The England Cricket Board has announced its decision to withdraw from touring Pakistan. This spells another disaster for the revival of international cricket in Pakistan as England become the second top tier country to back out from playing in Pakistan, in just a span of four days. The press release shared by the ECB is alarming, as it states ‘concerns around travelling to the region’ were of paramount concern. It confirms unabated apprehensions held by the west vis a vis Pakistan.
As cricket and geopolitics intersect, the million dollar question is Pakistan’s inability to convince England (and formerly, New Zealand) otherwise. In the aftermath of New Zealand pulling out, we witnessed a staggering outpour of faith and trust in the security apparatus. The message and signal from Pakistan’s celebrities, cricketing elite and the public echoed Pakistan as being safe and secure. In the run up to England’s decision, cricketing legends and politicians alike affirmed the capability of our security agencies. Unfortunately, none of that mattered from England’s vantage point.
While a narrative of unity might have appeal and sway inside our borders, it did nothing to dishevel security concerns held by global intelligence. The backdrop to England’s decision is perhaps summed up by the Taliban’s resurgence.
In the aftermath of New Zealand pulling out, we witnessed a staggering outpour of faith and trust in the security apparatus.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is undertaking an onslaught against our civilians and soldiers. Their efforts have culminated into 70 attacks since Taliban took over Afghanistan. If the security landscape is far from ideal, then statements by the interior and Foreign Minister praising Taliban and offering amnesty to TTP do nothing to allay concerns harboured by the west. it is in light of this visibly tremulous security landscape and trust deficit that has potentially led to England’s cancellation.
Twitterati and commentators have argued that the west has displayed double standards by choosing to evacuate its citizens from Kabul to Islamabad, yet chose not to tour Pakistan. It just so happens to be that Islamabad remains a safer comparative to Kabul. Pakistan showed might and courage in hosting people from all nationalities in Islamabad. Unfortunately, the UK government’s travel advisory explictiy states terrorism and kidnappings can happen in Pakistan’s major citiies. The ECB has expressed similar sentiments.
Should we feel betrayed?
It is understandable that no cricketing nation wants to put their players’ life in jeopardy for a game of cricket. However, it is also important to note that the track record of Pakistani security agencies is impeccable in provision of security to foreign teams. The preceding tours by South Africa and Sri Lanka are few examples.
Pakistan undertook personal risk by touring New Zealand and England for survival of global cricket during Covid lockdown. Our cricket deserves unflinching commitment for its emancipation from top tier test teams. As commented earlier, cricket for some is slightly more important than life and death which is why this feels like a betrayal to millions of Pakistanis.
Unfortunately, cricket is not played in a vacuum. It is defined by geopolitics and security. And Pakistan is fighting an uphill battle on both fronts.