Dear PSL Management,
Hope this letter finds you well.
Of course, the line above is a mere formality one uses to address the recipient of a letter to maintain cordiality – no one really means it when they pen that line down at the start of a letter. More often than not, it’s a way to break the writer’s block and let a couple of sentences form.
In this case, however, I do sincerely hope that you are well, for I can only imagine the level of anxiety and apprehension you must be facing at the thought of <insert the population count of Pakistan here – a task one cannot accurately do because the census is elusive> pairs of eyes fixated upon you all the way from now till the end of Sunday.
But you must think positively about this! Imagine the high you will feel if you pull this off with no incident. Imagine the euphoria at being hailed as the saviours of the image of Pakistan and protectors of the ‘indigenous’ culture of this nation, as you, singlehandedly, bring international cricket back home.
Except. If you do believe that, then it’s time for someone to give you a reality check. Because neither has the PSL been without incident (even though the final itself is still a day or two away), nor have the preparations for the final been a single-handed effort.
Let’s go back to the start. Barely a week into the PSL, and you had to send players back because of allegations of corruption. Of course that did not stain Pakistan’s image on the global stage – we’re all certain that the world has become used to (perhaps even tired of) Pakistan’s continuous struggles with its insatiated hunger for power and fortune.
The issue (one of the many), though, is – PSL was never meant to be a reflection of the sombre aspects of Pakistan. It was meant to be a cause worth celebrating, a venture worth supporting and a process to showcase the softer side of a country otherwise misrepresented and tainted internationally.
Somewhere along the way, the vile monstrosity of terrorism resurfaced, peeking out from the hole Zarb-e-Azb was supposed to have buried it in once and for all. Within the span of five days, this happened:
It just didn’t seem like this was PSL’s year; if anything, PSL just seemed like a bad omen. Worst of all, the general public began to relate the terrorist incidents with the possibility of the PSL final being held in Lahore – surely someone was killing all these people to prove a point and to prevent PSL from hosting its final in Lahore (oh boy, did you show them). Of course, let’s all neglect the launch of a new military operation and the proposed (now approved) FATA reforms and the likelihood of the Rangers being deployed in Punjab (check) and the deliberations over the extension of the military courts (check, again). Surely, PSL was the biggest factor!
Well. You did it. There is little to be said about a decision that’s already been made, at such high levels of State machinery, in order to try and reverse it. Some things are just not possible (this is the exact moment someone makes a reference to putting toothpaste back into the tube once it’s been squeezed out). This, however, does not change the fact, that you should know the impact of your decision.
We claim to be a great nation. We claim to be intrinsically fraternal. We rush to each other’s help in times of need – we raise funds, we raise rations and we raise each other’s hopes, keeping them from falling to the ground and shattering in their fragility. Yet, with such devastating attacks, have we lost the ability to mourn? A week after losing our brothers and sisters, we now turn towards a celebratory event. Except – what are we celebrating?
Except, “the question of bringing the final to Lahore lies beyond the narrow critique of playing a flute or fiddle while the city burns.” Indeed, the question at hand is – are we being defeatist and coming across as a weak State if we concede to not holding the final in Lahore?
Do you see the problem? No? It’s the age-old dilemma of our society, now represented on a national scale (grab your IMAX glasses now!):
See, if we were to divorce ourselves from the sensationalization of the PSL final as being the magical antidote to the terrorist threat in our country (perhaps another national problem of everyone pretending to know the cure), we would realize what’s actually transpiring.
- Thanks (in entirety) to what can only be described as your stubbornness to hold the PSL final in Lahore, the country’s (yes, not just the city’s or the province’s) law enforcement agencies and their resources are being reallocated on a massive scale to this one occasion. To put it into context, according to a news report by DAWN yesterday:
“For high vigilance, the Pakistan Army, Rangers and Punjab police shall take control of surroundings of Qadhafi Stadium and its adjoining areas a day before the PSL final”, Lahore Capital City Police Officer Amin Wains Told Dawn.
He said a five-layer security plan [- whereas VVIPs are offered a three-tier security structure -] had been finalised keeping in view the sensitivity of the task and the challenges. He said it was for the first time that such an intensive security plan had been designed for a sports event in the provincial capital.
