New Delhi/Lahore: Indians are obsessed with cricket. Since the 26 November attacks in Mumbai, they have also been obsessed with terror—and Pakistan, the base from which those terror attacks were planned and orchestrated, according to the Indian and US governments. On Tuesday, the two came together chillingly outside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore where a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team was ambushed by unknown terrorists in an attack that several commentators said was reminiscent of the November attacks across the border.
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India was quick to respond, and also raise the pitch of its own efforts to get Pakistan to take action against terror groups based in the country. A statement issued by the foreign ministry said: “Terrorism based in Pakistan is a grave threat to the entire world. It is in Pakistan’s own interest to take prompt, meaningful and decisive steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure once and for all.”
And foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee added that Pakistan needed to immediately dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism. “There will be a repetition of such incidents if this isn’t done.”
The Congress party, the dominant member of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance, said it didn’t consider Pakistan a victim of terror.
“Pakistan is a victim of its policies. It is erroneous to term it as a victim of terror. It is a time bomb and (the) clock is ticking quickly. (The) Indian government should continue to mobilize international community,” said the party’s spokesperson Manish Tewari.
At the end of Tuesday’s attack, six Sri Lankan cricketers were injured, five of their security guards dead, and cricket in the subcontinent, including April’s Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in India, and 2011 World Cup in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, will likely never be the same again. The Sri Lankan team was filling in for the Indian team which called off a tour of Pakistan in the aftermath of the November attacks.
Terror victim: Medical staff attend to Sri Lnakan player Tharanga Paranavithana at a hospital in Lahore. Reuters
The IPL starts on 10 April, six days before the first phase of balloting in India’s general elections. Home minister P. Chidambaram told NDTV 24X7 news channel that he would be seeking a postponement of the cricket league, the website cricinfo.com reported.
”It will be difficult to provide paramilitary forces for 40 matches and the elections too,” Chidambaram told the channel. ”I don’t want my forces to be stretched. ”
Tuesday was the third day of the second Test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan and being played at the venue where Sri Lanka won the world cup in 1996, beating Australia. Until this series, Pakistan had gone without Test cricket for at least a year because of security concerns.
World Cup in jeopardy
The World Cup “is now in jeopardy” said Ramachandra Guha, a cricket historian, in a telephone interview. “No one will agree to go to Pakistan. That will be a massive blow to cricket in the entire subcontinent.”
The second edition of IPL has already been hit by the economic slowdown in India. Nations, including Australia, have refused to play in Pakistan in recent years and the International Cricket Council first postponed and then took away its Champions Trophy from Pakistan originally scheduled for last September. ICC chief executive officer Haroon Lorgat was quoted as saying that plans for the 2011 World Cup—set to be co-hosted by Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh—would be reviewed within 48 hours, but an ICC spokesman later said there was no time frame for the review.
“We’re obviously going to have a review, but no decision on when has been taken,” ICC spokesman Brian Murgatroyd told The Associated Press.
N. Srinivasan, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said in a phone interview that the IPL would be on schedule. “Every part of the world has to learn to deal with terrorism.” England’s cricket team flew home from India immediately after the November attacks in Mumbai before later returning. The inaugural Champions League Twenty20 competition was also postponed because of those attacks.
That’s particularly true of the subcontinent’s cricket playing nations: Sri Lanka continues to be embroiled in a bitter civil war against separatist Tamil terror groups; Bangladesh is dealing with the aftermath of a mutiny that led to the death of at least 100 people; India has been subjected to frequent terror attacks; and the government in Pakistan is rapidly losing grounds to a variety of terror groups across the country. The country is also in the middle of an economic crisis which the attack can only make worse.
“This is not only an attack on the Sri Lankan team but on Pakistan,” said Shuja Rizvi, director of broking at Capital One Equities Ltd. “Who would want to invest then in Pakistan?”
Lahore police chief Habib-ur-Rehman said five policemen were killed in the attack by unidentified gunmen, who fired AK-47s and rockets and hurled grenades at the bus as it slowed at a traffic circle near the 60,000-seater Gaddafi stadium.
Witnesses saw gunmen with rifles and backpacks running through the streets and firing on people and vehicles around the massive stadium.
“I saw them from the window of my office firing at the police escort first. When the police dispersed after the shooting, they started firing at the bus of Sri Lankan team,” said Mohammad Luqman.
A spokesman for the Sri Lanka high commission in Islamabad said six players were wounded along with assistant coach Paul Farbrace, a Briton.
Sri Lankan and Pakistan media said Thilan Samaraweera seemed to be the worst hit, suffering a thigh injury.
The other Sri Lankan player admitted to hospital was Tharanga Paranavithana.
Reserve umpire Ehsan Raza was also critically wounded, according to Ejaz Butt, chairman of Pakistan’s Cricket Board. It was unclear whether their injuries were caused by bullets, shrapnel or flying shards of glass.
“We are planning to have them airlifted out from there, and then evacuated to Sri Lanka ,” foreign secretary Palitha Kohona said in Colombo.
Punjab governor Salman Taseer told reporters the assailants had been surrounded after being chased into a nearby commercial and shopping area. BBC reported that all 12 attackers managed to escape.
The attack highlights Pakistan’s seeming inability to defeat militancy spreading inside and outside the country and comes at a time when the US is putting pressure on the government to do more to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
“One thing I want to say it’s the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai,” said governor Taseer.
Pakistan’s civilian government has lurched into political crisis less than a year after ex-army chief Pervez Musharraf was forced to quit as president, and the country is braced for street agitation by opposition parties in coming days.
Kamran Haider is with Reuters. Bloomberg’s Jay Shankar, Khalid Qayum and Debarati Roy, Mint’s Ruhi Tewari, and AP contributed to this story.