By Michael Roberts –
A few years back I studied the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team when they were on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore during the course of their Test Match vs Pakistan in 2009. This analysis is available as “Cricket under Siege: The Lahore Attack, 3 March 2009,” in my book Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lanka Cricket (Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011). I did not interview Brendon Kuruppu, the SL Team Manager, till after that work was presented. Since he presented a lucid account of his experiences, that essay lacks some of his insights.
Let me set out some intriguing aspects of that incident of terror. I do so in point-form — in order to hit the boundary more often so to speak.
1. The incident was preceded by a conflict between the provincial government of Punjab and the central government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – a clash which led the central government to intervene and insert a satrap of its own choice as Governor. So, we must consider the possibility that some disaffected locals – Punjabi regionalists in other words – used the international arena of cricket to send a message to the government and to the world.
2. The sprawling state of Pakistan has numerous jihadist elements motivated by Salafi ideology and/or Taliban sentiments. Some of these elements are also hostile towards the governments because they believe that the ruling elements are not pursuing suitably tough or suitably Islamist pursuits in several arenas including that of Kashmir. So, it is possible that one of these extremist jihadist cells decided to send a message to the Pakistani ruling classes.
3. Several jihadist thinkers may conceivably think that the sabre is a more important weapon of the hour than a cricket bat … and that Pakistani people should not waste their time on the cricket field. How better to rub home that message than disrupting – if not decimating – a cricketing team.
4. Purveyors of terror and hate have affinities. This affinity can sometimes stimulate strange alliances. As the LTTE in Sri Lanka faced imminent defeat in late 2008/early 2009 during the course of Eelam War IV, did the extensive networks of the LTTE within the world order reach some Pakistani jihadist elements and incite a contract job. I do not have even a puff of evidence in support of such a hypothesis. However, it is logical conjecture.
Intriguing Questions Of Detail
5. Both cricket teams were staying at the same hotel in Lahore and it was the accepted procedure for both team buses to leave at the same time with a police escort. HOWEVER, the Pakistani cricketers were late and therefore the Sri Lankan bus and the mini-bus with ICC officials left at the stipulated time or thereabouts – with (I think) half the police escort.
6. So, the question arises: was this lateness the usual, typical Asian sin of lateness OR was it induced and manufactured by those waiting to attack the cricketing entourage.
7. Each bus had a conductor as well as a driver but on that day the SL bus conductor was absent. Had he been forewarned? Or somehow delayed by some intervening hand?
8. The jihadist attack occurred at a roundabout about a mile or so from Gaddafi Stadium. The assailants had a hand-held rocket launcher as well as automatic guns. A missile was aimed at the bus, but missed. Was this a mistake—nature playing its hand via lack of consummate bull’s-eye skill? … ….. Or, was it a deliberate miss? How could one fail to hit a large object at relatively close quarters?
9. The driver of the mini-van bearing the umpires and ICC officials was hit and died on the spot. The mini-van sat there – a stranded whale. So, why didn’t the assailants move in and eliminate the whole body of personnel (including Chris Broad*, Steve, Davis**, Simon Taufel, Ahsan Raza, Nadeem Ghauri, Abdul Sami, and Peter Manuel – in effect erasing the ethnographic gem that the last named Manual provided me***.
10. The video footage of the incident reveals that some of the assailants (in everyday clothes) mounted mo-peds or motor cycles and went away – in cool unhurried manner. What does that fact mean? Re-reading my article I note that there were 12 gunmen using assault rifle and at least one grenade launcher. Six policemen, the mini-van driver and one bystander died in the attack. The remaining policemen simply “melted away” (in umpire Peter Manuel’s words).
11. Why was the police escort made up of ordinary policemen rather than commando cops? Why did the Pakistan authorities fail to sustain their promise to the ICC re the provision of full security?
12. What has the Pakistani government done about this incident? And has the government of Sri Lanka sought/pursued an explanation?
13. Has the Pakistani government and its security agencies addressed the questions 6-10 that I have raised above?
14. I note there that in subsequent years the Pakistani state has located extremist jihadist elements on the odd occasion and eliminated them or arrested them. On some of these occasions it has been imputed that X or Y were the cell that attacked the ICC entourage. These imputations have been unconvincing.
15. The analysis of the whole incident by the corpus of Pakistani editors and journalists seems to have been as negligible as putrid. But this comment may be ill-informed and a measure of my own ignorance – based on the reasoning that any worthwhile effort from the Pakistan end would find its way to the international circuit. Since I have not seen such results, ergo the Pakistani media gets a zero for effort.
*Broad is one of the unsung heroes of this terrifying incident. When Umpire Ahsan Raza was hit and bleeding, Broad attempted to stem the flow of blood and thereafter ordered a policeman who had sought shelter in the van to drive the van to the cricket stadium.
**I really thought that was the end of it I thought that was our moment,” Davis told ABC radio subsequently (see Roberts 2011: 147). Alas, he was less forthcoming when I chatted with himat a function for cricketers during the World Cup in 2011. I indicated that I was from Adelaide, his home town, and asked him if we could discuss the incident at leisure later. He was firm: he did not wish to go there. Cést la Vie.
***I banged into him accidentally at Premadasa Stadium, Khettarama during some rain-affected international match.