But when casting blame, Malik turns to an equation that is common here — one that Pakistani officials often cite to explain why their country remains reluctant to fully confront Islamist militants despite acute pressure from the United States. Since 2001, when Islamabad partnered with Washington to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, there have been 335 suicide bombings in Pakistan. Before 2001, there was one.
If Pakistan had never allied with the United States, Malik surmised, bombings such as the one that killed his daughter might never have occurred.
“The government is siding with the United States,” Malik said, his eyes damp. “The people are not.”
Aqsa Malik was among more than 10,000 Pakistani civilians killed in a decade-long spiral of armed conflict, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. The bloodshed has traumatized the national psyche, spawning chains of security checkpoints and robbing families of breadwinners and children.
To Washington, which provides Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid, the carnage should be enough to turn the country’s public and its power structure firmly against Islamist militancy. But to ordinary as well as influential Pakistanis, the view is far less clear.
“I have become so unsafe that sometimes I think I should have my family leave Pakistan,” said Hamid Mir, a popular television host, explaining the view of many Pakistanis. “Why is that? It is because of the American policies in Pakistan.”
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a large majority of Pakistanis consider suicide bombings unjustifiable. But majorities also view the United States, with its campaign of frequent drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, as an enemy.
The 2009 suicide attack at the International Islamic University, which involved two assailants who killed at least nine people, was just one bombing among hundreds and hardly the deadliest. But discussions with survivors and relatives of those killed reveal much about the ambivalence among Pakistanis toward a war they have never claimed as their own.
Few targets have been as perplexing as the International Islamic University. The school is a conservative, gender-segregated institution that draws middle-class Pakistanis and other Muslims from around the world.
The first bomber struck the women’s cafeteria, where Aqsa Malik sat. Minutes later, translation major Waqar Khalid spotted an unfamiliar man in the hallway of the men’s law building, then felt a rush of heat. Khalid, 26, awoke on the floor, wondering whether his head was still connected to his body.