Tuesday, March 3, 2009

SRI LANKAN PLAYERS....The Lahore mayhem

The Frontier Post
A huge security lapse it was unquestioningly, this terrorist attack in Lahore on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket players. As the Indians are still vindictively accusing Pakistani agencies for the Mumbai assault and were also angry with Colombo for allowing its team to play in Pakistan, an extraordinary security net was essentially needed to protect the Sri Lankan players. Obviously, that umbrella was not there, for which we squarely blame both President Asif Zardari and the Sharif brothers. With their politics of confrontation, they have plunged Punjab into a boiling political turbulence, to cope with which the provincial security apparatus's big chunk has been apportioned out, leaving just a sprinkle for safety of the whole lot of the populous Punjab's swarming population and our valuable foreign visitors, as these Sri Lankans were. But then neither Zardari nor Nawaz is a Nelson Mandela. For his nation's greater good, this giant of a leader and a statesman par excellence buried his personal hatchet with his three-decade-long tormentors, a racist White minority, preached mutual tolerance and accommodation to his black majority with its centuries-old oppressive White colonial masters and worked hard for the two to coexist and thrive together. It was a Nelson Mandela that the people of Pakistan needed at this critical time to lead it to surmount the gigantic existential threats confronting it so menacingly. Instead, to its great misfortune, it has landed with these two, who are not even a politico worth the salt but just pigmies with myopic mind and barren intellect, driven not by the nation's interests but their own personal agendas and fracas. Even a bloke knows this country is in the throes of a vicious international conspiracy to hurt and cripple it. In the western military academies, their strategists are teaching their trainees on a new world map on which Pakistan does not exist at all as it is today, but as a fragmented land absorbed in regional geographical entities. And knowledgeable people are extremely worked up over the intriguing happenings in and around this country. It is not just the homegrown fanaticism they are distressed at. Their worries are swirling sky-high over the inspirations, inducements and incitements streaming in torrentially from the outside to subvert this nation's unity and solidarity and disjoint its territorial integrity. Money and arms are flooding in here in spates for these outside powers' proxies; even their agents they are infiltrating to fight on their proxies' side against our security forces. And Afghanistan has virtually become a lair of all the inimical agencies working against this country, and the main base of the evil axis of America's CIA, India's RAW, Israel's Mossad and the Northern Alliance-controlled Afghan intelligence agency, Central Directorate of Security. This axis is creating history for hurting this country, as part of their common geopolitical objective of reshaping this region, dismantling Pakistan, disabling China here and encircling it from here. The Lahore assault, too, speaks of a sinister plot, bearing a sophisticated planning and execution beyond the pale of a rig-rag outfit. Yet, undistracted and unconcerned, Zardari and Nawaz are engrossed in their own power plays. The others too are no better. Internal security czar Rehman Malik after mumbling about foreign involvement in Balochistan and tribal region has long fallen stone silent. The prime minister spoke only once or twice of Uzbek, Arab, and Afghan foreign fighters battling on Swati thug Fazlullah's side. The Frontier Corps chief has reiterated feebly that fighting against his formation in Bajaur are also Afghans, Sudanese and Egyptians, making up nearly half of the enemy force of Taliban, a generic term easily covering up the evil axis's proxies and agents. Frontier Chief Minister has at last admitted of foreign fighters in Swat, although his information minister still peddles the bunk that Pakistan army and the ISI are in league with the Swati thug's brigands, as do the dollar- and euro-laden think tanks. Nawaz never ever speaks of it; nor does Zardari; he simply says extremists want to capture the state of Pakistan, never defining who these extremists actually are. It is this inept and lackadaisical leadership that has let down our venerable Sri Lankan guests and this nation in their eyes. We salute them. They dared to come where the Australians and the Indians had refused to come. We apologise to them for our security apparatus's failure to protect them. And we also grieve for the police cops and civilians, killed or wounded in the assault. They were brave people. We pray for them.

