Tuesday, March 3, 2009

ATTACK ON SRI LANKAN CRICKETERS: NO ROOM FOR PRETENCE NOW

The inevitable has happened. This morning eight to ten terrorists armed with rockets, AKs and grenades attacked the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's largest state Punjab. In the attack, five security persons were killed and three were injured. At least six Sri Lankan cricketers were injured too. The tour has been abandoned and the players are flying back home.

As per the driver of the bus in which Sri Lankan cricketers were travelling to the Gaddafi stadium, a rocket was fired at the bus but it missed it because the bus was turning at a roundabout. A hand grenade thrown at the bus went under it. After that, facing small arms fire, he drove the bus quickly to the safety of the stadium, due to which further casualties were prevented. Had the rocket hit the bus, the entire team would have been eliminated. In what appears to be a providential escape, Mahela Jayawardane, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thila Samaraweera, Tharanga Paranvithana and Chaminda Vaas escaped with injuries. All are out of danger.

Another fact that has emerged is that the terrorists targeted only the Sri Lankan and not the Pakistani team. The attack lasted nearly half an hour after which all of then simply disappeared. Till now, no arrests have been made. Naturally, there are questions being raised that the terrorists had detailed inside information about the movement of the players. They also probably had support from elements either in the police or the military that enabled them to get so close to the stadium and then effect a clean get-away too.

As this is being written, there are unbelievable live visuals on the TV screen showing a military helicopter, not players, on the pitch of the Gaddafi stadium. It is there to fly out the Sri Lankan players straight to the airport. No one in Lahore is willing to take the risk of taking the players out of the stadium by road.

This is not Taliban country; this is not Swat or FATA or NWFP. This is the very centre of Pakistan, as it were, its Punjabi heart. This has been hit by terrorists in as dramatic a manner as was Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The dress and modus operandi of those who struck in Lahore today was chillingly identical to that of those who attacked Mumbai. Does the state of Pakistan have no clue about who they are and who their backers and trainers and ideologues are? Are they too isolated and undetected "non-state" actors like the Mumbai attackers were? Are these too "rogue elements" within the establishment that the establishment is blissfully unaware of?

There are some experts who are saying in TV studio discussions that this attack has the hand of the Pakistani Army behind it. The Army is going to use this incident, they believe, along with the mess that Zardari and Sharif have created between themselves like dim wits who should have remained in prison/exile, to get back into power. That may perhaps be correct. But what does the Army want to come back to and rule over? What will this attack do? It will ensure that all sporting contacts with Pakistan, in Pakistan, are broken by all other countries of the world. That is not what the Army should be looking forward to, if indeed this attack has been orchestrated just to impose military rule.

The message of this attack is perhaps far more dangerous and fundamental. Today it is sport, tomorrow it will be other symbols of a modern, progressive Pakistan. Finally it will be the sharia in full force in the whole country, if it still is one, just as it is in Taliban land today.

The deal between the Army and the Taliban in Swat to hand over that valley to the latter who are imposing the sharia there needs to be viewed in conjunction with what has happened in Lahore today. The slide is dangerous and it is gathering momentum. Pakistani President Zardari was not bluffing when he said that his country was in danger of being taken over by the Taliban. There is no room for pretence now.

There are clearly dominant elements in Pakistan Army and its subordinate organisation, the ISI, who are in favour of the talibanisation of the whole of Pakistan. They have grown up on that extremist ideology and have overseen its implementation in Afghanistan before 9/11. Like the terrorists that they are creating and training, they believe that the whole of Pakistan should follow the 'pure' Islam that they earlier had put in place in Afghanistan and that is now functional in large areas in the peripheral parts of Pakistan. It is also safe to assume that the these elements in the Army are not low ranking officers or men. They have to be senior officers with some serious clout and reach. For all you know Army Chief Kiyani might be one with them. Since the US is sitting on their head, they have to move undetected and with caution and then surprise the Americans somewhat like they did in Swat.

Make no mistake: the attack on the Sri Lankan team will be followed by attacks on cinema halls, music shops, girls not fully covered up etc. Radical Islam is now aiming for the very heart of Pakistan, for the state of Pakistan itself. There is an internal war brewing there, a war that will have a profound and lasting impact on the world. The world has a responsibility to ensure that the jihadi elements that have infiltrated large parts of the state of Pakistan and its structures are not allowed to consume any more of Pakistan than they already have. The rest of the world will be next.

It is time to back the retreating moderate and progressive elements in Pakistan so that they develop the stomach and the ability to fight and defeat those who are trying to turn Pakistan into a very dangerous fundamentalist Afghanistan. No matter what the cost. The world cannot just afford their defeat.

This post has featured in the News blog page of The Guardian
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Readers may also read:
1. All cylinders on fire, where is Pakistan heading?
2. Kashmir and Afghanistan are two sides of the same terror coin
3. India needs to ready itself for a post-Pakistan scenario
4. A vote to save Jinnah's Pakistan: Will it?
5. Pakistan: Dangers of the multi-ethnic Islamic state