Yesterday another one of the Hashwani family’s hotels was demolished in a well-planned and executed suicide attack in Peshawar. 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 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 NWFP’s ever growing importance in U.S. foreign policy. There are rumors that they were or are considering getting out of the hospitality industry altogether. Last year’s 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 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. It probably doesn’t help that the 5-star hotels in Pakistan are owned by a group of Ismailis, who are 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. 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.
When I was in the country last year, the Afghan Taleban targeted the telecom company Roshan’s mobile phone transmission towers in southern Afghanistan after having previously attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul. The Taleban 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 were being used to target them. Ismaili business interests seemed to be under sustained assault. Now again, the Taleban’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 Taleban consider to be apostates similar to the Twelver Shi’i Hazara they attempted to annihilate in the 1990’s.
I had some of the same thoughts regarding Benazir Bhutto. Not only was she Shi’i, like her father Zufliqar and the country’s 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 their colonies natural wealth 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 apostate but I doubt her lineage and status helped her case. Benzair spent the last morning of her life meeting with Hamid Karzai at the Islamabad Serena (which a friend of mine photographed hours before her 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!
UPDATE: The death toll from the PC attack now stands at 17.
Link to the HuffingtonPost version.