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March 6, 2009, 8:06 pm

Rumors and Theories About the Lahore Attack

Updated | Saturday, March 7 Note: The link to the audio interview embedded in this post has been fixed. Thanks to readers for pointing out the error.

As some readers of The Lede will have noticed, there has been a sort of virtual cross-border skirmish going on here between readers in Pakistan and India, in the comments threads below our posts this week about the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and the response online, and about the investigation into the attack.

One of the most commonly cited pieces of “evidence” to support a conspiracy theory mentioned by several readers — which is apparently making its way around the Web, and the Indian press — is the fact that Pakistan’s own national cricket team was not directly behind the Sri Lankan team when the attack took place, as they normally would have been in the convoy making its way to the stadium in Lahore.

As Jonathan Miller of Britain’s Channel 4 News points out, the Web site Cricinfo reported on Wednesday that the captain of Pakistan’s national team, Younus Khan, said at a news conference:

Thank God we decided to leave our hotel five minutes after the Sri Lankans. [...] God forbid, had both buses been moving together it could have been catastrophic.

Mr. Miller wrote on the broadcaster’s World News blog that “eyebrows have been raised over this unexplained five-minute delay between the departure from the Pearl Continental Hotel of the Sri Lankan team bus and the Pakistan team bus.” He added, “There have been suggestions of a tip-off about timing and security arrangements.”

One of the raised eyebrows seemed to belong to Muttiah Muralitharan, one of the Sri Lankan cricketers whose bus was attacked. Mr. Muralitharan, better known as Murali, told an Australian radio station:

We left at 8:30 a.m., and Younis Khan (with the Pakistan team) at 8:35 a.m. We divided into two; maybe they knew about it.

Mr. Miller writes on the Channel 4 News blog that he called Murali to ask whether he thought there was a conspiracy — and found out that he had not meant to imply that at all:

Relieved to be back home in the safety of Sri Lanka, the Tamil spin bowler turned out to be rather alarmed by the spin on his comments.

“They got it wrong!” he told me. “I didn’t say it like that. I didn’t say at all that this was a tip-off. I said the terrorists would have got information when the bus was leaving. They would have monitored, they have walkie-talkies. … There is no tip-off from inside or anything.”

“Is there any suspicion on your part,” I asked, “that there may have been any conspiracy over timing or security arrangements?”

“No, I don’t have any suspicion,” he said. “The only thing is that the security was not enough. Out of 12 [police] men, six died on the spot, four were injured. And there was no one to shoot back at the terrorists. They were freely shooting everyone. The backup was not there. That is the biggest problem we had.” [...]

Murali says his friend, the Pakistan captain Younus Khan, told him that because his side was batting on Tuesday, they’d informed their manager that they’d leave a few minutes later. Nothing unusual or suspicious in that, he said.

While accusations will probably continue to fly in both the real and virtual worlds, readers who want a better idea of what went so terribly wrong, and what may have motivated the attack, should listen to this audio interview:

AudioJane Perlez of The New York Times (mp3)

The interview was conducted today by Andrea Kannapell, an editor on the foreign desk of The New York Times, with one of the paper’s correspondents in Pakistan, Jane Perlez.

Ms. Perlez has written extensively about Pakistan’s problems in recent years — to great acclaim — and she wrote the article in today’s Times about the cease-fire in the Swat valley, where Pakistan’s government has effectively ceded control to Islamic militants.


21 Comments

  1. 1. March 6, 2009 8:52 pm Link

    It’s obvious that Murali meant the terrorists when he said “they knew about it”, but the idea of heading back to the “safety of Sri Lanka” is fraught with irony.

    — teegeevee
  2. 2. March 6, 2009 9:02 pm Link

    There have also been speculations about India’s involvement through the RAW. This theory also has to be debunked becuase I don’t think they have the sophistication or finesse to carry out such an operation. Only the Israelis or perhaps the CIA could have potentially conducted such an operation without any casualties to the perpetrators of terror. That being said, this incident does not augur well for cricket, at least the “crickentertainment” promoted by the IPL. In a perverse way, this incident can actually provide some balance to other sports in these countries, where cricket has ruled so far.

    — kumar
  3. 3. March 6, 2009 10:08 pm Link

    The conspiracy theory leveled against the Pakistani cricket team seems unfair. The sportsmen are not in league with the terrorists. They would have been victims of the gunfire just as the Sri Lankans were.

    As I explore in my blog, “Cricket — At What Price?” could the attack have been intended for the Indian cricket team that was originally scheduled to play in Lahore? Read on at intheneuzdotblogspotdotcom.

    — Writer at Large
  4. 4. March 6, 2009 10:40 pm Link

    Besides Pakistan, this will have a huge impact on the whole of South Asia and for sport, especially cricket. Already the security for the Australian team in South Africa has been spruced up.

