Late Tuesday night another one of the Hashwani family's hotels was demolished in a well-planned and executed suicide attack in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel chain is owned by perhaps Pakistan's most prominent Ismaili family, the Hashwanis. Major cooperations in Pakistan, when not wholly owned subsidiaries of the Pakistani Army, are most often familial enterprises such as the Hashwani's Hashoo Group. The Hashwanis had been in talks with the U.S. government to sell it the PC Peshawar property to be used as its new consular offices in light of war-torn North West Frontier Province's ever growing importance in U.S. foreign policy. There are rumors that the Hashwani's were or are considering getting out of the hospitality industry altogether. Last year's Islamabad Marriott bombing was devastating to the family's investment portfolio though its patriarch, Saddaruddin Hashwani, issued a defiant statement to the press that he would rebuild the Islamabad Marriott and would not bow to terrorist intimidation.
While covering the Pakistani elections last year, I often worked out of the PC Lahore's business centre and devoured some incredible international fare at the hotel's excellent restaurant after long days trudging up and down Mall Road looking for stories. Even if I could have afforded to stay there, I wouldn't have because of its obviousness as a high-value target in the wave of jihadist violence that had already engulfed the country by mid-2007. Partly for my safety, I stayed at a low profile guest house down the road. Sadly, it doesn't help that the 5-star hotels in Pakistan are owned by a group of Ismailis, a branch of Shi'ism that holds the Aga Khan in highest esteem as living imam, when considering the militants takfiri ideology. The Sunni extremists that claim to adhere to takfirism believe that individuals may declare those who follow different strains of Islam apostates and can therefore justify acts of previously imaginable terror throughout South Asia and the Middle East. Takfirism is essential in creating a sense of the "Other" in the militant mind which is used to justify attacks against those praying in mosques and eating in hotel dining rooms. Shia Muslims whether the traditional Twelvers or the lesser known Ismaili Seveners are some of the Takfiri militants favored targets.
Undoubtedly, the reasoning behind the attack will be attributed to either the PC's international clientele or its possible sale to the Americans. The Ismailis as a cultural subset are extraordinarily successful business people with Shah Karim al-Hussayni, the Aga Khan, chief among them. The Aga Khan and the Hashwanis represent immense wealth in a region wracked by poverty and illiteracy-related militancy. They both provide relatively large investment opportunities and job creation that have become a target of nihilist militants who's ideology has become somehow even more vile.
When I was working in Afghanistan last year, the Afghan Taliban targeted the telecom company Roshan's mobile phone transmission towers in the southern provinces after having previously attacked the Aga Khan's Serena hotel in Kabul. The Taliban issued a communique stating they wanted the towers shut down at night because they believed their movements could be tracked by coalition forces and the mobile signals emitted from their phones were being used to target them. Ismaili business interests seemed to be under sustained assault. His charitable work, which often focuses on his Ismaili minority, is underwritten by the for profit arm of his empire with the luxurious Serena chain as its face. Now again, the Taliban's attacks on the Roshan towers and the Serena were very likely of a purely strategic nature but the fact that the towers are owned by the Aga Khan (and his European consortium partners) doesn't exactly help. A major segment of the Aga Khan's charitable work is aiding remote Ismaili communities in Central and South Asia who the Taliban consider to be apostates similar to the Twelver Shia Hazaras they attempted to annihilate in central and northern Afghanistan in the 1990's.
I had some of the same thoughts regarding the return of Benazir Bhutto. Though she was still beloved by many, she had neither the strategy nor the credibility to defeat the takfiris who were determined to eliminate her. Not only was she Shia, like her father Zufliqar and Pakistan's founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but she came from the rich and resented zamindar feudal structure in Sindh province that is another post-colonial relict of British divide et impera strategy. As I've written previously regarding Sri Lanka, the Crown's modus operandi was to favor ethnic and religious minorities over the "unwashed masses" in order to maintain control over the populace and extract the natural wealth of their colonies with as little disruption as possible. I'm sure the Pakistani Taleban didn't need Benazir to be a land owning Twelver to declare her an enemy (and therefore punishable by death) but I doubt her lineage and status helped her case. Benzair spent the last morning of her life meeting with Hamid Karzai at the Aga Khan's opulent Islamabad Serena (where a friend of mine photographed the two hours before Bhutto's assassination). People across the region who depend on the Ismaili establishment for employment, sustenance and remittances have suffered enormously from the Taleban's unforgiving insurgency and reconciliation cannot begin soon enough should the kinetic war-fighting cease anytime soon. Inshallah!
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