Archive for March 4th, 2009

[Image, AP]

Today, a police official in Lahore told reporters that about 20 people had been detained in the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in which six police officers were killed and six players were wounded.  The NY Times cited Nasir Bajwa, the deputy superintendent of police in the Model Town section of Lahore, who  said the suspects “were detained Tuesday night, hours after the attack.” He gave no details of the identities of those detained. The Times added, “The owner of a hostel in an area of Lahore close to the attack said the police had detained about 13 students who were at his premises. Muhammad Ashger said the students were arrested around midnight. A rocket launcher and clothes with bloodstains were recovered from the hostel, the police said.”

According to BBC News Wednesday, “Up to 14 gunmen were involved in the attack at the Liberty Square roundabout in the heart of Lahore on Tuesday.” The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan noted that hundreds of people have been questioned in poorer areas of Lahore to find clues to the attackers. However, the BBC reported, although a number of people had been detained, senior police official Haji Habibur Rehman added that little headway had been made in identifying the men.

Investigators are also checking backpacks recovered from nine locations in the city that “were apparently left by the attackers as they escaped.” The BBC reported, “Police say the backpacks contain water bottles and dry food items, indicating that the attackers were preparing for a long operation, as was the case in last year’s attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai.” Meanwhile, the Punjab government has placed advertisements in local newspapers announcing a $125,000 reward for any information that leads to the attackers. The advert, carried on most front pages, features two grainy pictures of the attackers, apparently taken from video footage, noted the BBC.  According to The News,Lahore police also drew sketches of four of the terrorists involved in Tuesday’s terror attacks…The sketches were prepared on the basis of descriptions given by eyewitnesses, car owner and rickshaw driver.” [Image above of the cache of weapons left behind]

Despite these efforts, criticisms [not surprisingly] intensified Wednesday. Former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, head of the PPP-Sherpao, criticized the recent arrests, asserting, “They [the government] want to show to the world they are making arrests…They don’t know anything. There is not any semblance of government.” The Punjab Assembly, meanwhile, condemned the attack and held Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer responsible. According the News, the Assembly promptly called for Taseer’s resignation.

Several media outlets also cited statements made by Chris Broad, a British umpire traveling with the Sri Lankan team, who angrily claimed that police “melted away as the attackers opened fire,” leaving them like “sitting ducks.” He told media outlets, “I am extremely angry that we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished.”

His statements seem to fall in line with a GEO News report that broadcast “exclusive CCTV footage” [see below] of the attackers shooting at the buses in Liberty Square. The news agency reported, “The exclusive footage reveals that attackers carried out the heinous act with full impunity. They started firing indiscriminately on the cricketers’ bus at 8:39 am on March 3 and managed to flee from the spot at 8:46 am. The attackers, as shown in the footage, faced no hindrance and kept lurking about Liberty Chowk area freely. They came toward Firdous market and used the same route for exit. The footage shows attackers in groups who were carrying heavy bags.”

Another article in The News reported that “The Crime Investigation Department (CID), Punjab, had accurately warned the Punjab government on Jan 22, 2009 about an Indian plan to target the Sri Lankan cricket team during its visit to Pakistan.” The news agency added, “The report tagged “SCRET/IMMEDIATE” with subject “SOURCE REPORT” reads: “It has reliably been learned that RAW (Indian intelligence agency) has assigned its agents the task to target Sri Lankan cricket team during its current visit to Lahore, especially while traveling between the hotel and stadium or at hotel during their stay.”

While the GEO development is interesting because it addresses the questions many of us had regarding how the attackers managed to escape, it should still be taken with a grain of salt. So should  the aforementioned article in The News, which reported that RAW was behind the attack. A multitude of theories and allegations are abound, and it’s important to wait until the dust settles before drawing any tangible conclusions.

I do take issue with Broad’s tirade over the lack of security, though. Yes, the attack was horrific and embarrassing because the Sri Lankan cricket team and the umpires should have been afforded much better security.  The Nation cited a former police official who called it a major security lapse, and noted there “was no proper deployment of additional police guards and patrolling from the PC Hotel to the Gaddafi Stadium despite the fact that the convoy of the Sri Lankan team had been declared VVIP.” That I fully agree with and is something they should be held accountable for. But to say that police “melted away” when the attackers appeared? What about the six police officers who died in Tuesday’s attack? The ICC official’s statements completely neglect to mention their sacrifice. To me it symbolized the oft-nameless casualties of violence that are quickly forgotten in the steady stream of press statements and headlines.

The finger-pointing that has ensued following Tuesday’s attack is ironic, to say the least. The shameful incident that occurred in Lahore yesterday showcased a lack of control on the part of the government, but it also exemplified what can occur when politicians are too distracted by infighting to pay attention to the broader issues facing the country. An editorial in today’s Dawn newspaper echoed my sentiment exactly: “The politicians need to wake up, bury the hatchet in the national good and rout the real enemy.” Instead of doing it, though, opposition parties are using it as leverage to blame the government further. The government in turn is trying to save face in light of some pretty stunning allegations.

Yes, someone needs to be held accountable as the country is turned inside out on this witchunt. But have we learned nothing from what injuries our self-interest can cause? What about the people killed and the lives almost lost? What about the threat to our country’s greatest love – cricket, a sport that is not only a national pasttime but one enjoyed by all Pakistanis, regardless of class, ethnicity or religious sect? And more importantly, what about what could happen next if things degenerate further? At the end of the day, if we watch our country go up in flames, the only people we have to blame is ourselves.

Great reads: This NY Times op-ed by Ali Sethi, as well as “An Open letter to the Citizens of Sri Lanka,” by Samad Khurram and Sara Seerat.

UPDATE 3/5: Below, are the sketches of the four suspects the Pakistani police are looking for:

[Image from the NY Times]

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