KARACHI: Shiraz Hassan had two tickets for Pakistan’s opening World Cup game against the Netherlands in Hyderabad.

He had high hopes of travelling to India and witnessing Babar Azam’s men in action on their first tour across the border since 2016 at the Rajiv Gandhi Cricket Stadium.

Instead, like many of his compatriots — fans and journalists alike — waiting for Indian visas, Shiraz watched the game on television as Pakistan made a winning start on Friday.

It’s been an agonising, excruciating wait for a response from the Indian High Commission, which itself is awaiting instructions from India’s home ministry, and Shiraz risks missing on Pakistan’s second game of the tournament against Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

Ex-ICC president Mani says if Pakistanis are not issued visas, PCB should recall team before India clash

Unless, of course, something dramatic happens on Monday and he’s able to arrange a flight in time to get there.

“The worst part,” Shiraz told Dawn on Sunday, “is that there is no refund policy for a no-show due to visas.”

Shiraz’s friend Zeeshan also has tickets for the Sri Lanka game and he too is resigned to his fate. “I don’t see any chance of getting to that game so it’s a loss,” he told Dawn on Sunday.

But both Islamabad residents are still holding hope that the visa issue will be resolved by the time the other matches they have tickets for come along.

Shiraz has tickets for Pakistan’s match against New Zealand, scheduled for Nov 4 in Bangalore, while Zeeshan is hoping to be at the team’s clash with Afghanistan in Chennai on Oct 23.

“Something should happen by then,” added Zeeshan, who said he was disheartened by the fact that not enough pressure was put on hosts India to grant visas to fans and journalists from Pakistan.

It’s not just those in Pakistan who are waiting. Even overseas Pakistanis, holding foreign passports, have been made to wait.

That’s the case with Bradford-based Israr Haider. He and his wife have been attending World Cups since 2007 and posted a video on social media asking the Indian government to grant them visas.

“Just because the place of birth on my British passport is Rawalpindi, I was told by the Indian consulate in Bradford that it will take at least six weeks for my visa to come,” Israr, who plans to purchase match tickets after reaching India, told Dawn on Sunday. “That’s the time they need to conduct background checks.”

Pakistani fans carrying Canadian passports are faced with a different conundrum with India having severed its diplomatic ties with the North American country.

Many fans, though, have been disappointed with the tepid statement by Pakistan’s foreign ministry regarding the visa issue.

Hopeful that it would be resolved, the ministry said that “India should not mix sports with politics”.

Unfortunately, though, cricket has been the biggest victim of the soured political relationship between India and Pakistan.

And it’s also affecting those whose bread and butter comes from covering the game.

Many accredited journalists Dawn spoke with did not want to be quoted on record, fearing it would jeopardise their chances of travelling to India — albeit at a latter stage of the World Cup.

But they did say that they expected more from the Pakistan Cricket Board and the game’s global governing body, the International Cricket Council.

“The ICC is just sending out the usual statement that ‘every effort is being made’ but we’re not seeing any result,” said one Karachi-based reporter.

“India has an obligation to welcome fans and journalists from Pakistan but it isn’t doing so. If this was a FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, would this be happening?” the reporter questioned.

Global football body FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, the organisers of the Olympic Games, have implemented measures that allow easy entry for both journalists and fans at their events.

At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, tournament hosts Russia announced a visa-free entry for fans who had tickets. Journalists were handed visas on spot at the Russian consular offices. Qatar implemented similar plans at the World Cup it hosted last year.

“It just goes on to show that India can do anything it wants to sideline one country and the ICC will just keep watching,” said another reporter from Karachi, who has covered several World Cups.

At this point in time, most reporters are relying on hearsay with rumours rife that 15 of the 50 accredited journalists from Pakistan would be handed visas ahead of the much-anticipated clash between India and Pakistan on Oct 14, with permits for the others to follow in due time.

“The officials of the Indian High Commission were quite responsive in the past but right now, they’re not even attending our calls,” said an Islamabad-based reporter.

The PCB has said that it is “continuing to raise concerns with the relevant authorities” by “reminding ICC about their obligations and members’ agreement on issuing visas for fans and journalists”, but many feel that’s not enough.

In an interview with Geo News on Saturday, former PCB chief Ehsan Mani said it was time the board “stands up and shows leadership”.

“If Pakistani fans and journalists aren’t issued Indian visas, then they [PCB] should recall the team before Pakistan play India,” Mr Mani, former ICC president, said.

“In these circumstances where a no-go area has been created for Pakistani spectators and journalists, there is no justification for Pakistan’s cricket team to play in the World Cup.”

The Pakistan team had to change their travel plans due to non-issuance of visas, eventually securing them barely 48 hours before they left for what is their first tour of India since the 2016 T20 World Cup.

And the fans continue to cling on to hope that they might be able to see some part of Pakistan’s campaign in India.

“I’m really hoping we’ll be able to go to India,” said Mr Israr. “Otherwise, it would paint a really bleak picture for the World Cup hosts as they will hold Pakistan matches without Pakistan fans.”

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2023

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