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Militant attack on cricket team in Pakistan could backfire

If militants are home-grown, domestic ambivalence about vilifying such groups could be diminished.

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Mr. Zardari's ruling party had just forced out the provincial government in Lahore. "Then you have an incident like this. What signal does that send about the security performance of the government?"

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On Tuesday, the newly appointed governor, Salman Taseer, dismissed the idea that political turmoil resulted in a security lapse. "We saved the Sri Lankan team," he said, accusing the former chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, of trivializing sacrifices made by the policemen who were killed.

Mr. Taseer added that a security review was under way.

Initial reports suggest a well-coordinated assault. Masked gunmen wearing backpacks converged from four directions on the Sri Lankans' bus as it ferried players toward the third day's play of a test match. They fired AK-47s, grenades, and a rocket launcher, engaging police for 25 minutes before some fled in a red car. An eyewitness, a money-changer named Ghani Butt, says from 30 meters away they "looked Nepali or Filipino, maybe Indian."

The rocket missed the bus and smashed into the "Bride and Groom" clothing shop, where the clock was frozen at 8:45. Police did a poor job cordoning off the area, allowing gawkers to trample over the crime scene.

Anger in the Punjab was already on high simmer before the attack, as opposition parties and lawyers prepared for massive antigovernment demonstrations slated for mid-March. Public sentiment won't improve with the damage done to the national pastime.

"The fire that has been burning all over this country has finally reached cricket too," says Saad Shafqat, a cricket writer for ESPN Cricinfo and the English-language daily Dawn.

Persuading teams to come to Pakistan is now out of the question, he says. Australia, India, New Zealand, and England have canceled tours in recent years because of security concerns after 9/11 and a 2002 bomb that went off near the touring Kiwi team's hotel. Sri Lanka was the only major opposition to venture out.

Polls within Pakistan do not reveal much support for militant groups.

Yet passive dislike for militants hasn't yet been harnessed into widespread defiance of them. In Lahore, a city once considered safe from militancy, religious vigilantes are increasingly cowing local businesses into dropping Western products and styles.

And in Swat, the military's ambivalence about fighting indigenous militants with local grievances hampered operations, says Hussain.

Before the military finally accepted a truce, there was also "no explicit call on the local population to enlist their support against these groups. There are [many] people there. Is there a strategy to engage those people?"

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