By Raffique Shah
Sunday, March 8th 2009
AFTER you overcome the initial shock you feel angry, very angry. Then a feeling of sadness overwhelms you, followed by stark reality that the sports you so enjoy, the sportsmen and women who give you such pleasure, who are seen as symbols of sanity amidst a sea of madness, are being destroyed before your eyes. Those are but a few of the emotions that ran through my mind as I watched the carnage that erupted in Lahore last week.
By the time I picked up the live telecast it was pretty clear that none of the Sri Lankan cricketers had been killed in the murderous attack. But that was of little comfort. What the jihadists had killed was an exciting Test match in the making: in the two preceding days Sri Lanka had piled up 606 runs, with match-starved Pakistan ready to resume its reply.
Expectancy was high, what with Younis Khan having scored 313 in the First Test, and having seen Samaraweera (214) and the stylish Sangakkara (104) set up either the perfect “kill” (no pun intended) by bowling out Pakistan twice, or witnessing another flourish of batting by the hosts.
Before any of that could happen, our worst fears came to pass. The jihadists acted with impunity (did you watch how they calmly fired their weapons?) and put paid to a good match. They also ensured that international cricket would not return to Pakistan anytime soon. In turn, that would starve that country’s already struggling cricketers from rising to heights they had previously attained. In fact, given that there can be no guarantees of safety for anyone playing anything in Pakistan, a few madmen have denied sports-loving Pakistanis of one of their few escapes from guns and bombs and warring politicians.
How did cricket, of all sporting disciplines, arrive at this sorry pass? It’s not that cricketers have not been subjected to mob-anger before. In Pakistan and India where cricket is the main sport, many of their heroes have suffered personal attacks before. As recently as in 2007, during the Cricket World Cup staged here in the West Indies, “fans” attacked and damaged a house that India’s Mahendra Dhoni was building after India lost its first match to Bangladesh. Indian and Pakistani cricketers have repeatedly faced the wrath of their “fans” when they performed badly.
But this cowardly attack on the Lankans in Lahore went way beyond the boundary of fans-anger. It was war inflicted on a very generous team that had agreed to play in Pakistan when no other team would.
For that selfless act the cricketers almost paid with their lives. Mercifully, injuries to the players were not serious and we shall still have the pleasure of watching the courageous Lankans entertain us in the future. Still, the jihadists have injected a kind of fear into the gentleman’s game that will haunt it for many years to come. Even as I write (Friday morning), security at the Queen’s Park Oval for the deciding Test between the West Indies and England has been intensified to uncomfortable levels.
Is this what sport is being reduced to by reason of politics-and war-gone completely awry? If we were to peep into the minds of those who staged that attack, we’d probably find young men who have lost their entire families to bombings from American drones that are based in Pakistan, and which strike at targets knowing that innocent men, women and children would be killed as they purport to attack “terrorists”.
In Afghanistan, how many times have the Americans “attacked the Taliban”, only to find later that they killed not those involved in war, but innocent people attending weddings or funerals?
Israel’s recent barbaric assault on the Gaza, its total destruction of houses, utilities, infrastructure, not to add thousands of lives, only add fuel to the fire of jihadism. As an aside, I note that many countries, the USA being one, have pledged billions of dollars to rebuild Gaza. Isn’t there something called reparations? Should the country that used its military might to inflict such damage not pay for its wickedness? Germany did. And Japan. For those who ask how anyone can impose such severe sanctions on Israel, I respond simply: cut off aid and trade and bring Israel to its knees.
But not even Israel’s barbarism justifies what the jihadists did in Lahore or in Mumbai or elsewhere in Pakistan on a regular basis. War has always been hell. The innocent always suffer as men, and now remote-controlled machines, make war. So the jihadists, like the IRA in Ireland, the Tamils in Lanka and groups of similar ilk, find justification in the barbarism of the forces they fight.
War is no longer governed by the rules of engagement I studied many moons ago when I attended Sandhurst. The Geneva Convention is obsolete. Sport is no longer sacrosanct. Led by the mightiest powers on earth, meaning the countries best armed to violently crush their victims, war has descended into the abyss of hell. Soon, if we do not call halt to this madness, sportsmen would themselves be transformed into agents of death. Oh, what a world we live in.