Pakistan Feels More Volatile Than Ever

Diplomat kidnapping, Marriott bombing escalate feeling of instability.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 22, 2008 — -- In this country, on this day, each headline seemed to top the next.

The incoming Afghanistan ambassador was kidnapped at gunpoint in Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest.

A small militant group claimed responsibility for the country's largest ever suicide attack, the truck bomb that ripped through the Marriott Hotel on Saturday night, killing 53 people.

The Pakistani military, a publicly declared ally of the United States, fired warning shots at American helicopters near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, according to local residents.

On this day, this country has rarely felt more volatile.

And it was just before sundown when, perhaps, the man closest to the truck that blew up the Marriott to survive revealed his story, a graphic reminder of what this country is facing.

"I heard a blast," Imran Ali, a security guard in the Marriott's lobby, told ABC News while lying in his hospital bed a mile from the hotel. The lobby is only 75 feet from the blast site, and Ali might have been the only person in that room to survive. "When I woke up," he said, "I was covered in corpses."

Pakistan has been declared "the most dangerous country on Earth," and some local newspapers claimed the Saturday, Sept. 20, bombing as Pakistan's "9/11," and the Marriott this country's "ground zero." But it is highly unusual here that so many incidents would occur on one day. It is, perhaps, happenstance, or a sign that the country is becoming more unstable.

"This sort of challenge is so great because the enemy is not so visible, the enemy operates in the shadows, and we have to fight our own people," said retired Gen. Talat Masood, a former defense secretary.

It was rush hour when multiple gunmen jumped out of a car and ambushed Abdul Khaliq Farahi, the designated Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, while he drove in Peshawar. His driver was killed and he was taken into the nearby Khyber agency, the closest agency to Peshawar, according to Peshawar police.

Tonight, police sealed one of the areas in Khyber where they believe the Afghan diplomat was taken, as well as all the exit points from Peshawar, following an incident that could strain an already touchy relationship between neighbors, both suffering from Taliban-influenced terrorism.

About 100 miles away, residents of Lwara Mandi, a village in North Waziristan, told ABC News that Frontier Corpsmen had fired on helicopters along the border with Afghanistan.

The villagers said the troops, who are not army soldiers, but are led by army commanders, fired "warning shots" at the helicopters, which then turned around and returned to Afghanistan.

It's not clear whether the helicopters had crossed the border into Pakistan, according to the local accounts.

If true, it would be the first time in recent months that the Pakistani military engaged the American military. But a U.S. Army spokesman in Afghanistan strongly denied the account. "This is a complete fabrication," Col. Gregory Julian, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, told ABC News.

On Sept. 3, the U.S. launched its first major ground operation inside Pakistan, sending special forces into the South Waziristan town of Angor Adda. Since then, the Pakistani military has promised to engage with any foreign forces on Pakistani soil, including Americans -- a response to widespread public distaste to American soldiers' presence in the country.

"The problem is that, if America intervenes," Masood said, "then it becomes very difficult for the government to own this war."

In Islamabad, the ruins of the Marriott Hotel finally stopped smoldering, nearly 40 hours after a truck bomb exploded at the security gate, only 75 feet from the lobby's entrance.

Al-Arabiya, one of the Arab world's most popular satellite channels, said it had received a tape from "Fedayeen Al-Islam," or "Islam commandos," claiming responsibility for the attack, according to the Associated Press.

The English-language audio tape demanded that U.S. and NATO close their bases in the region and stop U.S. attacks in the tribal areas.

"If these demands are not met, we are ready to die," a man heard on the tape declares.

But security and intelligence officials in Pakistan and the West say there is no evidence that Americans were the target of the Marriott attack, which killed more than 42 Pakistanis and 11 foreigners at last count.

Ali was one of the more than 200 Pakistanis injured by the blast. One side of his face had been slightly burned and hit by shrapnel, but his survival was remarkable. After the bombing, he said, he was surrounded by the dead bodies of his colleagues.

He has dozens of stitches on his face and can't hear out of his left ear. But still, he is one of the lucky ones.

"I don't know how God saved me," he said, recalling a moment just before the blast when he talked to a fellow security guard in the lobby. "My friend told me, 'Imran, the whole thing is going to explode.' He went toward the truck. And then yesterday, he died."

Ali paused, and added, "I am safe. And I have a new life."

ABC News' Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.