In 2012, London was facing a similar situation, albeit much larger in scale but still a similar one. It was in a state of lockdown. Due to all-infamous London riots and idiosyncratic British paranoia, the incumbent government ended up spending so much on the London Olympics that it almost crippled its economy. According to estimates, there were around 13,500 more British troops deployed to guard the Olympic village than there were in Afghanistan at that time. All for what really? For a period of play?
Such will be the picture of Pakistan, especially of Lahore and Karachi in the upcoming days as we look to generate ‘more’ international goodwill while building on the ‘successful’ voyages of Sri Lankan and World XI cricket teams. The last PSL final required the services of paramilitary troops, army and intelligence personnel, as well as nearly 2,000 traffic wardens for it to be called a ‘success’. The Independence Cup met a similar fate with almost $3 million burnt in the players’ fees and logistics. It could have been at least a million more had the ICC not bankrolled the lion’s share of presidential level security arrangements. Now there is speculation floating around that West Indian players will be paid $25,000 to visit Pakistan. These are crazy numbers, and they are going to get crazier with more and more teams coming to Pakistan.
It is not only about the money voluntarily deluged by the government but the losses incurred by the local businessmen are huge as the whole city especially the main monetary arteries of Lahore are choked to death during this period of cricket frenzy. There is no in or out. God forbid what is going to happen in Karachi now. The amount of monetary flood it will take to make this event a success there especially when meekness of Karachi’s infrastructure is at its best, and is compared to the worst in the world. Fortunately or unfortunately, banks of national treasury are already broken with 1.5 billion rupees flooded to renovate the National Stadium — just a couple of hundred more than the 1.3 billion allotted to build 46 new hospitals in the fiscal health budget of 2017-18.
There are two major problems in the template put in place to redeem cricket in Pakistan, one financial and the other conceptual. Putting emotions aside, it is a world of markets and products and Pakistan cricket is a product which is sold to the sponsors to generate profits. It would simply lose its wheels if it stops making money and we will be left bereft of our most beloved sport. The current template falters in just that, as it is simply not sustainable. For how long can the PCB continue to pay players to visit Pakistan, and how can it make an ODI or Test series financially viable when even the T20 series results in losses which require lesser time and money? Amid all these losses incurred by the government and the local businessmen, there is considered to be only one gain, that we are painting a positive image of Pakistan on an international scale, which painfully is a farce.
Do we really think that vibrancy of high beam LEDs, colorful posters, and blasting speakers compensate for the gloom surrounding bulletproof buses, guarded hotel rooms and empty roads? It is not a ring fight that if fought in a cage gets your pulse racing. It is a free spirited sport and amid all the time away from families, players maintain their sanity by indulging in different cultures and spending some vacation time. It is almost embarrassing every time players apologise to their fans for not coming to Pakistan as their families are too worried about them. In a way, these scenes further reinforce a fallacious image of Pakistan sketched internationally in black and white. We have colours, loads of them, but this is not the way to show them off.
Our passion runs on fanatical numbers when it comes to cricket. We are a nation which is willing to forgive anyone who runs in hard and bowls fast. Flying hair, strong contours and deranged celebrations shaped our cricket. It is hard to see it stoop to a level where we have to force cricketers to come to Pakistan in bulletproof buses and see how peaceful Pakistan really is.
Albert Einstein once said, ‘Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding’, so we need to understand the realities of today’s Pakistan that at the end of the day, even if hopefully these playoffs go incident-free, what will we really achieve after all this hassle? Will we have managed to make peace or force peace? You decide.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2018.