    Its unfortunate what happened and the rumors are flying about who is responsible for this attack. Out of the three theories that I have read about on various newspaper websites two seem ridiculous.

    First being that India was responsible. This trigger-happy response / blame game is typical of any South Asian politician. This also would not make sense as India would have nothing to gain from this as an unstable Pakistan and vulnerability of cricket would also affect them. However, luckily the Pakistani govt has themselves ruled it out. Not too soon, considering that the public many a times take them for their word and this would instill greater mistrust and hatred between the two countries.

    Second theory is that the Pakistani government themselves have done this to show that they are also fighting terrorists and are susceptible to terrorist attacks. The logic supposedly, is bringing sympathy and further funds for fighting terror. Well if that was the case then they would be shooting themselves in the foot considering the bad publicity it would and infact has brought them across the globe. There is no reason for the Pakistani government to do this and logically it makes no sense.

    The final reason is that it is the work of terrorists based within Pakistan. This seems the most logical as it is a fact that there many terrorist groups within the country and they would have the most to gain from an unstable Pakistan.

    Everyone agrees that the security in place and the response to the attacks was extremely poor. Also, the surprise shown by the Sri Lankan cricketers, officials and many others regarding the ease with which this was carried out, the Pakistani team not being in sight (which is unusual as the buses generally go together) and that not a single gunman was hurt or apprehended is well deserved. This scenario does look like a conspiracy but as we know from the current economic situation anything is possible. However, it is possible that the Pakistani bus was delayed by the terrorists and along with the lax security given to the cricketers they were able to attack the bus and leave unharmed.

    The blame here lies with the Pakistani govt and army. They need to get their act together and pursue all terrorists whether they are terrorizing within the country or abroad. I hope they are realizing the fact that terrorists cannot be nurtured and controlled. They did promote terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, where the seeds for all these “terrorist organizations” were sown. Now its coming back to haunt them and hurt most of the Pakistani people who have nothing to do with this.

    If you play with fire you will get burnt.

    — Well wisher
  5. 5. March 6, 2009 11:04 pm Link

    See, the characteristic incoherence of the Pakistani civilian government and its propensity to speak in different tongues is the fundamental reason why conspiracy theories flourish. There is no answer to the simple question: “Who is in control, in Pakistan?”. Zardari is a certified crook, Nawaz Sharif is categorically feudal in his approach, Imran is flirting with radical ideology, Shujat Hussain, Fazlur Rahman and those of their ilk are a bunch of clowns. Vacua in leadership is dangerous for any democracy and this is what Pak. is suffering from.

    One must certainly note America’s contribution to this state of affairs. The signature of US policy in the region has always been unabashed expediency. America has no genuine interest in the Pak people and has repeatedly left them vulnerable to the dogs of war.

    Pakistan needs to realize that the US has neither the interest nor the capability to resucitate Pak society. Pakistan needs to help itself and the long suffering, remarkably resilient common man in that nation owes it to himself. Meanwhile, a credible, clear and consistent voice in government goes a long way.

    — Subbu Iyer
  6. 6. March 6, 2009 11:19 pm Link

    now, can’t we all just get along?

    — Rob
  7. 7. March 7, 2009 1:31 am Link

    The attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team is a clear illustration of poor professionalism by police and other investigative agencies. The police escort, a bunch of poorly trained officers bunched up in a vehicle, were sitting ducks with no back up. To add insult to injury the police officials who responded to the event managed to ravage the crime scene and critical evidence. So much for command and control.

    This show of official incompetence is routine. From the assassination scene of former Prime Minister Bhutto that was promptly washed away to routine suicide attacks the investigators are notable for mucking the evidence. It only serves to feed speculations. As someone who served as the forensic advisor in Pakistan I am apalled. The government and bureaucratic overlords in Pakistan should wake up to effect meaningful change to meet the challenge because continued inaction is making a bad situation worse.

    — Nasik Elahi
  8. 8. March 7, 2009 3:53 am Link

    Robert Mackey:
    Good job! It would be great if you could dig deep and clear the conspiracy therories involving RAW. Looks like Pakistan urdu press is going gaga over this angle.
    http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/Dawn%20Content%20Library/dawn/news/pakistan/lahore-attacks-in-the-urdu-press-ha
    If RAW is indeed involved in this henious crime, certainly, they should face the law. However,if there is no credibility to this spin, pakistani media and tv talk show hosts should eat crow!

