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sri lanka cricket attack, Pakistan cricket attack
AAJ via APTN/AP
Two gunmen are seen near a vehicle in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 3, 2009, in this
image taken from television.

Attack on Sri Lankan Cricket Team Exemplifies Pakistan’s Terror Problem

March 04, 2009 12:06 PM
by Denis Cummings
Following an attack on the national sport, Pakistan may finally be forced to take serious action against Islamic militants within its borders.

Sri Lankan Cricketers Attacked in Pakistan

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At least 12 gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team Tuesday, as they were arriving for a cricket match in Lahore, Pakistan. The gunmen threw grenades and fired rifles and rocket launchers during a 15-minute gun battle, killing eight Pakistanis, including six policemen and a driver, and wounding seven players, a coach and an umpire.

The Sri Lankan team was beginning a tour of Pakistan after India had pulled out of its scheduled tour citing security concerns in the wake of the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Many other countries have refused to play in Pakistan for the same reason.

Early reports suggest that there may be a link between the Tuesday’s attack and the Mumbai attacks, which were likely carried out by Pakistan-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“I want to say it’s the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai,” said Salman Taseer, the governor of central Punjab province, to reporters.

The 12 gunmen escaped the scene and Pakistan issued a $125,000 reward for information. Pakistani police tracked down four Wednesday and arrested them. No information has been given on the identity or organization of the gunmen.

Background: Terrorism in Pakistan

For many, the attack illustrates Pakistan’s inability to control the spread of Islamic terrorism within its borders. Militant groups have used Pakistan as a base for launching attacks in Afghanistan and India—most notably the November attacks in Mumbai, India.

“It should by now be clear to Pakistan’s political and military elites that their indulgence of jihadi groups … has boomeranged to the point that jihadism threatens the very survival of the state,” writes the Financial Times.

The civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the slain Benazir Bhutto, is weak and has done little to crack down on the Taliban, al-Qaida or the various other terror groups. “This was not simply an attack on Sri Lankans,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a security and political analyst in Lahore, to Bloomberg. “It was most importantly an attack on the Pakistani government to show its lack of control.” 

Many observers believe that Tuesday’s attacks on the sport of cricket may shake Pakistan into action against terrorism in the country. “Mr Zardari should use this attack to apply pressure to both the army and the ISI,” writes The Times on London. “To the millions for whom cricket is a religion, it should be a call to confront extremism before it destroys them and the ideals on which their state was founded.”

Opinion & Analysis: The future of cricket in Pakistan

Cricket is the most popular sport in South Asia, a “secular religion that unites the otherwise fissiparous Indian subcontinent,” writes the Financial Times. “It is hard to overstate the position of cricket in regional life. … In times of relative detente, it enables the arch-rivals of the subcontinent, India and Pakistan, to continue warring by other means.”

“All my life, cricket has been the only truly high-profile opportunity for the world to see televised images of Pakistan that are not about politics or terrorism,” says The Guardian’s Kamila Shamsie.

But the national pride created through cricket will be tempered for the foreseeable future. “Cricket is front and centre, heart and soul, of the ‘alternative narrative’ of Pakistan, the story that isn’t about destruction and terror but rather about all the aspects of life in Pakistan worth celebrating,” writes Shamsie. “With the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, that alternative narrative lies so wounded it’s hard to imagine how it will ever recover.”

It will likely be years before international cricket returns to Pakistan. Many countries, including India, Britain and Australia, already refused to play in Pakistan due to security reasons and now it is unlikely that any country will do so. Pakistan was scheduled to co-host the 2011 Cricket World Cup, but that will almost certainly be taken away.

The international isolation of the Pakistani cricket team may move Pakistan further from the outside world. “Attacking the national pastime is a way of shutting off Pakistan from the rest of the world,” says The Spectator’s Alex Massie. “Cricket was one of the few remaining arenas in which Pakistan could engage with other countries on anything like normal terms. That avenue to the world has been closed.”

Related Topic: Munich massacre

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