Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Terror Strikes Pakistan

In a brazen attack on a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the venue for the second Test match, a dozen masked gunmen wounded six players and a British coach and killed at least six Pakistanis, including five police escort on March 4, 2009. Among those killed included the driver of the bus in which Australian umpires were travelling and which was immediate behind the team bus. The members of the visiting team, who suffered injuries include: Captain Mahela Jayawardene, Vice-Captain Kumar Sangakara, Thilan Samaraweera, Tharanga Paranavithana, Ajantha Mendis, Thilina Thushara and Suranga Lokumal. The team ended its Pakistan tour and flew back home. This is a chilling reminder of the precarious position in which Pakistan is currently placed. That a dozen desperadoes armed with hand-grenades, rocket-launchers and Kalashnikovs could penetrate the security cordon despite intelligence inputs of an impending strike shows how deeply Pakistan is in the grip of terror.
The attack, the first of its kind in the history of world cricket, sent shock waves through the cricketing fraternity evoking wide-spread condemnation from leaders of the cricketing nations, their national boards and players. It brings to mind the gunning down of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. Unable to play a single Test match in 2008, Pakistan suffered a painful kind of cricket isolation before, in a generous show of solidarity, another South Asian country agreed to tour.
At least twelve attackers were involved in the daring ambush and all of them escaped after carrying out their operation with lightening speed that was likened to deadly terrorist attack in Mumbai attack on November 26, 2008.
The attackers, two of whom were shown in TV pictures carrying backpacks, appeared well trained. It was a sophisticated operation that was launched by one attacker firing a cricket-propelled grenade to create a diversion before others approached to spray bullets on the convoy from all sides of the roundabout. They later sped away, leaving grenades and rocket launchers in a stolen car parked near the scene of the attack.
Troubled Venue for Sports
Had Sri Lanka not agreed to fill in for India’s cancelled tour of Pakistan, their cricketers could have been saved of the terror attack. India were originally scheduled to be in Pakistan for a Test tour in January-February but the trip was cancelled after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai. The Indian Government refused to permit the country's cricket team to travel to the troubled country citing security fears.
Pakistan, deprived of international cricket on home turf for long after steady refusals by teams like Australia and New Zealand to play there, desperately searched for a replacement.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), then headed by Arjuna Ranatunga, stepped in to help the beleaguered nation’s cause and agreed to a split tour, which now stands cancelled after the attacks. Ranatunga was subsequently sacked from his post but the decision to tour Pakistan by the SLC headed by him was not revoked.
The Lankans played a One-Day Series in January 2009, which was free of any untoward incident, and came back for the Test Series in the middle of February 2009 after losing an equally hastily scheduled One-Day Series against India at home.
The successful conduct of the split tour by Jayawardene’s men would have helped Pakistan convince the cricketing fraternity that the country is safe to play. But the images of gunmen going on a firing spree right outside a stadium and getting away with it as well, has all but shattered the immediate future of Pakistan as a sporting venue.
Much as Pakistan would strive to control the damage on the diplomatic front, there can be little doubt that the country would be looked upon with suspicion and fear as a venue for international sporting events. As a country that has experienced the forfeiture of cricket matches and the abandonment of tours owing to LTTE terror attacks and threats, Sri Lanka could empathise with Pakistan. Australia and West Indies chose to forgo their first round matches in Sri Lanka during the 1996 World Cup; in 1987, a New Zealand Test series was truncated following a car bomb attack in Colombo. With Pakistan chosen to co-host the cricket World Cup in 2011 with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the terror attack in Lahore has effectively killed its chances of being retained as a venue.
Security agencies in India have pointed out that the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team had the hallmark of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Sources said it was typical of the LeT to carry out such attacks as it was feeling the heat after a massive crackdown on its leaders. The attack also has proved that the outfit is capable of striking at will, despite government’s claims that the former’s top leadership has been dismantled.
The LeT could have planned a suicide attack but that would not have resulted in the same kind of international attention. The LeT also sent a strong message to Pakistan, which under increasing international pressure, especially after the 26/11, has begun a crackdown on the outfit’s camps.
As of now, agencies believe the attackers could have been from the Murdike camp of the LeT. This is one of the major camps of the Lashkar and due to its proximity to Lahore, the men could have been sent in from that camp.
As far as LTTE’s role is concerned, there may be links between LTTE and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (known as the Harkat ul Ansar before 1997), a member of the International Islamic Front of the Al Qaeda. In the past, LTTE ships had facilitated heroin smuggling and arms from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The LTTE-ISI nexus is also an established fact. So Tigers cannot do something, which would embarrass the ISI on its home turf.
Fight Against Terrorism
Terrorism was a common enemy that had dismayed people in Pakistan as it had Indians. It had reversed the bilateral negotiations between the two countries and set back the forward movement on various issues made under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) framework.
The 12-member delegation is visiting India as part of the joint signature campaign initiated by civil society organisations in India and Pakistan simultaneously. The campaign, launched after the Mumbai terror attack, was against terrorism and war posturing and for promoting cooperation and peace between the two countries. Hundreds of organisations working on a large number of issues in different parts of the sub-continent participated.
The issues highlighted are zero-tolerance to religious terrorism in the two countries, setting up of joint investigation agencies and carrying out probes by mutual assistance and totally ruling out war as a possibility as it was not in anyone’s interest. Further it demands from the SAARC member States ratification of a convention signed in 1987 to fight terrorism in the SAARC region.
Need of the Hour
In fact, targeting of Sri Lankan cricketers by terrorists is even more bizarre, especially when one considers that this team was game to play in a country that many other teams like England were avoiding because of security reasons. So is this the end of Pakistani cricket? Considering that the existence of the State of Pakistan is increasingly coming into question, this would certainly seem so. But there is a way of bypassing the old ‘quarantine’ route of dealing with a dangerous place like Pakistan. Pakistani players could play in ‘neutral’ venues such as Sharjah (The UAE), thereby sparing its players and their fans the consequence of a total boycott. A question mark does hang over the fate of cricket in the subcontinent in general.
The urgent need of the hour is that concerted pressure must be brought to bear on Pakistan by the international community to dismantle its terror networks. As the attacks on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan team show, Pakistan itself is paying a big price for harbouring them. It isnot only good on its way towards becoming a sports pariah, investors and tourists will largely shun it as well, making any prospects of economic rescue bleak unless it does something about those safe havens.

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