Dec 29, 2008

World - Pakistan;"Fortress" Marriott reopens

Nirupama Subramanian

Maximum security: A view of the newly re-built Islamabad Marriott hotel in Islamabad on Sunday.

ISLAMABAD: A solid 14-foot blast-proof wall has replaced the low boundary of the Marriott Hotel, its doors and windows are now made of shatter-proof reinforced glass, and a new alarm system is in place.

“Feel at home, be secure, feel secure,” said Sadruddin Hashwani, owner of the luxury hotel in Pakistan’s capital, which reopened on Sunday three months after a truck, packed with 600 kg of explosives, rammed into the hotel, killing 57 people and devastating the building. “The security of the Islamabad Marriott is difficult to match anywhere in the world,” he said at the reopening event, describing the rebuilt and renovated hotel as a “fortress” with “maximum security”.

More than 300 guests, including the U.S. Ambassador and the Indian High Commissioner, attended the event in the renovated main banquet hall, which was one of the worst-hit parts of the hotel in the September 20 attack.

Outside the banquet hall, visitors lit candles and placed flowers at a table that prominently displayed photographs of 26 of the hotel’s employees who died in the attack including a woman security guard.

“They were very brave people,” said Irfan, a bell boy who was offering prayers near the photographs with his colleague Talal.

Both praised the hotel management for looking after the families of the victims, and also keeping the employees on the payroll during the three-month closure. They were confident that people would return to the hotel. If you look at the situation in our country, we have to be in constant competition with those who want to destroy us. If we allow ourselves to get scared and lock ourselves indoors, these forces will defeat us,” said Talal.

Of the 290 rooms in the hotel, each turned into a burnt-out shell in the flames that consumed the hotel in the bomb attack. The management will open 60 rooms for booking from January 1, while the remaining 230 will be renovated in a few more months. The restaurants and the health club, popular with expatriates, politicians and other well-heeled Pakistanis are back. The banquet hall has already been booked for weddings.

Mr. Hashwani said he had kept his promise to put the hotel back on its feet again “to restore the image of Islamabad, and the image of Pakistan”.

Describing those who carried out the attack as enemies of Pakistan, Mr. Hashwani said by reopening it, as promised by the year-end, “we have expressed our resolve that will not bow before” the terrorists. Pakistan said last week that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, proscribed in 2002, was behind the attack and that it had arrested all those who had planned and carried out the attack.

U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said the re-opening of the Marriott was “a symbol of the commitment of the people of Pakistan”. She said it was a day of remembrance for the victims of the attack, and those who died in the line of duty. As many as 24 Americans were present in the hotel on the day of the attack. “We are extraordinarily grateful to [the hotel employees who died in the attack] that they saved the lives of others,” said Ms. Patterson.

No comments: