Pakistan: Somalia comparisons should worry India too

March 4, 2009

India’s ruling Congress party thinks Pakistan is fast becoming the “Somalia of South Asia”. The attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore was the result of the state ceding its territory to the fundamentalists and Taliban of the world, a party spokesman said.

Strong words these, but are they going to come back to haunt India and the Congress itself ? Is this really just about Pakistan or is the fire, which many believe began when foreign forces moved into Afghanistan, already dangerously close to India?

If you saw TV images of the gunmen as they darted across a green in Lahore with their backpacks, aiming their assault weapons and taking cover behind trees,  you couldn’t help but think of the Mumbai assault when a similar band of attackers roamed the streets, hotels and a train station killing and maiming at will.

If it was Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore on Tuesday, it could just as easily have been a foreign team in Amritsar, just over the border in India.  Amritsar is very near Lahore, writes former Indian ambassador M.K.Bhadrakumar, and it doesn’t really matter any more on which side of the border the attack took place. The grim reality is both are faced with the same threat and it won’t help India to pretend otherwise or sit tight while Pakistan unravels, he says.

“When the terrorists strike in broad daylight in the presence of tens of thousands people in a high security environment within earshot of Amritsar it naturally sends shock waves across India. It is no more relevant where they have struck — on this side or the other side of the Wagah border. The ground reality is that there is no such thing as absolute security anymore,” Bhadrakumar said.

India and Pakistan will survive or sink together, and it doesn’t really matter whether it is Pakistan or India that resembles Somalia.

Pakistan’s Dawn also touches on this, saying that perhaps the same group that attacked Mumbai struck on Tuesday in Pakistan’s cultural capital.

Lahore was a message to all of South Asia, Indian columnist Rajinder Puri writes, and it was up to governments to pay heed.  The men who carried out the attack on the Sri Lankan players weren’t merely attacking cricket, they were attacking culture. “The lifestyle of the vast majority of the people on the subcontinent is not acceptable to the enemy,’ he writes.

“Make no mistake. Neither the Afghans nor the Pathans are as a people sympathetic to the terror and repression unleashed by the pro-Al Qaeda Taliban. The people are simply forced into submission by the few gun-toting killers who are organized to terrorize the unorganized majority. The enemy will hit each nation and each region one by one until it attains victory.”

A few years ago Lal Krishna Advani, the leader of India’s Hindu nationalist party, talked about the cultural nationalism of South Asia, of the shared heritage, customs and perhaps obsessions like cricket. But it has been totally swamped by the bickering among governments of each country.

Perhaps it is time now to reverse course  and stop not just Pakistan’s descent into chaos but its immediate neighbours too ?

([Reuters pictures of a helicopter at Lahore's cricket ground after attack and Sri Lankan cricketer Thilan Thushara with his son upon his return home]

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