Pakistan: The greatest threat

The Islamic militants who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team also have Britain and the US in their sights, write Omar Waraich and Raymond Whitaker.

 

Three separate bombings, including one in which a dead body was used to lure policemen to the scene, killed 15 people in Pakistan yesterday, underlining the helplessness of the authorities as they search in vain for the militants who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team last week.

 

Six policemen were killed on Tuesday as a dozen gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan team bus in broad daylight in the centre of Lahore, long regarded as Pakistan’s least-troubled city. The cricketers escaped with relatively minor wounds, but the sight of them having to be evacuated by helicopter from the pitch where they were due to play a Test match against Pakistan, coupled with widespread reporting of the reaction of English and Australian match officials, and coaches caught up in the attack, brought home to millions what the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, described as the “mortal threat” that Pakistan faces from its “internal enemies”. It was the first direct terrorist attack on a sports team since the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Yesterday seven policemen and a bystander died in the worst bombing of the day, underlining the extent to which large areas of Pakistan have slipped out of government control. The incident occurred in the Badaber area of Peshawar, where the authorities believed they had achieved a rare success against the militants, who were recently driven back by local people working with law enforcement agencies. But the militants promised revenge, and lured the police to their deaths. An anonymous phone call said a body had been left in a car; when the police approached, a bomb in the car was detonated by remote control.

 

Hours earlier, an improvised explosive device damaged a military convoy as it passed through the notorious arms-manufacturing town of Darra Adam Khel, on the edge of the tribal areas. Three passers-by were killed and four troops injured, while a suicide bombing in a mosque in Khyber killed four and wounded five.

The attacks emphasise that the civilian government of President Asif Zardari is no more effective than the military rule of his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf, at stemming the brutal advance of militancy across the country. Indeed, Mr Zardari and his Pakistan People’s Party seem more preoccupied with using the judiciary to exclude a former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his brother, Shahbaz, from office than confronting the militant threat. Shahbaz was ousted as premier of Punjab province, whose capital is Lahore, just before the attack on the cricketers, bringing accusations that the political turmoil had hampered security arrangements.

Mr Miliband made his “mortal threat” comment during an appeal to Pakistan’s civilian politicians to cease their infighting and unite against adversaries who regard both sides as obstacles to their dream of turning Pakistan into a regime similar to Afghanistan under the Taliban. This year both American and British officials have become increasingly open about their fear that Pakistan – which has nuclear weapons under the control of a military at least to some extent open to extremist influence – is a greater danger than Afghanistan.

Security agencies have warned that two-thirds of the terror plots Britain faces originate in Pakistan, or are supported from there. But the inability or unwillingness of Pakistan to curb the flow of militants into Afghanistan also poses a direct threat to British and American troops there. The task of the Nato forces may be further complicated by political turmoil in Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai, whose term expires next month, finally accepted yesterday that an election could not be held until August, when the “surge” of up to 30,000 extra US troops will have had time to stabilise the country. But he wants to stay in office until then, while his opponents insist that he step down in April.

Recently MPs were told in London that Pakistani generals still considered it in the country’s strategic interest to have the Taliban – which was created by Pakistan’s military intelligence service – in power in Kabul rather than President Karzai’s government, which is closer to India. Shaun Gregory, head of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford University, told the Foreign Affairs Committee that Pakistan’s role in the Afghan Taliban’s comeback “lies somewhere between passive tolerance … [and] open and active support”. Britain, the US and Nato found themselves “reliant on an ‘ally’ which does not share their interests and whom they cannot trust”.

Other experts told the committee that Pakistan showed little interest in tackling Islamic lmilitant commanders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, both old mujahedin leaders in Afghanistan who have thrown in their lot with al-Qa’ida and with the foreign Islamists who have made their base in Waziristan, the largest and most lawless of the tribal areas along the Pakistani border. Instead, the Pakistani military has been battling a new generation of younger militants who want to “Talibanise” Pakistan.

They include the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, 34, who is accused of sending the suicide bombers who killed President Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, in December 2007, after which he inherited her political mantle. The Pakistani military formed an alliance with two of Mr Mehsud’s rivals, Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who concentrated on fighting in Afghanistan, and mounted a joint campaign against the Pakistani Taliban leader and his al-Qa’ida aligned Uzbek cohorts. But now, as Washington has stepped up its CIA-operated drone strikes in tribal areas, Mr Nazir and Mr Bahadur appear to have cut ties with the Pakistan army and joined Mr Mehsud to form “Shura Ittehad Mujahedin”, or Council of United Jihadists. The new Waziristan alliance has declared Afghanistan’s former leader, Mullah Omar, its spiritual guide, and Islamabad, Kabul and Washington its enemies.

Pakistan’s army sees the move as a setback to its efforts to divide and rule in the tribal areas, while the continuing spate of American missile attacks, including a report yesterday of a drone that crashed in the tribal areas, emphasises Washington’s lack of confidence in the Pakistan government’s ability to serve American interests.

The Obama administration has recently broadened its range of targets, striking for the first time last month training camps run by Hakimullah Mehsud, an associate of Baitullah Mehsud. Militants and suspected criminal elements working with Hakimullah were responsible for a flurry of attacks on Nato convoys destined for Afghanistan as they approached the Khyber Pass.

