Pakistan: Fundamentalists target cricket, state targets democracy activists

March 6, 2009

The attack on Sri Lankan cricket team at Liberty Chouck, Lahore on March 3 left eight policemen dead and six Sri Lankan cricket players injured in firing that lasted 25 minutes.

Watching footage of the attack, it is clear that religious fundamentalists have struck.

There were four of them with hand grenades, rocket launchers, modern rifles and other sophisticated weapons.

The Sri Lankan cricketers were in Lahore for a test match and had already played magnificently for two days at the Gaddafi Stadium.

They were on their way from the hotel to the stadium for the third day when the gunmen fired at their vehicle.

The driver said that the cricketers did not panic but lay down in the van as he sped up to escape the gunfire. He managed to get the bullet-riddled to the stadium.

Praying for the quick recovery of the injured cricketers, people all over the country have strongly condemned the incident, which many believe is an attempt to further discredit and isolate Pakistan and especially cricket.

The religious fanatics have targeted sports such as soccer and cricket, terming these as evil sports smuggled in from the West.

"It is promoting Western cultural norms, it must not be allowed", was the justification of the Taliban to ban these sports when it governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

The agenda of the "jihadi" terrorists is clearly not just to enforce what they consider to be an Islamic system, but to overrun and destabilise the state itself. Pakistanis have suffered under this agenda for many years.

This country, which has been under military rule for more than half its 60 years of existence, has paid a heavy price for the policies of military rulers that civilian governments have been unable to change.

These policies include cultivating "Islamic warriors" to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, supporting the Taliban in order to create "strategic depth" in Afghanistan (citing the threat of a hostile India on the eastern border), and using some of these elements
to bleed India in the disputed region of Kashmir.

"They were our guests, they came to Pakistan when most people were not willing to come", said one man in Peshawar on the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

"It is a blot on humanity", said another. "We hang our heads in shame."

"As it is, few foreigners come to Pakistan", said one woman sadly. "Now, no-one will come."

Another woman said that Pakistan had been pushed back 10 years by this incident. "We are a friendly and cricket-loving nation", said another passer-by. "Now, no cricket team will want to play here."

This will be a big blow to Pakistan's aspirations to hosting the next World Cup in 2011.

I was shocked to hear top Lahore police officers saying that there was no security lapse. In fact, it could have been avoided with proper security measures.

One must see the incident within the context of the political and bureaucratic changes that took place over the last week.

Lahore's top police officers were transferred and new people were brought in, mainly to suppress the planned pro-democracy "long march" by lawyers, due to begin on March 12.

Additionally, there has been resistance by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters to the toppling of the provincial government in Punjab.

Lahore's top police officer, a loyalist of the Peoples's Party Pakistan (PPP), was just transferred to Lahore from Quetta, Baluchistan. His main priority was to target the lawyers and other political activists demanding an end to dictatorial measures.

A day before the incident, in a special meeting, the Punjab governor, police officers and top bureaucrats discussed how to stop the proposed lawyers' march. According to media reports about this meeting, they decided on mass arrests.

In those same newspapers there was no hint of any discussion about security for the Sri Lanka team. They were too busy planning to stop opposition demonstrations and transferring their loyalists to key posts.

Since the Supreme Court decision against Sharif brothers from the PML-N and imposition of rule by the governor in Punjab a week ago, the media has been full of such reports.

I know the place where the attack occurred very well. From the
footage, it seems that the terrorists were running freely and firing.

The presence of a few policemen on the Liberty roundabout would have noticed the presence of these terrorists. The security measures for the team were routine: A police van in front of the team's bus, another in back and an ambulance. That was it.

Even the Punjab governor would have had more security. In that situation, the whole area is cordoned off.

One private channel journalist who watched the firing reported that the terrorists first attacked the police from the front. They even approached the injured police officer and showered him with more bullets.

According to the journalist, the team was saved by the quick action of the bus driver, not by the police. Had the driver proceeded to cricket stadium, the terrorists would have inflicted more damage.

Instead he went in another direction, minimising the danger.

It seems clear that a serious security lapse occurred. The police were too busy with other things. The present Punjab government must accept the responsibility of the security lapse.

The horrific attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3 has shocked and saddened people here, already reeling from the suicide and other attacks that have become the norm.

Our condolences go to the families of those killed and our sympathies are with the Sri Lanka cricket team.

Ultimately, those who suffer the most after such incidents are
ordinary people Pakistan, regardless of religion.

[Farooq Tariq is a leader of the Labour Party Pakistan. A representative of the LPP will be attending the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, April 10-12. For more information, or to book tickets, visit]

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