    Suresh Swaminathan

    — Suresh Swaminathan
  9. 9. March 7, 2009 4:06 am Link

    There is an old belief as to “what you sowed is what you reap” . The entire fire in the south asian subcontinent can be actively traced to a particular source in Pakistan (including west’s conflict with the muslim world). If the flaw in the source be corrected actively then hope the situation would be changed in a couple of decades. But it is a herculean task. A large ambit of problems in regards to territorial, iterreligious, geographical, strategic, domestic, international, lust for power, revivalism, multi religious, multi societal, social, ethnical conflicts that prevail in south asia which also stings the west needs something that acts as a catalyst to the fire to prevail. This entire “karma” cycle starts in the elemetary text book of schools in Pakistan. It is this content in the text books that acts as a pacifier , catalyst as weel as the source of the continuing imbalance in south asian societies. This imbalance has summarily gained a due image of what the west and rest call as “terror” or “jihadi terror” over decades. I hope that NYT does an active analysis of how text book contents in pakistan schools would mould the attitudes of generations who would and whose acts would define the societal health for the forthcoming generations in the region.

    — K.Rajnikanth
  10. 10. March 7, 2009 11:26 am Link

    On the Friday after he was inaugurated, Barack Obama held a full-scale National Security Council meeting about the most serious foreign policy crisis he is facing — the deteriorating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    “It was a pretty alarming meeting,” said one senior Administration official. “The President was extremely cool and in control,” said another participant.

    “But some people, especially political aides like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod who hadn’t been briefed on the situation, walked out of that meeting stunned.”

    The general feeling was expressed by one person who said at the very end, “Holy s___.”

    target="_blank">The Afghanistan Problem: Can Obama Avoid a Quagmire? By Joe Klein | Time, Mar 5 2009

    — Rahul
  11. 11. March 7, 2009 11:31 am Link

    No sooner had the United States ended direct military aid to Sri Lanka last year over its deteriorating human rights record than China blithely stepped in to fill the breach — a breach widened by India’s hands-off approach toward Sri Lanka since a disastrous 1987-90 peacekeeping operation in that island-nation.

    Beijing began selling larger quantities of arms, and dramatically boosted its aid fivefold in the past year to almost $1 billion to emerge as Sri Lanka’s largest donor. Chinese Jian-7 fighter jets, antiaircraft guns, JY-11 3D air surveillance radars and other supplied weapons have played a central role in the Sri Lankan military successes against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or “Tamil Tigers”), seeking to carve out an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamils in the island’s north and east.

    Beijing even got its ally Pakistan actively involved in Sri Lanka. With Chinese encouragement, Pakistan — despite its own faltering economy and rising Islamist challenge — has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly $100 million while supplying Chinese-origin small arms and training Sri Lankan air force personnel in precision guided attacks.

    target="_blank">China fuels Sri Lankan war By BRAHMA CHELLANEY | Japan Times, Mar 4 2009

    — Rahul
  12. 12. March 7, 2009 12:58 pm Link

    We have an old Indian saying:

    “You can wake up a person who is sleeping. You can’t wake up who is pretending to be sleeping.”

    Pakistan’s flirting with Islamic terrorism over last many decades, including this attack on SL cricketers prove that.

    ‘Editorialised’ newsreports appearing in different media will do no good for Pakistan. Its the larger Muslim society that will determine whether Pakistan will remain in pluralistic, Sufi tradition, cultural ethos of Indian subcontinent, or continue to drift to alien arabian desert.

    Since the fall of Soviet Union, there have been unprecedented rise of globalization, rise of middle class, 100s of millions of people rescued from poverty worldwide….. This Islamic terrorism has caused much disruption to that and damaged it to a degree.

    There are still people, media pundits who believe, someday, somehow those who are sponsoring Jehad, terrorism will stop doing that, handover the culprits etc. Its not going to happen.

    Lots of things are at stake here, and sooner or later people will have to take a firm stand against these forces who are against the poor, globalized world, causing job loss worldwide.

    — Dipak Ghosh
  13. 13. March 8, 2009 12:06 pm Link

    The Obama administration is only halfway through its 60-day review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but top officials already have come to an important conclusion: Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is now the central front of the war against Islamic extremism.

    And nuclear-armed Pakistan is in trouble. Islamist extremism is on the rise, and the government and army appear incapable of reversing the tide.

    target="_blank">Fear and loathing in Pakistan
    Gains by Islamic extremists and anti-American sentiment among its people make it a tough test for Obama.
    By Doyle McManus | Los Angeles Times, Mar 8 2009

    — Rahul
  14. 14. March 8, 2009 12:08 pm Link

    The U.S. probably can’t expect much help from Pakistan’s civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari. The widower of Benazir Bhutto, who was once known as “Mr. 10%” for his reputed commissions on government contracts, is scrambling to rescue his slumping popularity among the Pakistani electorate. Last week, he insisted that the new leaders in Swat were merely “traditional local clerics.” And the Obama administration wasn’t impressed with Kayani’s assurance last month that he’s working on a strategy to reassert government authority in Swat.

