A Pakistani security official stands guard during the Uruguay-South Korea match at the Education City stadium. —Photo by the writer
A Pakistani security official stands guard during the Uruguay-South Korea match at the Education City stadium. —Photo by the writer

OUTSIDE the dimly-lit entrance to the media centre at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, amid wintry desert gusts, two officers from Pakistan’s armed forces stand guard, vigilant and alert. The media centre is located inside a huge perimeter fence; to get into the stadium or the centre, you need to go through a thorough security check. Here, accreditations are scanned and all bags go through the scanner.

There’s a loud beep on the belt; a deodorant spray in someone’s bag. The Pakistani officer conducting the full-body scan asks for the bag to be opened. He tells the Arab chief officer that it’s just a deodorant, but the latter is having none of this. “It has to be thrown in the bin… you cannot take it inside,” he orders. The Pakistani officer is sorry and the conversation, initially in English, transitions seamlessly into Urdu. “Yahan ke rules [the rules here],” he sighs.

Once inside the stadium enclosure, it’s a short walk to the media centre where two more Pakistani off­i­cers stationed. Accreditations are once again scanned before you’re let in. “Pakistan se hain aap? [Are you from Pakistan?]” he asks. There is a smile on his face when he gets to know. The other officer standing on the opposite door joins in the conversation.

It’s all about the World Cup; how it’s going, and of course most importantly about being here as a Pakistani.

“How they manage the World Cup will tell how Qatar is ultimately perceived,” James Dorsey, an expert on football and politics in the Middle East, told Dawn on Thursday. “For that, they need security support from things ranging from riot control, law enforcement and even nuclear attack. And the forces they’ve aligned with, including Pakistan, are adept at those.”

These officers, from across Pakistan’s army, navy and air force — reportedly 4,500 in number — who have been deployed in Qatar, are particularly adept. They’re spread across every security agency. There is the P Security, adorning the black tracksuit with a stripe of red running across it. Then, there is the Tournament Security Force, which has a blue stripe on the right shoulder with ‘Police’ emblazoned under it and a red stripe on the opposite side.

The ones outside the media centre at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium have to stay at their positions, even when the media centre virtually empties once the game begins. They follow the ebbs and flows of the game inside through the roar of the crowd inside the stadium and beyond. Asked whether they ever feel that they’re “so close yet so far” from the action, they say some of their colleagues are even deputed inside the match venues.

But even for those inside, they can’t be glued to the action. They are fixated on fans and preventing anything untoward happening in the stands. “We have to do our job,” one of the Pakistan officers posted inside the stadium tells Dawn. “If we don’t do that, who will ensure the safety of those inside?” But they can at least catch a glimpse of the action, unlike the ones posted at the media centre.

The Pakistani presence is quite visible in Qatar’s security operation for the World Cup, and it may be once again, if Doha fulfills its ambition of hosting the Olympics — they have already expressed interest in entering the race to hold the games in 2032.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022

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