Condemnation of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore has been along expected lines: just and swift. Sport as a facet of life is usually held to be above the rut of politics and all else that is base.
Yet, there is more than sport here. The Lankan tour came after India refused to play in Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse described his cricketers as “ambassadors of goodwill”.
In Lankan eyes perhaps, certainly not in Indian eyes: Cricket was being used as a tool to drive home a political point. Relations between countries in South Asia are a zero-sum game: any perceived Indian “victory”, such as Pakistan’s diplomatic and sporting isolation, is sure to be viewed as a loss for all nations smarting under India’s “overbearing” manner.
Indian “interference” in Sri Lanka and the alleged needling of Colombo on the Tamil issue have been sore points in bilateral relations between the two countries for long. Only the other day, India’s minister for external affairs Pranab Mukherjee made noises about a “ceasefire” between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Sri Lankan government called the idea of a ceasefire laughable.
From a Sri Lankan perspective, then, it became imperative to respond to India. Cricketers as ambassadors of goodwill came in handy.
The move has backfired. All that Sri Lankan citizens can do is go blind with impotent rage, while their leaders and those of Pakistan try to contain the damage.
Will the attack result in a change of Lankan perspectives on the subject? The possibility exists, but is remote. Decades of viewing the LTTE as an Indian prop has created the dichotomy of “India’s terrorists” and “terrorists”. As a result, the ability to see terrorism as a “public bad” is diminished, if not altogether absent. The comments of Sri Lankan sports minister Gamini Lokuge, who described the incident as an “isolated terrorist attack”, betray a lack of understanding of the peril posed by the Taliban to South Asia.
The search for serendipity has its cost. Sri Lanka is just discovering that. Hopefully, it will not have to pay too heavy a price.
Did Sri Lanka use cricket as a political tool? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org