Britain will withdraw the children of all its diplomats based in Islamabad after last month's bombing at the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, the Foreign Office said yesterday. The announcement reflected heightened security fears following the attack, which officials said looked like the work of al Qa'eda, and came amid raised diplomatic tension between Pakistan and the United States. More than 60 children will be withdrawn over the next few weeks, the Foreign Office said. They are all aged under eight, as older children tend to attend boarding school in Britain.
"Following a review of security in the wake of the attack on the Marriott Hotel, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has decided that the children of UK-based staff at the British High Commission in Islamabad should return to the UK," a spokesman said. Any dependents, such as spouses, could return to Britain if they chose. The spokesman said the "core work of the High Commission will not be affected. The UK is committed to maintaining its strong relationship with Pakistan, especially at this difficult time."
"The attack on the Marriott Hotel reinforces our shared determination to tackle violent extremism," he added. At present, Britain advises its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, and cautions against using international hotels popular with Westerners. On September 20, a suicide bomber at the upscale Marriott hotel exploded a lorry filled with 600 kilograms of explosives, killing 60 people and injuring more than 260 others.
Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, described the bombing as an assassination attempt he and other top national leaders narrowly escaped, in an interview on US television. Mr Zardari told Fox News late Tuesday that he was to meet with other Pakistani leaders for dinner that night at the Marriott, but it was "just by chance" that the venue was changed. Yesterday Pakistani television reported that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban commander in Pakistan and the man alleged to have been behind the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, had died overnight.
Pakistani security officials and militant sources, however, said he was alive but seriously ill, possibly in a diabetic coma. Meanwhile, at least eight Islamist militants, mainly Arabs, died after a missile fired by a suspected US drone hit a house in a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan. The overnight attack was the latest in a string of incidents on the rugged frontier that have raised tensions between Islamabad and Washington, including a recent clash between Pakistani troops and US-led forces in Afghanistan.