The Lahore assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team exposed the most dangerous of vile mechanisms plaguing Pakistan today. Never before was the government seen to be so not in control. For now it is free for all, amidst shameless admissions by officials concerned of security lapses that facilitated the terrorists.
Here’s some background to Tuesday’s attack. On February 25, Lahore (and the Punjab province) was placed under governor’s rule after President Zardari dismissed the provincial government, following Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s disqualification orders passed by a controversial Supreme Court. The first thing Governor Taseer did after assuming charge was to reshuffle the top bureaucrats whom he suspected of being loyal to the Sharifs. He also resurrected the colonial-time commissionerate system whereby the commissioner serves as a de-facto district chief with magisterial powers aimed at ensuring law and order. The Lahore commissioner, Khusro Pervaiz, actually admitted on Wednesday his administration’s failure to provide adequate security to the Sri Lankans.
Punjab officials have since revealed that they were tipped off by intelligence agencies that certain extremists were planning to attack the Sri Lankan cricket team. It can be argued that the city’s entire security apparatus was focused on the governor’s priority orders to contain the Sharifs and their supporters when the attack took place.
The Sri Lankans were promised presidential security, a euphemism for fool-proof cover provided to the former president, Musharraf, and which Zardari and the PM continue to enjoy. Here’s how it works: roads are cleared of all traffic well in advance of the VVIP movement. Armed policemen may be posted every few yards along the route, and on top of buildings overlooking the road. Mobile phones and remote-controlled devises are jammed; helicopters fly aerial reconnaissance missions overhead; elite police force trained to combat terrorists accompanies the convoy, and Punjab has the best-trained force; reinforcement units are on red alert. The security cover of this order is the bane of citizens as it leaves massive traffic jams in its wake, but the government has successfully argued for it.
There was not a fraction of this kind of security provided to ensure the visiting team’s safety in Lahore when they were promised all of it. Six policemen were killed by the terrorists before they proceeded to attack the tourists’ bus, but there was no sight of reinforcement units on call. Even the Lahore mayor enjoys a much better security when he’s out and about town. The lapse is reminiscent of the so-called security provided by Musharraf to Benazir Bhutto.
The fact that Islamist terrorism has arrived in our cities in a big way cannot be denied anymore. The perpetrators of violence are well-trained and armed with latest weapons. The attacks are planned for precision targeting; they have an exit strategy after creating mayhem, and they strike at the time and place of their own choosing. The September Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad and the Mumbai siege in November last year are the latest cases in point. The assaults followed the attacks on Benazir’s rallies in October and December the year before.
And what has the government done to contain the terrorists? Practically nothing, besides clamping another ban on the same extremist organisations which had been banned a long time ago by Musharraf. It is not only the lack of will to act decisively against the rogue elements, it is also the contrasting and shocking will to placate them by extending them an olive branch, as has been done in Swat. Despite the overwhelming public mandate given to this, one of the most secular-based governments in recent years, it is choosing political expediency over public and national interest.
The result is before us all:
Pakistan and its neighbours are threatened like never before with what