• Says there was no threat to New Zealand cricket team, with elaborate security arrangements being in place
• PM speaks to counterpart Jacinda without success
ISLAMABAD/ RAWALPINDI: Terming unilateral decision of New Zealand’s cricket team to cancel tour to Pakistan as part of a conspiracy, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Friday made it clear that no security institution had received information on security threat to the team.
“The New Zealand authorities do not have substantive evidence of threat in Pakistan,” the interior minister said while addressing a press conference hours after Kiwis decision of tour cancellation on the basis of a ‘perceived threat’.
Rejecting the security claim as baseless, he said elaborate security arrangements were in place. Pakistan had deployed commandos from Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG), soldiers and 4,000 policemen for the matches in Rawalpindi, he explained.
The minister said Pakistan had proposed holding the matches without any spectators, but the New Zealand authorities did not agree to that. Following this, the Pakistani officials spoke to Prime Minister Imran Khan who is currently on a visit to Tajikistan.
Mr Rashid said after being briefed, PM Khan called New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, holding out an assurance that there was no threat to their team in Pakistan.
The New Zealand premier minister claimed there were reports of a possible attack on the team while coming out of the hotel.
The interior minister pointed out that the unilateral decision comes at a time when Pakistan was playing a crucial role in establishing peace in the region and beyond. “The country has strong institutions which have fought terrorism,” he remarked.
The interior minister said the National Crises Management Cell and other institutions also had tried to convince them, but in vein.
Answering a question, he refused to name those behind the conspiracy, saying it would be ‘inappropriate’. He, however, asserted that the conspiracy had been hatched to ‘tarnish Pakistan’s image’.
In reply to another question, he said the New Zealand-approved security team had reviewed security situation in Pakistan four months ago.
The minister said the Indian media was “defaming Pakistan”, vowing that Islamabad that was aspiring for peace would foil all of New Delhi’s designs. “Peace will prevail here at all costs,” he emphasised.
About the upcoming tour by the England team, the minister said they would make their own decision. “My ministry has [done] all arrangements,” he asserted.
“In our country, there is no security issue for cricket,” he added.
He said Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan were peaceful and security forces were making sure the situation continued to be so in the days ahead.
“We have evacuated the US, Turkish, Greek, German, and Japanese citizens from there,” the interior minister said, talking about Pakistan’s efforts towards peace and security.
The interior minister said Pakistani students were returning to Afghanistan to continue their studies. He noted that if someone wanted Afghanistan to turn into a Scandinavian country, then they were at fault, as Kabul would progress at its own pace.
Newly-appointed PCB chairman Ramiz Raja, a former Pakistan captain, said they would approach the International Cricket Council (ICC) over what transpired on a “crazy day”.
“Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared!! Which world is NZ living in?? NZ will hear us at ICC,” Raja tweeted.
PM Arden backs decision
Prime Minister Ardern backed the team’s decision to end the tour. “I know how disappointing it will be for everyone that the game hasn’t gone ahead, but we totally support the decision that’s been made. Player safety has to be paramount,” she said in a statement.
No role in move: Turner
In a related development, British High Commissioner in Pakistan Christian Turner tweeted: “Speculation that British High Commission was involved in Pakistan vs New Zealand tour being called off are untrue; this was a decision for the New Zealand authorities and taken independently. I recognise that this is a sad day for cricket in and around who were looking forward to the series”.
Earlier, a notification issued by the office of the Additional Inspector General Officer, Rawalpindi, went viral on the social media, warning of a security threat on the tour of the New Zealand Cricket team. The notification was issued on Sept 13 and its subject stated: “Special Information Report — threat advisory regarding tour of New Zealand Cricket Team and Chehlum of Imam Hussain.”
The notification was issued for information and necessary security arrangements to avoid any untoward incident.
No relation with notification: PCB
A PCB official, however, in reaction stated: “No relation, this is nonsense. The PCB had informed New Zealand Cricket last month that there will be no training in Pindi on 12 Sept due to local bodies elections and 28 Sept in Lahore due to Chehlum.”
Agencies add: Pakistan remained a no-go zone for international cricket teams for a decade following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009, though all players remained unhurt.
A delegation of experts from New Zealand in recent weeks had visited Pakistan to inspect security arrangements and it was only after their clearance that the tour was given the go-ahead.
Spectators, who had been allowed to return to stadiums in small numbers after Covid-19 restrictions were eased, were held back from entering the Rawalpindi ground.
It was clear something was wrong when neither team had arrived for the 2 pm toss, just half an hour before the match.
“After waiting so many years, we were minutes away from watching a major cricketing team playing in Pakistan,” ticket holder Osama Malik said outside the stadium.
“I have seen Zimbabwe playing in Rawalpindi, but this team was a World Cup finalist and are currently ranked number one in ICC ranking.
Mohammad Yaqoob in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2021