By Justin Lichterman and Shane Dell
The recent terrorist bomb attack outside the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi, where both the Pakistan and New Zealand cricket teams were staying on the morning of the second test between the sides, should serve as a wake-up call to the Pakistan Cricket Board and Jagmohan Dalmiya’s pet project, the Asian Cricket Council. When New Zealand and the West Indies chose not to tour Pakistan after the September 11 attacks on America and the subsequent military sabre rattling between Pakistan and India, the PCB and ACC responded with outrage and threats. Lieutenant Tauriq Zia, a man not particularly knowledgeable in cricket matters, and former players like Imran Khan, derided the tourists, lauding Pakistan’s safe environment and feigning insult that foreigners might suggest otherwise.
In fact, just days before the Pearl Continental bombing wounded Dayle Shackel; the Black Caps team physio, New Zealand were assured there would be no disruption during the final test in Karachi, despite two other bomb explosions in the city last that injured sixty people. So much for the PCB’s assurances.
Former South African great, Mike Proctor, the ICC appointed match referee, echoed the Black Cap’s sentiments that for the most part, security on the tour has been very good. Yet, that “good security” could not safeguard against homicidal fundamentalist suicide bomb attacks. Indeed, virtually nothing can and therein lies the rub. Pakistan has a problem with fundamental Islamists, whether they choose to believe it or not, a problem with grave implications that cannot be underestimated.
The PCB, may want to pull the wool over its own eyes and argue that tours of England involve a similar risk, or keep claiming that foreign cricketers are safe touring Pakistan, but simply put, neither is true. No matter how loud Zia screams, or how charmingly Imran presents the case, or how forcefully the ACC issues threats, the truth of the matter is that international cricketers face a clear and present danger to their personal safety while touring Pakistan. Islamic fundamentalists regard foreigners and especially non-Muslims, as legitimate, desirable targets. Their violence is not directed at government, like that of the Tamils in Sri Lanka; nor is it random, like the threat of a mugging in South Africa. The threat in Pakistan is deliberately aimed at Westerners and those not of the Islamic faith. Every touring cricket team, Bangladesh apart, therefore faces immediate and real danger unlike the dangers associated with tours to most other places in the world; war zones excepted of course.
The PCB and the ACC must face reality: Pakistan is a hotbed of Islamic militancy and radicalism. Claiming that Karachi is safe for touring New Zealanders, no matter how often repeated, simply does not make it so. Recently a member of New Zealand’s touring party escaped with a minor cut to his forearm from flying glass; tomorrow it might be Adam Gilchrist who loses a leg. Will the PCB face up to reality only when Sachin Tendulkar, rather than Daniel Pearl, is kidnapped and has his throat slit on video?
Whilst America fought a violent war on Pakistan’s borders, the PCB insisted that New Zealand were fussing over nothing for not playing cricket in a country that still houses significant Al Qaeda supporters. As Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged gunfire along the border, the PCB belittled the West Indies unwillingness to travel to the dangerous region to play a few cricket games. As bombs injured scores of people in Karachi last week, the PCB assured the Black Caps that everything was just fine. And even now, with a bomb blast right outside the teams’ hotel and a member of New Zealand’s touring party injured, PCB Director Munawar Rana absurdly suggests that “things were not as bad here as people abroad may perceive.” Really! Who is this fool trying to kid?
Rana summarized the situation on Pakistan perfectly. “We made the best possible security arrangements all over the country, but this incident really was beyond our control,” he said. Exactly! This type of terrorism is beyond the control of a cricket board, or even the police or military, no matter how good the security arrangements. It is even far beyond the control of security specialists appointed by individual cricket boards, many of whom appear to have been excellent ex-investigators or former police officers, but most with very little experience in war zones or the area of terrorism. If a global power like the US had difficulty in stopping the murder of thousands of innocent individuals, what faith could one have in a cricket board to avert a similar disaster.
Pakistan is not presently a safe setting for cricket matches. It is, in essence, a third world country hampered by rampant Islamic fundamentalism, government corruption and anti-Western violence against non-Muslims. Domestic terrorist attacks in Pakistan and surrounding areas are commonplace. At the end of the day, no security offered by the PCB can stop a crazed zealot from blowing up both himself and a touring cricket team. Many players, like Andy Caddick, for example, understand this and quite understandably will and should put their safety before one cricket tour.
Until Pakistan sorts itself out, cricket teams and players are perfectly justified in refusing to tour there. Dalmiya and the ACC’s hollow threat of reciprocal boycotts is meaningless when measured against the possibility of death or physical injury. How long does Dalmiya think India and Sri Lanka will boycott their other cricketing friends because of perfectly legitimate player safety and security concerns?
Sure! the PCB has a legitimate interest in promoting international cricket within Pakistan and raising revenue to support the game domestically. But, at the end of the day, the players’ safety is paramount and really, no one ought to argue otherwise. Be they cricket fan or official!
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