The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
Terrorism has hit at the core of what Pakistanis across class, ethnic and political divide love--the game of cricket. In unleashing a professionally planned and executed terrorist attack targeting the Sri Lankan players in Lahore's Liberty Market area, the terrorists have hugely damaged international cricket in Pakistan. The genuinely uniting and delightful activity for the Pakistani nation, cricket, has taken a serious blow.But even in this terrible moment we must be grateful for what has not happened. Our prized guests, the Sri Lankan cricketers, but for minor injuries, are all safe. Pakistanis are relived that they went home safely. We again register our deep appreciation for their decision to break the international consensus against playing cricket in Pakistan because of security reasons. They rejected the advice of other countries like Australia, England and India that they not travel to Pakistan. We thank them for their solidarity with Pakistan at a time when Pakistan goes through a testing time within and outside.But no less must we thank our own true heroes. Our heroes are those eight policemen who gave their own lives to ensure that our Sri Lankan guests return home safely. These eight heroes died in the line of duty. They died with their boots on. We salute them. It is only because the families of these heroes have suffered the loss of their most precious sons, brothers, fathers and husbands that our Sri Lankan guests are alive. The government, the cricket associations and affluent Pakistanis owe these families the support that would make up for the irreparable and tragic loss.At the end of the saga Pakistanis witnessed the poignant, heartbreaking scene of a Pakistan army helicopter parked on the cricket pitch. Security matters for the time being have also overtaken the game of cricket. The powerful symbolism of the moment could not have been lost on many as the cricket pitch, the symbol of joy, was covered with the army helicopter, the symbol of security. The helicopter was mercifully available to bail the Sri Lankan cricketers and the umpires out of the Qaddafi stadium.Devastated to see how their most-loved sport has been hit by terrorism, people now fear the worst. At least in the coming months international cricket in Pakistan will take a nosedive. Pakistan's bid to jointly host the 2011 World Cup will also take a hit.Already no other cricket team, barring our very dear friends, the Sri Lankans, was willing to play cricket in Pakistan. After the Lahore attack, at least for some time, none will come. And we will not be able to convince them that their security concerns are exaggerated. Such terrorist attacks also cause the shrinking of "normal" and safe public space in Pakistan; the public space where collective joy, be its sport, music and other forms of art and entertainment, can be experienced.The tragedy and the shock of the Liberty Roundabout incident notwithstanding, the terrorist attacks come as no bolt from the blue. With a region, and indeed the country, so exposed to the threat of terrorism, the fear of such an incident continues to be present in our consciousness. Pakistan remains vulnerable to terrorism because of three factors. One, because the existing battles among our own home-grown militias; two, because of the militia-military battles within Afghanistan; and, three, because of being the logistical and the strategic mainstay of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).Additionally, the current period is a particularly vulnerable period for Pakistan because of three specific developments: the Nov 26 Mumbai attack which could mean that some forces could plan a tit-for-tat attack, the Malakand Peace Accord has triggered a spate of terrorist attacks across the country (the latest in Balochistan on a Madrassa on March 2) perhaps by opponents of the Accord; the ongoing trial of Mumbai suspects in Rawalpindi, and finally the March 4 arrival in Pakistan of the director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. All this should have automatically raised the security alert level throughout the country. Maybe it was. However, what cannot be denied at all is that in Lahore our prized guests, our great friends the Sri Lankan team, were not given the kind of security that the current security situation warranted.Without going into any debate over the matter, it would be enough to quote the former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board and former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. Commenting on a television channel the non-controversial, non-political and a very correct individual, Shehryar Khan, categorically said that, given the security situation in Pakistan, the visiting cricketers were always given "VVIP security cover, the kind given to the President and the Prime Minister."Clearly that level of security was nowhere to be seen. Why was this missing? Especially give the security concerns that the world was expressing about cricket in Pakistan should all our fronts not have been covered? The cricket venue and the cricketers too. The thrust of the inquiry has to also be why the obviously required level of security was not provided by the government of Punjab. Was this matter not a responsibility also of the federal government, should the Interior ministry not have flagged the matter for the Punjab government? Some answers must be given.The security lapse was unquestionably there. Against the backdrop of the clear and present danger such a security lapse amounts to a serious breach of responsibility. Appropriate heads must roll. The Punjab government and the federal government's defence that it is because of security that the Sri Lankan players are safe and the Pakistani policemen died is a fallacious argument. Why were the players so exposed?Why were they driven in such a vulnerable position without sufficient security cover? Why must anyone have died? The Sri Lankans are lucky that they are safe, given that there were 12 well-armed and well-trained terrorists. Was the governor's administration not involved in the political task of securing support of MPAs and of appointing a new and loyal civilian law enforcement force in Punjab? How this major security faux pas?The second security question relates to what transpired after the attack. How come, the firing continued, according to different reports, for 30 to 25 minutes and yet not one of the 12 attackers was either killed or caught? According to reports and television footage the attackers stayed on course in their plan, They continued to fire for an extended period. Additional police forces arrived on the scene in five to seven minutes and yet the terrorists continued the firing unchecked. Supposedly the police had immediately cordoned off the area and still neither the terrorists were counter-attacked nor caught. They escaped from the open and exposed areas from where they came. Within the civilian population of Lahore, or maybe now beyond, are moving around freely the 12 terrorists who have killed our eight policemen and for now damaged our national game and national spirit too. But only temporarily.The people's spirit in Pakistan is undefeatable and it is indefatigable. As a nation we have faced the most difficult, the most testing times, only to bounce back. This crisis too will, Insha Allah, pass. But where we remain caught in a vicious whirlpool is in Pakistan's power politics. If the politically ambitious army mutilated our polity and political systems the blundering politicians are wasting the opportunities they get to set things right.Having been hit by this terrible terrorist attack it would only be valid to ask what were the manoeuvrings of Feb 25 in aid of? Is that what our country, faced with such a serious threat of terrorism, should be pushed to by its elected political leadership?Unconstitutional acts that push the people from tragedy to tragedy, the country from incapacity to paralysis, from crisis to turmoil, are criminal acts in the public consciousness. Deeply controversial judiciaries, long marches, the sit-ins, the government sit-ins, the disqualification of elected leaders, the battles between political leaders potentially spilling blood in the streets, invoking in political battling of the lethal ethnic card, the political fighting to the point of no return, are all signposts to anarchy. These mindless battles among the power-hungry will have no winners.These battles must be stopped. Some steps of those in power will have to be retraced. Taking the nation on a one-way road to disaster is unacceptable. When terrorist attacks of the March 3 kind take place the question the nation will ask is this: Why have we sent you through our votes to govern the country? So that you put your energies in power-grabbing and power accumulation while the response to major existential threats is weak and divided? Certainly not.