Since the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, Pakistan cricket has been in exile, playing most of their ‘home’ matches in the UAE. The continued spate of terror back home has meant that the country has had to play its domestic franchise tournament, the Pakistan Super League, which features overseas stars, in the UAE as well.
Following the inaugural season’s culmination last year, the tournament organizers vowed to host the 2017 PSL final in Lahore. Everything was going according to script till the recent surge in terror, which saw over 10 terror attacks kill more than 100 people in Pakistan last month. These included two blasts in Lahore, both roughly around 15-minute drives from the Gaddafi Stadium, which will stage Sunday’s final.
As question marks over the final being held in Lahore became more ominous, the tournament organizers and the Pakistan Cricket Board left the verdict to the government. After high-level security meetings, and reassurances from the army chief, the decision was taken on Monday to go ahead with the final in Lahore.
Following the announcement, U.K.-based Sunset and Vine – the production house handling the PSL broadcast – withdrew from the final. Late on Tuesday night the overseas players of Quetta Gladiators, the first team to qualify for Sunday’s final, pulled out of the match as well, citing security concerns.
The international players have been offered up to $50,000 to come to Lahore, but the high-profile stars are understandably opting out, citing former captains of the Pakistan cricket team who dubbed hosting the match in Lahore pointless “madness.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board and the PSL organizers deserve all the credit for their efforts to ensure a seamless move from the UAE to Pakistan. The league itself, despite not being played at home, has been a unifier for a nation jarred by terror and an array of menaces for human security.
But it’s not the cricket board’s responsibility to make Pakistan a safe place to host international events. It is the government and security authorities’ job, and it is they who have made the final call. This is what makes the decision to go ahead with the final downright embarrassing. It also explains, in a nutshell, everything that’s wrong with Pakistan’s counterterror strategy and its utter disregard for human life.
This is what’s going to happen: the state will spend copious amounts of money to secure the Gaddafi Stadium’s surrounding area, ensure safe passage of any foreign participants through multi-tiered security plans, bringing Lahore to a standstill in order to host a match.
Even if all goes smoothly, what do the PSL, national cricket, the people, and Pakistan gain?
In what parallel universe does the state’s Army securing a domestic league match through thousands of security personnel, guarding athletes as though they were heads of state, with all intelligence reports pointing to a security threat, translate into the country being safe to host sporting events?
Yet the state’s disregard for human life isn’t defined by their apparent willingness to put thousands of lives at risk for a cricket match, or the growing number of terror attacks in Pakistan. It is truly epitomized by the reaction to these attacks.
The provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah accused India of trying to jeopardize the PSL final in the aftermath of the second blast in Lahore last month. There is usually consensus that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the target every time scores of people die in Balochistan, a point which is reiterated by the state’s leaders, including the army chief. According to state officials, the people of Pakistan were first being killed for a road network; now they’re dying for a cricket match.
And yet this blatant dehumanization of terror victims, and amplification of the “enemy’s evil designs” never translates into any form of acceptance of failure from the security authorities, considering the unrelenting success of the “nefarious” plotting.
It is this egoistic refusal to acknowledge these failures that has forced the state’s hand into giving Lahore the green signal. After all, admitting that it has lost control over the one city that the ruling party has vied to secure through alliances with the political fronts of jihadist groups is akin to political masochism. For the military, holding its hand up a week into the latest military Operation Rad-ul-Fasaad, would be to underline the shortcomings of its predecessors.
What should’ve happened is the state deciding against hosting the PSL final in Lahore and in turn acknowledging its failure to address the ideological roots of jihadism, which help continue the production of jihadists even after militant hideouts are obliterated.
After a couple of years of sustained peace, it would be evident for all that Pakistan is ready to host international events. But when the federal interior minister touts last year’s 600 blasts as an achievement, Pakistan is clearly at a different wavelength from the rest of the world over the definition of peace.
There is no question that in addition to the nation’s countless sufferings, Pakistan cricket has taken a hit as well owing to jihadist militancy. In this regard, the national team’s achievements – including winning the Test mace last year while playing all its matches outside the country – are unprecedented in all of sport.
This does not, however, mean that world cricket, or foreign athletes, owe us anything. The national team’s handicap, much like the entire country’s torment, is the direct corollary of our leaders’ catastrophic policies and it is they who are responsible for Pakistan losing out on international cricket.
And yet when this cricket-crazy nation of resilient souls, who have known terror at first hand, takes on the latest threat to jam-pack Gaddafi Stadium to the rafters on Sunday, these leaders would be the first point toward the crowds to tell blatant lies of its non-existent counterterror successes and sell the idea of a safe Pakistan to the rest of the world.
On Sunday, the state will endanger thousands of lives, and misuse the resolve and passion of its people, to shroud its own failures.