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Analysis: Targeting cricket is a short cut to raising the political temperature in South Asia.
The ambush seems almost a copycat attack. Like those who attacked hotels in Mumbai in November the gunmen were girded with automatic weapons and grenades, and they carried backpacks full of food and ammunition on their backs. A Pakistani police official said that the
gunfight lasted for nearly a half hour before the attackers bled back into the side streets of Lahore.
Seven Sri Lankan players were wounded in the attacks and six Pakistani police officers and two civilians were shot and killed. Much like in Mumbai, this seemed the work of professional terrorists. Security officials are speculating that the gunmen were prepared to hold the bus hostage — a nightmare scenario.
But it was the Indian team that was originally scheduled to be in Pakistan this winter. After the Mumbai attacks, as relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors turned icy cold, the Indian government instructed its team to cancel its tour in Pakistan. Pakistan asked the Sri Lankans to tour in place of the Indians and they agreed.
When Sri Lanka jumped in to replace India, Pakistan officials were grateful for the “lifeline.” The Indians on the other hand seemed unhappy. Local Indian media reported that Sri Lanka’s decision to tour Pakistan "had irked the Indian authorities," with the matter discussed "at the highest levels in Colombo." The head of the Sri Lankan national cricket management lost his job in the diplomatic tussle that ensued.
(The Indians even offered the Sri Lankans a tour to India — a much more lucrative offer. But in the end the Sri Lankans decided to came to Pakistan in January, fit in a short tour of India in February and then came back to Pakistan to finish up the tour in March. The Sri Lankans
were ready for a hectic schedule and some extra travel to keep both India and Pakistan happy.)
The attack in Lahore could pass as just another violent crime in a country where bloodshed, death and terrorism have now become almost mundane. In the past two year mosques, schools, theaters and churches have been attacked. Not much is scared anymore — an independence day rally last August in the city of Lahore became the target of a suicide bomber. Yet somehow the cricket pitch remained immune to upheaval and war.
On Tuesday, that changed and cricket became the latest forum for South Asian terrorists to air their grievances.