“We have called 10 senior police officers from the whole province for different duties in connection with the high-security sports event”, the CCPO said. Most of these officers were serving as district police officers (DPOs) who were picked for Lahore security plan in view of their previous experience of working in the provincial capital, he added.
The army would ensure first-hand response to any emergency situation, while the Rangers, police and other law enforcement agencies would follow, he added.
“In addition, the Punjab Constabulary, Dolphin Force, Police Response Unit, Elite Force and personnel from various police stations have been deployed to guard the stadium, all routes, nearby buildings and the roads”, Mr Wains said.
He said the adjoining buildings, including houses and commercial plazas, were being documented as a preventive step to know the identity of the occupants.
- Due to the circumstances despite which this final is being held in Lahore, international players are now backing out of the PSL squads. Let’s look at this from two points of view:
i) players that have played an important role not just in drawing attention to the PSL as an entity, but also in their respective teams to help them qualify to whichever stage their team reached, will now not be playing in the very final they helped their teams reach; and
ii) the players backing out have no qualms about stating their reason for not playing the final is the security situation of the country – how do you think this impacts Pakistan’s ‘image’?
- As a direct consequence of the final being held in Lahore and the subsequent rise in threat alerts across the country, children’s education is being hindered – a promise we made to ourselves in the wake of the APS Attack to never let happen again (though, apparently, it’s alright is we’re the ones causing that hiatus ourselves).
- Assuming that none of the international players show up, do you even realize that the outcome will be the national team of Pakistan playing amongst themselves (in what may almost be then labelled a practice match) and people are about to pay you (a maximum of) PKR 12,000 per ticket?
Does this mean that if the security situation had not actually been elevated, and the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore was only used to play a show-case match featuring the players from Pakistan’s domestic cricket team, the tickets may have cost less and the security situation would not have been as suffocating?
- Where once (very recently) the Courts ruled that even the freedom of expression (and protest) was not enough to curtail anyone’s right to freedom of movement, apparently a cricket match is an adequate reason? Because now it’s the Government backing up the cricket match? (Ironically, in the same decision, the Court also ruled that educational institutions should not be closed down.)
I hope this handful is enough to help you see what the issue is; that where the Chairman PCB states that the final in Lahore will be a unifying factor for the public, it has, rather, become a divisive factor between those who think this should happen at all costs, and those that believe that the costs are too high and the rewards are bare-bones.
Now that the decisions have been made, the security plans have been finalized and the community has been deeply engrained with comatose fear, I sincerely wish you (and the people living in Pakistan) the very best of luck – may the odds be ever in your favour.
But when you go to sleep at night, I just want you to remember – in the midst of all this chaos, this horror, this inhumanity and this loss of life, the only thing that mattered to you was paralyzing a provincial capital and getting your way, to get recognition and applause for getting 22 people onto a field.
At the end, I leave you with some food for thought:
Everyone agrees that normalcy is a fitting response to terrorism. But the definition of what is normal needs to be laid out. People, especially those residing in perpetually unsafe areas, who step out to go to school, work, or to buy groceries are passively resisting the spread of chaos. They are trying their best to live normal lives by carrying out mundane acts in an entirely abnormal context. Securing these mundane practices should be the start and end goal of the state’s fight against terrorism.
The question then that we need to ask is will people feel safer because Lahore was secured for one evening? Or will it just prove to be a distraction, or worse, a catalyst for complacency for those in charge? These are difficult questions that deserve to be answered with clarity of thought. Most importantly, the framework of those answers needs to go beyond a one-off show of security or a manufactured demonstration of resilience.
A Concerned Pakistani
P.S. In case you have not seen it, watching The Dark Knight Rises may serve a crucial education purpose (spoilers ahead). After the entire Gotham police force is sent on a ‘training exercise’ to a specific location, they are caved in. This leaves the rest of the town exposed and vulnerable, allowing it to fall to Bane’s plan and granting him the opportunity to take over Gotham. Do you see the resemblance?
The feature image for this article was taken from the 1st March 2017 edition of the DAWN newspaper.