Lahore conspiracy theories go beyond the boundary

March 6, 2009

Conspiracy theories have filled a void in Pakistan that opened up as soon as the dozen gunmen who attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team made a leisurely getaway  without any apparent casualties after a 25 minute gun battle.

Since the attack on Tuesday, Pakistani authorities have yet to reveal where the investigation was going,  despite Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying “important  leads” had been established.

There has been finger pointing in the Pakistani media in various directions, but the sympathies of the indiviual reporter or media group have to be examined in every case. Only the conspiracy theorists have answers to who could have done it and why.
    Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani jihadi group blamed for the slaughter of nearly 170 people in Mumbai last November. There were some similiarities, but LeT hasn’t got any history of attacking inside Pakistan.

Maybe LeT fears the Pakistan government, having already arrested a handful of LeT members named in the Mumbai case, seriously aims to put it out of
business and wanted to send a warning, destabilise a Pakistani government it thinks is soft on India and Kashmir. Maybe it is worried the old  friends in Pakistani intelligence are abandoning them.

But the rationale for targetting Sri Lankan cricketers, in Lahore, a city where the LeT has moved easily in the past, is hard to see.

 Another Sunni militant group with far stronger ties to al Qaeda is Lashkar-e-Janghvi. Like LeT, LeJ is a Punjabi group.

But LeJ has provided footsoldiers for al Qaeda operations, and has been involved in spectacular attacks, most recently the  suicide truck boming of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad last September, which killed 55 people.

As the Daily Times notes, the involvement of LeJ, or another group in al Qaeda’s thrall makes sense on some levels. But the question of why the Sri  Lankans were targeted is hard to square unless the answer is that it could have been anybody. The attack has certainly achieved an  al Qaeda objective in terms of ruining Pakistan’s international image and undermining faith in the government.

 The Pakistani Taliban also have ties to al Qaeda and have been blamed for the assassination of former prime minister  Benazir Bhutto, though there’s a surfeit of conspiracy theories around her slaying too.

Then there is the Indian factor. Attitudes towards India in Pakistan are polarised, with ordinary people in many parts of the country ready to make friends, but the media in both countries quickly turn on each other.

There have been three wars since Pakistan’s formation out of  the partition of India in 1947, and a peace process was frozen in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.

A lot of rightists, people associated with the security apparatus and retired, but still influential generals would readily blame Indian intelligence.

 One junior minister from President Zardari’s party actually said there was evidence of Indian involvement before the government disowned his comments by saying it had no information so far.

There have been other accusations and allusions in the media to the Indian involvement.  A story in The News reported a day  after the attack the Punjab government had been warned that Indian intelligence was planning to hit the Sri Lankans in Lahore, and scanned copies of the purported CID report have been circulated via e-mail.

 Former Pakistani spy chief and Islamist sympathiser Hamid Gul has speculated that Indian intelligence could have helped the Tamil Tigers launch the attack. But remember Gul has said that both the 9/11  attacks in the United States and the November 26 raid on India could have been “inside jobs”. Nonsense it may be, but Gul is seen as very credible in Islamist, rightist quarters of Pakistan.

 So let’s look at his theory. In August, 2006, a bomb attack on Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Bashir Wali,  in Colombo killed four Sri Lankan soldiers. Wali, a former intelligence officer, is convinced India put the Tamil Tigers up to the attack, as a warning to Pakistan to stop meddling in Sri Lanka, according to a report in the News.
The Tigers haven’t targeted Sri Lankans abroad before, but they certainly have a motive — they’re on the point of defeat in northern Sri Lanka.

But why would Indian intelligence give them a hand? India is discomfited by the friendship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Pakistan provides military training and arms to Sri Lanka.

 Indian involvement, if it was discovered, in the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team would presumbably drive Pakistan and Sri Lanka closer together. New Delhi shouldn’t want to risk that.

 Pakistan and India have a history of seeking revenge, tit-for-tat, actions, and as yet the books aren’t balanced for Mumbai . Some Indo-phobes suggest the Lahore attack was payback by an Indian intelligence agency , and many ordinary people find that easy to believe.

 If that was the case why hit the Sri Lankans? Why target a cricket team? People shouldn’t forget that if anyone loves cricket more than a Pakistani or a Sri Lankans it is an Indian.

 The next time the attack would be on Indian cricketers. Would
India’s agency, the Research & Analysis Wing, want to risk that? I don’t think so. They haven’t been playing that badly.


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