Baby steps towards normalcy


After multiple incident-free sporting events in Lahore other major cities need to be tested as well

The event was always going to be heavier on symbolism, as Sri Lanka returned to the very site of the attack that left many of their players and staff wounded, and an entire cricket worshipping nation scarred. While the Pakistan Cricket Board’s efforts need to be lauded, it is arguably those scarred cricket aficionados that have collectively pulled – and willed – international cricket back into the country.

How do you argue that there are security concerns in a city hosting a sporting event, when 30,000 people jam pack a stadium, and thousands others maraud outside it in hopes of a ticket that isn’t to be found?

The true demonstration of the craze – some might use the overdone ‘resolve’ here – was when a day after it was confirmed that the second ODI, and the penultimate match of the Zimbabwe tour saw a suicide blast outside the stadium, the third ODI was still packed to the rafters.

Similarly, even though Lahore had witnessed two bomb blasts a little over a fortnight before the PSL final this year, there was no shortage of high voltage enthusiasm in the stands, on the field, on the dance floor in the opening ceremony, or indeed for the millions of Lahoris watching at home.

Of course, this isn’t limited to Lahore. As hinted by Najam Sethi, if the PSL final next year goes ahead in Karachi, expect every bit of the energy there – if not more.

With West Indies due to tour later this month, Pakistan might just have taken another couple of pivotal baby steps towards normalcy. But the best way to continue taking those steps is to make sure that one does not get carried away.

In the first 10 months of this year, Lahore witnessed five prominent blasts – the last on August 7, when a fruit truck exploded on Band Road, where the rally of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was supposed to go through.

The incident had actually put question marks over the Independence Cup, that the PCB eventually conducted successfully in mid-September. Now a month and a half later Sri Lanka have successfully played the final T20 of the three match series in Lahore.

And so, in a week’s time, Lahore would have gone three months without a terror incident, with two successful cricket events under the belt, and a tri-series against the West Indies to come. If all goes according to plan, and those three T20s are a success as well, Pakistan would then move to the next challenge and spread out the matches – which would be larger in number – across at least two cities in spring, with PSL 3.

Now, as is obvious, the most important factor here is ensuring that Lahore, Karachi and all major cities of Pakistan remain incident free. Three-T20 series or a solitary match, albeit against the very same team that had been attacked in 2009, would generate as much trust among the international squads as a sustained period of peace would.

Few would argue against the fact that the overall security situation in Pakistan, at least over the past couple of years has been as good as it has been at any time this decade. And everyone would agree that it would take a while till we pull it back to pre-9/11 levels.

But as long as there is progress, sporting events – including the likes of the absolutely unprecedented Ronaldinho and Friends tour – will continue to take place, not just in Lahore and Karachi, but soon other cities in Pakistan as well.

On that particular front we might have to ask ourselves, whether the now well publicised policy of mainstreaming of terror elements is the right way to ensure long-term peace and normalcy.

We must also question whether parties winning over tens of thousands of votes in the name of Mumtaz Qadri and Hafiz Saeed – both individuals sanctioned or punished by the state of Pakistan – in two by-elections between the Independence Cup and the Sri Lanka matches is something that should be allowed.

For having spent a good part of a decade without cricket, the Pakistani fans finally are getting to experience the one thing they crave the most. They’re putting themselves in the line of fire just to prove how Pakistan is safer than it actually is.

The least the state should do is not repeat a repackaged version of the ‘good/bad Taliban’ policy that led to the 2009 attack in the first place.