Bewildering Facts and Gaps: The Lahore Assault on the Cricket Entourage in March 2009

 Michael Roberts

 The perpetrators of the attack on the cricket entourage heading for Gaddafi Stadium on 3rd March 2009 have never been identified in a sure-fire manner. Nor have any Pakistani analysts clarified the motivations and politics behind this horrendous assault on a sport that meant so much to Pakistanis themselves. Were the personnel who mounted the assault jihadists who did not wish the cricket bat to sustain more appeal than the scimitar that stands as a symbol for a Islamic resurgence?

A Pakistani policemen inspects a police vehicle after masked gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009. Masked gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least eight people and wounding six team members, police said. AFP PHOTO/Arif ALI

As an outsider I am groping in the dark in this field. But as an analyst I have acquired sufficient detail from those who faced the assault and news reports to raise a series of questions that sustain a picture of inept Pakistani investigations and poor journalistic effort. The assault killed five policemen, and one driver while leaving reserve umpire Ahsan Raza seriously wounded. Such an outcome merits serious inquiry – especially when the evidence (visual and reported) indicates that the assault team chose not to inflict more serious damage and left the scene in a casual and unhurried manner.

Questions abound. I make my arguments in point-form.

  1. How was it that the conductor who aids the driver and is normally part of the bus crew was not present in the bus carrying the Sri Lankan team that morning? And, albeit not uncommon, how was it that the side due to bat that day, the Pakistani team, were not on time to board their bus for departure – so that the number of policemen accompanying the entourages was reduced by half?
  2. How could the attacking squad of “terrorists” fail to hit the bus with their RPG rocket-launcher when it was brought to a standstill for two minutes near the roundabout where the attack took place?
  3. Why did the police-officer leading the entourage on a motor bike as well as a number of policemen simply melt away and not offer resistance — even as some of their colleagues lay dead as a result of the initial assault?
  4. Since the driver of the mini-bus with the cluster of officials (umpires, match-referee) was killed in the first round of shooting and the mini-bus was at a standstill and a dead duck, why didn’t the so-called “terrorists” advance and finish them off? To this day Chris Broad, Simon Taufel, Steve Davis, Nadeem Gauri, Peter Manuel (ICC Performance Manager) and Abdul Sami (Liaison Officer) must be reflecting upon the awful and considerable period of suspense till their minibus was driven to safety by a policeman who had entered it for his own safety (while reserve umpire Ahsan Raza lay bleeding profusely from a bullet wound in their very midst).
  5. How is it that several of the assault team not only moved calmly about their business, but then moved casually away, got astride motorbikes and rode away ever so unhurriedly

These outstanding and unanswered questions suggest that we should re-visit the speculation that the attackers were inspired by Islamic thinking that sought to displace the appeal of cricket within the Pakistani population. That is, we should explore other possible objectives and perpetrators.

Indeed, the casual sang froid (composure of movement) of the assault team promotes another theory: that this was a Punjabi protest directed at the central government for deposing the provincial administration in late 2018. Because it was an operation mounted by local radicals, can’t we suggest that it had the backing of elements within the police and deposed government? That is why the assault team proceeded with their operations so calmly…… and did not seek to finish off the cricket officials in the minibus …. or even to hit the team bus with RPG missiles?

These restraints suggest that it was a gesture of an attack not an effort to effect a world-shattering killer strike of the character seen in the Pakistani jihadist outrages carried out in Mumbai about four months previously in late November 2008. Oh yes, the 3rd March attack was a serious affair; but it did not carry the same weight of damage and the worldwide consternation associated with the Mumbai terrorist attack.

If one talks to Thilan Samaraweera, Tharanga Paranavitana and company of course, they will demur. Those moments would have been quite frightening for all concerned and will scar their memories. When I approached him at a cricketing function in Colombo and suggested a chat back in Adelaide on the topic, umpire Steve Davis was point-blank firm: he did not wish to re-visit the moment.

Our exploratory investigations are not assisted by so many silences – whether among the victims or among journalists and political cognoscenti in Lahore. Our bewilderment remains.

***  ***

33b--Tharanga PTharanga Paranavithana in Lahore ambulance

03 Mar 2009, LAHORE, Pakistan — epa01653776 Sri Lankan crickters board a Pakistani Air Force helicopter (not in picture), as they are air lifted from Gadaffi cricket stadum, after unknown gunmen attacked Sri Lankan cricket team, in Lahore Pakistan on 03 March 2009. Unidentified gunmen on 03 March attacked Sri Lanka’s cricket team when it was being escorted to a local stadium in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, leaving six policemen and two civilians dead and four Sri Lankan players injured, media reports and officials said. EPA/RAHAT DAR — Image by © RAHAT DAR/epa/Corbis 

Sri Lankan cricketers board a Pakistani Air Force helicopter

 Ajantha and Mahela at Katunayake –Pic by Eranga Jayawardena

Sri Lankan player Thilan Samaraweera is taken aboard an ambulance on March 4, 2009 shortly after flying home from Pakistan where the Sri Lankan team was ambushed by gunmen just before entering a cricket stadium in Lahore. Seven players were wounded in the attack that also killed eight Pakistani nationals and drew wide spread international condemnation. AFP PHOTO/ISHARA S. KODIKARA

 BACKGROUND BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hopps, David 2009 “The Sri Lankan players’ reaction to their ordeal has shown how cricket can cope,” The Guardian, Wednesday 4 March 2009.

Praveen Swami 2009 “Jihadists no fans of cricket,” The Hindu, http://www.hindu.com/2009/03/05/stories/2009030560961000.htm

Roberts, Michael 2009a “The Lahore atrocity: our cricketing ambassadors,” Island, 14 March 2009.

Roberts, Michael 2009b “Cricket and Lahore: atrocities, shambles, miracles,” Baggy Green, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 7-9.

Roberts, Michael 2010b “Understanding Zealotry,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/, 6 March 2010.

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Cricket undr Siege: The Lahore Attack, 3 March 2009,” in Michael Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 39-63.

1 Comment

Filed under accountability, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, conspiracies, Islamic fundamentalism, landscape wondrous, life stories, political demonstrations, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, slanted reportage, Sri Lankan cricket, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, trauma, unusual people, world events & processes

One response to “Bewildering Facts and Gaps: The Lahore Assault on the Cricket Entourage in March 2009

  1. Pingback: That Nightmare Moment: Farbrace and Bayliss give BBC A Detailed Account of the Lahore Assault, 3rd March 2009 | Thuppahi's Blog

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