No international Cricket in Pakistan unless security improves : ICC Chief

LONDON: Pakistan cannot host international cricket unless it dramatically improves security, the head of the sport's world body said after Tuesday's Lahore attacks, questioning notably the 2011 World Cup."In the current situation it clearly is a very dangerous place," David Morgan, president of the International Cricket Council, told media after the deadly attacks on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore.
Asked about plans for the World Cup, due to be played in four Indian subcontinent countries, Morgan said: "Things will have to change dramatically in Pakistan in my opinion if any of the games are to be staged there."I think that international cricket in Pakistan is out of the question until there is a very significant change, a regime change I guess," he added.An ICC spokesman said he assumed Morgan was referring to a call by Pakistani senators this week for the Pakistani cricket board to be sacked.Eight people died when the Sri Lankan cricket team's convoy was attacked by masked gunmen as they traveled to play at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. Seven team members were injured.Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain Wajid Hasan meanwhile told British media that it was too early to talk of the end of international cricket in his country."I wouldn't like to rush to that sort of conclusion," he said.

Sri Lankan FM Rohitha Bogollagama due in Islamabad today

ISLAMABAD: Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama is due to arrive Islamabad today (Wednesday) for brief visit of Pakistan as a Special Envoy of the Sri Lankan President.During his visit, Rohitha Bogollagama will hold meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, his counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior, Rehman Malik, over issues pertaining to attack on Sri Lankan Team, with investigation of the incident to be the top agenda during his meetings with Pakistani leadership.It is also expected that Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama will address a press conference at Sri Lankan High Commission in which he will announce priorities of his government.

Killings, kidnappings jeopardise Pakistan Swat truce

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A fragile ceasefire in Pakistan's insurgency-hit Swat valley was hanging by a thread Tuesday after two soldiers were killed in an ambush and suspected Islamists kidnapped two local officials.
Pakistani troops and Taliban fighters traded accusations about violating a two-week ceasefire in the northwest former ski resort -- ripped apart by a brutal insurgency waged by Islamist hardliners trying to enforce Islamic law.
The soldiers were escorting a water tanker in Swat valley's Matta district when a group of militants fired on them, a security official told AFP.
In the ensuing gunfight, which lasted about an hour, three soldiers were wounded, the official added on condition of anonymity.
"Two of the injured soldiers died later at a medical facility," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The militant attack is a clear violation of the peace agreement. The security forces are exercising restraint and complying with the accord," the military said in a statement.
Muslim Khan, spokesman for Swat militant leader Maulana Fazlullah, said the soldiers were attacked because they moved without giving prior information.
"We had an agreement that whenever the army wanted to move, they should inform us, so that we can alert our men not to feel threatened," Khan told AFP.
Thousands of Fazlullah's militants have spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in the area, beheading opponents, bombing girls' schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces.
The sharia deal triggered alarm in the United States, Europe, Afghanistan and India, amid concerns it will embolden militants throughout the northwest, which is rife with Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.
Another security official claimed the soldiers were attacked by men loyal to commander Ibne Ameen, who has opposed the peace deal.
Police said that Taliban militants also kidnapped two anti-corruption department officials and their friend while travelling in the district of Mingora, the main town in Swat.
Provincial director of the anti-corruption department Yameen Khan, his deputy Bakht Zada and a companion were abducted, police chief Dilawar Bangash said.
"The Taliban have kidnapped them and we have launched a search in the area," Bangash told AFP.
The escalating violence came as pro-Taliban cleric Soofi Mohammad threatened to pull the plug on the peace agreement that he negotiated with the government, accusing the military of violating the ceasefire.
Pakistani authorities had already moved Monday to shore up the fragile ceasefire, vowing to appoint Islamic judges by March 15 to head off threats from Mohammad that the agreement was being implemented too slowly.
The truce was jolted Sunday when a paramilitary officer and five bodyguards were briefly kidnapped and soldiers ambushed elsewhere.

Zardari’s Control of Pakistan Shaken by Attack on Sri Lankans

March 4 (Bloomberg) -- Yesterday’s deadly ambush of Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan, further undermined President Asif Ali Zardari’s grip on his nation as guerrillas showed they are increasingly able to hit even officially protected targets.

“This was not simply an attack on Sri Lankans,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a security and political analyst in Lahore who formerly taught political science at Punjab University there. “It was most importantly an attack on the Pakistani government, to show its lack of control.”

