Rumors Drive Reaction to Attack on Sri Lankan Team

Ali Sethi, a soon-to-be-published novelist in Pakistan, has a wonderful — and disturbing — account of Lahore’s reaction to the cricket attacks in today’s New York Times. As is true in most parts of the region, including in the Middle East, after any such event, a persistent set of rumors takes hold, usually involving a vast conspiracy theory. In this case, the attacks were either orchestrated by the Indian intelligence agencies (to make Pakistan look bad) or the Pakistani government itself (to make the jihadis look bad) — anyone is blamed but the attackers themselves.

Take this exchange:

“Everyone at the hospital was saying the same thing,” Ali Raza told me later that night, as we stood in line at a brightly lighted stall selling paan — a mild stimulant made with betel nuts — near the Main Market roundabout, just a short walk away from the site of the attack. “They were saying that this was done to show the Indians that we in Pakistan are also the victims of terrorism.”

“You think our own government did it?” I asked.

“No one else could get away with this kind of thing,” he insisted.

I’m sure sociology experts have written studies on this, but here’s my take: first, there’s obviously some element of local shame that prevents a completely dispassionate analysis. To admit that this was a massive security failure would be to admit weakness, which no one wants to do.

Secondly, the event itself eludes understanding: can anyone explain why several young well-armed and well-trained men would want to attack a group of Sri Lankans? And can anyone explain how all of them actually got away?

Thirdly, a lack of information and a charged, complex political atmosphere make for a bad combination. On the one hand, given the number of factions in Pakistan’s own intelligence agencies, no one knows who’s sincere, and who’s not. Moreover, when you consider the dizzying violence and abject poverty and mayhem that most Pakistanis now face on a daily basis — well, if the situation’s so irrational, how can you look for a rational answer? It’s easier to think about one entity — the Indian government! — rather than a wide, systemic failure with many malfunctioning circuits.


4 thoughts on “Rumors Drive Reaction to Attack on Sri Lankan Team

  1. WishIwasHome says:

    I read that piece in NY Times and I don’t understand something. Is the average Pakistani so blind to the growing Taliban influence in their midst? Their govt. just about handed a piece of the country over to that mob! Given a situation like this, walking the streets of Lahore with rocket launchers doesn’t seem far-fetched.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      The government did hand over a piece of country, but not the part Lahore is in. As another observer noted, Lahore is Pakistan’s cultural capital, not some outlying city in Swat province.

      Besides, in India, our first reaction to a terror attack is usually to blame some Pakistani agent — it’s almost an immediate conclusion that we reach, before any of the supporting evidence arrives. So, isn’t the obverse also entirely believable in Pakistan — that any terror attack there has something to do with India? I’m not saying it’s true either way — only that I understand why it’s believable.

  2. WishIwasHome says:

    I agree with you that blaming India is only to be expected. But its surprising that the people did not think of Taliban/Lashkar etc. as an alternative before blaming their own govt!

    On a sarcastic note, the Indian govt. doesn’t even equip its own cops with good firearms as we saw during the Mumbai attacks. I highly doubt our babus are capable of carrying out covert operations necessary for such a brazen attack!

  3. eyemriteurdead says:

    One hears from people who know people who know people in the Indian Diplomatic service that India’s RAW does get upto all kinds of shenanigans in Pakistan.But,(a little bit of patriotism tints my view) to say that the attack on the Lankans was concieved and implemented by the Indians is a bit far fetched. For one thing not one attacker was injured or killed.

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