9.45 am March 3, 2009, I had just woken up half an hour back when I received a call from the Pakistan team’s assistant manager, Mohammad Ahmed to inquire about certain important details. He was on his way back to the hotel in the team bus with players. Being a sports reporter then, I was in Lahore to cover the test between Pakistan in Srilanka, when 12 gunmen attacked the Srilankan team bus as it headed towards Qaddafi Stadium. The first question that popped up from my side was whether the Pakistani team was alright? He replied that though shaken everyone was okay. I rushed to the Stadium, only a ten minutes drive away from my house. When I reached the stadium I saw bullet riddled police vans and motorbikes, a police sergeant who had been injured in the attack. The Srilankan team had been taken quickly to the dressing room at the main entrance to the stadium sealed.
Remembering the events of that day made me think if Pakistan has now become a safer abode after that unfortunate day. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) data, a total of 137 persons, including 110 civilians, 19 Security Force (SF) personnel and eight militants were killed, in total 20 separate incidents in 2011 in Punjab. Partial data compiled by SATP recorded three suicide attacks in Punjab, which claimed a total of 63 lives, in 2011. Just the last year we witnessed the murder of the Punjab governor Salman Taseer, of the minorities minister, Shehbaz Bhatti and of the Asia Times correspondent Saleem Shehzad. Prominent sectarian and terrorist groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Harkat-ul Jihad-ul-Islami (HuJI) have got strong presence that reeks through out the south of this province. The law minister of this province, Rana Sanullah has been accused by his political opponents of having links with these terrorists groups.
I called up Saleem Altaf, the Chief Operating Officer of the PCB at the time of attack on Srilankan team and asked him if it’s alright for the Bangladeshis to visit here. He just like all the other Pakistanis wanted to see international cricket return to Pakistan but even then he was forced to resort to the opinion that another attack on the team by the terrorists may be in pipeline. Security blanket that needs to be given to the visitors needs to be fool-proof. “Fool proof” – whenever that word pops up, it suddenly brings a smile (a sarcastic one) on my face. Fool proof security seems to be a farce which we have heard of about hundreds of times. After every suicide attack and after every bomb blast each time we talk to a high-ranking official he they assert that they tried to ensure a “fool-proof” security from their end and will now try to investigate the security lapses. The only hitch here is that no one is ever willing to take responsibility for that ‘fool-proof’ security.
Just yesterday, when the Prime Minister was asked about the law and order situation in different cities, his quick reply was that after the 18th amendment law and order issues are affairs of the provincial government. But Mr. Prime Minister, let me remind you that the intelligence that needs to be given to handle these terrorists are still issues handled by the security agencies of the country operating under the federal government domain. Co-ordination between the Federal government and Punjab government regarding intelligence sharing is quite evident from the fact that Rehman Malik and Shehbaz Sharif and his provincial ministers are always seen eager to slit each other’s throat. God forbid, if such an attack takes place on the visitors, all that will be left for these leaders would be to pass the blame ball to each other. No one from the Punjab government has ever come forward to take any sort of responsibility for providing security to the visitors. The chairman PCB seems to be that lone warrior who is trying on his own to win this war with a little help from the Interior Minister. However, on ground we know that it’s the provincial government which is responsible for providing this security.
The International Cricket Council is also shaky about giving a green light to this tour. They have expressed their concerns on sending their neutral match officials to officiate in these two matches. Simon Taufel, Steve Davis and Chris Broad were the ones who were there during the Srilankan team attack. The president of the Bangladeshi cricket board, Mustafa Kamal is also facing severe criticism from his own board officials, the team coach, Stuart Law and the Bangladeshi media for hastily taking the decision to tour Pakistan.
International cricket should definitely come back to Pakistan but if another attack takes place on the visitors, our country could face sanctions and bans for the years to come. Until and unless the provincial government, PCB and the federal government start co-coordinating on making a thorough security plan for the Bangladeshi cricketers, this tour could turn out to be just another time-bomb waiting to explode. Bangladesh, dooya kooray Pakistan na ashlay.