Zardari’s inability to stabilize his country is complicating President Barack Obama’s effort to refocus U.S. counterterrorism efforts on the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. The White House plans to unveil a strategy for that campaign this month, U.S. officials say.

The assault yesterday, which killed six policemen and injured six Sri Lankan cricketers, came less than three weeks after the Pakistani government accepted a truce that gave control of the Swat Valley, north of Islamabad, the capital, to the opposition Taliban.

Meanwhile, the government is still trying to recover a senior American United Nations official kidnapped last month in the southwest. And Zardari is facing the prospect of public demonstrations over a court ruling that barred his chief rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, from public office.

Succeeding Bhutto

Sharif, who is backing a call for nationwide anti-government protests beginning March 12, accuses Zardari of being behind the court ruling against him. Zardari, 52, was elected last year following the December 2007 assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

While Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in a statement in Islamabad that “we suspect a foreign hand behind this incident,” Salman Taseer, the provincial governor of Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital, noted parallels between yesterday’s attack and November’s terrorist assault in Mumbai, India, in which 164 people died.

Pakistan last month announced it would prosecute at least two members of the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group among those it accuses of plotting the Mumbai violence.

As in the raid on India’s financial center, the guerrillas in Lahore were wearing sneakers and carrying backpacks, automatic rifles and grenades in a coordinated ambush, video footage indicated. Police said all 12 gunmen escaped.

‘The Same Pattern’

“It’s the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai,” Taseer told reporters in Lahore. The way they attacked showed that “they were obviously trained,” he said.

“Lashkar-e-Taiba is under pressure and its supporters are very upset at the government’s plan to put them on trial,” said Rizvi. Yesterday’s attack may be a warning by Islamic militants against the government not to proceed, he said.

While Zardari has vowed to act against militant groups, he likely will be “seriously constrained” by Pakistan’s powerful military from any broad crackdown, said a Jan. 19 report by the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, California.

During the 1990s, the army supported Lashkar and other guerrillas as proxy forces in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the Kashmir region, according to scholars such as Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S.

The terrorist violence has hampered efforts by Zardari to halt an economic slump that slowed growth from an annual average of 6.8 percent over five years to a forecast of 3.5 percent in the 12 months ending in June. Last year, as attacks in Pakistan killed more than 2,000 people, overseas investment tumbled 38 percent, according to the government.

Undermining Democracy

“The democracy of the country has been undermined, and foreigners are repeatedly attacked to harm the country’s image,” Malik said in a statement in Islamabad.

Pakistan borrowed $7.6 billion from the International Monetary Fund in November and will seek a further $4.5 billion because “the war on terror has caused serious economic problems,” government financial adviser Shaukat Tarin said Feb 16. Pakistan’s benchmark stock index, the Karachi Stock Exchange 100, dropped 1.5 percent yesterday.

Sri Lanka agreed to play cricket in Pakistan after India pulled out of a planned series following the Mumbai attack. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa called the Lahore ambush a “cowardly” act against athletes visiting as goodwill ambassadors.

Advance Information

Former Lahore deputy police chief Parvez Rathore, who left that post on Feb. 25 when the court ruling forced Sharif’s party out of office, said in an interview that police had advance information of a possible attack on the Sri Lankan team. He couldn’t say whether the new police administration had implemented extra security steps as a result.

Sri Lanka was given “no hint of a significant security threat,” its foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

India’s former national counter-terrorism chief, B. Raman, said a role by Sri Lanka’s main guerrilla group should be investigated. Sri Lanka’s army has made military advances in the past month against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

While the Tamils are predominantly Hindu, the Tigers cooperated in arms smuggling with Pakistani Islamic militants in the 1990s, Raman said in an e-mail.

‘Dramatic Changes’

Yesterday’s attack calls into question Pakistan’s chances of hosting matches for the 2011 Cricket World Cup in South Asia. The World Cup will include no games in Pakistan without “dramatic changes” in security, International Cricket Council Chief Executive Officer Haroon Lorgat told the BBC.

The assault on a visiting national team in South Asia’s most popular sport “will be a terrible blow to all Pakistanis,” Shaukat Qadir, a retired army brigadier general and political analyst, said by telephone from Islamabad.

