LAHORE ASSAULT ON CRICKETING FRATERNITY

PREAMBLE

I present two versions of my views re the Lahore Assault on the SL cricket convoy. The first was intended for an Australian audience and was written on Tuesday 10 March, while “Lahore Atrocity” was drafted a day earlier; and was intended for my regular fortnightly column in the Island newspaper in Sri Lanka where it will appear on Saturday 14.  Both make more or less the same points, but the first is more succinct, while the latter has more empirical material.

Both were preceded by a piece written, on request, for Himal South Asian, on 6 March where it has just appeared under the title “Cricket under Siege.” [http://www.himalmag.com/]. I had no clues re the assailants at that point of time.

The item meant for Australian eyes was sent to the Advertiser in Adelaide through a sports journalist who had consulted me on the day after the attack. As I half-expected, the verdict was thus: “Ran it past associate editor …. who in turn took it to the editor. Their view was it was a week too late.” In fact, even the piece drafted by my contact was not published on the week end because some rugby leaguer scandal took precedence.

Good journalists sometimes produce analytical essays that best those by political scientists. But, as we know, the structured tendencies in news-media focus upon hot topics and skip from the Hots A to the Hots B et cetera, et cetera. Whether this derives from the Editorial fraternity’s reading of the character of the popular mind-set or whether it is a particular way of moulding that mind-set I cannot say.

 

Michael Roberts, 14 March 2009

 

+++++++++++++

 

CRICKET & LAHORE: ATROCITIES, SHAMBLES, MIRACLES

 

Michael Roberts

 

Cricket lost its innocence on 3rd March at Lahore. The horrendous assault on the cricketing convoy near the Gadaffi Stadium at Lahore has been an eye-opener to those, among them myself, who did not think cricketers would be targeted.

    The Pakistanis promised presidential level protection. What they delivered was inadequate cover by ordinary policemen who mostly paid for this failure with their lives. The security screen was a shambles. Chris Broad and others hit the nail on the head in castigating the authorities; and the retorts by Butt and Miandad only compounded the image of lunatic incompetency in high places.

   Preliminary readings in Pakistan suggest that the immediate hands behind the atrocity were drawn from either the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or the Lashka-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Both adhere to jihadi ideology of the kind associated with Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

    Such thinking has extended its reach after the regime of General Musharraf was displaced. There has been a power vacuum since, exacerbated by arm-wrestling between President Zardari’s PPP and Nawaz’ Sharif’s PML. The regional government of Punjab overseeing Lahore was recently dismissed as one step in this struggle — so that the police high command was mostly new.

    As one Pakistani analyst described the new context, “the writ of our state is threadbare” and there is “no shortage of groups wishing to undermine the government.” The atrocity at Lahore seems to be the work of jihadists pursuing such an objective by appealing to a particular constituency rather than the cricket-mad Pakistani populace-at-large. Way back in April 2004 the Zarb-e-Taiba, a Lashkar-e-Taiba magazine, proclaimed that “we should throw the bat and seize the sword and instead of hitting six or four, cut the throats of the Hindus and the Jews.” It deemed cricket to be “an evil and sinful sport,” altogether “un-Islamic” in contrast with archery, horse-riding and swimming (Swamy in Hindu, 5 March 2009).

    Understood thus, the Lahore atrocity is a scimitar thrust into the heart of our cherished game. It was a miracle that the cricketing cluster exposed so cruelly at Lahore survived relatively intact, with only three serious injuries. The Sri Lankan coach was saved in part by the work of their intrepid driver. We may never know why the militants, who wandered off nonchalantly, did not advance to wipe out the officials who were sitting ducks (flat on stomach actually) in the mini-bus.

