DUBAI // Pakistan has raised the possibility that it may not travel to the World Twenty20 in India next year, citing potential security concerns.
A spate of recent protests and attacks in Mumbai by Shiv Sena, a right-wing political party, have targeted Pakistani personalities. Most relevantly for cricket, umpire Aleem Dar received threats and was pulled out of officiating in the ongoing one-day international series between India and South Africa by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Shiv Sena then forced the cancellation of a meeting between the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) about resuming bilateral ties last week.
If that ultimately leads to the BCCI saying no to the series, scheduled for December in the UAE, and with the situation as it stands, Pakistan could potentially forfeit the World Twenty20.
“First, all doors (to a bilateral resumption) have to be closed then we will decide,” PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said in Dubai, during the second Test between Pakistan and England.
“We will have to decide that this series cannot happen. After that we will decide what our policy is. My own feeling is that we will have to go to our government and talk to them about the situation.
“My feeling is that the government will say do not go to an ICC tournament in India. That is what I sense. You have seen the situation there. In this environment how can we say? We will not have security enough there.”
Asked about the implications, Shaharyar says his board will be ready for the consequences. “Maybe the ICC says you have forfeited matches, that’s fine, we will forfeit the matches,” he said. “But the decisions will be taken when the doors are finally closed.”
Though Shaharyar has couched the statement within a personal assessment, it is worth noting that he is a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and an experienced diplomat. The words will not have been uttered carelessly.
He had raised the possibility of Pakistan not going to India earlier as well, and unprompted.
“You have seen the conditions there. Wherever Pakistan’s name comes up, the Shiv Sena does a demonstration. So we said, if this is the security situation then for us to go there will be very difficult. Our government will definitely say, do not go there, whether it is international matches, or Asia Cup matches.
“This is what I feel, that our government says to us, you don’t visit India. Not a very good situation but it’s been brought about by India.”
Those sentiments and words could also be interpreted as just that – designed to raise the stakes and crank up the pressure on the BCCI, as well as rope in the ICC.
The two boards signed an Memorandum of Understanding in May last year to play six series over the next eight years, the first being the one this December. Despite repeated attempts by the PCB, the BCCI has not responded whether or not it will play.
That, finally, has pushed the PCB to issue an ultimatum – if it does not receive a reply in the affirmative or negative within the next few days, the series will not happen.
“I now think the chances of the series happening are nearly over,” Shaharyar said. “The door isn’t fully closed. Some people there have said don’t think we have said no. There are still indications it could happen. If so, come and meet us, we will not come to meet you. Tell us soon by the end of this month. Tell us, yes or no, I think it will be no.”
Shaharyar put those diplomatic skills to good use in dampening the possibilities of a divergence between his account of the Mumbai trip and those of Najam Sethi, the head of the board’s executive committee.
Sethi had appeared on television two nights ago and contradicted Shaharyar’s claims that nobody from the BCCI was in touch with him after the meeting was cancelled.
Sethi insisted on air that backchannel communications had continued throughout, through, among other avenues, the wives of the two board heads.
Shaharyar was adamant, however, that contact between the wives was at a purely social level. “When it (the meeting) was cancelled, they still went out and bought a few things. They didn’t talk of cricket, they don’t talk of cricket. This was in front of Najam Sethi so there was no question of backchannel talks.”
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