EDITORIAL: Al Qaeda strikes in Lahore…
The Sri Lankan cricket team playing in Lahore was attacked Tuesday morning by terrorists, injuring three team members and killing seven police personnel guarding the team. Twelve terrorists arrived in rickshaws, took positions, surrounded the van bringing the Sri Lankans to Gaddafi Stadium, fired on it for 25 minutes and then made good their escape. They were armed with rockets, hand grenades and kalashnikovs. The attack was caught on camera and shown by the TV channels in the morning. The cricket series has been called off and the Sri Lankans have gone home, shaken by what they have gone through.
Governor Salmaan Taseer, who arrived on the scene, stated that the attack was carried out by the same people who had executed the Mumbai attacks last year. That attack was traced to members of Lashkar-e Tayba or Jama’at-ud Dawa, some of whose planners are being investigated. On the day the attack on the cricket team in Lahore occurred, the newspapers carried news that Al Qaeda had owned up the Marriott Hotel blast of September 2008 in a message sent to the Saudi embassy in Islamabad. On December 22, 2008, the adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, Mr Rehman Malik, had told the National Assembly that the Marriott blast was carried out by Lashkar-e Jhangvi.
In her interviews before she was assassinated, Ms Benazir Bhutto had revealed that the attack on her procession in Karachi in October 2007 was carried out by the gang of “Abdul Rehman Sindhi, an Al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) militant from the Dadu district of Sindh”. After her assassination in December 2008, an Al Qaeda spokesman claimed having killed “an American asset”. The LeJ is a sectarian outfit, created in 1996, and trained by Al Qaeda in its camps in Afghanistan. In the late 1990s, whenever the government of Pakistan demanded the handover of LeJ killers, the Taliban government, backed by Al Qaeda, steadily refused the demand.
There are other signs that the LeJ is an ally of Al Qaeda. The record of Lashkar-e Jhangvi as the policy instrument of Al Qaeda is quite impressive. Today it is one of a number of erstwhile jihadi militias aligned with Al Qaeda in their war against Pakistan. In May 2002, a New Zealand cricket team abandoned its tour of Pakistan after an LeJ suicide bomber attacked them in front of their hotel in Karachi.
LeJ was closely aligned with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the master-planner of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. When the British national Omar Sheikh, sprung from an Indian jail by Jaish-e Muhammad after the hijack of an Indian airliner in 1999, led the American journalist Daniel Pearl into a trap in Karachi in January 2002, the trap was actually a group of terrorists of LeJ who finally facilitated Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in personally slaughtering Pearl in a safe house belonging to a charity trust linked to a madrassa in Karachi and active in Afghanistan, and banned as a terrorist organisation.
The latest Lahore attack was not a suicide-bombing which usually indicates circumstances of reduced possibilities for the terrorists; it was an operation where the terrorists saw an open-space opportunity where a drilled squad of terrorists could accomplish the mission. The Sri Lankan team’s logistics was studied and a place was chosen where their van could be intercepted. The police preparation for the team’s security obviously did not include a set-piece battle where a travelling row of vehicles could actually be stopped with rocket-launchers and grenades, allowing the killers to fire directly into the van. What they had in mind was probably the kind of unsuccessful attack suffered by President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in 2003.
Despite many occasions when Al Qaeda has owned up its attacks in Pakistan — one was when an Al Qaeda spokesman declared that the Danish embassy in Islamabad was attacked by an Al Qaeda suicide-bomber — few Pakistanis believe that Al Qaeda is dangerous for Pakistan. In a number of TV discussions, educated audiences have expressed the verdict that either Al Qaeda does not exist or it does not represent any danger to Pakistan. This trend is strengthened by so-called “careful” reporting from places where journalists like Musa Khankhel of Swat are exposed to the danger of being killed. It is also strengthened by the regular acquittal of LeJ terrorists from courts where judges are not protected by the state. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: …and effect on national politics
An even more dangerous trend is of recent birth. On February 23, 2009, “under instructions” from Mullah Umar and “sheikh” Osama bin Laden, the three feuding warlords of Waziristan — Baitullah Mehsud, Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur — announced reconciliation and merger under the rubric of Shura Ittehad Mujahideen (SIM). They also issued a pamphlet that vowed the targeting of Al Qaeda’s three enemies: “Obama, Zardari and Karzai”. Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) subsequently announced that it would no longer fight the Pakistan army. But the announcement of “Zardari” as a target while letting the Pakistan army off the hook is a menacing signal for Pakistani politics.
International cricket is no longer possible in Pakistan; therefore we should stop accusing foreign teams of discriminating against Pakistan vis-à-vis India. The question here is of the survival of Pakistan, not of cricket. The country is split down the middle, its two mainstream parties getting ready to face each other in the streets amid rising violence. The politicians and other civil society organisations protesting against the government have so far enjoyed the “exemption” from terrorism allowed by Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, it seems they are not going to give up confrontation to unite against Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda is hardly interested in the restoration of the deposed judges or the correct observance of democratic rules in Pakistan. It wants Pakistan as its own state, armed with nuclear weapons and an economy that can sustain global terrorism. It would be a pity if Pakistan responds, like an ex-ISI boss who has already done so, by accusing India’s RAW or Israel’s Mossad for this attack, as some commentators did in reference to the Marriott blast when an Indo-Pak media war was sparked by the Mumbai attacks.