A few days ago, I was struck by a horrible thought. What if there was a headline saying “Legendary footballer Ronaldinho murdered during exhibition tour in Pakistan”.
The fear, like all fears, was irrational - no untoward incident happened at the event. Yet, like Karachi being protected from storms by Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s mazaar, some supernatural forces were responsible for making sure that happened. Because in terms of organisation, the event was farcical. Players didn’t have socks in the dressing rooms (!), there were constant breaches of the playing area by fans, official commentators and artists meant to perform at the event were denied entry, and the production was appallingly bad.
Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Roberto Carlos were present for friendly matches in Pakistan
This despite the fact that the security for the event was provided by the country’s top institution, and hence one had expected greater controls. Given how terrible the organisation was, it was a miracle that nothing terrible happened.
It was a similar scene with the recent PSL final. I had written on these pages against the idea of holding it in Lahore, but the event’s apparent success meant that the idea actually encouraged the PCB to press further on returning international cricket.
But even at the showpiece PSL final, with ‘fool-proof’ security, there was a young fan who managed to breach the most secure areas and go hang out with the players, taking selfies with them. Once again, it was only luck that the young man was a fan, not a fanatic.
“It was only luck that the young man was a fan, not a fanatic”
I bring all of this up now because yesterday, the city I live in and the city that is meant to be the sole host of all efforts to resume international cricket in Pakistan was struck by a terrorist attack. Targeting police officials, the death toll from the attack has reached 26. It was at least the second terrorist attack in a major part of Lahore this year, with a third claimed to have been an accidental explosion.
26 killed in blast near Lahore's Ferozepur Road
One of the major reasons that terrorism has been part of our mainstream for over a decade is that many of our intelligentsia refuse to acknowledge the problem. We have returned to claiming that all these attackers are foreign agents; our government has claimed that other politicians are actually more dangerous; while the opposition has claimed that the attack was to distract from their own efforts.
So perhaps it is no surprise that the PCB also has the same hard-headed approach to terrorism. We persisted with the PSL final in Lahore even after terrorist attacks, and there is a push to have an international team visit in September. As I argued previously, such events take resources away from more important places.
But some have argued that there is a huge morale fillip provided by these events, and that attacks in cities like London and Paris never caused such reactions. I have little patience for such arguments. I am not interested in other countries, and I am not interested in cosmetic procedures.
As a Pakistani, the biggest morale boost possible for me is a firm resolve against terrorism that leads to a complete eradication of such violent ideologies and extremism thoughts. Holding such events while attacks continue is not only callous, it is irresponsible.
“As a Pakistani, the biggest morale boost possible for me is a firm resolve against terrorism that leads to a complete eradication of such violent ideologies and extremism thoughts.’’
As long as terrorism is a threat, any successful event would not be able to do enough. Because it only needs one thing to go wrong for us to experience a sporting isolation lasting decades. Do we really want to risk that?