Islamabad: Pakistani police hunted on Wednesday for gunmen who mounted the bold attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Lahore and officials scrambled to figure out who was behind it.
The attack that killed eight people, six of them Pakistani police, plunged Pakistan into a “state of war”, Rehman Malik, the prime minister’s interior adviser, said.
“Be patient, we will flush all these terrorists out of the country,” he added.
Six members of the Sri Lankan team and a British coach were wounded in the daylight attack as their bus approached the cricket stadium. None was so seriously hurt they had to be left behind when the squad departed for Colombo on Tuesday night.
The Sri Lanka cricketers were reunited with their families early on Wednesday. ”It’s great to be back in Sri Lanka with our families and loved ones,” Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene told Reuters after the team’s arrival home.
Sri Lankan cricket captain Mahela Jayawardene speaks with journalists after returning in Colombo on 4 March 2009. AFP photo
Five players and assistant coach Paul Farbrace were sent to Nawaloka hospital in central Colombo for checks on their injuries.
In New Zealand, cricket officials said they expect to cancel this year’s scheduled tour of Pakistan and play the series in a neutral venue in the wake of the attack.
“We are not going. I think that’s pretty clear. I don’t see any international team will be going to Pakistan in the forseeable future,” New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan told local radio on Wednesday.
Shortly after, Vaughan released a statement partly backtracking, saying no official decision had yet been made.
Vaughan said the tour was unlikely to go ahead but New Zealand officials needed to consult with the Pakistan Cricket Board and international cricket officials.
Separately New Zealand Football announced cancellation of the Indonesian leg of its national team’s upcoming tour of Southeast Asia. It said the decision was over security concerns but unrelated to the Pakistan cricket attack.
Pakistan has reeled under a wave of bomb and gun attacks in recent years, mostly carried out by Islamist terrorists linked to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, but arch nationalists would relish a link being found between rival India and the Lahore attack.
The incident had echoes of an attack on Mumbai last November in which around 179 people were killed and which led to the Indian cricket team cancelling its planned tour of Pakistan, and a Sri Lankan team taking its place.
The group blamed by India for the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) came from Pakistan’s Punjab province whose capital is Lahore.
The police chief in Punjab province announced some arrests, without saying if any gunmen were among those picked up.
Journalists were shown weapons found at the scene and at other locations, including 10 AK-47 rifles, two rocket grenade launchers, 32 hand grenades and plastic explosives.
Focus on terrorism
The United States wants Pakistan focused on fighting terrorism, but there are worries President Asif Ali Zardari’s civilian government could be engulfed by multiple crises less than a year after taking power.
US Vice President Joe Biden will consult Nato allies in Brussels next week as part of a strategy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Obama, his office said on Tuesday.
Aside from militancy radiating across the northwest from the borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan desperately needs billions of dollars of aid to supplement a bail out by the International Monetary Fund last November.
Pakistan has arrested a few LeT members. India and other governments are watching to see how forcefully Pakistan follows through on its investigation as LeT has had close ties with Pakistani intelligence agencies in the past.
Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, initially said the same people who carried out the attack on Mumbai were responsible for the latest in Lahore, but was more circumspect addressing a news conference late on Tuesday.
“We are not blaming anybody or holding anybody responsible like India did,” Taseer said.
A former Pakistani spy chief with Islamist sympathies speculated the attack could have been carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels backed by Indian intelligence as a payback for what happened in Mumbai.
“It’s all too obvious that it is the handiwork of the Indian intelligence,” retired general Hamid Gul said.
Punjab Governor Taseer called for people to unite, but the country is anything but united.
Elections to parliament’s upper house, the Senate, will be held on Wednesday under the shadow of a crisis that gripped Pakistan for the past week and sent share prices tumbling.
Zardari dismissed the provincial government in Punjab led by his arch rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after the Supreme Court decided Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif were disqualified from holding elective office.
The Sharifs say Zardari was behind the court decision and their party has begun street agitation in cities across Punjab.