- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Last week’s terrorist attack on the visiting cricket team from Sri Lanka is forcing Pakistan to look inward, making it more difficult to blame the U.S., India or other outsiders for a growing threat within its own borders.

In the days after Tuesday’s attack, which killed six Pakistani police and a bus driver and wounded six Sri Lankan players, some officials blamed Indian intelligence or Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil insurgency. But the attack also bore some of the hallmarks of the assault last year in Mumbai, India, by terrorists affiliated with a Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“Unfortunately in Pakistan, we have many people in responsible positions who blame outside factors for their own wrongdoings and mismanagement, but on the global level it does no good to our interests,” said retired Gen. Talat Masood, one of the nation’s most prominent security analysts.

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On Friday, a senior police investigator told the Associated Press that a banned local militant group was involved. He spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the inflammatory nature of the topic.

However, Abdullah Gaznavi, a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba, denied involvement. He told Reuters news agency, “The attack is the handiwork of Indian agencies to malign the freedom struggle of Kashmir and Pakistan.”

The attack, which occurred in downtown Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital, raised serious questions about the capability of Pakistan’s security apparatus. Video footage of the incident showed 14 terrorists escaping calmly after the attack.

Lahore-based security and political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi said the incident gives a strong indication that the terrorists are powerful and the state is weak.

“Empirical evidence shows Pakistan has little ability to fight terrorism and to prevent the country from being a free field for extremists,” he said.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior denied that assessment.

“We are very much capable of fighting terrorism, and the negative impression in this regard is totally incorrect,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, in another reflection of the fragility of the situation.

Some Pakistanis have even blamed Pakistan’s own intelligence agencies for the attack, suggesting it was a way to dramatize the country’s plight and garner more international backing.

Others faulted India, not surprising given the archrivalry between the two countries.

However, the governor of Punjab, the province in whose capital the attack occurred, said Lashkar-e-Taiba was responsible.

“Governor Salmaan Taseer, who arrived on the scene, stated that the attack was carried out by the same people who had executed the Mumbai attacks last year,” wrote the leading Pakistani English language daily newspaper, the Daily Times, in an editorial.

Gen. Masood warned that the attack would further strengthen militants and terrorists unless Pakistan changes its strategy. “I fully agree that the concerns of the world are legitimate,” he said.

A’shar Rahman, a senior editor of the Dawn newspaper, said the Lahore attacks will have a devastating impact on Pakistan’s image and future. He noted that Sri Lanka was the only country that had agreed to send a sports team to Pakistan in recent months and that others now would be reluctant to do so.

“It is primarily the responsibility of the state to prevent such attacks,” he said, suggesting that Mr. Taseer accept responsibility and resign.

Analysts said the central government also lacks a strategy to fight terrorism and has been distracted by petty politics. They cited President Asif Ali Zardari’s involvement in political squabbling with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Last week, Mr. Zardari imposed governor’s rule in Punjab after a court upheld an order barring Mr. Sharif and his brother, who was the chief minister of the province, from political activity.

Concerns inside and outside Pakistan include worries about who has control over the country’s nuclear weapons.

Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad think tank, said after the Lahore attacks: “Why would the world believe that Pakistan’s nuclear arms are in safe hands?”

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