ISLAMABAD - I picked an interesting moment to visit Pakistan: four terrorist attacks in less than a week. The first was at the World Food Programme office here in the capital; 5 killed. The second was in the Khyber Bazaar in Peshawar; more than 50 killed. The third was at the military's General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, where Taliban insurgents, armed with automatic weapons, grenades and rocket launchers, fought for 22 hours. According to government spokesmen, a brigadier, a colonel and three commandos were killed. More than two dozen hostages were taken, but most reportedly were saved when a would-be suicide bomber was shot and killed before he managed to detonate his vest.
A couple days later, terrorists attacked a military convoy, killing about 40 near the Swat Valley - territory only recently liberated from the Taliban by Pakistani military forces following a difficult and costly battle.
If you look closely, you'll see a message written in this blood: "You, Pakistan's so-called leaders, can't provide food for the hungry or security for the marketplace. Your soldiers and officers can't even protect themselves. You are useless and weak. You will submit. Or we will destroy you."
Pakistanis can be remarkably nonchalant about terrorism: They have suffered 129 terrorist attacks in the two years since the assassination of presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto. Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 5,000 Pakistanis have been killed in acts of terrorism.
But the assault on the GHQ seems to have shaken people up. Hitting the Pakistani equivalent of the Pentagon is, as a headline in the daily newspaper Dawn puts it: "audacious." The military is the country's strongest, proudest and most durable institution. Retaliation is expected, probably in Waziristan where the Taliban seems to have made recent gains.
I was invited to Pakistan by the State Department under a "U.S. Speaker and Specialist" program intended to improve the dialogue between Pakistanis and Americans. My hosts have been the American embassy in Islamabad, and the U.S. consulates in Lahore and Karachi. Terrorist attacks have been carried out in all three cities. Americans have been among the targets. An American security official tells me: "There will be more. It's a question of when, not if."