Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Not Cricket

Gunmen have attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore. At least six local security officers were killed along with a driver, while seven of the cricketers were injured. Around 10 or 12 individuals actually carried out the attack, and none of them were arrested at the scene.

Some early speculation has put the blame on the Tamil Tigers, currently struggling badly in their struggle for a homeland in Sri Lanka, as the country's government carries out a brutal offensive aimed at wiping them out once and for all. But the attack isn't really their style. The LTTE have traditionally used suicide attacks, and have usually targeted politicians and other officials rather than cricketers. Sri Lanka's greatest ever cricketer, Muttiah Muralitharan, who was on the team bus when it was attacked, is a Tamil himself. It seems extremely unlikely that, even if the Tigers are still capable of carrying out a major terrorist attack, that they would try to kill one of their own.

A better guess is that the attack was the work of Islamist extremists. The similarities to last year's assault on Mumbai in India are striking - the level of planning apparently involved, the gang of about ten gunmen and the apparent use of grenades and rocket launchers. Within India and elsewhere, the Pakistani security services were widely accused of being at the very least complicit in the Mumbai attack, and no doubt similar allegations will now surface about possible Indian involvement in this incident, as retaliation. Whether that's true or not is impossible to judge at this stage, but if such a view becomes widespread, expect the tension between India and Pakistan to rise to levels not seen since the Kashmir crisis of 2002. All-out war between these two nuclear powers seems inconceivable, but don't be surprised if there's a build-up of forces on both sides, and possibly even military incursions into disputed territories, perhaps on the pretext of arresting terrorists. Today's attack could have an impact far greater than the cancellation of a game of cricket.

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