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Pull out all the stumps

Postpone the Indian Premier League. Security must focus on protecting the elections from jihadi attack. Vir Sanghvi elaborates.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2009 13:25 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times

Tuesday’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team demonstrates several things. First of all, there is a striking similarity between the way that attack was carried out and the Bombay attacks. The image that unites both assaults is the TV footage of a young man with a backpack, carrying a Kalashnikov and running with commando-like discipline. It is no longer possible for anybody to deny that the Bombay attackers were hatched in the same nest as the murderers of Lahore.

Secondly, we should abandon all hope of getting any real assistance from Pakistan in ending that unfortunate country’s steady export of terrorists to India and the rest of the world. Pakistan cannot even guard a foreign cricket team to whom it had promised special security in the heart of one of its most important cities. How can it possibly help stop terror in India?

This is a country where law and order have collapsed, where the government has no authority and where private militias and religious armies have free rein.

Thirdly, the central feature of jihadi violence is that it is pointless. It is not aimed at achieving any single political end. Just as the men who flew those planes into the World Trade Center were not fighting for an independent country nor seeking to topple the US regime, the Lahore attackers acted out of nothing more than hatred and fanaticism.

Fourthly, all that the jihadis want is publicity. The Sri Lankans are no enemies of Pakistan. The decision to embark on the cricket tour was taken by Colombo at least partly to spite India. It was only after our team had refused to tour Pakistan (in the aftermath of Bombay) that the Lankans volunteered to step in. It was a foolish decision taken by a short-sighted government, which ended up costing lives.

But if the jihadis are willing to attack even the Sri Lankans who went in friendship, then it is clear that their primary desire is to hit TV news all over the world. They want high-profile targets, they want publicity and they will give their lives if necessary to achieve those objectives.

All four points lead inexorably to a single conclusion: no Pakistani terror group can resist a major attack on India that will cause headlines even greater than those generated by the Bombay attacks.

Moreover, the Pakistani authorities will be powerless to stop that attack. There is no effective government in Pakistan, which has become to South Asia what Lebanon was to the Middle East in the 80s. And when the attacks do occur, Pakistan will deny all responsibility while its elite tells self-righteous lies to TV channels.

Any fool can see what the next terrorist targets will be. In the months ahead, we have two big events coming up, both of them certain to draw the attention of the world’s press.

The first is the general election, a symbol of the democracy that has made India one of the world’s emerging powers despite being located in a region again filled with anarchy, violence and military rule.

Any jihadi would long to exploit the tumult and chaos that accompanies the world’s largest democratic exercise so that the violence can spread fear and mayhem.

During elections, political leaders have no choice but to leave their security cordons and to mingle with the voters. No security agency in the world can guarantee their safety in these circumstances.

It would be naïve to expect that terrorists will not target our general election. And no matter how much effort it takes, we must do our best to ensure that they do not disrupt the democratic process.

In the circumstances, you would have to be very foolish to argue that India should simultaneously host a second event that will also attract global attention. If there’s one thing that’s even easier to disrupt than an election, it is a cricket tournament with its vast crowds and mass frenzy.

The Home Minister has asked the organisers of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament to postpone it. He can promise security he says, but not when an election is also on.

Who can deny that this is sound, sensible advice? Why make it easier for the terrorists? Why deny our general election the full attention of the security services?

The response of IPL administrators has been disappointing and, perhaps, even shocking: they will hold their matches on days when there is no polling; they will hire private security; and so on.

This is absurd. Show me a private security agency that can fight global terrorism and I’ll show you a jihadi who wants peace and love. That the IPL should advance these bogus arguments tell us what this is really about.

It’s about money. There’s just too much money to be made from the tournament for the organisers to want to postpone it. That’s all they really care about.

Such selfishness and greed are horrifying if not entirely surprising. But India cannot run on the basis of greed.

Our priority must be to ensure the peaceful conduct of the general election. A cricket tournament, no matter how popular or lucrative, must wait.