Pakistan officials thoroughly mishandled the issue of New Zealand and now England’s cancellation of their cricket team’s tour to the country. After New Zealand, English Cricket Board also announced, citing security reasons, that its team would not visit Pakistan.
The sense of anger and hurt caused among cricket fans following this development is understandable, but aggressive statements by government and cricket board officials are unhelpful and serve to worsen the crisis.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)’s newly-appointed Chairman Ramiz Raja urged Pakistani players to consider this cancellation a ‘wakeup call’ and become the ‘best team in the world’ to avenge the betrayal – suggesting that the Pakistani cricket team’s performance had something to do with the two countries’ refusal to play in Pakistan.
The PCB chief’s act of pressuring the cricketers in this manner is tantamount to scapegoating them for the government’s own failure to convince the countries about the effectiveness of security measures.
In a video message, he also stated that the two countries have been part of a ‘Western bloc’ and are therefore hostile towards Pakistan. Ramiz then vowed to take revenge from both countries in ‘maidaan-e-jang’ (battlefield).
Earlier, Federal Minister Ali Haider Zaidi tagged New Zealand Prime Minister Jacina Adern on Twitter and said that she ‘messed up’ by cancelling the cricket team’s Pakistan tour.
“U gladly accepted credit for handling Mar’19 massacre of muslims with grace, then u must also take criticism for messing up today! Appalled by the way U have acted! [sic],” he wrote.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed issued similar remarks and jokingly said that the number of security personnel deployed for protection of the New Zealand team was probably higher than New Zealand’s entire army. What the minister does not seem to understand is that such heavy deployment must have been unusual for the guests because not everyone is used to moving around with this level of security.
This episode is yet another reminder that PTI ministers have little sense of diplomatic norms. Instead of playing the victim card on Twitter, the government should have worked on a strong diplomatic response – one that would effectively relay the country’s grievance and also reassure the world that Pakistan is fully prepared to host international visitors.
Is Pakistan really unsafe?
As federal ministers termed the cancellation a ‘conspiracy’ and demonised the New Zealand government, former cricketers and celebrities also attempted to prove how ‘safe’ Pakistan is and that the New Zealand team displayed ungratefulness by calling off the visit at the last minute. Some white social media influencers based in Pakistan also jumped on the gaslighting bandwagon and told their followers how they have never felt unsafe in Pakistan.
However, the state of ‘peace’ that the government officials and celebrities were so gleefully boasting about was exposed just a day after the New Zealand team’s cancellation — when Lal Masjid’s Maulvi Abdul Aziz and his burka-clad students hoisted Afghan Taliban’s flags on the Jamia Hafsa building in Islamabad.
Police officials who came to take down the flags faced stiff resistance from the extremist cleric and his students. Kalashnikov-toting Abdul Aziz was recorded on camera asking the cops to quit their job because it was unlawful to serve this government. “Otherwise, the Pakistani Taliban will come and teach you all a lesson,” he told the policemen who appeared visibly shaken.
The New Zealand cricket team was staying at the Serena Hotel which is merely 3 kilometres away from Lal Masjid where the Taliban flags were hoisted and this standoff between Abdul Aziz and the Islamabad administration took place last Saturday.
The police initially failed to take down the Taliban flags but later negotiated with Abdul Aziz who claimed that the authorities agreed to ‘enforce Shariah’ on his demand after which he voluntarily removed the flags. This state of lawlessness was witnessed in the federal capital just a day after the government officials told us that Pakistan was completely safe and that the NZ team’s decision was baffling.
Govt’s pro-Taliban stance is bound to have consequences
What is worrying is that Lal Masjid’s bearded Mullah and his burka-clad students are not the only ones supporting Taliban. The latest statement of support came from Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, no less, who said that the country was ready to pardon Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) if the group agreed to end terror activities. Earlier, President Arif Alvi made a similar statement about giving amnesty to the Taliban.
The government has however not answered whether the families of the terror victims would be asked if they were ready to forgive the murderers of their loved ones. It is also unclear if the TTP members would be first asked to surrender and serve jail terms for their crimes. That these pro-Taliban statements are being issued amid a stark rise in TTP terror attacks in the country adds insult to injury.
There have been 20 terror attacks claimed by the TTP since the start of this month. The latest attack took place on September 16 in Takhat Bai, Mardan in which an Assistant Sub Inspect of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) police embraced martyrdom.
What is worrying is that Lal Masjid’s bearded Mullah and his burka-clad students are not the only ones supporting Taliban.
Meanwhile, the TTP responded to FM Qureshi’s offer and said that they would never apologise to their ‘enemies’ because they were ‘proud’ of their struggle. Earlier the banned terror group had issued a warning to the media asking it not to refer to them as terrorists.
The world is not oblivious to Pakistan’s tacit support to the Afghan Taliban and the repercussions it may have for the country’s security situation. Pakistan government’s readiness to give amnesty to terrorists and glorification of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan may cause problems for us on diplomatic front. Flawed foreign policy choices have consequences.
Are the Pakistani Taliban back?
The TTP’s reemergence ought to be seen in the context of Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan which was also celebrated by a number of government officials in Pakistan. Prime Minister indirectly congratulated the Taliban for breaking the ‘shackles of slavery’. Many ministers and members of the ruling party peddled the same pro-Taliban narrative in the wake of Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan.
In more ways than one, Pakistan is back to square one. The post-APS consensus that Taliban are Pakistan’s sworn enemies seems to have been forgotten. The attempts to humanise Taliban as a friendly group have begun once again because we refuse to learn from history. It is clear that Pakistani officials’ glorification of the Afghan Taliban’s gains did not go unnoticed among the international community.
The policy of backing or appeasing militant groups has always had dire consequences for Pakistan. Now is the time we introspect before it is too late.