WHEN terrorists struck Mumbai on November 26 last year, the English cricket team was touring India.
It went back home but returned just a little later to complete a curtailed tour in a show of determination to deny terrorists the satisfaction of victory. But the Indian Government cancelled the planned Indian cricket tour of Pakistan for January this year.
Pakistan successfully appealed to Sri Lanka to replace India. The Sri Lankan team was rewarded on Tuesday by being attacked in a surreal replay of Mumbai by a group of about a dozen well-trained, disciplined, heavily armed young men executing an audacious, carefully planned mission with commando-style precision and toughness. Six policemen and two civilians are dead, including the bus driver whose heroics prevented the entire Sri Lankan team from being massacred.
The implications are many and far-reaching. Some can yet be positive.
This may be the first time since the Munich Olympics in 1972 that sportspeople have been targeted directly by terrorists. Pakistanis believed that because of the game's passionate popularity, terrorists would not risk a public backlash by attacking cricketers. In fact they have attacked the team that came to show solidarity when arch-enemy India withdrew. This is the end of innocence for the most genteel of games.
Second, it should disabuse innocent foreigners of the notion that the terrorists infesting Pakistan have Kashmir as their agenda. Mumbai last year already proved that the terrorist leaders mean what they say when they lump together Hindus, Christians and Jews as common enemies of Islam. Indeed, a Los Angeles Times story suggested that a primary aim of the Mumbai attacks was to disrupt the growing relationship between India and Israel.
Third, it should help to convince the Pakistani establishment that the jihadist monster it has spawned is now its own biggest security threat.
An irritant for India is proving to be fatal for Pakistan, destroying it from within. To the anguish of many, the Government recently surrendered control of the lovely Swat Valley, a mere 160km from Islamabad, to Islamists whose agenda had been roundly repudiated by voters in recent elections. As the extremists regroup in the notorious Afghanistan-Pakistan border badlands and strike with growing daring and impunity on both sides, a gathering war-weariness in NATO is encouraging negotiations with "good" Taliban as a means of containing "bad" al-Qa'ida. This could prove adangerous self-delusion.
Fourth, it should drive home to all South Asian leaders the folly of believing that their neighbour's terrorist is their own freedom fighter. Indira Gandhi played that game domestically with the Sikhs and her son Rajiv played it with Sri Lanka: both paid with their lives, felled by the bullets and bombs of the monsters they had created.
Related to this, fifth, the region's governments must co-operate in their intelligence, law enforcement and political remedies to the common scourge of terrorism. Its infrastructure of madrassas, recruitment centres, financial networks and training camps must be uprooted across South Asia. India can be the solution to Pakistan's nightmare of militancy, but not until such time as New Delhi is convinced of Islamabad's good faith, which to date has been conspicuously lacking. The Pakistan Government has been in denial, obfuscation and diversion mode with regard to the Pakistani origins of the Mumbai attacks and possible complicity of Inter-Services Intelligence agents, rogue or not.
Conversely, it is disheartening to read that India's home and foreign ministers were quick to say "I told you so" instead of letting the rebuke lie implicit while offering unconditional solace, sympathy and support to a nation in shock. A little neighbourly magnanimity can go a long way in times of national peril. The Indian team, playing in New Zealand, wore black armbands in sympathy when news of Lahore came through.
Building on anti-terrorism co-operation, South Asians also could look to foster common institutions such as regional human rights commissions (they should avoid Canadian-type Frankensteins that mock the rights they should protect), press councils, a common peacekeeping doctrine for UN deployment, joint tourism promotion, combined protection from abuse of nationals working as labourers and domestic help in the Middle East. With greater cross-border flow of goods, services and people, even the Kashmir dividing line could be made irrelevant in practice without confronting the thorny issue of sovereignty. Special envoys of former president Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly had worked out such a deal after several rounds of secret discussions. Courage deserted one or both, Musharraf is out of power and now Singh faces elections in April-May. However, the deal could be resurrected after May.
Ramesh Thakur is founding director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Ontario and adjunct professor at Griffith University, Queensland.