    “Frankenstein’s monster has taken over the lab and is threatening to move into the kitchen and dining room,” a U.S. official told me last week. But the Pakistanis “have not yet decided to kill the monster.”

    target="_blank">Fear and loathing in Pakistan
    Gains by Islamic extremists and anti-American sentiment among its people make it a tough test for Obama.
    By Doyle McManus | Los Angeles Times, Mar 8 2009

    — Rahul
  15. 15. March 8, 2009 12:20 pm Link

    Late last month, the chief of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, made an unpublicized visit to the White House to meet President Obama’s new national security advisor, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr.

    The meeting did not go well.

    Speaking as one general to another, Jones pressed Kayani for a more aggressive war against Islamic militants in western Pakistan, beginning with the Swat Valley, where jihadists seized power this year. To Jones’ frustration, Kayani responded only with vague assurances that he was working on the problem.

    target="_blank">Fear and loathing in Pakistan
    Gains by Islamic extremists and anti-American sentiment among its people make it a tough test for Obama.
    By Doyle McManus | Los Angeles Times, Mar 8 2009

    — Rahul
  16. 16. March 8, 2009 6:10 pm Link

    Treating Pakistan with Kid Gloves

    I idon’t know why it is not obvious to all y’all at the NYT that Pakistann is simultaneously the purveryor of, the victim of, the international exporter of terrorsm across the globe. This kid glove treatment of the State has encouraged perceived victimization, blaming everybody in sight for problems that are under under their nose. Pakistan does not realize that it is imploding even as it is busy blaming “foreign hands”, Western countries and even a “jewish Hind” cabal out to destroy Pakistan. As the biggest contributor to Pakistan aid, the US has the repsonsibility to bring Pakistan to its senses. Its demise and takeover by the fundas is measured in weeks and days. Its institutions are falling faster than Citigroup shares can descend.

    Please bring Musharraf back. He may be a SOB but he is our SOB. He can preserve semblance of a State and beat back Taliban and al- Qaeda.

    Pakistan must think the unthinkable and only Musharraf can make it happen: join with India and make sure that Pakistan remains a viable state. India, in turn, shoudl promote this agenda and assure Paksitan through Musharraf that they will work towards preserving its integrity.

    This is the S Asia stimulus plan that will aid all countries involved.

    — Rudy
  17. 17. March 8, 2009 10:09 pm Link

    On the day that terrorists attacked Sri Lankan cricketers, I had a previously arranged speaking engagement at a university in Delhi before largely Muslim students.

    I began with the suggestion that every Indian Muslim should offer a special, public prayer of thanks to the Almighty Allah for His extraordinary benevolence - for the mercy He had shown by preventing us from ending up in Pakistan in 1947.

    The suggestion was received with startled amusement, instinctive applause and a palpable sense of sheer relief.

    target="_blank">A flawed idea By MJ Akbar | Times of India, Mar 8 2009

    — Rahul
  18. 18. March 9, 2009 2:11 pm Link

    Thanks to Rahul for the interesting links and pull quotes that inform and delight this too easily out-of-touch American. Informative debate and blog user commetary need not be natural enemies, at least here and now.

    — hlaxness
  19. 19. March 9, 2009 3:41 pm Link

    Part of the problem in the couthries of the sub continent, is a prevalence of delusional thinking and an unwillingness to face harsh reality, and always an excuse on the part of responsible officials to find others to blame for faults, weaknesses and deficiencies.

    — C. Alexander Brown
  20. 20. March 9, 2009 7:19 pm Link

    However, while millions of Pakistanis have taken umbrage at the depiction of their country’s new super-militant status, not enough Pakistanis have taken a stand against the Talibanisation of their country. It has become unpatriotic to speak against Islam in any form in today’s Pakistan.

    In Karachi, responses to the government’s declaration of Sharia law in Swat have been muted. No one dares to say the unthinkable – it’s a dangerous step. It was taken undemocratically.

    This is not our kind of Islam. It doesn’t represent us, not in Pakistan.

    target="_blank">This is not our kind of Islam
    Sharia law was introduced to Pakistan undemocratically and without debate – but people are too frightened to protest
    By Fatima Bhutto | The Guardian, Mar 9 2009

    — Rahul
  21. 21. March 9, 2009 7:23 pm Link

    Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion — while at the same time expecting the world to respect Islam as a religion of peace, love and harmony.

    target="_blank">Islam Needs to Prove It’s a Religion of Peace
    Muslims can start with a new Quranic scholarship that rejects radicalism.
    By TAWFIK HAMID | Wall Street Journal Europe, Mar 9 2009

    Mr. Hamid, a former member of an Islamist terrorist group, is an Islamic reformer and senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

    — Rahul

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