Skip links

Pakistani Groups Target Sri Lankan Success over Terrorism

Many commentators have drawn the conclusion that the Sri Lankan cricket team was targeted by terrorists not because they were Sri Lankan, rather they were the only foreign sports team visiting Pakistan. Given the global media attention it received, the targeting of a foreign sports team irrespective from which country they came did achieve the media objectives for the terrorists. However, this argument is valid if no other foreign sports teams were planning to visit Pakistan. But in fact, Pakistan was hosting the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed International Kabaddi Tournament on 07 March 2009, at which the national teams of Pakistan, United Kingdom and Canada were expected to participate. In addition, club teams from Germany, France, Italy and Spain were also expected to participate. In fact the German club team had already arrived in Pakistan on Sunday 01 March 2009.

Therefore, the Pakistani terrorists would have had the opportunity to target five European teams using the same modus operandi and possibly achieve greater media attention than targeting a team from a South Asian country. Target selection is a vital element of terrorist strategy. Terrorist groups identify targets based on strategic importance, symbolism, accessibility and overall benefit to the group. Therefore, how and why did the Sri Lankan cricket team fit the requirements for target selection by a Pakistani terrorist group. 

One opinion expressed is that the Pakistani based terrorist group Harakat-ul Mujahideen (HuM) which had a close relationship with the LTTE may have sponsored such an attack. In November 2002, Brian Joyce in an article to Jane’s Intelligence stated that the Harakat-ul Mujahideen, used the LTTE shipping fleet to transport consignments of weapons to Islamist groups in the Philippines. The sinking of nine LTTE vessels by the Sri Lankan Navy had an impact on the HuM capability to supply its affiliates. Other Indian analysts have also written on the close association between HuM and the LTTE and the LTTE acquiring anti-aircraft guns from Pakistan. 

The arrest of LTTE procurement agent Prathapan Thavarajah in Indonesia and his subsequent extradition to the United States has also highlighted the active presence of LTTE agents in Pakistan. Information recovered from a Laptop Computer with Thavarajah provided detailed information on LTTE activities in Pakistan, including the use of a front company in Karachi to procure several consignments of weapons. 

There is no doubt that the LTTE procurement unit had an active presence in Pakistan and it is possible that this unit may have had some involvement in the attack. It is imperative that the Pakistan authorities investigate all links including any role played by LTTE agents in Pakistan.

The strategic importance of the Sri Lankan cricket team to be selected as a target could be that, Sri Lanka now represents a success story in militarily defeating terrorism. At a time when Pakistan is capitulating to Taliban demands to impose Sharia law in exchange for a ceasefire in the Sawt Valley, the government in Sri Lanka has set new benchmarks on what it takes for a successful military response to terrorism. It is possible that the Sri Lankan cricket team was targeted because of what Sri Lanka symbolizes to all terrorist groups worldwide. 

The successful counter terrorism strategy adopted by Sri Lanka which has completely annihilated the conventional combat capability of the LTTE, is a concern for many terrorist groups globally. At a time when the Taliban is attempting to develop a conventional capability in the FATA region, the Sri Lankan example is not welcome. The United States government has been constantly pressuring Pakistan to take strong military action against the Taliban and Sri Lanka is a representation of strong military action. 

Much of the Western media has attempted to focus on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka during the last few months. However, policy makers in western capitals have confided their astonishment at the success of the Sri Lankan Security Forces. Now Sri Lanka is a success story in counter terrorism and with it comes the burden of being a target for terrorist.