Cricket in hybrid warfare

The Nation  |  Sep 19, 2021

In just sixty seconds, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand could spell out the achievements made by her in the first one hundred days of her government. The amazing video clip went viral in Pakistan. Coupled with her pictures wearing hijab, particularly after the deadly Christchurch shootings, she was seen as a symbol of hope in the Muslim communities around the world. In her most heartfelt speech, after talking about love and peace, she termed the terrorist attacks of March 15, 2019 as the ‘darkest of hours’. She was given a standing ovation for the sentiments she expressed, ‘What words adequately express the pain and suffering of fifty men, women and children lost, and so many injured? What words capture the anguish of our Muslim community being the target of hatred and violence? What words express the grief of a city that has already known so much pain?’

Little did we know that on September 17, the peace-loving, most friendly, soft-spoken Jacinda Ardern would hit Pakistani cricket with an unimaginable blow, casting serious aspersions on not only the proud security apparatus of the country but also having far reaching effects on all future home series. By calling off its entire tour of Pakistan, just minutes before the first match was about to begin in Rawalpindi, Madam Prime Minister had sent 220 million Pakistanis into deep shock and anguish thereby creating the ‘darkest of hours’ in the history of cricket; seriously damaging her country’s image as a sovereign nation; and of course putting a big question mark before Pak-New Zealand future bilateral relations. Citing security concerns as the reason for cancelling the tour, after being fully satisfied with the security arrangements, landing in Pakistan, practicing for four days for the first match on Pakistani soil in eighteen years, does not make any sense particularly when everyone including your team management itself was clueless as to the alleged ‘threat’ they received. 

Chris Gayle's tweet goes viral on social media By creating an embarrassment of such magnitude for Pakistan, Madam Prime Minister has announced her country’s indirect entry into the South Asian volatile geo-politics and complex battle space wherein India and certain outside affluent countries would like to isolate Pakistan and restrict its progress. The ever-fluid concept of Hybrid Warfare, as a military strategy, does include creating diplomatically embarrassing situations for the enemy in any form and field. From March 2009 when the Sri Lankan team bus was targeted by terrorists to the latest episode of ‘cricket diplomacy’ by New Zealand, one factor remained obvious. The enemy would not spare even the ‘gentleman’s game’ to further its plans of maligning a country in one of the most deceitful manners. Pakistani security agencies were caught off-guard in 2009. In 2021, when the enemy failed in attempting a terrorist attack on the visiting team, it played the wild card of unknown and unsubstantiated terror ‘threat’. 

New Zealand team returns after abandoning Pak tour That calling off the entire tour just minutes before the commencement of the first ODI by Wellington has anything to do with the unique position of Pakistan following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan is anybody’s guess. Mentioning that the tour was called off after receiving advice to that effect from the British High Commission based in Islamabad brings in London’s involvement but not for the right reasons. Following the norms of usual protocol, the British High Commission should have first shared the alleged ‘threat’ with the host intelligence authorities through the Foreign Office. Its decision to directly alert Wellington and that too without ascertaining the veracity of the ‘threat’ is difficult to understand. Wellington’s hasty decision to follow suit without sharing the nature of intelligence with the host authorities is also surprising. 

The same day New Zealand’s tour was called off, the diplomatically savvy Great Britain removed Pakistan from its roll of ‘red list countries’. Reading both the breaking news juxtaposed speaks volumes about an amazingly magical coincidence. Talk about the perfect timings…! Conspiracy theorists might view London’s announcement as a tactical move to avert the attention of 220 million Pakistanis from the sheer agonizing experience of seeing the most incredible event in the history of cricket.  Even if the removal of Pakistan from the red list by London and the hurriedly arranged cancellation of New Zealand’s tour to Pakistan is not taken as a coincidence, Wellington’s rushed action will be remembered by Islamabad and the millions of Pakistani cricket lovers alike. The due process of taking such important decisions was completely missing from the equation. 

PIA to fly 32 flights for United Kingdom An extremely busy PM Imran Khan in Dushanbe took time out to call Madam Prime Minister and after assuring her of foolproof security arrangements, urged her not to call off the tour. Not giving a sympathetic ear to her Pakistani counterpart, she instructed her team to leave Pakistan soonest possible. Talk about the timings…!! Ramiz Raja has just assumed charge as the PCB Chairman. Never in cricketing history, was a Chairman posed such a humongous challenge to deal with soon after entering the coveted office. Even if the PCB takes its case to the ICC or Islamabad demarches Wellington through diplomatic channels, the damage is complete and conclusive. No amount of inquiries would suffice to clean the slate of Pakistan’s security situation in the context of hosting cricket teams at least for the foreseeable future.

That Madam Prime Minister had no idea of the kind of problems Pakistan would be facing for a long time due to her unfounded fears, is inconceivable. Would anyone respectfully remind her what she claimed about her country a couple of years ago? ‘We are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other... but we can be the nation that discovers the cure.’ Would she discover the cure for Pakistan’s totally undeserving embarrassing predicament? Would she kindly take another sixty seconds to spell out her plans to safeguard her own country’s image as a comparatively neutral, hate-free, peaceful nation? It is time the world realized that Newton’s third law of motion was applicable to the complex dynamics of geo-politics as well. (The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan).  

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