English men’s and women’s cricket teams have abruptly canceled plans to play in Pakistan next month, the second international departure for a country that is obsessed with the game and worried about its image on the world stage.
The England Cricket Board withdrew on Monday, three days after the New Zealand cricket team withdrew from playing in Pakistan for the first time since 2003. The team did so just minutes before the first game due to an unspecified security threat. . The English board, speaking more vaguely, said it was responding to “concerns about traveling in the area”.
“We truly regret the impact this has had on cricket in Pakistan and reiterate our current commitment to our major tourism projects for 2022,” the England Cricket Board said in a statement on Monday.
This abrupt cancellation came as a great embarrassment and setback to Pakistan. Describing the country’s interest in cricket as “passion” may be a shortcoming. The national team defeated England in 1992 to win the World Cup, with current Prime Minister Imran Khan captaining the team.
But the country has a complex history with visiting groups, and renewed terrorist attacks in the country have also increased tensions about going there. The country is under international investigation for its long-standing relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which fell into the group a month ago as US-backed forces fled.
Foreign teams have been avoiding Pakistan for years after the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the eastern city of Lahore. Team members survived, but six policemen and two civilians were killed. Pakistan were forced to play international cricket outside its borders after many years.
Against this background, visits to New Zealand and the UK were highly anticipated. Officials in Pakistan believed the events could be a testament to the country’s improved security situation and diplomatic status.
In canceling the tour last week, the New Zealand team did not mention the exact nature of the security threat. But the country’s prime minister, Jacinta Artern, said New Zealand cricket had “made the right decision”.
“You will understand why we can not provide additional information on the nature of intelligence, besides, it is a direct threat, it is a credible threat,” Artern said Sunday.
Authorities in Pakistan said they had not received any threats and asked for additional information from New Zealand colleagues. The DTP, a former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban or a banned terrorist group, said in a Facebook post before the New Zealand game that the team may have been targeted by another group.
“As far as I know, the Global Jihadi Organization (IS) is looking for a major target in Pakistan,” Eshanullah Ehsan was quoted as saying by the Islamic State terrorist group. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
The cancellation of the tour in Pakistan met with widespread anger and frustration. Nawab Ahmed Alam, 41, who runs a cricket club in Islamabad, said he had bought tickets to watch the first match between Pakistan and New Zealand. . “
Pakistani officials say the country’s security has greatly improved since 2007-14, when militant groups launched a bloody campaign of terrorist attacks, especially following the ongoing crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban.
But fears of a resurgence of militant groups have risen since the Taliban seized control of neighboring Afghanistan. Taliban groups in both countries share ideological bases and have a wide support network of religious seminars spread across Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban are also showing signs of a slow return. They have claimed 32 attacks in August alone, and this month claimed responsibility for the bunker where seven soldiers were killed and many more wounded. Government officials say recent attacks have been limited to remote areas along the border with Afghanistan.
The militant group last week denied a general amnesty offer to senior government officials and promised it would continue its armed routes.
Many in Pakistan believe that Afghanistan is being punished for supporting the Taliban and for worsening Pakistan’s relations with the United States and other European countries. Pakistan has called for an all-inclusive government in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has urged the world to work with the Taliban, and the government has said its influence in the West has been exaggerated.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted on Tuesday that “a certain international lobby is engaged against Pakistan, but those who want to bend us will never win.” He added: “Get rid of this misconception as soon as possible.”
Rameez Raja, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, was criticized in a video statement as “Western Black”.
But Islamabad-based columnist and security analyst Mohammad Amir Rana said in an interview that Pakistan could not ignore the security threat posed by militant groups. He noted that pro-Taliban sentiment in the country had increased since the capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and that statements by several civilians in support of the Taliban had in fact given courage to terrorist groups.
“To improve relations with the world we must first put our own home in order,” he said.
This article first appeared in The New York Times.