Zardari’s office issued a statement expressing shock over the attack and saying that “it was reassuring that our policemen rose to the occasion and laid down their live to protect our Sri Lankan guests.” It promised grants to the families of those killed, saying, “the sun will shine gloriously on the tombs of these heroes.”

Gunmen shoot Sri Lanka cricketers

Gunmen have attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team on its way to play in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

At least five policemen escorting the team bus were killed, along with a driver. Seven cricketers and an assistant coach were injured.

Pakistani officials said about 12 gunmen were involved and grenades and rocket launchers have been recovered.

Officials said the incident bore similarities to deadly attacks in Mumbai in India last November.

The Mumbai attacks were blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

Thilan Samaraweera (hospital)
Tharanga Paranavitana (hospital)
Mahela Jayawardene
Kumar Sangakkara
Ajantha Mendis
Suranga Lakmal
Chaminda Vaas
Assistant coach Paul Farbrace
Pakistani cricket was already suffering from serious security concerns.

Pakistan invited Sri Lanka to tour only after India's cricket team pulled out of a scheduled cricket tour on security grounds, following the Mumbai attacks.

And International Cricket Council president David Morgan told the BBC it would be "very difficult for international cricket to be hosted in Pakistan for quite some time to come".


Reports suggest 10 to 12 gunmen ambushed the team coach and its accompanying police detail on the Liberty Square roundabout in the heart of Lahore, as the convoy was on the way to the Gaddafi stadium for a Test match.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says accounts suggest the attack was sophisticated in nature, with one group of gunmen firing a rocket-propelled grenade in order to create a diversion, while others then approached, firing guns on the convoy.

She says the gunmen - two of whom were shown in TV pictures carrying backpacks - seemed to be well-trained.

Sept 2001: New Zealand pull out of Pakistan tour following US military action in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks; West Indies and Australia move games to neutral venues.
May 2002: New Zealand cancel tour of Pakistan after explosion outside team's Karachi hotel
March 2008: Australia postpone tour of Pakistan on security concerns
Oct 2008: West Indies call off November tour of Pakistan on security concerns
Dec 2008: India pulls out of 2009 Pakistan tour after government directive
Feb 2009: 2009 Champions Trophy tournament in Pakistan is called off after participants express security concerns
The Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara told Australia's ABC radio that he and his team mates probably owed their lives to their bus driver.

"Suddenly everyone just said hit the deck, quick, someone's shooting. And we just hit the floor of the bus and stayed there and we heard the bullets hitting the bus and a few explosions," he said.

"But, you know, we had an amazing driver who just kept driving the bus straight through all of that to the ground and that's probably what saved us."

Officials in Lahore said two members of the Sri Lankan team, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana, were sent to hospital. Another five received minor wounds, as well as assistant coach Paul Farbrace.

None of the attackers was killed or apprehended at the scene. Grenades and rocket launchers were found there, police said, and a manhunt is under way.

Our correspondent says security forces will be investigating any connections to al-Qaeda and Taleban militants as well as Kashmiri jihadi groups.

A Pakistani air force helicopter has now airlifted uninjured members of the Sri Lankan team out of the Gaddafi Stadium.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack" and ordered the players' evacuation back to Sri Lanka. A plane is being chartered for this purpose.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari also strongly condemned the attack, and ordered an immediate investigation "so that the perpetrators are identified and their motives exposed", said a statement from his office.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for India's foreign ministry offered sympathy and urged Pakistan to take "prompt, meaningful and decisive steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure once and for all".

But a Pakistani minister, Sardar Nabil Ahmed Gabol, reportedly told private Geo TV that evidence suggested the attackers came across the border from India.
He said the assault came in reaction to the Mumbai attacks, and was a "declaration of open war on Pakistan by India".

The third day of play in the Second Test was scheduled to begin, but officials said the match has now been cancelled.

Security fears

Pakistan is engaged in a bloody struggle against Islamist insurgents who have staged high-profile attacks on civilian targets before.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan authorities are waging their own domestic military campaign against Tamil Tiger separatist rebels.

India and Australia have pulled out of cricket tours in Pakistan in the recent past citing security concerns.

The sport's world governing body, the International Cricket Council, last month decided not to hold the 2009 Champions Trophy in Pakistan due to safety worries.