    Chris Broad stood tall at this perilous moment. In the coach, as several reports indicate, the Lankan cricketers, 3 Aussies and one Brit faced the ordeal calmly. The “composure of the Sri Lankan cricket team,” said David Hopps, “has been extraordinary [for] there have been no recriminations, no histrionics, just a team grateful to have survived.” Mahela Jaywardene typically attributed this good fortune to karma: “I am a Buddhist and I think we have done some merit in our previous birth to escape with minor injuries.”

   This fortitude was complemented by the judicious reviews expressed by the Sri Lankan team’s leaders, Jayawardene and Sangakkara. Their restraint stands in contrast with the widespread rush to conclusions in Australia justifying the refusal to tour Pakistan by Australia Cricket in recent years.  Such a self-serving verdict is of a-historical cast. For one, it glosses over the political transformations outlined earlier in this article. For another it slides over the fact that other sides toured Pakistan in the recent past without any problems. South Africa toured in October 2003 and October 2007, India in March 2004 and January 2006, and Sri Lankan in October 2004. Indeed, the Indian tour of 2004 produced elevating cricket, generous crowd appreciation of both sides and served as a heart-warming tale of cricketing diplomacy within the tempestuous saga of Indo-Pakistan political relations.

    As erudite as intelligent, Kumar Sangakkara’s remarks underline the changed circumstances. Let me quote him selectively in logical order:

  • “We had always felt pretty safe in Pakistan …. It shows how naïve we were. …With hindsight, we probably underestimated the security threat.”
  • “We realise now that sports people and cricketers are not above being attacked. All the talk that ‘no one would target cricketers’ seems so hollow now. Far from being untouchable, we are now prize targets for extremists. That’s an uncomfortable reality we have to come to terms with.”

    IN HINDSIGHT. NOW. That is the central facet of Sangakkara’s reflections. Here, in this assessment, we have a corrective to those media comments that focus on Pakistan alone. It highlights the grim realities facing cricket in its grand forms everywhere. The batsman’s helmet now has to be supplemented with a ‘steel grille’ of commandoes as security screen around our flannelled fools.

 

+++++++++++++

 


THE
LAHORE ATROCITY: OUR CRICKETING AMBASSADORS

 

                                                                             Michael Roberts

 

Till recently Chaminda Vaas would have had fond recollections of the Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore. He was in the squad that faced up to Aussie power during the World Cup Finals on 17 March 1996 and prevailed so magnificently. But on Tuesday 3rd March he was among the Sri Lankan cricketers who underwent a different type of ordeal and survived with fortitude and a good measure of luck.

    Cricketers and officials had been promised presidential level security. Instead they were provided with the services of ordinary policemen in inadequate number. The number was reduced that fatal Tuesday because, as happens so often in Asia, some Pakistani players were late and the protective squad was halved.

   The convoy was ambushed at an intersection near the stadium. Though the tyres of the coach had been shot up, the driver, Meyer Mohammed Khalil, urged on by those inside, sped away to safety. With their driver dead, the officials and umpires in the mini-bus went through an experience that was even more harrowing.

    The criticisms directed at the Pakistani authorities by Chris Broad and others are wholly justified; and the strident counter-criticism essayed by Ijaz Butt and Javed Miandad reveal what idiots they are. The failure of the Pakistani establishment was a monstrous one. It was a miracle that only six policemen and one driver died; and that the cricketing component in the convoy survived with only 2 or 3 serious injuries.

   Many issues surround the analysis of this criminal act. Two can only generate speculative answers, but provide insights nevertheless. Question One: would the assailants have gone through with their attack if the Pakistani team coach was part of the convoy? Question Two: given that the mini-bus was stranded and there were no walking policemen in sight, why didn’t the militant squad advance and finish the officials off? The latter ‘failure’ suggests either a degree of amateurishness or a conscious decision to retire unhurriedly because they had made their point.

   These are issues for intelligent Pakistanis to pursue as part of a wider investigation seeking the perpetrators and uncovering their motives. As I write, preliminary readings in Pakistan suggest that the immediate hands behind the atrocity are drawn from either the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or the Lashka-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) jihadi groups.

