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Day after, Pak in mourning

As the Punjab police made little headway in tracking down the 12 gunmen who made the Sri Lankan cricketers flee Pakistan, there is outrage and anger at the failure of the state to protect these sporting guests. Amit Baruah reports.

world Updated: Mar 05, 2009 02:44 IST
Amit Baruah

The giant scoreboard is blank. The groundsmen are sitting idle. Barring the solitary television camera and a few stragglers, the Gaddafi stadium is quiet. What should have been the fourth day of the second cricket Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan is now a day of mourning.

As the Punjab police made little headway in tracking down the 12 gunmen who made the Sri Lankan cricketers flee Pakistan, there is outrage and anger at the failure of the state to protect these sporting guests.

Tens of suspects have been detained, but no arrests announced so far. The “foreign hand” is very much being blamed — but that could stretch from Al Qaeda, India or even the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). “We also have some important leads that would eventually unearth people responsible for this terrible act,” Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a news conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart in Islamabad.

Rohitha Bogollagama, the Sri Lankan foreign minister, on his part, did not rule out possibility that the LTTE could be behind the Lahore attack.

Standing at the Liberty Market roundabout, the launch pad used by the gunmen to attack the Lankan bus, Akmal Hussain told Hindustan Times: “This is an abject security failure. Somebody ought to be brought to book for this.”

Trampled flower beds are evidence of where the attackers stood in ambush on the roundabout; waiting for the Sri Lankans.

Another bystander, who did not give his name, said: “The Gulberg police station is just there. How come no cops gave chase to the gunmen?”

At Liberty Market locals have put up a small memorial, which was filmed by multiple TV channels. Not a single policeman was deployed along the route, making it easy for the gunmen to junk their weapons and disappear.

Writing in the Daily Times, analyst Ejaz Haider argued that proper security measures would have helped saved not just lives, but Pakistan’s battered image. A debate also raged whether the intention of the gunmen was to kidnap the cricketers and turn them into hostages. But then why fire an RPG round at the bus, which missed, hit a Liberty shop, but failed to explode?

The News front-paged a report that a February 22 intelligence report had warned that India’s intelligence agency, R&AW, would target (incredible as it may sound) Lankan cricketers. Some bystanders at Liberty roundabout blamed India for the strikes, but when asked on what basis they were making the claim, replied, “Muslims cannot do such things.” Given that central rule was imposed last Wednesday in Punjab and top cops were shifted by governor Salman Taseer, the attack has become political football in the politics between Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (N).