My comment for Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, India
March 3 2009
Attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore
Terrorists aim for destabilisation, tension, and media attention
The horrific attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March
3 has shocked and saddened people here, already reeling from the
suicide and other attacks which have become the norm. Eight Pakistani
policemen died in the attack, giving their lives to save the foreign
guests, and several were injured. Two Sri Lankan cricketers were
injured, one of them seriously.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka have historically enjoyed close and friendly
relations. The Sri Lankan cricketers, talking to journalists, said
that they were aware of the risks when they came to Pakistan. The team
was in Lahore for a five-day test match and had already played
magnificently for two days at the Gaddafi Stadium.
They were on their way from the hotel to the stadium for the third day
when the gunmen fired at their vehicle as they neared the Stadium.
According to initial reports, the firing began from three directions
as the van slowed down near a roundabout. The van driver, talking to
journalists afterwards, said that one of them flung a hand grenade
which did not damage the van. The driver said that the cricketers did
not panic but lay down in the van as he speeded up to escape the
gunfire, managing to get the bullet-riddled van with the cricketers to
Praying for the quick recovery of the injured cricketers, people all
over the country have strongly condemned the incident which many
believe is an attempt to further discredit and isolate Pakistan.
"They were our guests, they came to Pakistan when most people were not
willing to come," said one man in Peshawar.
"It is a blot on humanity," said another. "We hang our heads in shame."
"As it is few foreigners come to Pakistan," said one woman sadly. "Now
no one will come."
Another woman said that Pakistan had been pushed back ten years by
"We are a friendly and cricket-loving nation," said another passer-by.
"Now no cricket team will want to play here."
This will be a big blow to Pakistan's aspirations to hosting the next
The situation here was already a tense on many accounts. On the one
hand, a recent court ruling barring leader of the opposition Nawaz
Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab,
Pakistan's most powerful province, from politics has increased
political confrontation between Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz
(PML-N) and the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The furious
Sharif and his supporters directly hold President Asif Ali Zardari
responsible for the court ruling.
As angry protestors took to the streets in the Punjab against the
court verdict that displaced the Chief Minister, the President imposed
Governor Rule on the province. PPP sources said that this was the only
way to deal with the anarchy that was being let loose.
In addition, there was the `long march' planned for March 12 by
lawyers who have been agitating over the past two years for the
restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry. The
controversial ruling has only given more momentum to the agitators,
whom the PML-N and other political parties, including the
Jamat-e-Islami and former cricket hero Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf
(Movement for Justice), support.
Thirdly, the government and the people of Pakistan have for some time
been facing a deadly threat from what are called the `jehadi' forces.
They include regional players like the Taliban (from Afghanistan and
Pakistan), the international al-Qaeda, and local militant outfits like
the banned Laskhar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, many of whom
have roots in the southern Punjab. Following the events of 9/11, these
forces have converged, to emerge as a greater threat than ever before,
not just for Pakistan, but for world peace.
The agenda of these `jehadi' forces is clearly not just to enforce
what they consider to be an Islamic system, but to overrun and
destabilise the state itself. Pakistanis have suffered the most under
this agenda over the past years. This country, which remained under
military rule for more than half its 60 years of existence, has paid a
heavy price for the policies of military rulers that civilian
governments have been unable to change. These policies include
cultivating `Islamic warriors' to fight against the Soviet occupation
in Afghanistan during the 1980s, supporting the Taliban in order to
create `strategic depth' in Afghanistan (citing the threat of a
hostile India on the eastern border), and using some of these elements
to bleed India in the disputed region of Kashmir.
So far, no elected government in Pakistan has managed to complete its
tenure, overthrown either by the army or dismissed by various
Presidents using the powers invested in that office by army chief Gen.
Ziaul Haq who also had himself appointed as President. Now for the
first time, there is an elected government in power that is actually
serious about fighting the jehadi threat, which it recognises poses a
severe danger to the country's very existence. However, it appears
that various elements within the establishment are still bogged down
in the old policies and are unwilling to give democracy a chance.
Following the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, just as
enraged Indians lashed out at Pakistan immediately following the
Mumbai attacks of November, many Pakistanis are now pointing fingers
at RAW, the Indian intelligence agency. Many are saying the attack on
the Sri Lankan team could be an attempt to take `revenge' for Mumbai
and that it is an attempt to isolate Pakistan internationally. Known
hawks like Lt. Gen. (retd.) Hameed Gul, former head of the RAW's
Pakistan counterpart ISI, have stated that that India wants to declare
Pakistan a terrorist state and that firing on Sri Lankan team is
related to the that conspiracy.
The Pakistan government has made no such accusation so far. Others
have also shown responsibility in dealing with this trauma, for
example retired army officers like Maj. Gen. (retd) Jamshed Ayaz Khan
who have advised caution in this regard without a full investigation.
Ironically, the proliferation of the media, particularly the 24/7
television news channels, has increased the intensity and probability
of such dramatic high-profile attacks, say analysts. The whole idea is
to hog the media limelight, which terrorists did very successfully in
Mumbai last November and are doing now following this spectacular
attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore.
Ultimately, those who suffer the most after such incidents are
ordinary people in India and Pakistan, regardless of religion. The
latest attack in Lahore is bound to generate further tension between
the two countries which have still not resumed the composite dialogue
process that was stalled after the Mumbai attacks of November. Rather
than cooperating to solve a common problem, India and Pakistan remain
prisoners of their hostile pasts. The ultimate winners in this game
will only be the terrorists. After all, destablisation and tension is
what they want.