   Rather than deep conspiracy theories reaching beyond Pakistan, the most sensible focus seems to be one that reviews the expansion of Taliban ideologies in the heart of Pakistan. As one Pakistan analysis put it: “There is no shortage of highly-competent well-armed and trained groups within our own borders capable of such an operation. They have no need of foreign assistance or foreign money – there are plenty of people here happy to finance them and offer logistical support. No shortage either of groups wishing to undermine the government and capable of exploiting a perceived weakness caused by the confusion rife in the Punjab police force; a product of the political [transfer] of senior officers in the wake of the imposition of governor rule” (http://thenews.jang.com.pk/daily_detail. asp?id=165515).

    The ideological imperatives driving these extremists are seen in the position pressed in Zarb-e-Taiba, a Lashkar-e-Taiba magazine, in April 2004: “We should throw the bat and seize the sword and instead of hitting six or four, cut the throats of the Hindus and the Jews”

    The cricket convoy, you will say, had only one Hindu and no Jews. Yes. But take note of their following lines: “the sports of a mujahid are archery, horse-riding and swimming. Apart from these sports, every hobby is un-Islamic. The above are not just sports but exercises for jihad. Cricket is an evil and sinful sport” (Praveen Swami in The Hindu, 5 March 2009).

    The preliminary indications, therefore, suggest that the motives are informed by Taliban-style jihadist thinking that saw the attack as a means of undermining the Pakistani governments at both regional and federal levels, while yet earning plaudits within a particular jihadist constituency.

                                    *          *          *          *          *

Whatever the goals of the militants, we can applaud both the Sri Lankan squad and the umpire/official cluster for the fortitude with which they met this severe trial. As the Pakistani authoress, Kamila Shamsie, told me in an email note, the “Sri Lankan players have been extraordinary in all this.” Elsewhere David Hopps has praised their “composure” and the fact that “there have been no recriminations, no histrionics, just a team grateful to have survived.” Indeed, he notes that even though the team was aware beforehand that the security arrangements were minimal, they had “presum[ed] themselves too small to be noticed [and] just got on with it” (Guardian, 4 March 2009).

    No more will such complacency prevail, said Hopps. The world of international cricket is now confronting a different ball park. As erudite as intelligent, Kumar Sangakkara underlined the changed circumstances. Let me quote him selectively in logical order:

  • “We had always felt pretty safe in Pakistan …. It shows how naïve we were. …With hindsight, we probably underestimated the security threat.”
  • “We realise now that sports people and cricketers are not above being attacked. All the talk that “no one would target cricketers” seems so hollow now. Far from being untouchable, we are now prize targets for extremists. That’s an uncomfortable reality we have to come to terms with.”

    Along one dimension Sangakkara’s remarks provide a corrective to the self-serving commentary of Australian media outlets that interpreted the event as a justification for Australia’s past, weak-kneed policy of refusing to tour Pakistan. This widespread Australian viewpoint was, firstly, self-justification of a-historical cast, one that failed to note the several tours undertaken by numerous teams in the last five years. Secondly, such an viewpoint does not attend to the changes in the Pakistan political scene in the recent past, notably the collapse of Musharraf’s authoritarian regime, the development of a power vacuum and the recent intervention of the federal government to effect an overturn in the Punjab provincial government (including its police) responsible for the Lahore region.

    Along another dimension, two facets of Sangakkara’s summary deserve highlighting: “in hindsight” and “now.” Together they provide a corrective to those media comments that focus on Pakistan alone, a pointer to the grim realities facing cricket in its grand forms everywhere. Cricketing authorities have immediately taken the cue and are already looking ahead towards beefing up security at their principal grounds.

    Where Dhoni has had to hire security guards to keep Indian women at bay, now, such precautions seem like lace finery in comparison with the steel grilles that may envelope our cricketing heroes in the near-future.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: