New Delhi: There have been strong calls in Pakistan to boycott New Zealand after the Kiwis pulled out from their cricket tour in the country at the last moment.
However, the latest fiasco has seen Pakistan losing further as England too followed suit and withdrewn from a proposed tour to Pakistan in October.
Threats of terror attack on cricketers have been cited as the reason by these two countries to abandon playing in Pakistan. And their concerns are reasonable, say sources.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by terrorists in Pakistan. The ongoing fiasco is set to hurt the prospects of international cricket matches being played in Pakistan, and the country may turn into a ‘no-go’ area if other countries too follow New Zealand and England.
The New Zealand Cricket Board decided to call off its tour of Pakistan over security concerns hours before the first ODI was to be played in Rawalpindi. Bomb squads were seen conducting search operations on the ground a just before the game was supposed to begin. This escalated the fears the New Zealand government had about threats to the visiting cricketers.
“Following an escalation in the New Zealand government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the Blackcaps will not continue with the tour,” it said.
Even Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s urgent call to his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern did not work. Ardern called the threats “credible” and “direct and targeted”.
In 2009, a bus carrying Sri Lankan players was attacked by gunmen, who fired bullets and hurled grenades. Even a rocket launcher was used. The attack led to the killing of six security personnel. Sri Lankan players were also injured.
Sri Lanka had dared to travel to Pakistan when others were wary of it due to security issues. The tour was cancelled immediately.
While New Zealand did not give specific details of the threats, the arrival of the bomb squad at the stadium at the last moment bolstered the possibility of terror attack.
Now, it has come to light that New Zealand took the decision following the threat inputs received from the “Five Eye”.
New Zealand is part of a five-nation global intelligence network, which also includes the US, the UK, Australia and Canada.
“As is normal in situations like this, it is not possible or responsible to go into detail around the nature of these threats, but they were credible and had to be taken seriously. We support the decision made by NZ Cricket,” said New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.
Since the UK also is part of the “Five Eye”, England Cricket Board (ECB) may have taken threats of potential attacks on cricket teams visiting Pakistan seriously.
“We know there are increasing concerns about travelling to the region,” said the ECB.
The fast-happening developments have created a stir in Pakistan. “We’re still in shock and disbelief at what has happened,” said an official from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
Many former cricketers like Shoaib Akhtar, Inzamam Ul Haq and others have said that they were deeply hurt by the cancellation of the cricket series.
Pakistan has received a major setback as many nations now think twice before going to Pakistan. The PCB said it had worked hard to build confidence among other nations about security preparedness in the country, especially after the 2009 attack on Sri Lankan players.
Imran Khan had tried to convince Ardern by saying Pakistan had one of the best intelligence agencies in the world. But the fact remains that the country has still not managed to come out of the grey list’ issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog.
New Zealand’s decision is certainly going to hurt Pakistan’s cricket prospects in the long term. In the short term too, Pakistan is going to suffer millions in losses due to abrupt withdrawals by New Zealand and England and it may not be able to make insurance claims owing to the circumstances under which the cricket tours were cancelled.