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Soft spot selected for strike

Calcutta: Besides being sitting ducks on the field, international cricket teams are, in the context of Lahore, most vulnerable at two points.

(A) The entry gate at the chic Pearl Continental hotel, off the Mall Road, and (B) at the massive Liberty roundabout, which is a stone’s throw away from a bustling market and popular eateries such as Bundu Khan’s and Shezan.

Why?

First, the entry gate is rather narrow and the team bus has to almost stop before a tight right turn (for the portico) is taken. Usually, there are enough security personnel, including the Elite ‘No Fear’ Punjab Police commandos, but terrorists could still strike and cause absolute mayhem.

It’s a chilling thought.

As for the landmark-roundabout, it’s such that the team bus has to slow down appreciably before turning right and heading for the Gaddafi, which is less than 200 metres away. A well-planned attack, therefore, would always be possible. More so as six roads converge on the roundabout, providing multiple entry/exit points.

That’s just what happened on Tuesday morning.

“I was horrified... Numbed too... Couldn’t believe what I was watching on the TV,” a senior official, who’d played a role in the last two full tours of Pakistan by Team India, in 2003-04 and 2005-06, told The Telegraph.

Both times, the green signal by New Delhi was given after IG Yashovardhan Azad (elder brother of World Cupper Kirti) confirmed that all security measures had been put in place.

The official added: “One can’t straightaway pinpoint what went wrong, though obviously many things did. I don’t, for example, know what had been Sri Lanka’s security demands... On our last two full tours, we’d specifically asked for defensive and offensive security. The latter would allow for a swift and deadly retaliation. I must add that, both times, the Pakistan government had obliged.”

If Islamadad failed, it was in its inability to arrange for a bulletproof bus at every venue. “The buses in Karachi, I think, used to be bulletproof... Don’t think others elsewhere had such protection, but the cover on the ground used to be awesome… Gave us confidence,” the official said.

Perhaps, it’s significant that the-then President, Pervez Musharraf, took a personal interest in our security. Not only because he was the Pakistan Cricket Board’s chief patron, but also because no tour by India (or, for that matter, by Pakistan to India) is without a strong element of politics and diplomacy.

Getting back to Lahore, it would all along be seen as a safe venue, much in contrast to Karachi and Peshawar. It’s possible that the security agencies hadn’t been as vigilant as, say, when Sri Lanka played in Karachi (first Test, February 21-25, and during two ODIs in January).

There was, of course, no incident when Sri Lanka played an ODI in Lahore in January. But, then, the provincial administration was probably more stable at that time.

That Punjab is currently witnessing turmoil after the Supreme Court ruling on the Sharif brothers could be one reason for a possible lack of 100 per cent coordination between the agencies involved in protecting the cricketers.

The iconic Imran Khan, who’d consistently maintained that terrorists wouldn’t ever target cricketers, has put the blame on an inadequate security cover.

In his view, the security provided was “10 times less” than what’s given to interior ministry adviser Rehman Malik!

Malik is President Asif Ali Zardari’s buddy.

Whatever the shortcomings, among other things, the audacious attack has shown that one would be a fool if one got complacent with promises of “foolproof security.”

The Sri Lankans, after all, had been assured exactly that.

Footnote: It’s a pity that Mahela Jayawardene’s last match as captain ended so abruptly. Instead of getting a guard of honour from teammates, at the end of such a fine innings, Mahela (and his men) had to be choppered off from the Gaddafi.

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