The importance of a top level Pakistani team that came to Sri Lanka to investigate Tiger guerrilla links with the Lahore attack on Sri Lankan cricketers on March 3 became clear by chance last week.
They had concluded their official engagement – a lengthy meeting with Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and top intelligence officials. Last Saturday, they were set to travel to Kandy, to visit Dalada Maligawa and other places of interest.However, orders came from Islamabad for the team to return immediately. It was after that day’s terrorist attack on the Army Headquarters in Islamabad. Malik Mohamed Iqbal, Additional Inspector General of Police (Punjab Province), led the team. Other members were Mallik Thahir Sarfraz, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Zulfikar Ali, Director, Ministry of Interior and Azad Khan, Head of Special Investigations, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The FIA office in Lahore also came under terrorist attack this week. Three members of the delegation arrived together in Colombo. A fourth joined them later. They left on the first available flight.
The story about the reported Tiger guerrilla links on the Lahore attack had been the subject of some controversy. Different media reported differently on a meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the articulate Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani in Libya. Most Pakistani media reports claimed it was President Rajapaksa who had told Gilani about the guerrilla links. Hence, Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, had sent the team to Colombo to obtain more details. What Defence Secretary Rajapaksa told them is not known.
But the attack on the Army Headquarters had brought forth new revelations. Perhaps this is why the high-level team was told to return immediately to Islamabad.
Aqeel Ahmed, a terrorist involved in the attack was captured alive. The man has been linked to an assassination attempt on former Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff; a suicide bomb that killed the Pakistan Army’s Surgeon General; and the giant truck bomb that destroyed Islamabads Marriot Hotel last year, killing more than 50 people.
Ahmad, a rogue Pakistani soldier, is said to be the one who led the group armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers and grenades to ambush the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team enroute to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Seven persons including six policemen were killed in the incident. Media reports quoted Zulfikar Hameed, the Senior Superintendent of Police who led the investigation into Lahore attack, as saying the arrest was a major breakthrough. ''All of them were staying at different places,'' Mr Hameed said.
He added, ''They only assembled at the scene of the crime about a week prior to the incident … none of them knew one another's true identities. Each gunman had been given a special mobile phone, to be thrown away after the attack. These were used to communicate with two 'coordinators.''
One would naturally wish that the attack on the Army Headquarters in Islamabad never took place. After all, in any country, the headquarters is regarded as the most secure bastion. However, if it took place a week early, the team need not have rushed. Aqeel Ahmed would have helped answer a plenty of questions including possible LTTE links. If not sooner, the details of what he said are bound to be in the public domain.