Islamabad is more concerned about militants such as Maulana Fazlullah of the Swat valley. The Taliban commander seized up to four-fifths of the valley in a brutal campaign, and, faced with losing the valley to the Taliban, the government sued for peace last month. It signed a deal with Mr Fazlullah’s estranged father-in-law, Sufi Mohammed, as the army ceased its military operation. The government bowed to Sufi Mohammed’s demands, imposing Islamic law in the area in return for a cessation of hostilities. Analysts worry the concession could create a sanctuary for Islamic militants, including al-Qa’ida, just a three-hour drive from Islamabad.

The spread of Islamic militancy across the Indus river to the more populous, settled areas of Pakistan is likely to widen the divergence of interests between Islamabad and the West still further. After six suicide attacks in 2006, suicide bombings in Pakistan have shot up to 10 times that number in each of the two following years. The commando-style attack in Lahore, echoing the assault on India’s richest city, Mumbai, last November, brings a new tactic to parts of Pakistan which have never had to think about the wars raging in the mountains and plains further west.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistan-the-greatest-threat-1639779.html

Cricketers attacked in the terrorist headquarters of Pakistan

In the Islamic terrorist headquarters of Pakistan seven Sri Lankan players and a British coach were injured and six policemen killed in the attack.

sri-lankan-team

 

A bus driver also died. In a chilling reminder of the deadly strikes in the Indian city of Mumbai last November, they wore backpacks and were carrying AK-47s, grenades and rocket launchers.

muslim-terroists

They struck as the bus negotiated a roundabout near the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, shooting first at its tyres to make the driver stop. Players said they threw a grenade and tried to hit them with a rocket but missed before starting a hail of bullets, forcing them to throw themselves to the floor. Thilan Samaraweera was shot in the leg and fellow batsmen Tharanga Paranthavina was hit in the chest by shrapnel. Both were treated in hospital but later released. Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Suranka Lakmal and Chaminda Vaas and British assistant coach Paul Farbrace were also wounded.  They had all leapt to the floor to try and avoid the bullets. Referee Chris Broad was spattered with blood and in shock, but otherwise unharmed. His wife, Michelle, who spoke to him this morning, said: ‘He’s okay now. They are all very shocked. He has been helicoptered out of the ground now and flown to Abu Dhabi. He told me that he will be back home tomorrow.’ Australian Steve Davis, who was umpiring the match, added: ‘It was terrible. The van driver died in front of us. I am lost for words.’

team-bus

 

Pakistan cricket is facing a bleak future, with visiting teams certain to boycott tours to the troubled nation for the foreseeable future in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Lahore. As international cricket pondered the ramifications, it became almost certain that Pakistan would be stripped of its status as the co-host of the 2011 World Cup.

Asked about plans for the World Cup, ICC president David Morgan was blunt in his assessment. “Things will have to change dramatically in Pakistan, in my opinion, if any of the games are to be staged there.”

The chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, was less blunt but the message was the same. “It is pretty, pretty serious and it is very obvious that the landscape and the thinking have changed dramatically,” Lorgat t said. “We are going to have to reevaluate what we do and where Pakistan plays its cricket.”

Those views were echoed by Sharad Pawar, the ICC vice president and former head of the Indian cricket board, a close ally of the Pakistan Cricket Board. India had been forced to abandon their tour of Pakistan in January following a government directive after the attacks on Mumbai.

Visiting teams have experienced brushes with terrorism in the past but only now, with the Sri Lankans directly targeted by Islamic Terroists, is Pakistan faced with a blanket boycott. Even those who urged international teams not to abandon Pakistan have now accepted the inevitable.

Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan captain, said Pakistan hosting the World Cup in 2011 was now a “distant dream”.

“How do you expect a foreign team to come to Pakistan now? We took pride in hosting our guests,” Akram told ESPN Star. “This image has taken a beating. It’s sad for Pakistan.”

Waqar Younis, Akram’s bowling partner, said the chances of foreign teams coming to Pakistan were now remote. “We have to agree with whatever the ICC decides,” he said.

Ramiz Raja, another prominent voice in Pakistan, said he had never thought there would be a situation where sportspersons would be targeted in Pakistan.

The series against Sri Lanka was cancelled immediately after Tuesday’s attacks, and similar announcements regarding other tours are expected in the coming months.

Australia, India, New Zealand and the West Indies are among the teams to have postponed or cancelled tours to Pakistan in recent years, and New Zealand will almost certainly call off their scheduled series there in November. The Black Caps experienced first-hand the dangers of touring Pakistan in 2002, when a bomb exploded outside their Karachi hotel, and NZC chief executive Justin Vaughan hinted strongly that the team would not return in the near future.

“It’s very frightening that for the first time a cricket team appears to be the specific target of terrorist action,” Vaughan told NZPA

Bodies of the dead policemen

pak-police

 

Indian Cricket team Captain Dhoni also said that he was happy they didn’t go ahead with the Pakistan tour as planned. “I am happy we didn’t tour Pakistan, and that the government didn’t allow us to tour Pakistan.

“I suppose it’s tough for Pakistan cricket to come back from this, for no fault of their own,” New Zealand cricket team captain Daniel Vettori said. “It’s difficult to see teams turning up there in the near future.”

 

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