Mar 4, 2009

Cricket – the requiem

One thing of which we may be certain is that whoever attacked the convoy of the Sri Lankan cricket team yesterday in Lahore – they did not arrive by boat. As this editorial is written we know very little else with certainty. We know for certain that there are eight dead, none of them Sri Lankan. But how many attackers? Ten? Twelve? Fourteen? And how do we 'know' these numbers anyway…did the gunmen form an orderly line and number-off military-style from left to right? Were any of them killed or wounded in the firefight which lasted thirty minutes according to one source and twenty minutes according to another? The unknowns multiply like rabbits. We can, however, make some informed assumptions. This was a carefully planned and executed attack carried out by people who knew what they were doing, and who appear to have been well armed if the five bags of weapons now found did actually belong to them. They were able to effect an escape. Some of them wore what appeared to be track suits and trainers, and at least one of them wore a shalwar-kameez. Some of them wore backpacks. At least one had a full beard. They attacked the police protecting the convoy from both sides. The police did what they could to protect the convoy and quite possibly saved lives while giving their own. The driver of the Sri Lanka team bus drove straight to the stadium as fast as he could. The director of outside-broadcasting for Channel Ten Sports stated categorically within an hour of the attack that he did not regard it as a lapse of security – which in his opinion was "very tight" on this tour, with the Pakistanis taking every reasonable care. The hunt for the attackers goes on.At which point we enter the realms of fantasy. Within minutes a PPP politician was being interviewed on a private TV channel and saying that …"this is clearly the work of a foreign hand" (a verbatim quote). The internet was quickly alight with allegations that this was an Indian operation, or a Tamil Tiger operation and whatever it was it could not possibly have been carried out by Pakistanis or Muslims because Muslims are peace-loving people. The culture of instinctive denial clicked into gear immediately, fingers were as quickly pointed and assumptions, none of them backed by a shred of empirical evidence, were made. The reality is that this is just as likely to be an attack made by our own home-grown terrorist organizations as it is to have been made or facilitated by 'foreign hands'. There is no shortage of highly-competent well-armed and trained groups within our own borders capable of such an operation. They have no need of foreign assistance or foreign money – there are plenty of people here happy to finance them and offer logistical support. No shortage either of groups wishing to undermine the government and capable of exploiting a perceived weakness caused by the confusion rife in the Punjab police force; a product of the political movement of senior officers in the wake of the imposition of governor rule. Another reality is that the attack was carried out close to a police station and that the attackers must have conducted a reconnaissance for them to set up a kill-zone – and nobody noticed? Nobody noticed that up to fourteen heavily armed men using at least three cars, as well as rickshaws and bicycles, were securing a road junction in the centre of Lahore? A reasonable person may infer from this that there was a failure of intelligence, both electronic and human.The dead will be buried and mourned, there will be an official enquiry of which we will see little or nothing, there may or may not be arrests and the blame-game will go on until the next incident when the whole process begins all over again. Meanwhile, the prospect of us hosting international sporting events in future vanishes. Those who carped at the Australian refusal to tour here because of security concerns now have their comeuppance. Nobody is going to tour here for a very long time, be they cricketers, hockey players or players of tiddlywinks. Who will make inwards foreign investment into our businesses? Or run the relief agencies that support the refugees from our own internal warfare? Or provide training and support to our educationalists? The world has once again seen that Pakistan is an unsafe place, no matter where you are or who you are. That terrorism has both home and succour here. That the writ of our state is threadbare. On Tuesday March 3, 2009 we heard the requiem for international cricket in Pakistan, but we also heard the steady footfall of extremist forces as they march ever-nearer to power.

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