Just hours before the start of the first match of the one-day series between Pakistan and New Zealand, the touring team dramatically pulled out, citing a terrorist threat to the team. It had been with much painstaking effort that Pakistan had lived down the attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009, and not just international cricket, but the country’s premier T20 tournament, the Pakistan Super League, had to be shifted to Dubai. It was not until 2015, with a visit by Zimbabwe for ODIs and T20Is, that a foreign team came back. It was appropriate that Sri Lanka had returned to play Tests later as well. Tours by other teams followed, such as South Africa. The New Zealand decision means that Pakistan might once again enter the limbo of not being eligible for sporting tours.
The crying shame is that Pakistan has proven safe for sports tours, more general tourism and even for visits by intending investors. If there is still a perception that Pakistan is unsafe, it can only be because the government has failed to dispel the perception created that Pakistan is an unsafe place. It cannot escape notice that the surprise decision comes in the backdrop of the West dithering about what to do about the Taliban regime that has taken over Afghanistan. There is also some mystery over what exactly was the threat. Where did New Zealand’s intelligence agencies, not exactly world beaters, get their information, which was no doubt of some credibility, as it led to the cancellation of a tour they had previously approved? Could the source have been India, which would only be too ready to chortle over Pakistan’s plight, all the while saying, “We told you so.”
Pakistan had already faced down one crisis, for the series had originally been scheduled for the ICC World Cup Super League, but then had to be downgraded, because the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had failed to obtain the requisite Decision Review System. This took the sheen off what would have been PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja’s inaugural series after appointment. The series was thus declared a bilateral series, having nothing to do with the League. This might have made it easier for New Zealand to pull out, but the damage to Pakistan, not just Pakistan cricket, has been immense.