I haven’t had much time to process my thoughts, so forgive any hyperbole or emotion:
First, Pakistan — and, generally, South Asia — has been the site of several, eye-popping attacks in recent years. Each time, however, things have ratcheted up: gone are the days of bomb explosions, which, because of their frequency, sadly don’t earn as much attention as they used to.
From the death of Benazir Bhutto, we’ve moved to the suicide bombing of the Marriott hotel; the spectacular Mumbai attacks, and, this latest attack on a cricket team. Since sportsmen — especially cricketers of South Asian origin — were expected to be exempt from this, the attack stands out even more. This is terrorism’s cruel theatrical logic: it doesn’t really depend on a particular political animus (what could any jihadist have against a Sri Lankan? Or even a Sri Lankan cricketer?) but more on the spotlight factor. So, weirdly enough, given that the Sri Lankans aren’t Westerners, this attack’s shock multiplies.
Secondly, Dominic Cork, a Sky News commentator, has already said he does not plan to come back to Pakistan while he is living. That’s his decision and, honestly, as an ex-Indian citizen, I don’t have any desire to go to Pakistan either. But there’s something wrong about this sentiment coming so soon from a Westerner because, for one thing, the victims all appear to be South Asian — this might change, of course — and the target was, obviously, Sri Lankan.
No doubt, the Australian team made the right decision, but the Sri Lankans still chose to go to Pakistan despite the obvious security concerns. They did this for a variety of reasons (see “money”), but also because, as Sri Lankans, they’ve had to live with terror alarms for decades. They went to play the sport, which they did, and they paid a price they shouldn’t have. Give them credit before you say, as Reg Dickason, a security expert, did, that you told us so. You earn no points whatsoever.
Thirdly, there’s a more important reason this attack stands out: it just isn’t cricket. That may sound irrelevant, but cricket was one of the few things that still bound Pakistan to the rest of the world. It’s become increasingly clear now, however, that even that will not last. Cricket is not soccer or whatever: it has its own unique history, no doubt colonialist, but also relating to the timeless charms of taking days slowly and playing sport for the sake of playing it. Now that cricket itself has been attacked, you realize fully the scope of anarchy that terrorists endorse. Desmond Tutu put it best during a lecture when he said that cricket taught fairness and human equality. Without cricket, Pakistan has lost another weapon against its increasing lawlessness (see that link if you think I’m delving too deeply into colonialist nonsense; Tutu does a great job of “taking back” cricket from the racist White-Man’s-Burden rhetoric).
You realize now, however, how low Pakistan has now fallen. This might anger some readers, but I think it’s still necessary to say. During my childhood, I often thought Partition was a tragedy and contemplating it and the split map of South Asia would produce something close to heartache. Now, however, I think V.S. Naipaul was correct when he wrote that Partition gave India breathing room and saved it from years of civil war. The biggest concern now for India isn’t Kashmir, which, as Azim Premji remarkably said on Charlie Rose’s show the other night, has become a “non-issue.” The biggest concern is Pakistan itself. India must now act as if it has a failed state on its borders and, curiously, it now finds itself invested in Pakistan’s state institutions.
But what do you do with people who attack cricketers?