Mar 4, 2009

Lahore terror: blow to friends, opportunity for foes

By Shireen M Mazari
There can be nothing but condemnation for the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Both Pakistanis and Sri Lankans have been living with the effects of terrorism in their countries and perhaps that is why only the Sri Lankans had the magnanimity to come and play cricket in Pakistan at a time when no other cricketing team was willing to take the risk. And to the eternal shame of all Pakistanis, we failed to protect them. In the process we have gone back to square one and it is unlikely that any international sporting event will take place in Pakistan in the near future. But there are disturbing questions that arise in the immediate aftermath. The first is the targeting of the Sri Lankans – a nation that has been close to Pakistan and a state that has had a quiet but firmly entrenched relationship with us. Like the attacks on the Chinese working here, who has the most to gain by targeting the Sri Lankans? Certainly no Pakistani. But India and our other enemies certainly will make political gains. Interestingly, the incident has come soon after the Naval Chief's statement casting doubts on the Rehman Malik investigation dossier on Mumbai, which upset the Indians. So is this attack a mere coincidence in terms of timing?The second issue is the absurd response of the Governor Punjab who immediately declared that this act of terrorism was also carried out by the perpetrators of Mumbai. Now how could he have had this information in such a definitive form in the immediate aftermath of the attack? This is almost the same behaviour he showed earlier when he declared that the Punjab government would go and three days later it went! Is he simply prone to premonitions?The more disturbing issue is the security lapse even though Taseer declared that was not the case. But given the way he was transferring security officials and focusing the local intelligence gathering solely on political opponents, this was a clear security breach and intelligence lapse. When you stack state institutions, especially security organisations, with political and often inept favourites, this is what will happen – especially when every security organisation is without clear and responsible leadership.The question that must be examined honestly is whether this is a natural follow-on from the terrorism linked to FATA and Swat, or is it a continuation of Mumbai or is it something new that is conveniently being linked to the former two? It is too early to give a definitive answer but it does not seem to have any linkage or bearing to FATA or Swat – otherwise why was the first match not targeted? In connection with Mumbai, the only connection is the role of RAW given the timing of the attack and the setback to Pakistan's image recovery after Mumbai. This act of terrorism also gives more opportunities to the US to conduct more direct military operations within Pakistan on the pretext that the Pakistani government is unable to deal with the terrorist menace. Of course, their role in exacerbating the terrorist problem in the first place is never touched upon.But even more disturbing is the suspicion that apart from our enemies outside, who could possibly benefit from this action? Again the timing is interesting given that only a day earlier PNL-N supporters in the spectators, who chose to raise political slogans were targeted by the police. Link this up to the whole design of thwarting the long march through administrative changes in Punjab and Taseer's interview on Monday with the press where he stated that there is no two-month limitation on governor's rule. Add to this the presentation before the terrorist court of the Rawalpindi political demonstrators and the Mobile Courts Ordinance ("gashti courts" as one TV analyst aptly translated) and one can see where the government seems to be headed. While surely no government can use such murderous means to clamp down on political protest, certainly such an incident gives a government hell-bent on brooking no political dissent ample opportunity now to place curbs on political protest and democratic rights. Ironically, that too, at the end of the day, benefits the enemies of Pakistan and they are bound to have their own fifth columnists here. Before this shameful act of terrorism hit Lahore and killed the wonderful Sri Lankan gesture towards the beleaguered people of Pakistan, it had been a week of Pakistan's political tradition on display in all its sordid glory and there seemed to be no let up for the coming days. From "decision foretold" of the Supreme Court regarding the Sharif brothers; to the murder of the democratic (albeit full of feudal decadence) mandate of the people of Punjab; to the lies and revelations of deals being offered, made and rejected; to the accusations flying across the political divides; to the brazen declarations of dictatorial defiance and a humiliating slap in the face of all democratic norms by that lethal combo of Zardari and Taseer; to the mobile or kangaroo courts; there has been simply no end to the reckless and nationally debilitating behaviour of our rulers – and the Taseer statement in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack at Gaddafi stadium shows that even such a crisis cannot bring them to a level of sanity.In the face of serious threats of terrorism (both state terrorism from the US and the threat from non-state actors), the growing financial burden on the ordinary people and the increasing law and order deficit, the Zardari-Taseer duo are more interested in pushing through party instead of national agendas, even at the cost of provincial stability.That is why there is a free-for-all going on, on all fronts – from the political chaos to the economic hardships being meted out to the people on a daily basis to the complete destruction of all state institutions. Once again a Citibanker is causing havoc with the people. Utility prices have risen with gas bills simply doubling since January and now we are being told that electricity prices will also rise. If there is such a shortage of funds, where are the luxury cars and facilities for officialdom coming from and where is the money for the UN probe into Ms Bhutto's murder coming from? If our state can probe Mumbai why not the brutal murder of the ruling party's leader especially since we already know the limited mandate of the UN probe? Certainly cancelling the 23 March Parade is a sensible austerity move but not in isolation surely? Perhaps Shaukat Tareen should move out of his cosy socialising in the Serena and touch base with the people of this country.Meanwhile, with all attention diverted to Punjab and the political chaos, who is noting the continuing killings of Pakistanis by the US through increased drone attacks and missiles fired from Afghanistan? While everyone correctly linked the Supreme Court decision to the long march, no one seemed to recall that only recently Shahbaz Sharif had categorically refused to allow NATO supply depots to be established in Punjab? Does that help to explain why the US has accepted this attack on democracy in Pakistan, or even that the move had US blessings? So Zardari targets the long march and the US gets its NATO depots in Punjab! Clearly, the repression of the people has only just begun. It was ridiculous to see Zardari apologists accusing Nawaz Sharif of treasonable statements while a leading PPP ally, despite his public incitement to provincial hatred, was not censured at all. Now the ante has been upped and the stakes have become, literally murderous in the wake of the latest act of terror in Lahore. The long march to restoration of an independent judiciary and rule of law has just moved on to a road paved with violence, state repression and terrorism. As our hearts go out to the brave Sri Lankans who extended their hand of friendship to the Pakistani nation in their hour of trial, we hang our heads in shame as once again we see our friends suffer for their support to this nation. Through it all, there is a sense of dire foreboding that now prevails as we confront the growing shadows of a ruthless civilian authoritarianism.

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