Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is Pakistan safe?

With Bangladesh's tour of Pakistan all but confirmed, the reality of an international cricket team touring the militancy-torn nation has elicited strong opinions in both countries. The website of the popular Pakistani daily Dawn ran a blog post by Hassan Cheema on Monday that queried if Pakistan was ready to host an international cricket series, and seemed to come to a conclusion that the risks outweighed the rewards.

Bangladesh are scheduled to play a one-day international and a T20 international in Lahore on April 29 and 30 respectively.

The post starts off by drawing a parallel between the 2010 African Cup of Nations (AfCON) in Angola and the 2009 Sri Lankan tour of Pakistan, both of which were disrupted by violent attacks on the sportsmen which led to a loss of lives. The AfCON attack happened in Cabinda, an exclave of Angola which had been a ground for separatist movement since independence. According to Hassan Cheema, Sri Lanka's motivation in touring Pakistan in 2009 "had been the same as the teams visiting Cabinda: they were trying to show that normalcy existed in these lands."

The writer went on to question the wisdom of using sport and sportspeople as tools to lift the image of troubled nations. "For decades, regimes throughout the world had used sport to provide an illusion of something which wasn't there. Now, it seemed, it was time for the terrorists to make sure that didn't happen. The push from all sides in the importance of sport had meant that sportspeople had become an automatic target for publicity for the latest of monstrous deeds."

He then turned the spotlight to the proposed tour by Bangladesh. "Over the past five years Pakistan has seen the deaths of thousands of its citizens and army men. Despite a reduction in the violence (of the terrorism kind) in the past few months, there have still been a number of attacks in 2012 alone. It is with this as context that one questions the ideas that Zaka Ashraf is proposing.

"Surely, the proposals for international teams and players to tour Pakistan should come when we have reached a semblance of normalcy and peace. Instead we have decided to assume our existing state as normalcy. What do we have to gain from a tour? An improvement in the image of the country? For the sake of what? A probable attack and the loss of lives for guests of this country? We are told that they'll be provided maximum security: this, a country which couldn't protect its most popular leader and the governor of the largest province [in addition to many other parliamentarians and mere plebs whose lives apparently count for less] in the past five years alone. The reluctance of many to visit Pakistan may have something to do with how much they value their lives -- rather than a vast conspiracy by the BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India]."