Friday, November 13, 2009

Liberty attack -- whodunit?

The News, March 8, 2009


Liberty attack -- whodunit?

By Omar R. Quraishi

Not even two hours had gone by and several TV channels had all kinds of 'experts' coming on air and giving their -- mostly half-baked and should I dare say absurd-sounding -- theories on who or what may be behind the attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus as it travelled through Liberty Market.

In most cases, and quite disturbingly so, several of the 'analysts' and 'experts' took the very dangerous line suggesting that "oh no Pakistani could ever do such a thing" and that since a country like India would benefit the most from such an incident, it may well be that the Liberty attacks were an Indian response to last year's Mumbai attacks. As always, no proof or even past circumstantial evidence of any kind was proffered to substantiate this. The TV anchors listening to such comments failed to point out the necessary caveat that such comments should be contextualised in the light of the fact that a couple of hours had just gone by and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to surmise about who the attackers may be.

The office of the Punjab director-general of public relations -- a completely useless post in any government -- was the first to throw an egg on its face when it began saying that the Sri Lankan team was not the target of trained terrorists (something that the television footage was clearly showing) but that it was caught in crossfire between two qabza groups. Strange that the members of these qabza groups looked suspiciously like Ajmal Kasab clones complete with backpacks, jackets and trainers.

Some journalists covering the incident were quick to point out that just the other day more police could be seen deployed on this route but one reason for the removal could be the Punjab government's preoccupation with PML-N activists. But what is rightly suspicious is the delay with which police reinforcements appeared on the scene given that according to most reports, the firing went on for almost half an hour. Liberty Market is one of Lahore's most central shopping areas and close to several police stations and check posts and it shouldn't have taken long for police to arrive. Of course, it may well be nothing more than cowardice that explains the delay, or there could be a sinister angle to it as well. However, this is an aspect that needs to be scrutinised thoroughly by government investigators. Also, how could so many attackers leave the scene of such an incident unchallenged? Yes, the police were under fire and yes Liberty has many exits via side streets into neighbouring residential Gulberg. But it still boggles the mind that these people managed to escape in the manner that they did.

As for the footage of the attackers, it clearly showed that they were indeed dressed like Ajmal Kasab and company. And this led one to think that perhaps Lashkar does have a motive in that it must surely be very upset with the civilian government for taking a hard line on it vis-à-vis the Mumbai attacks and possibly wanted to deeply embarrass the government. Six Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders have been arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan recently indicated, after severe international pressure, that it may be prepared to prosecute them for involvement in the attack.

The incident is also a stinging reminder to all those who often criticised foreign teams such as the Australians and the South Africans for not visiting Pakistan. The preposterous argument often would have these people bring in England's return to India after the Mumbai attacks, ignoring the plain and simple fact that the situation in India is simply not what it is in Pakistan. The poor Sri Lankans have obviously learnt the hard way. But it should now be clear to everyone that no foreign team, for playing cricket or any other sport, is going to come to Pakistan in the foreseeable future. And yes, what these people need to do is to pressurise the government and the military to tackle extremism and terrorism in the country, which is clearly out of control.

These people are of course no match for those who still think that India or some foreign power is perhaps behind this attack. They only need to look as far as people like Fazlullah, Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, Masood Azhar or groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba or Lashkar-e- Jhangvi to see that Pakistanis is in fact are very much responsible for such acts and that those orchestrating them are from very much within the country's borders. And the sooner this is realised and publicly acknowledged the better because with that the fight against terrorism and militancy is already half lost without firing a single bullet/shell/mortar. Those pushing the accord in Swat also need to re-assess their position in the light of the Liberty attacks. To say that the Taliban are not behind the attacks -- which is something that cannot be entirely ruled out in any case -- because of a current ceasefire and because of the Swat deal is to miss the point that groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant outfits can and do operate independently but share an ideology and objectives that are often the same as those of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The role of some of those who came on television was especially pernicious -- and they know who they are and we know who their backers are -- particularly the outlandish theory that the attackers had crossed over from India at the Wagha border a few days ago. One in particular took the cake. He said there was considerable 'circumstantial evidence' which included the fact that Punjab shared a border with India (surprise! surprise!) and that the attackers looked like the Mumbai terrorists. Without realising that he had put his foot in his mouth by the latter statement -- since Mumbai's attackers have been owned up by the government of Pakistan as having gone in a boat from Pakistan -- this gentleman further claimed that the attackers in fact looked like Tamils and hence they were probably Tamil Tigers.

No comment is necessary for making sense of what clearly is nonsense and a dangerously deliberate move on the part of some to obfuscate the possible true identity of the attackers. Their handlers and patrons must be feeling oh-so-happy.

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email:

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