The skeletons on the roads
Cricket feels so small, so inconsequential, so utterly extraneous and unrelated now. I sit utterly appalled before the television, watching the world's most enduring city Lahore in the thrall of a petrifying deed
By Dr Nauman Niaz
The turmoil in Pakistan presents somewhat of a philosophical dilemma: Who should and why should cricket be played in the country where there seems no value for life. Agreed. And why was it played in India when the entire Mumbai was held hostage by a handful of armed men. England were prompt to resume their tour to India because it being the huge financial market -- a paradox? Nonetheless, the March 3 incident at Lahore effectively eliminates all the paradoxes and leaves Pakistan's top tier exposed to ineffectiveness.
Paradoxically, it is allowing terrorists to run and rule and the tumult over such attacks like the one against Sri Lanka's team, unsympathetic to Pakistan and shoving it to isolation. And this one act of terrorism leaves the environment, political governments and cricket or all sports enigmatic, unwelcoming and spiralled in disbelief. It is reprehensible that Sri Lanka having a ball at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium were jammed in a situation where the bullets and missiles started flying.
The tumult over the incident overshadows a far more serious issue. As discovered by Ansar Abbasi, 'The News' prized journalist there was an intelligence report revealing that RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) of India premeditated to target the Sri Lanka team. In reports as he recounted on the GEO television channel, the details of an expected assault were mentioned, even the suspected site was given. The document was received on January 22, 2009.
The Punjab Government had made special arrangements, having delegated powers to the people responsible for Sri Lanka's security. Irreverently, the Punjab Government was dismissed and Governor's Rule was imposed that saw so many top police functionaries removed or replaced. And unquestionably, as we must stand up to reality, there was naked callousness, even if we have to believe Mr Asfandyar Wali saying on television that he wouldn't really call it a security lapse.
While Lieutenant General Hamid Nawaz (retd) ex-Secretary Defence contrary to Asfandyar's view registered that the security arrangements weren't up to the mark. How could such a high profile tour was allowed to have been ruined in this way? When the President of the Republic moves, the surrounding areas are cordoned, sniffer-dogs trek the location, the entire route is filled with security (well-equipped) men, the roads are blocked well in advance for general traffic, some going through the irony of waiting up to 30 minutes and while General Pervez Musharraf was in power, people had bed and breakfast in their cars and the noodle points have barriers and check posts. At Lahore, Sri Lanka travelled from the same route for three successive days and glaringly the security provided was almost third-line.
The powerful should have known that Sri Lanka agreed to the tour most compassionately showing solidarity after India's refusal to come to Pakistan. Regrettably, India stands vindicated. We seem to hold other factors that we do not accept in our system. The privilege of high-profiled security and management has been denied in this country countless of times for reasons far less egregious than having connections to terrorism.
Incongruously, the PCB and the Government of Punjab had signed an MOU to provide security in accordance with the ICC requirements. The document was signed but was it really implemented? Nonchalance!
Cricket feels so small, so inconsequential, so utterly extraneous and unrelated now. I sit utterly appalled before the television, watching the world's most enduring city Lahore in the thrall of a petrifying deed. Watching Sri Lanka's bus targeted and numerous bullets sprayed all over the place feels like living through cricket's end, for Sri Lanka is not merely an international team, it is a symbol of the subcontinent's identity, an iconic link between its prosperous past and lively present.
I have observed a city of gaiety and life flattened in terrorism by twelve men who have eliminated from their souls every trace of compassion -- let's not bestow on them the grandeur of political or religious struggles -- and I feel the life drains out of me. I have felt a sense of frenzy and wrath. I am deadened, not with trepidation or fear, but something far deeper a sense of overwhelming hopelessness.
Lahore's tragedy has brought staid insinuations and implications for cricket, and be it the PCB, Government of Punjab, Ministry of Interior and Government of Pakistan, never has the top tier looked so hollow and ineffective. I am unfocused, conflicted and even watching television feels like a strenuous and a difficult task. The ICC has promptly intervened casting doubts about the World Cup 2011 matches being played in Pakistan.
Agreed -- sports are not bigger than life, not even in a country where it is said to be second to religion. I should perhaps be writing a piece assessing the impact of the terrorist attack on Pakistan cricket, and consequently on the game's global ecosystem. But I can't bring myself to. I feel compelled, instead to write this.
There have been numerous such attacks since 2005-06. But somehow I felt I understood what was happening then. I couldn't relate to it, but I understood the thirst for retaliation and revenge, the hatred and the frenzy that temporarily consumed ordinary people. I even wondered about a foreseeable future when I could ask some of the terrorists and talk about what drove them to such madness.
But somehow I felt I understood what was happening then. I couldn't relate to it, but I comprehended the thirst for retaliation and revenge, the hatred and the frenzy that temporarily consumed innocent people. I even conjectured about a predictable future but this is simply beyond my comprehension. My powers of compassion, my capacity to reach into another's heart, cannot break through the empty intents of those who would put to death innocents with such intangible, tranquil endorsement. Through the day, I haven't been able to cast aside the thought that to even talk about the bearing of Sri Lanka's abandonment of the Test, is a perversity in the face of such a huge human catastrophe.
It was brave of Sri Lanka's cricketers not to blame the public, government and the cricket authorities and it was right for them to go home in a chartered plane, pleasingly all alive and no coffins to carry. These cricketers are heroes of a different kind. Putting their lives at risk is not in their line of duty. However, the images from Lahore -- the drawn-out drama, the cold-blooded boldness and sinning of it -- are far more distressing and ghoulish than those of a suicide bomber blowing himself off in a war-zone, in places like Waziristan or Swat, though it is still intolerable.
This is not time for brinksmanship, power games or criticism. This is a time for gentle and deferential insight. But life can't stand still. The city, the country, the world, must renew itself. Cricket is only a small part of it, but it will matter, it will make a difference.
India as did their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, tries to project it is important to bear in mind that the term terrorism is commonly used as a term of abuse, not accurate description. It is close to a historical universal that our terrorism against them is right and just (whoever we happen to be), while their terrorism against us is an outrage.
As long as that practice is adopted, discussion of terrorism is not serious. It is no more than a form of propaganda and apologetics. Barely a few years into it, the 21st century already is clearly marked as the 'Age of Terrorism'. The 9/11 attacks marked a salient turning point in the history of the United States and indeed of global geopolitics, national and international policies have changed accordingly. Interestingly, in his post 9/11 speech President George W Bush used the terms terror, terrorism, and terrorist thirty-two times without ever defining what he meant.
In the amorphous name of 'terrorism', wars are being fought, geopolitical dynamics are shifting, the U.S. is aggressively reasserting its traditional imperialist role as it defies international law and world bodies, and the state sacrifices liberties to 'security'. One of the most used words in the current vocabulary, 'terrorism', also is one of the most abused terms, applied to actions from flying fully loaded passenger planes into buildings to rescuing pigs and chickens from factory farms.
Perceptibly international cricket is dead in Pakistan. Isolation or series on neutral values and tours abroad could give a lifeline to the PCB. Truth is, this is time to get drawn on the whiteboard and contemplate strategies for the future. The only consolation is that a major team like Pakistan couldn't be isolated from world cricket; it isn't really Zimbabwe. And if India is the heart of the subcontinent's game, then Pakistan is still its soul. Nevertheless, it would require a rebirth of all systems, political, governance and cricket's management. The skeletons are already on the roads.