Everyone was sure after the November attacks in Mumbai that there was a second set coming. In Mumbai, this meant there were police barricades set up all over the city which slowed down the already turgid traffic. The predictions for the next chosen site ranged from military bases in Gujarat to the Red Fort during the Republic Day celebrations to the strip outside the Siddhivinayak Temple on Tuesdays (maximum devotees show up on that day). No one thought that the next time we heard of terrorism in the subcontinent, it would be directed at cricketers.
At approximately 8.30 Pakistan time this morning, a grenade went off near Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. The two buses with members of the touring Sri Lankan cricket team and the umpires were about half a kilometre away from the stadium when they were attacked by terrorists. One bus driver died as did many Pakistani policemen; the other showed incredible presence of mind as he charged ahead towards Gaddafi Stadium, despite the Kalashnikov-shooting gunmen who were aiming at him and his vehicle. Six of the Sri Lankan players were injured but they are all safe and out of danger.
Experts say that there’s similarities in the modus operandi of the Mumbai attacks and this one. Both used the device of a diversion in a street though considering the fact that that they used a rocket launcher in Lahore, there’s clearly been a technological upgrade. Then again, this is Pakistan. It would have been a little hard to set up a rocket launcher even in Colaba but considering how much violence Pakistan has seen, rocket launchers may be as common here as burglar alarms are in America. As in Mumbai, officials quickly found the culprits’ backpacks and equipment. The backpacks revealed the third similarity – dried fruits, which means the terrorists either share the same taste in snacks or the same guys catered both sets of gunmen. Whether this means the Lahore chaps meant to hijack the buses – someone check whether Star Movies showed “Speed” recently – remains a conjecture. Finally, witness reports say that the gunmen were young and clean-shaven. No one has claimed responsibility for the Lahore attacks so far.
The blame game, however, has begun. Imran Khan had once said (to convince cricket boards it was safe to tour Pakistan) that the subcontinent loves cricket too much to attack the players. He has blamed the government for giving the Sri Lankan team inadequate protection. Some have said the Al Quaeda is behind this (possibly because like Imran Khan, they can’t believe a subcontinental dude would want to kill cricketers). Apparently the ISI chief has blamed India’s Research and Analysis Wing for the attack. Now the RAW guys might be cricket enthusiasts but I doubt this is how they’re dealing with their disappointment at the Indian cricket team’s losses. A Pakistani Minister agrees with the ISI chief. Apparently this attack is India’s “open declaration of war” against Pakistan. If this were true, wouldn’t it have made more sense to pound the Pakistani team’s bus with bullets?
It’s been the only thing in the news channels all day but even so, the volatility of the region we’re living in escapes most of us who are deeply-entrenched in our daily commutes, meetings and duties. As we buy apricot and orange tea cakes for friends or argue about whether Freida Pinto really deserves to be in a list of the 25 sexiest women in cinema alongside Charlotte Rampling or show up for a work meeting in a buzzing coffee shop in Bandra, it’s easy to be immune to how fragile our stability is.
Our three neighbours are in a state of chaos. There’s mutiny in Bangladesh, civil war in Sri Lanka and Pakistan is more a collection of governments than a country. With the country’s governance divided between tribal warlords, the Islamists and the military, the democratically-elected government has very little power and it’s a miracle that the country still exists. As these countries crumble like radioactive cookies, India is one of the places that runaway refugees and revolutionaries from these countries will run to. This is particularly scary because we have our own problems. Naxalism is apparently seeing a renaissance and recently, Maoists in Bihar destroyed train stations in the interiors. There was no report of this in Mumbai’s newspapers but my aunt was stuck in a train that got delayed by 14 hours because Maoists had attacked a tiny station 45 minutes away from where her train stood. But here in our cities, we’re insulated from reality by our daily routines and naïvete, surrounded as we are by nitty gritty and philosophical debates. Considering our disastrous attempts at meddling in the affairs of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, we probably don’t deserve this sense of security that our little world is ok, even when things are going to hell in a handbasket next door. Maybe it comes from being a large country of disconnected communities. Perhaps we’ve perfected the skill of blinkering ourselves or maybe the inane day-to-day struggles are too all-consuming. Whatever the reason, it lets us continue with the comforting illusion that we’re safe from all the craziness.