On Tuesday, a convoy of the visiting Sri Lankan cricketing team was attacked around a roundabout near the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, injuring seven players and an assistant coach. Many in Pakistan are calling it Pakistan’s Mumbai and fingers are being pointed at the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, for this heinous act which will have severe repercussions for Pakistan in terms of its already precarious image.
The general consensus is that this incident is the death knell for Pakistan’s cricket, as no international team will take the risk to come and play in the country. Commentators find it extremely odd that it was only the Sri Lankan team which was targeted.
Fingers are being pointed at India because New Delhi had vociferously opposed Colombo’s decision to send its team to Pakistan for a cricket series.
There is also the possibility of the LTTE using its local networks to launch an attack.
Yet another possibility pertains to the involvement of local actors who want to use the terror attack to throttle all public meetings and protests in Punjab, now the hub of a political battle between the ruling party, PPP, and the opposition party, PML-N. Some journalists had suggested terror attacks might be coming to Lahore and Punjab — which would then result in the government clamping down on public gatherings, especially political protests, in the name of securing people.
But these possibilities are conjectures, none of which has greater weight than the other unless more information is available regarding the attack.
None of the 12 assailants were caught. Like in Mumbai, the terrorists were young-looking men carrying backpacks filled with rocket launchers, grenades and ammunition.
Another similarity with 26/11 pertains to the security lapse. Despite the high-level promise that the Sri Lankan team would get high security, traffic on the route the team bus was passing was not stopped. The security lapse could be due to the fact that the PPP government in Punjab and at the Centre was too busy fighting the political battle with Nawaz Sharif and his party.
The manner in which the attack was carried out is not the end of the similarity between Mumbai and Lahore. The official and media reaction is similar, especially in terms of blaming it just on external forces and not searching for internal problems that make terror attacks possible.
One possible scenario is that some terrorists actually have links with India’s intelligence agencies. In such a case, all attention will get diverted to Delhi rather than probing the domestic networks through which the attack was carried out. After all, the terrorists knew the city well enough to disappear among the crowds easily.
Pakistan is itself a victim of terror, with multiple fronts throughout the country.
Although the Asif Ali Zardari government seems keen to fight terrorism, the strategy is not clear. The attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers may be a major jolt to Pakistan, but whether it will force the government to build a consensus on fighting the war on terror is a moot point.
Ayesha Siddiqa is Security analyst, Islamabad.