Sunday, October 31, 2004

Pakistan: The security "short-circuit" in Islamabad


Short-circuiting is produced by electric wiring and there can be many causes for that, including overloading of electric charge in the case of a posh hotel with high maintenance standards. Short-circuiting produces fire which can spread if there is combustible material in the vicinity. The most damaging short-circuiting happens when there is gas in the air to ignite. Nothing other than gas will produce a sudden explosion that blows out glass with such tremendous force as happened inside the hotel lobby. Buildings may be engulfed in fire after a wiring fault but they will not be blown up unless a material that can cause it is present. What was it that devastated the lobby of the hotel and burnt the guests in the vicinity? The government must let the findings be known.

Short-circuiting of security in Islamabad

The government says the blast at a five-star hotel in Islamabad was due to short-circuiting. Eyewitnesses to the incident think it was anything but short-circuiting because most people know what happens when a short circuit ignites a fire. The hotel lobby was widely damaged and glass was blown out through the breadth of the building, from the front to the swimming pool area. The SSP, who first called it short-circuiting, didn’t even wait for the experts to arrive. When the experts arrived, they may have been given a conclusion to fit their inquiry. Surprising, the interior minister, Mr Aftab Sherpao, was convinced that “there is no evidence of terrorism”.

Unless the government wants to end the matter here, some unavoidable findings will come to the fore, and they will reveal it to be anything but short-circuiting. Body burns received by the victims will surely reveal the chemical which burned them and this chemical would have to come out of the building where the short-circuiting had occurred. The forensics know what burns when a bomb explodes. Some of the victims might remember what happened an instant before the place blew up. Some persons who left the place in a hurry after the blast might have seen the sequence of events just before the blast. A lot will come out in the coming days.

Short-circuiting is produced by electric wiring and there can be many causes for that, including overloading of electric charge in the case of a posh hotel with high maintenance standards. Short-circuiting produces fire which can spread if there is combustible material in the vicinity. The most damaging short-circuiting happens when there is gas in the air to ignite. Nothing other than gas will produce a sudden explosion that blows out glass with such tremendous force as happened inside the hotel lobby. Buildings may be engulfed in fire after a wiring fault but they will not be blown up unless a material that can cause it is present. What was it that devastated the lobby of the hotel and burnt the guests in the vicinity? The government must let the findings be known.

This is important because the targeted hotel is a kind of symbol of Islamabad’s generally secure environment. Most foreign guests and some local diplomats are usually found there in the evenings. The foreigners who protested loudly to Interior Minister Sherpao after the blast were sending Islamabad a message: the country’s premier city could lose its reliability as a safe centre of contacts. Should this compel the minister to take another look at the security mounted by the big hotels in the city? The hotel has its security frame located inside the lobby. One enters the through the door into the lobby and then passes through the special door and submits oneself to a body search, if the security man dare do that. What if an Al Qaeda suicide bomber were to come in and then ignite the bomb on his body in the lobby, just at the security checkpoint, or away from it after rushing past the security?

The lobby is the nerve centre of any luxury hotel. If you want to cause the highest amount of devastation it is the lobby you target. If the charge is big enough — and from Haideri Mosque in Karachi the message is that such a charge can be carried in easily by one man — the hotel will bend like a jack-knife and kill hundreds. There is nothing to stop a terrorist who walks up to the security frame inside the lobby and, before the security check can catch him, blows himself up. The latest incident must be thoroughly investigated and even if it is conclusively proved that it was not a bomb blast, the security system at present in place in the hotels should be revamped. *

Daily Times 30/10/2004