Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Cricket Attack: Copycat of Mumbai

Imagine a terrorist attack on the Boston Red Sox traveling in Japan or Cuba. Outside of the USA, the rest of the world has been horrified by the news of the attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team.

"International cricket’s been murdered in Pakistan now, officially," reports Time.

This violent event is being headlined globally as a "Copycat of Mumbai." Reuters did so, as did newspapers from South Africa to the UK, and others from India to Australia. While this event is going largely unnoticed in North America, it certainly is getting big media attention elsewhere.

I watched the breaking news unfold from my central London hotel, early March 3, 2009, Tuesday morning, as it was being broadcast live from Pakistan on the BBC news. Lahore, the capital of the Punjab district of Pakistan was the target city. The people target were cricket players. (As fate would have it, the evening before, I appeared on the Paul O'Grady show with a large group of Punjab dancers and singers. It's a small world.)

The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan bore the hallmarks of the same militants that carried out the attack on Mumbai in November, a senior Pakistan official said late on Tuesday.

Around dozen heavily armed assailants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus and a police escort as they drove to a stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

A dozen terrorists, armed with Kalashnikovs, grenades and rocket launchers, attacked the team bus for 15-20 minutes. Eight cricket players were injured; five policemen and a bus driver died. Reserve Umpire, Ahsan Raza, is still in critical condition.

On Wednesday, the police had surrounded the area where the attackers were believed to be now holed up.

"I want to say it's the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai," Salman Taseer, governor of central Punjab province, told reporters at the site of the attack.

"They are trained criminals. They were not common people. The kind of weaponry they had, the kind of arms they had, the way they attacked ... they were not common citizens, they were obviously trained."

Ten gunmen killed 179 people in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai between Nov. 26-28, 2008.

The copycat angle for the two attacks was not lost on the editorial writer Siddharth Varadarajan for The Hindi:

The Lahore police chief and the Punjab governor have noted obvious similarities between the modus operandi of the Lahore terrorists and the 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba men who struck Mumbai. The supposition is that the same group which masterminded the attack on India’s commercial capital has now targeted Lahore. Or that another group equipped with similar capabilities, training and even motivation has copied the Mumbai MO.

Since imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery but also of incrimination, the last thing the planners of any supposed tit-for-tat Indian attack would do is unleash armed men with backpacks in a crowded metropolis. The hallmark of an intelligence agency black operation is deniability. The fortuitous arrest of Ajmal Kasab who was supposed to die fighting -- helped India unravel the full extent of the Mumbai conspiracy. Against this backdrop, staging an attack with 12 assailants and Indian ordnance (as some Pakistani channels are speculating) would be an act of such foolishness that it is absurd to think RAW (Indian Research & Analysis Wing) would involve itself in such a risky venture. That it would want to do so at a time when Islamabad is conceding the validity of Indian claims about the involvement of Pakistani nationals in the Mumbai conspiracy simply defies reason.

But if the theory of Indian involvement in Lahore is ridiculous, the Indian side too needs to ask what Tuesday’s copycat attack reveals about the wider motivation and affiliation of the Mumbai attackers. The Mumbai incident was aimed at India, the India-Pakistan peace process and also the civilian government in Pakistan. Lahore is clearly targeted at the third objective, and can be seen, more generally, as an outgrowth of the steady inroads terrorist organisations have made in the heartland of the country. Emboldened by Islamabads capitulation to the Tehrik-e-Nafaaz- e-Shariati-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Swat, as well as the in-fighting within the secular parties, the jihadi groups are upping the ante. Cricket is the most visible icon of secular Pakistan, and perhaps the only competitor militant Islam faces in its struggle to tame the wayward Pakistani mind. The intended target for the attack could well have been the Pakistani team itself, though attacking the Sri Lankan guests serves the additional goal of ensuring the demise of international cricket in the country.

1 comment:

cryptidsrus said...

My condolences to the victims of this attack.
I agree with you that this has gone largely unnoticed here.