In a daring raid reminiscent of the Mumbai attack, terrorists in Lahore targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team as it travelled towards the Gaddafi stadium on Tuesday morning.
The Sri Lankan team that was touring Pakistan lived through 25 agonising minutes of onslaught as grenades were hurled by the 12 heavily armed terrorists.
Terror attacks are not a new thing in the sub-continent. But targeting of cricketers by terrorists has come as a shocker for all. Cricket is nothing short of a religion when it comes to the fan following in the subcontinent.
Even in Pakistan, cricketers till date had been spared of vicious attacks by hardliners and terror outfits. On Tuesday, the religion of cricket was bloodied and defiled.
Pakistanis love cricket but Tuesday's attack makes us ask if Pakistan is at war with itself and is it pulling the 'self-destruct' plug. Is Pakistan sliding into anarchy?
To debate the issue on Face The Nation were a panel of experts including former ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh, and Strategic Affairs Analyst Sushant Sareen.
Also joining in were international terrorism expert and author of Inside al-Qaeda Rohan Gunaratna and former Information Minister of Pakistan, Tareeq Azeem Khan.
At the beginning of the show, viewers had polled in to convey their answer to the Question Of The Day: Is Pakistan sliding into anarchy?
96 per cent said Yes, while a mere 4 per cent said No.
The Audacity of the Attack
Heavily armed terrorists attacked the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team and after engaging the police in a bloody battle for a few minutes, they even managed to get away without being caught.
Lalit Mansingh said that it was quite clear that it was not an issue about cricket anymore. It was about the viability of the state of Pakistan, he said.
"When the Governor of Punjab (in Pakistan) says that we did everything that we could possibly do and that was not good enough, I think Pakistan is in serious trouble. I think it was an incremental ‘Talibanisation’ of Pakistan that we saw today," said Mansingh.
Pointing out to the fact that Taliban elements had spread their area of activities from FATA, through Swat and now to Lahore, he said, "There is one single message to the Pakistani authorities and to the world at large that we are in control. We can do anything, anywhere at a time and place of our choice."
This attack was clearly aimed at catching the attention of the international media. The aim seemed to be to make Pakistan lose credibility before the world. The attack made the Pakistani army look bad; the civilian government looked bad, in this attempt to ruin the collective image of Pakistan.
Sushant Sareen said that trying to figure out who could possibly want this effect and may have perpetrated the attacks, would be in the realm of speculation at this stage.
"But one thing is very clear. There is no sanctity attached to anything anymore. Pakistan has become a no-go area which is rather unfortunate," he stated.
Pointing out to the terrorists escaping without a trace, Sareen said that the Liberty Square in Lahore is a very busy square. Anybody can escape from there.
"All they had to do is let go of their back-packs and melt into the crowds, because that place is a melting pot" said Sareen.
But Sareen had a more studied point about why the country is finding it hard to fight increasing ‘Talibanisation’. "The point is that the ‘Talibanisation’ is a mindset. We get sexy looking guys like Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, coming over on television and yet they are a Taliban in their minds," said Sareen.
The crux of the problem is that this mindset is all pervasive in Pakistan. People like former ISI chief Hamid Gul cheer on the ‘Talibanisation’ of the state.
Imran Khan was very gleeful on a particular TV show about the Sharia law being formalised in Swat province, recalled Sareen. Khan had called it the will of the Lord, said Sareen. Underneath the civilised the Oxford-Cambridge accent still rests the Talibanisation in the minds.
Blame the Angst on America?
There is a lot of anti-West adamancy in Pakistan. It maybe true that the recent attacks are Taliban's ways of digging its heel into the ground and trying to get back at US drones attacking suspected terrorists on Pakistani soil.
Mansingh said, "Well, I do not think that America is doing it alone. There is an understanding between the US army and the Pakistani government, that the US army uses Pakistani bases and attacks the militants through the drones. Pakistanis, of course will express outrage but it is an understanding.
Earlier in the day Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee felt that Pakistan must hold on to courage and tackle terror in earnest. Indian Home Minister P Chidambaran had also said that Pakistan has not done enough to dismantle the terror networks nor had it done enough to apprehend the handlers and controllers of terror.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had said that the attacks were an attack on Pakistan. Pakistan Information Minister, Sherry Rehman also blamed the attacks as designs to destabilise Pakistan and its ability to hold international matches.
The middle class and the intellectuals of Pakistan seemed to be distancing themselves from a lot of ghastly investigations. The elite no more stand up to and try to get counted as voices against the ‘Talibanisation’.
"It is not only the elite or the intellectuals of Pakistan but everyone should realise that this scourge of terrorism is doing good for many," said Tariq Azeem Khan.
"It is a sad day for Pakistan, for cricket and for the entire region. Let no one be happy or feel that it is Pakistan that is in trouble at the moment. As everyone saw, the Lahore attacks have an uncanny parallel with the Mumbai attacks. Like I said before, these terrorists do not have any territory," added Khan.
All panelists agreed that it is high-time Pakistan did more to tackle terror.
Khan said that Pakistan was trying to tackle terror but the forces were not well trained or equipped. The police weapons fall short of the modern ones carried by the attackers.
But the truth is that Pakistan should have dismantled the terror bases and made them shut shop a long time ago.
"If you go back to history, United States and Western countries had created this monster when the Russians were in Afghanistan. It is happening all over," said Tariq Azeem Khan.
"We all the free world people from Senegal to Indonesia have created this monster. When they (the Russians) were leaving, they just left behind these monsters for us to deal with," said Khan. The monster is now trying to devour the subcontinent.
Does the Pak Army Need a Shift in Aims?
Rohan Gunaratna said, "The Pakistani army has been fighting a relentless campaign against al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups in Pakistan.
"It is true that in the Swat valley, the Pakistani government has signed an agreement. But in the FATA, in the federally administered tribal area, Pakistani army is fighting a relentless battle where 2000 officers and men have been killed. I just returned from that area and let me assure you that the Pakistani government is facing a grave threat from terrorism," provided Gunaratna.
Sareen refused to believe that enough was being done by the Pakistani army to fight terror.
"I think Mr Gunaratne's information is basically the Pakistani army's information. Unfortunately, it not entirely true. If he was to speak to certain individuals or independent observers there, he would have got a different take on how exactly is the war happening there," said Sareen.
"I am afraid it is a very messy situation. One problem is that in our part o the world, we are very lax about security issues. Secondly, in Pakistani a lot of people do not think that the Taliban is their enemy," said Sareen.
Mansingh said, "It is a form of denial and also the rejection of reason. Because the Taliban is taking over Pakistan and people are just pretending that if we strike deals with the militants, everything is going to be alright."
At the end of the debate, panelists concluded that the situation in Pakistan at the moment is very grim, with every section in the country that could be taking on the Taliban giving up before the terror groups instead.
With that the last line of defence has been breached and cricket the universal religion of the sub-continent has been assaulted. Pakistan does seem to be slowly but surely sliding into anarchy.
Final SMS/Web Poll: Is Pakistan sliding into anarchy?.
Yes: 97 per cent
No : 3 per cent