COMMENTARY
 
Climax of Terror
Weekly Pulse
March 6-12, 2009
Except the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics by members of Palestinian group Black September, there is no other example in recent history of a spectacular terrorist attack against sportsmen than Tuesday’s act of terror on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. In the past two years, Pakistanis have no doubt become the prime victim of terrorism, if we go by the sheer number of innocent souls who have died for no reason, including former premier Benazir Bhutto. But this was mostly the case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Where terrorist event of Lahore surpasses every other recent terrorist act in the country is its spectacular nature and unimaginable target.

Sri Lankan cricket team had done a great favour to Pakistan by playing a series in the country after India’s decision to cancel a scheduled trip in reaction to November terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The way we have returned this favour is by crippling half of their players, some of whom may not play the game ever again in their lifetime. For even minor bullet injuries quite often prove fatal for a cricket player.

Security Lapse

It was for security reason that the Australians had refused to play a cricket series in Pakistan a year ago, even though India’s decision not to play it was motivated more by reactionary, nationalistic considerations in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks. Given the intensity of terrorist activity in Pakistan in recent years, security risks for a foreign cricket team touring the country were indeed extremely high.

However, even if such an attack was unthinkable, it was the government’s responsibility to provide due security to Sri Lankan teams. TV footage of the event and reported eye-witnesses accounts clearly indicate a security lapse on the part of Punjab government. It is a reality that cannot be refuted by any number of pres conferences, pleas and excuses being offered by officials concerned.

For almost half an hour, some 12 terrorists armed with automatic guns, grenades and rocket launchers were engaged in a daylight shooting spree at Liberty Square in front of the Gaddafi Stadium, where the Sri Lankan team was going to play the match. Yet the authorities were clueless for several hours about the whereabouts of the perpetrators, from where they came, where they vanished. They were particularly answerless about so many terrorists were able to turn one of the busiest public sports of the city into a war zone for so long.

Media reports and analyses since the tragic event have already pointed out sufficiently the ongoing political crisis in Punjab as the prime reason for the security lapse. The dismissal of the provincial government, the imposition of Governor Rule and the consequent process of high-level bureaucratic changes, especially of top security officials, may well have created a security vacuum, which the terrorists so cleverly exploited.

With the province in political turmoil, holding an international cricket match in the city was itself an illogical and irresponsible decision, especially as it has turned out now that the Punjab police had information about the possibility of such an attack. Despite this, instead of honestly claiming responsibility for this gigantic security lapse, Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed “We will flush them out.”

Grave Implications

Pakistan’s political climate has come to such a pass that instead of showing complete national political resolve—as happened in India after the Mumbai attacks—leaders from the government and the opposition have engaged in sheer “point scoring” against each other since the day the latest terror tragedy struck the country.

Instead of using the crisis generated by the terrorist event as an opportunity to reconcile their differences and help the country tackle the grave international implications that should naturally flow from it in the coming months and years, the preference of those vying for political power is to aggravate the crisis itself and, thus, contribute to an already galloping level of uncertainty about the country’s future.

The most depressing implication of the terror attack on Sri Lankan team is that Pakistan will be a “no-go-zone,” to use Australian cricket maestro Shane Warne’s words, for world cricket—until there is a “regime change,” as David Morgan, the President of International Cricket Association, has said. The ICC has given its verdict: Pakistan won’t co-host semi-finals of the 2011 World Cricket Cup along with Bangladesh.

International cricket was perhaps the only little relief for a cricket-crazy population facing a severe threat of terrorism. That source of relative survival is also gone now—and this surely will add to the terror-ridden public psyche for quite some time to come.

Terror Effect

One thing, however, is clear: The Lahore tragedy is perpetrated by an organized gang of evil-doers who are politically motivated. They are rational actors, as all terrorists are. In terrorism as a politically motivated violence, more important than the incident of terrorism are its short-term effects and long-term consequences.

In Lahore and Pakistan, the short-term effect is the psychological effect on people in the still culturally thriving city of Lahore particularly and the already terror-ridden Pakistan generally becoming more terrorized and fearful. This is the same sort of effect we had in the case of 9/11 in the United States, 7/7 in the United Kingdom and more recently in Mumbai and across India. In fact, as far as Pakistan is concerned, people have overtime become quite accustomed to violence in the form of suicide bombings. Despite that, what happened in Lahore has shaken their confidence and spirit, and it will take a long time for them to recover from its psychological-terrorist effect.

As for the broader political goals of terrorists in the case of terror attack in Lahore, they want to demolish Pakistan, destroy its international image, aggravate the country’s political crisis, ruin its economy and worsen its security quagmire. They not only want to cut Pakistan’s link with international sports, but also want this country to be inhospitable for foreign investors and tourists. Above all, these evil-doers want to make Pakistan unlivable for Pakistanis themselves.

Possible Culprits

Who did it and why are the questions whose answer will remain speculative until some organization claims responsibility for the terrorist act, and the authenticity of such a claim is duly verified, or unless, of course, the authorities are able to nab a perpetrator—as happened in the case of Mumbai attacks.

The mystery of Mumbai terror attacks has been sufficiently resolved after capture of Ajmal Kasab, one of the perpetrators of these attacks, by Indian authorities, and the subsequent confirmation of his Pakistani nationality and the arrest of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba leaders by the government of Pakistan. The Lahore incident is still afresh, and we can hope the authorities will soon be able to investigate the incident and successfully tread the trail leading to its culprits.

Now who such evil-doers might be? They may very well be the same people who perpetrated the Mumbai terror attacks. Obviously, any organization that is inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology of transnational terrorism should have as much interest in derailing the peace process between India and Pakistan as in scuttling Pakistan’s political stability, economic growth, security order and international image. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba is surely one such group. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is another—and the list goes on.

It may very well be the case of terrorists trained inside or outside Pakistan, but being sponsored by ultra-nationalist elements in the Indian Establishment. A revenge in kind for the Mumbai attacks surely cannot be ruled out as a factor within the realm of possibilities insofar as terrorist motivations behind the attack on the cricket team of a country that chose to play cricket in Pakistan after India’s refusal to do so are concerned. After all, in the 90s, we have had cases of ethnic terrorists led by Javed Langra receiving terrorist training in India and then perpetrating a wave of terrorism across urban Sindh, especially Karachi. Then there are recent allegations about terrorists and separatists in the Frontier and Balochistan provinces receiving support from Indian intelligence, the RAW. Finally, it is possible that the terror warning Punjab police had received earlier during the provincial government led by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif may have specified a terror intention on the part of Indian intelligence.

From TV footage, we can simply rule out the possibility of Tamil Tigers, who recently faced a serious reversal at the hand of Sri Lankan forces, as perpetrators of Lahore terror attack. The images of terrorists clearly resemble local, Pakistani or north Indian identity. However, as suggested before, in the absence of concrete evidence, it is premature to pinpoint a particular group and its possible sponsor for orchestrating the Lahore tragedy.

Access column at weeklypulse.org