'Sport and Politics should never be mixed' (religion and politics being the other) sounds good on paper, but this is never the case.
When the prime minister of a country, who also happens to be a former Cricket World Cup-winning captain, equates the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan to 'breaking the shackles of slavery' (in an obvious reference to the United States' invasion of the country in 2001 and subsequent stay for the next 20 years); when he asks the world to give the Taliban more time, to engage with the insurgent group, doubts and fear were and are bound to creep in among all the countries of the world, especially those who are (maybe, now were), scheduled to visit the country.
When an ex-cricketer, known for his blind but entertaining batting, being nothing short of a superstar in his home country of Pakistan, says, "Taliban seem to be positive this time around as they are allowing women to work, including politics" (which, by the way, has not happened so far) and that they love and support cricket, eyebrows all around the world are bound to rise.
No, this is not an attack on Pakistan or its cricket. Nor does it have any malicious agenda. On the contrary, a strong Pakistani side and Pakistan hosting other teams is good for world cricket. In fact, in recent months and years, Pakistan has successfully hosted teams like Zimbabwe, South Africa and also held the Pakistan Super League in their country.
However, the world is now a global village, and information is instantly available at the fingertips. Such statements by two prominent figures of a country previously ravaged by the menace of terrorism, where teams were not willing to play after the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team, will not inspire confidence among the rest of the world.
While providing security akin to that meant for visiting world leaders is laudable on Pakistan's part, the fact that they had to provide such a level of protection to hold a cricket match is a problem in itself. Needless to say, it will make others think twice or even more.
This is not to say that such security arrangements are not needed, or other countries fall short on their security measures.
Yes, New Zealand's sudden decision to call off their tour all of a sudden came as a surprise. And Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and cricket fans in their country, who have been starved of home games against top sides for a long time, had full right to be angry and behave the way they did. However, the New Zealand government, which said that they have credible information of a possible terrorist attack on the New Zealand team, could not have done anything else. Imagine the consequences if they had gone ahead and the threat had actualised!
A humiliated and angry Ramiz Raja, the newly elected PCB chairman, went on to say that Pakistan had "the best security agencies, the most battle-hardened security agencies in the world. Not sharing your fear or threat perception with them is ridiculing our DNA in a way."
However, recent events such as the Inter-Services Intelligence chief travelling to Kabul to help set up the new Taliban government or the cancellation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) foreign ministers' meeting after Pakistan wanting a member of the Taliban to represent Afghanistan at the meeting paints a different picture altogether and is likely to play in the minds of the world leaders. This would obviously lead to a lack of trust, which could be why the New Zealand government decided not to share information with the Pakistan government.
And let's not forget that there have been many instances in the past of 'rogue elements' within the Pakistan state machinery who aligned with terrorists as and when it suited them.
Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, has openly said that 'rogue elements' in the ISI and within the Pakistani establishment could have helped Osama bin Laden, who had been hiding in Abbottabad, and may even be behind former President Benazir Bhutto's murder.
Such instances of "double standards" are bound to create doubts and mistrust within other countries.
Once again, sport and politics are interlinked. So it won't be wrong to say that Pakistan's current political stance could impact all their sports, not just cricket.
Considering the current political atmosphere, the recent turn of events in South East Asia, with Pakistan being one of the few countries that have been quite vocal about adopting a positive outlook towards the Taliban, and the New Zealand government being aware of a credible threat, their decision to call back their cricket team became inevitable.
Two days after New Zealand, it was England's turn to call off both the men's and women's tours to Pakistan. The England men were scheduled to play just two T20Is in four days before heading off to the United Arab Emirates for the T20 World Cup, while the women's team was to play three one day internationals.
In a carefully worded statement, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) cited the "mental and physical well-being" of their players and support staff and the "increasing concerns about travelling to the region", which could "add further pressure to a playing group who have already coped with a long period of operating in restricted COVID environments" as the reason for their cancellation of the short tour.
Who is to know if this was the ONLY reason behind the cancellation?
An ex-pace bowler, one of the fastest in the world, recently tweeted that New Zealand just killed Pakistan cricket. That process, unfortunately, may already have started.
However, all is not lost. West Indies and Australia are scheduled to tour Pakistan in December and February 2022, respectively. It will be interesting to see what decision they take. But, it won't be wrong to say that after New Zealand and England's withdrawal, even they would be wary.
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