March 3 was the day when whole of Pakistan refused shelter to the visiting members of the Sri Lankan cricket team. Viewers watched live air-lifting of the guest cricketers by a Pakistan Army helicopter, and news was they would be flown back to their home country without delay. Was that so insecure in whole of Lahore? Or, throughout Pakistan?
By Dr. Khalil Ahmad
March 3 was the day when whole of Pakistan refused shelter to the visiting members of the Sri Lankan cricket team. Viewers watched live air-lifting of the guest cricketers by a Pakistan Army helicopter, and news was they would be flown back to their home country without delay. Was that so insecure in whole of Lahore? Or, throughout Pakistan? Why the last line of Pakistani defense had to come into action? Why the cricketers had to be transported to Pakistan Air Force base from the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, already cordoned off by police? The same evening a chartered plane took them to Sri Lanka.
The cricket team was in Pakistan since they had been promised Presidential-style security. That quelled ICC’s reservations also. They had already played a number of matches in Karachi, and one in Lahore on January 24. It was this 3rd day of the 2nd test in Lahore, where they might have felt safe, that they were ambushed. It must have come to them as a surprise: suddenly near the Liberty Roundabout they found themselves under siege, and an intense attack was launched with automatic weapons that in minutes killed five to six commandos of Elite Force from the Punjab Police, and injured a number of them including some Sri Lankan players. Two other ordinary citizens died whose death caused no ripples in media also.
Let’s try to put it into the context: Pakistan has been transformed into a country which in no sense is meant for us the ordinary people. Here the most an ordinary citizen fears are two things: criminals and government functionaries, and now add the terrorists to this list. This states the helplessness of the hapless citizens: one goes to police to seek protection from the criminals, and what he finds there is the final coercion against which he has no door to knock at for justice. Criminality and government run in unison.
Under such circumstances, if one is not connected or does not connect himself to any influential person or group, he already lives a forsaken life. It is just fortune that he lives safe and sound till he dies a natural death. That is why those who are far away from the fringes of the elite classes who enjoy a divine clout in Pakistan, those who belong to the various layers of middle classes, and those who are perfectly the wretched of the earth, always dream/aspire to move up to a higher ladder where they could find a bit of status and protection by virtue of their nearness to the divine elites of Pakistan.
For that, one legal way is to join the Civil Services of Pakistan via an annual competitive examination. This helps one get admitted to the bureaucratic rung of the elites’ circle. Even qualified doctors holding M.B.B.S. degree run for that. Every year near about two hundred aspirants are fetched up. In view of about 3 % annual increase in the population, it is just nothing. Almost all of the ordinary citizens are thus left at the mercy of criminals and government functionaries. Some of them try to find that social protection by getting entries into various government services out of which police and its allied departments are prized most.
In this context, all the policemen inducted in police, from top to bottom, practically behave as law unto themselves, and not as the agents of law. Whatever be the objectives they are trained for, they never act as the custodians and enforcers of law; rather as the greatest violators of law. More than criminals, they are at the top of those government functionaries who coerce ordinary citizens most. Most of the times, they work hand in glove with the criminals. That is why they are not able to fight the criminals honestly professionally. How tragic and at the same time ridiculous that more than two dozen policemen, and note that they were commandos, could not target any of the attackers. Not a single attacker was killed or injured. Also, no one was arrested from the scene. They did not flee. All of them disappeared showing no signs of haste or worry.
Shouldn’t the commandos have performed better than the general police force? Were not they professionally trained for that? Yeah, if it were a procession, a protest rally of ordinary people, they would have killed many an innocent citizen!
As the reports and footages of close circuit cameras are coming out now, and without going into the details of other facts such as prior intelligence, unknown call about the root to be adopted the same morning before the team left the hotel for the cricket stadium, and without paying any heed to the sort of “involvement of the foreign hands” blames, what exactly happened on the spot that fateful morning can be enacted like a film in our imagination. This is what this article focuses on. It may have happened that when the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricketers, escorted by a traffic police officer on a motor cycle, and two vehicles of Elite Force armed with automatic weapons, one ahead of the bus and one at the back of it, reached the Liberty Roundabout, just a walking distance away from the Gaddafi Stadium, as press reports tell they were attacked from three sides. This took about half an hour at the most and after that what we saw was that six of the commandos and two ordinary souls were dead. Injured included a score of policemen, Sri Lankan cricketers and others.
How come that the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricketers made to the Stadium and to safety as was proved later! It is told that the bus driver did that. Fortunate enough that the driver was not injured or killed, police did not protect him, and he did show the courage to keep the bus moving till it reached the last point. Fortunate enough that the attackers did not follow the bus! Another point that reveals the inefficiency of the police present on the scene is that: had they fought the attackers, all of the attackers, could not have disappeared and at least if no one would have been killed or injured, one or two of the attackers must have been caught. Or it means that as the police after the shootout did not follow the attackers, it may be surmised that it did not fight them either. It did not follow them is a fact!
On the other side, what we saw is that not a single terrorist out of 12, or 14 or 16, the number that police reports oscillate between, was killed or injured. Ironically, as a number of close circuit cameras show now, all of the attackers using various means such as a snatched motor cycle whisked away in broad day light. Some of them were confronted by the police cars moving around, but not a single terrorist was identified, resisted or arrested whereas the weapons in their hands were as visible as in the hands of police. The same police smell a rat with every citizen on any street or road at any time of the day!
Why and how did the police fail so miserably that day? There are hundreds of aspects, questions, opinions and facts related to its total failure which are coming out daily in the print and electronic media. For example, prior intelligence reports about the possibility of such an attack have already been communicated to the concerned police officials; that in the wake of Governor’s rule in Punjab and subsequent reshuffling of the top police hierarchy, the new bosses never bothered about going into those reports; that some of the concerned police bosses were asleep at their homes when the Sri Lankan cricketers were under attack; that as Chris Broad states police did not face the attackers and ran away.
All these reports point in the direction that police’s failure is symptomatic of the system’s failure. These reports further confirm the fact that in the case of Liberty Roundabout attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team, on the part of police it was not a security lapse; but a security collapse. That shows our police are not a professional force raised and trained to protect ordinary citizens’ life and property and their rights on the one hand, and on the other to fight criminals and terrorists. Their use by the state and governments to coerce ordinary citizens and political opposition has bereft them of their professional competence. That’s’ what the March 3 attacks speak loudly! They desperately show: reform the police and raise it as a professional force to protect the people and fight the criminals and terrorists. That’s the lesson that needs to be learned if anything is going to be learned from what happened at the Liberty Roundabout on March 3, 2009!
Dr. Khalil Ahmad is president and founder of the Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free-market think tank.
This article appeared in The Post on March 6, 2009.