Pakistan’s involvement in the War on Terror dates back to the year 2001. The reason for participation is something which the entire world knows about. In general, it can be argued that Pakistan didn’t really have much of a choice but to cave in and say yes. The outcome of this participation was vicious and deadly for Pakistan as it saw a torrent of suicide blasts and bombs in cities such as Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Quetta to name a few. So far Pakistan has lost around roughly 90,000 people including troops to this war on terrorism. Among notable personalities was also former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Along with precious human lives, Pakistan also lost out on a number of opportunities for normal life. This includes something very dear to its people: the opportunity to host international cricket – a sport devoured by the masses in Pakistan. It took Pakistan about a decade to get international cricket back to the country following the tragic and horrific attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. The amount of work, commitment and dedication shown by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) at that time to bring back international cricket to Pakistan cannot be sidelined or ignored.
Since New Zealand did not share details of the security alert, eyebrows were raised and an environment of suspicion and speculation grew: that perhaps elements hostile to Pakistan could be hatching a sinister plot to isolate the country
More recently, Pakistan hosted successful tours by Sri Lanka and South Africa. Both teams are said to have had enjoyable tours and most importantly felt secured. The bizarre and strange decision for New Zealand to back out of its Pakistan tour just hours before the start of the first ODI at Rawalpindi had surprised not just Pakistan but also the entire world. A few months before the tour, New Zealand hired a security firm and sent it to Pakistan to assess the security situation. The nod was given to the New Zealand government, upon which the cricket team was allowed to tour Pakistan. With this in mind, New Zealand did confirm trust in Pakistan’s security apparatus who would eventually go on and make security arrangements for the tour. On the day of the first ODI, the New Zealand government received a security alert – which in of itself should be taken seriously. What is utterly shocking and irresponsible is that no details were shared about the security alert with the Pakistani officials. It is rather strange because intelligence is shared amongst countries so that a resolution can be made, in this case the security alert. Sincere efforts by PM Imran Khan via call to his counterpart PM Jacinda Ardern could not convince her for the tour to continue. The New Zealand government was not willing to listen to anyone. They just wanted a safe exit from Pakistan at the earliest, and that, too, at any cost. If only details from the security alert would have been shared, this article would not have seen light and we would have witnessed a very fascinating series.
Since New Zealand did not share details of the security alert, eyebrows were raised and an environment of suspicion and speculation grew: that perhaps elements hostile to Pakistan could be hatching a sinister plot to isolate the country. These suspicions gained more credence when the Government of Pakistan unearthed that the security alert received by New Zealand was indeed fake and had its origins from India. From here, it was only a short step to suspecting that this was done to isolate Pakistan for resisting the demands of Western powers around Afghanistan by saying “absolutely not.” Soon, it was interpreted as a move to further suppress and isolate Pakistan for supposedly assisting the Taliban to recapture Afghanistan.
Following New Zealand’s decision, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has also followed suit by not sending their men’s and women’s teams for what would have been a short tour of Pakistan in October. The press release issued by the ECB is rather questionable as it gives reasons to call off the tour largely on the basis of players’ physical and mental well-being. The English believe that cricket has become very demanding (mainly due to the T20 format) and with the added toll of being in quarantine in a bio secure bubble for 10-15 days before the start of every tour (due to the prevalent Covid scenario), the English players are faced with physical and mental fatigue.
One can’t argue about the physical and mental well-being of players per se, considering how cricket is indeed being played today. However; one can certainly argue as to why the ECB allowed their players to play the remainder of the IPL or any other league if they were experiencing such conditions. Perhaps the ECB feels obliged to send their players to play league cricket, as other boards which fall under these leagues pay a hefty amount of money to each other for player participation. Hence, by considering all this, it does seem that the real reason for the ECB to not tour Pakistan was indeed security concerns.
It really is unfortunate that the ECB did not send their teams – more so because Pakistan toured England at a time when Covid was at its height in the country. Similar to England’s players, the Pakistani team must have also gone through physical and mental fatigue along with Covid being a risk to their lives on the tour.
It seems like the United Kingdom along with the rest of the world only looks to Pakistan at times of need – for instance when foreign nationals needed to be evacuated from Kabul during the Taliban takeover. At that point in time, no one seemed to have any reservations about boarding Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights.
By abandoning the tours, a precedent has been set by both New Zealand and England for international teams touring Pakistan. An inevitable question mark now hangs over the tours by the West Indies and Australia, which are scheduled in the near future.