Behind the Ambush on the Sri Lankan Cricket Team

Even those of us who don't follow cricket shouldn't miss the continuing coverage of the attack on the Sri Lankan team visiting Lahore, Pakistan, for an international match. The attack may well prove to be one of the pivotal moves in the complex chessgame of South Asian politics.

Despite the usual welter of conspiracy theories, it's a good bet that over time popular revulsion against the attack will be massive, especially in military circles. No foreign team will visit Pakistan again anytime soon, and India, Australia and Europe are already boycotting Pakistani matches. This attack will brings with it a kind of famine in entertainment all across Pakistan. And it will not lift soon.

Will that reaction lead to a coup? I can't know but I do expect -- at last -- a real crackdown on the loose alliance of the people who killed Benazir Bhutto, who attacked Mumbai, and, not least, who have cheered the re-Talibanization of the frontier provinces in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The present government's compromise in Swat now looks even more feckless and desperate than it did a week ago.

We have seen in Sunni sections of Iraq how an excess of bloodshed by terrorists can lead to revulsion. The terrorist fever can burn itself out, much like the fevers in Dickens novels. Afghanistan, with its enormous rural/urban divide, does not seem to be at that point. Pakistan, on the other hand, has huge, vibrant cities that have drawn rural populations from as far away as the frontier provinces (and even Afghanistan.) And everywhere, perhaps even in the secret gatherings of the Taliban, Pakistani men are drawn to cricket and its unabashed nationalism. But it takes two nations and more to field nationalistic sporting rivalries, with the agonies of defeat and the joys or hopes of victory; and it's no fun if there are no home games!

It may seem sad that it takes an attack on a sports team -- as opposed to, say, a girls school -- to turn Pakistani nationalist opinion against terror. Yet there's real cause for hope in the sad news from Lahore.

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