an explosive-packed car was driven into a parking lot and detonated next to the building — which houses a department of the federal police’s anti-terrorism unit — knocking out the walls of several offices and part of a stairwell. …
The second explosion shattered the office of an advertising agency in a residential neighborhood, about 15 miles away. Police investigator Tasaddaq Hussain said two children and the wife of the house’s gardener were killed.
The blasts have already created a political firestorm. Nawaz Sharif, whose party won the second-largest number of seats in the election, blamed the blast on Pervez Musharraf’s cooperation with the United States. Islamist politicians joined Sharif in this assessment, and all demanded Musharraf’s resignation and a new direction on foreign policy — presumably away from the US and more closely aligned with Islamist causes.
Musharraf has already appeared on television to insist that he will fight the terrorists. Whether or not he can effectively do that remains to be seen. The military seems willing to fight to some extent, but the intel service appears more sympathetic to the bombers, at least in part. The PPP, Benazir Bhutto’s party and the largest contingent in the Pakistani parliament, says they want to fight the Islamist terrorists, but they need Sharif to form a government after the election.
One factor that may wind up helping Musharraf and the PPP is the thought of what America might do if the Pakistanis reject us. We would no longer be constrained by our need to avoid undermining Musharraf, and we might get a lot more aggressive about tracking down AQ and Taliban terrorists in Waziristan. If Pakistan refuses to cooperate with the US, we could argue hot pursuit and attack Taliban bases as part of our effort to protect Afghanistan. Pakistan also has to worry about our relationship with India. If they decide to move away from the US, it will give us much more flexibility in bolstering ties with Pakistan’s primary opponent in Asia.
In short, the US is not the only party with significant potential risk in a diplomatic rupture. Sharif may not like it, but Musharraf and Ali Zardari certainly understand it.