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Who Did This and Why?

The Lahore terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team has raised several questions. The biggest of them are, quite naturally, who and why.

It is too early to arrive at a conclusive assessment on the motives behind the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. But it is compelling to see this attack as the latest in the series that include the ones on Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and the Islamabad Marriott in September 2008. The possibility cannot be ruled out completely, but there is a small chance that the hit was ordered by LTTE (and carried out by sundry terrorists recruited in Pakistan). However this is contra-indicated by the fact that so far, the Tamil Tigers have not claimed responsibility for the attack. [The Acorn]

Let me add one more to that list of attacks – a bomb blast outside the hotel where the New Zealand cricket team was staying in Karachi in 2002. And lest there be any doubt about the intended target of that attack, or that it was “merely” a warning:

The explosion occurred close to the time the team were due to depart for the National Stadium but, in line with the security plan, the team bus was situated in a secure carpark. Most of the team had yet to leave their rooms although the team physiotherapist, Dayle Shackel, received a minor cut to his forearm from flying glass. [Cricinfo]

It was probably a miscalculation, or sheer chance, that the terrorists did not succeed in killing visiting cricketers back in 2002. There is nothing new about attacking sportsmen, or using sporting events for staging terror attacks.

The LTTE, I think, can be dismissed quite easily. They wouldn’t have the resources to carry it out by themselves, and they don’t have anything to offer to LeT or other such groups these days (and LTTE is in no position to make promises for future). Sure, they might have helped Harkat-ul-Ansar in the past, but terrorist groups are unlikely to return such favours when LTTE is at severe risk of getting wiped out. Plus, as The Acorn hints, the LTTE would certainly have claimed responsibility for the attack. Well, they still might and it wouldn’t convince me anyway.

The attack probably came from one or more of the same terrorist groups that we are now at once familiar with and mixed-up about. Lashkar-e-Toiba. Harkat-ul-Ansar. Al-Qaida. Whoever-ul-Else. One or more of them.

The purpose of the attack is perhaps also not a mystery. The same as before. Terror. Provoking reactions. Mocking a fatally weak establishment and its empty promises. Making it clear that the writ of the Pakistani government does not run in Pakistan. In other words, telling everyone who the bosses are. As a bonus, they get to send a warning to foreigners – stay out, stay safe. Lets not forget that terrorists are generally not very good at having a coherent message in the first place and are better at tactics than at strategy.

The bit about mocking a weak establishment is not to be taken lightly though. Many commentators have expressed doubts about the proclaimed helplessness of the Pakistani government in combating terror on Pakistani soil. In my opinion, it is quite clear now – even if it wasn’t before – that the governance structure in Pakistan is hopelessly compromised. The bus route was different from the ones taken before. Yet, a group of as many as 12 terrorists were able to carry out a spectacular assault with impudence. Draw your own conclusions.

While the sad demise of Pakistani cricket wouldn’t draw any tears from me, there is a message in that too. Not too long ago, Imran Khan had said that “the terrorists will never target cricketers knowing that they will then lose the hearts and minds of people”. I have no doubt that he meant it. The 2002 bomb blast outside the NZ team hotel did not echo for long, and many interpreted it as a “message” rather than the deadly attack that it was. Several Indian media personalities had recently advocated that Indian cricket team should go ahead with its tour of Pakistan despite the Mumbai terrorist attack. Apart from peacenik philosophies, there was an underlying belief that a visiting cricket team, perhaps even an Indian one, would be allowed to play in peace. No doubt, this belief was strengthened by the assumption that Pakistani establishment is not only hand-in-glove with the terrorists, but also exercises a certain degree of control over them – and hence, a cricket tour might just be safe. Of course, it doesn’t help that it is always easier to lay other people’s (i.e. cricketers’) lives on the line from the comforts of one’s cubicle than to do so with one’s own.

Those assumptions now lie completely shattered.

Pakistan’s government couldn’t prevent a daring terrorist attack involving a dozen foot-soldiers and scores of others in a supporting network, on a visiting cricket team in Lahore – the heart of Pakistan’s most powerful and elite province – despite promising safety and providing a great deal of security cover, and apparently even having intelligence inputs about this attack.

Take a moment to digest all that.

Pakistani government’s promises of any sort are now not worth the paper they are sometimes written on. Pakistan, as sovereign state, has ceased to exist.

Aside: I had a spine-chilling few seconds as I read Prem Panicker’s thoughts on what might have happened had it been the Indian team rather than the Sri Lankan one:

Without suggesting that Sri Lankan players being injured in a terrorist strike in Lahore today is insignificant, consider the what-if: A headline reading ‘Sachin Tendulkar injured in terrorist attack in Lahore’ would have had cataclysmic consequences: nationwide rioting, and on overwhelming political consensus in favour of war. [Rediff]

Think about this too.

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