Police Make Arrests In Cricket Team Attack

Police in Pakistan say they've arrested suspects in an attack Tuesday on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Six policemen and a driver were killed when gunmen opened fire on the team's bus in the city of Lahore. The assault is further proof of Pakistan's deep instability.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We have some news this morning following up on yesterday's attack on a cricket team in Pakistan. The target was a team from Sri Lanka and police in Pakistan now say they've made several arrests. They launched a manhunt for around a dozen gunmen who opened fire on the team bus in the city of Lahore. Six policemen and a driver were killed in that attack. The assault is further proof, if any was needed, of Pakistan's instability, and it also has larger implications for the whole of South Asia because of the target. NPR's Philip Reeves is going to help explain that for us from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

And Philip, why is it - why is it seen as significant that a cricket team would be struck?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, I know cricket in the United States is seen by many as a rather eccentric, you know, obscure sport. But the fact is that it's a huge multibillion dollar business. And it generates, you know a fortune in TV rights and advertising. It has a colossal following, and its financial foundations lie right here in South Asia, particularly in India. And in this region it's also a kind of glue that unites people of different language, religion and ethnicity; that's important in a place with so many deep divisions. It's a rallying point sometimes for patriotism, and it's also an instrument of diplomacy.

I don't know whether you remember, but a few years back, India conducted its first full tour of Pakistan for 15 years. And at the time that was seen as a very important step in the now-paralyzed efforts to make peace between those two rival nations.

INSKEEP: Hmm. And then you have a foreign team coming to Pakistan and playing and they become the target.

REEVES: Yeah, that's what's happened. And I think people have been particularly shocked by the fact that it singled out - this was actually targeting a team. You know, they fired a rocket propelled grenade at the team bus. It didn't hit, but they were trying to kill them. Now, people tended until now to see cricket stars as immune, you know, on the grounds that - you know, they're so popular, extremists would avoid attacking them because it would undermine sympathy for their own cause. And this attack, coupled with the Mumbai assault in India three months ago, is now therefore raising really deep concerns about whether international cricket competitions should be held anyway in South Asia for the foreseeable future.

And that includes India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and obviously Pakistan. And if that happens, if there is no cricket around here, it's going to be a huge blow to the sport and of course to the economy that surrounds it.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to think of an American comparison. It's almost as if you said you could play baseball anywhere in the world but not the United States. That would be devastating.

REEVES: Yes, and it's very strange. I mean Pakistan's team is going to have to become a sort of team of nomads. It will be playing its cricket overseas. There's talk of a series (unintelligible) to hold with the Australians being shifted to England. It's a measure therefore of the instability of the crisis in Pakistan that the national team in the favorite sport cannot now play its own game inside its national boundaries. That's how bad it's got.

INSKEEP: Philip, you mentioned that it had been presumed that cricket stars would be immune because anybody who attacked them would have a lot of wrath turned upon themselves. But now somebody has done it. So how has the public responded?

REEVES: I think Pakistanis are deeply upset and actually embarrassed about what's happened. You know, there's a strong tradition of hospitality in this country. They were delighted when the Sri Lankans agreed to play cricket here while other teams refused and they promised to extend very high levels of security to them. That security broke down. People are very upset about that. They're embarrassed, they feel they haven't treated their guests properly. And of course for a multitude of cricket fans here this is a devastating blow. It means that, you know, there won't be any cricket in Pakistan for a long time to come.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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