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Holier than thou?

November 20, 2011

spot fixing
The trio were banned by the ICC for 'spot-fixing'. - Photo by AFP

That the three were in trouble from the very outset was never in doubt. That they were guilty of wrongdoing was something that was digested by one and all pretty early in the life of the scandal.

There was, therefore, no sympathy for the culprits. The Pakistan Cricket Board distanced itself, and so did the PCB Patron and his government. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with people who, everybody knew, were going to be made to pay for having crossed the line. Any effort to protect them would have been a taint on the reputation of these high offices. Perfect.

There is, however, something called national image that needed to be protected, and the ‘fixing’ scam, for all practical purposes, is as much a failure of the government machinery as it is that of the three individuals to put a rein on their avarice.

Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif did the wrong thing. Accepted. But were they first ones to do that? Certainly not. All this talk of making them an example to work as deterrent for the future is hogwash. They find themselves in prison because it could be done. And it could be done because all concerned in Pakistan preferred to have a holier-than-thou attitude towards the whole thing.

It was only after—repeat after—the sentencing that Interior Minister Rahman Malik met British officials and said he would try to have the boys spend their terms in a Pakistani facility. Was he—or his boss or bosses—not aware of which way the wind was blowing till then? If the three players caused a serious blow to Pakistan by their actions, so did the PCB and the government with their lack of action.

The crime committed by the three Pakistanis was no different from what several others committed much earlier and were made to pay for it with fines and bans, like, for instance, Shane Warne, Mark Waugh, Hansie Cronje, Herschelle Gibbs, Saleem Malik, Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajey Jadeja and right down to Marlon Samuels.

If anything, the crimes of the Pakistani trio were less serious than most of the cases cited above, for they related to spot fixing rather than match fixing. It is a grave oversimplification to say that the Pakistanis were sentenced to prison terms because of English laws, while the rest were left off the hook because the ICC alone was calling the shots.

Anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of the how the world moves would know how different nations and their governments decide which laws to invoke and when to do it and how to do it. The name of Raymond Davis might help people recall how governments behave. It may be an extremity, but it does prove the point that governments do act regardless of legal niceties when it is a matter of national honour for them.

The argument, lest it be misunderstood, is not about the guilty having to pay the cost; it is about the lack of foresight among the administrators to make their moves when they were needed. The world of diplomatic backstage is a reality that cannot be ignored. It is a world that acknowledges that life moves in the grey zone; not in black and white. And it is a world that deals in the art of possibilities. Was there anything that Pakistan did on that stage? Nothing.

The PCB administration, already suffering from isolation within the International Cricket Council (ICC), shied away from the whole thing. The PCB Patron, as always, had a lot more on his plate to have much of an interest in it. The foreign ministry was hardly ever seen doing anything to stress a home trial for the accused.

When Gibbs feared arrest on arrival, he refused to travel to India and his board and the government didn’t force him to do that or penalised him for not doing that. By the looks of it, there is no nation or government on earth holier than Pakistan where only the innocent survive and every culprit has to bear the burden of his crime. And, indeed, the post-event statements from even the likes of Imran Khan and the media posturing at large suggest that the three were the only corrupt people in the whole country. That is some hypocrisy.