Insecurity and Foreign Policy Affect Ordinary Lives in Pakistan

NATO says 2 choppers were shot at; Pakistan's reports of incident conflict.

ByABC News
September 25, 2008, 12:02 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, September 25, 2008 -- Fear is taking away Mohammed Ahmed's business, Hamza Khan's hope, and Maheen and Shareen's education. It is the fear that follows terrorism all over the world, the fear that keeps people inside their homes instead of out at restaurants or shopping for their families. It is the fear that right now hangs over Pakistan's capital like an unwelcome fog.

"It was our national 9/11. It once again demonstrated that Pakistan is the great victim in the war on terror," President Asif Ali Zardari wrote in an editorial in the Boston Globe today, referring to the attack that ripped through Islamabad's best-known hotel the night of Sept. 20, killing 53 and injuring more than 270.

In Islamabad, nerves are on edge. "I think everybody's feeling insecure since the bombing," 57-year-old Munaf Sitar told ABC News while shopping in an Islamabad bakery. "I'm quite depressed, naturally."

"People are not willing to come out of their houses. We are sitting in the capital of Pakistan -- we didn't expect it to happen here," said Mohammed Ahmed, the manager of Islamabad's KFC, one of the few Western food chains in the capital. He says business has dropped more than 20 percent since the bombing. "It will take some time to heal."

For every person who died in the blast, there are 20,000 people who live here and felt it, whether it broke their windows, shook their homes or filled them with dread.

It is exactly what terrorists long for: pushing people inside, creating a society where everyone looks over his or her shoulders. To a certain extent, that already existed here. The Marriott itself was attacked twice before, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the Danish embassy in June and suicide bombers killed more than 70 workers outside an Army ammunitions factory in August.

But in this city, an explosion so large it was felt 15 miles away and the destruction of a gathering place for the elite less than one mile from the Parliament has struck deep into the national psyche. There are some people still shopping ahead of the Eid holiday, there are still some going out to dinner or coffee, but their numbers are greatly diminished. Many people here are fearful, many are angry and some are both.

And that fear is pervading every aspect of life here. Today security at Pakistan's airports was raised to its highest level. At the Islamabad airport, Col. Ashraf Faiz said an unidentified man called Pakistan's national airline and warned a suicide bomber was about to attack. "It was a specific threat," Faiz told reporters. "The airport is on red alert."

The attack failed to materialize, but the airport stopped allowing cars to park.

The U.S. embassy temporarily closed its consular services, including its visa office, and further restricted its U.S. employees from even visiting major hotels in the country's four largest cities.

And British Airways continues to say its flights from Pakistan will be indefinitely suspended.

"There's no hope at the moment," said Amna Khan, a designer purse wrapped around her shoulder as she was leaving an Islamabad drug store. The market is usually packed in the early evening, especially before Eid. Today it was sparsely filled. She blames the United States for the Marriott attack and for the state of her country.