In a nation ravaged by terrorism, we seldom asked the question why we the innocent people were being targeted when bombs went off in buses and public places. But on Tuesday, for the first time in a collective voice, we asked why the terrorists targeted us when our cricketers were attacked in Lahore.
In Sri Lanka, we have been growing up with violence or have learnt to live with violence since 1971, the year in which a leftist group took up arms in a botched attempt to overthrow the government.
We can make a boastful claim that we are a nation that has not been cowed even by the worst forms of terrorism. Yet, on Tuesday morning, when we heard that our cricketers were attacked by terrorists in Pakistan, we were shaken and plunged into a state of shock, something which hundreds, if not thousands, of Tamil Tiger bombs had failed to achieve.
Why? Probably, the love of cricket and our cricketers runs deep in us. After all, it is the cricketers who bring cheer to us when gloom surrounds us.
Prior to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's victory march against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, this gloom comprised defeat, shame and humiliation. It was our cricketers who restored in us the yes-we-can confidence when in 1996 they beat the mighty Australians. Ironically, the historic 1996 victory came at the Lahore Gaddafi stadium, close to which Mahela Jayawardene and his cricketers had a brush with death on Tuesday, two days before the Ides of March. It was at this same Gaddafi stadium that 13 years ago, Arjuna Ranatunga was handed the championship trophy by Pakistan's then prime minister Benazir Bhutto amidst roaring cheers from the Pakistani people, who wholeheartedly backed the Sri Lankan team.
The victory in 1996 changed the outlook of Sri Lanka's cricket. Our cricketers are loved and respected wherever they go. The South Asian political realities with their usual Indo-Pakistan rivalry have made Sri Lankans the natural friend of both India and Pakistan. When we play Pakistan, almost the whole of India is with us. When we take on India, the whole of Pakistan prays for our triumph.
Yet, on Tuesday, some people who did not understand the sanctity of sports or the importance of sports in character building and peace-making -- remember the cricket diplomacy of Rajiv Gandhi and General Zia-ul Haq -- made the Sri Lankan cricketers their target, while they were the guest of Pakistan. If the attackers were members of the Taliban or a pro-Taliban group, their action defied the logic of the Taliban who invited the full wrath of the US fire power by insisting that protecting their guest -- Osama bin Laden -- was an honourable cause and worthy of martyrdom.
But when non-state actors become desperate, values have little place in their ideology. The LTTE in April 2007 gave a pledge to the sports loving Sri Lankans that it would not do any mischief while the country was watching the cricket World Cup finals between Sri Lanka and Australia. But it broke its pledge and launched air raids on Colombo, underscoring terrorism's scant respect for sports.
Sportsmen and women are like babes, politically innocent. Generally, they steer clear of politics, though politicians often use them to achieve their goals.
So when news of the attack reached us, we went into a shock. Though we were relieved that none of the cricketers suffered life-threatening injuries, we grieved that our loved ones had been hurt.
Our anger was not at Pakistan, but at the terrorists. There was very little criticism of the Pakistani government. A few questioned the adequacy of the security provided to our cricketers. The anger was largely at the terrorists, with some theorising that there could be an LTTE hand in it, though Sri Lankan officials said that one could not come to such conclusion without enough evidence.
Some even pointed the finger at India: A Research and Analysis Wing job. A South Asian diplomat said this was not the time for a blame game between India and Pakistan. He said there should be much cooperation between South Asian nations in combating terrorism.
A Sri Lankan political analyst noted that unfortunately, the intelligence agencies of South Asian nations had different agendas with regard to combating terrorism, though leaders at South Asian summits stress the need for greater South Asian cooperation to eliminate terrorism from the region.
Ameen Izzadeen is a senior Sri Lankan journalist.