'Cricket' attack marks a shift in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Pakistan might recently have signed peace deals with miltants in its
tribal areas, including with vehment anti-establishment Pakistan Taliban leader
Baitullah Mehsud, but miltants on Tuesday staged a brazen attack in Lahore, the
capital of Punjab province and the second-largest city in the country.
The attack by 12 heavily armed gunmen on a convoy escorted by police
transporting Sri Lankan cricketers to a match against Pakistan has set off
alarm bells in the capital Islamabad that miltants are now taking their battle
into major urban centers.
At least five people died and six of the cricketers were injured in a 25-minute
battle in which militants wearing backpacks and
carrying AK-47s, rockets and grenades fought police. The assailants then all
fled. The Sri Lankan cricketers have called off their tour and are heading home
The attack bore some similarity to that of 10 well-armed gunmen, also with
backpacks, who rampaged through Mumbai in India last November, killing 140
people. They were later found to have connections to the banned Pakistani group
"This was a planned terrorist attack. They had heavy weapons," Salman Taseer,
who heads the provincial government as governor of Punjab, was reported as
saying. "These were the same methods and the same sort of people as hit
Numerous Pakistani analysts have been quick to point a finger at India's
Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for staging what they say is a tit-for-tat
attack on Tuesday, although there is been no official announcement in this
A press attache at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Islamabad thought it highly
unlikely that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who a waging a bloody
separatist war in Sri Lanka, had anything to do with Tuesday's events.
Rather, judging by what was shown on Pakistani television, the attack is the
hallmark of those that were waged by militants (many of them Punjabi) against
Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir up until a few years ago.
They were trained by the Indian cell of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence
In 2005-06, these militants joined forces with the Pakistani Taliban and the
Afghan resistance after Pakistan closed down their training camps in
Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a move that changed the dynamics of the war
theater in the region.
Beside the Mumbai attack, Tuesday's assault was similar to the storming of the
Serena Hotel in the Afghan capital of Kabul in January 2008 and the
unsuccessful July 2008 attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. In all
of these incidents, the attackers abandoned their weapons and quickly melted
into a thickly populated area of the city where, apparently, they were whisked
away by waiting colleagues.
Retired Lieutenant General Hamid Nawaz, a former interim minister the Interior
and a close aide of former president General Pervez Musharraf, commented to
Asia Times Online, "This proves that striking peace deals [with militants] will
not serve any purpose and there is a need to handle them with iron hands. I
blame the government for negligence.
"Providing a single elite police commondo bus was not enough. They should have
been provided VIP [very important people] security like the state provides for
governors and chief ministers. Traffic should have been blocked on their
route," Nawaz said.
Former Pakistani cricketer Zaheer Abbas said, "I am not a politician to comment
on who was behind it, but it has damaged Pakistani cricket very badly. I don't
understand why anybody would target Sri Lankans because they don't have any
role in the region. There might be some forces who want to damage the cause of
Pakistan and Pakistani cricket."
Pakistani analysts, including retired General Hamid Gul, who is a former head
of the ISI, blame India's RAW.
However, there is no precedence for RAW having the capability to carry out such
attacks in Pakistan. Its operations in Pakistan have been of two kinds,
according to the records of Pakistani security agencies, documented in files
and books narrated by their retired officials:
Small bomb blasts in urban centers.
The use of Indophile political parties such as the Awami League in 1970, the
Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party, the Baloch separatist group the
Baloch Libration Army and the Muttehida Quami Movement.
However, these parties were always used in a limited political context. For
creating a law-and-order situation in the country, RAW has always used bomb
blasts and other small-level sabotage activities. It has never had the
capacity, like the ISI had in India, to use armed groups to carry out guerrilla
activities in Pakistan.
More pertinent is to view Tuesday's attack in the context of the peace deals in
the Swat Valley and the tribal areas which have stopped the fighting between
ethnic Pashtun-dominated militants and the Pakistani army.
Prior to the signing of the deals, the matter of the release of militants who
did not belong to the Swat area was raised, that is, non-Pashtun militants.
These included Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was apprehended while trying to flee the
radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad in July 2007.
However, after deciding on the level of compensation packages for the families
of militants killed or injured by the security forces and other matters related
to Swat and the tribal areas, the matter of non-Pashtun militants was deferred
and the peace agreements were signed.
In effect, non-Pashtun militants have been ignored and the attack in Lahore
could be a bloody message to the government that the "Punjabi militants" have
the capacity to cripple urban centers at any time and place of their choosing.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]