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History repeats itself: When New Zealand cancelled its tour of Pakistan in 2002 after a bomb blast

The deadly bomb blast claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 34 others. Out of the 12 deceased, about 10 of them were defence technicians from France. The New Zealand cricketers had a narrow escape.

On September 17 this year, the New Zealand cricket team abandoned their tour of Pakistan over security concerns. The announcement was made just an hour before the start of the 1st ODI match. The ‘B’ team of New Zealand was scheduled to play a 3-match ODI series against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, followed by a 5-match T20 series against them in Lahore.

However, the last-minute snub was fuelled by security concerns that were raised by the Intelligence alliance of the US, Australia, UK, Canada and New Zealand (also called the Five eyes). It led to a major embarrassment for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Pakistani government. Former cricketer Shoaib Akhtar even accused the NZC of destroying the country’s cricket with just one decision. Three days later on September 20, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) pulled the plug on their tour in October.

Ahead of the upcoming T20 World Cup in UAE, the England Men’s team was scheduled to play 2 back-to-back T20Is on October 13 and 14 in Pakistan. On the other hand, the Women’s team was scheduled to play 2 T20Is and 3 ODIs. However, ECB followed the footsteps of New Zealand, leaving the Pakistanis high and dry. This is, however, not the first time that a series with New Zealand was cancelled over security threats. Almost 2 decades ago, NZC found itself in a similar situation.

2002 Karachi bombing and New Zealand Team

On May 8, 2002, a massive explosion took place inside a bus that was parked outside the hotel of the visiting New Zealand team in Karachi, reported The Guardian. The deadly bomb blast claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 34 others. Out of the 12 deceased, about 10 of them were defence technicians from France. The New Zealand cricketers had a narrow escape. Martin Snedden, the Chief Executive of NZC, decided to cancel the second test match that was scheduled to begin on that day in Karachi.

During a press conference, he remarked, “I will now arrange to have the team immediately fly out of Pakistan and return home to New Zealand. I don’t think this was a decision that was a difficult one to make quickly. The safety of our players is always a major priority. I have spoken to Brigadier Rana of the Pakistan Cricket Board and conveyed our decision to him. Our main priority now is to bring the players home safely to their families.”

Screengrab of the article published in The Guardian

Prior to the terror attack, aspersions were cast about the security arrangements in Pakistan in the context of the 9/11 attacks. The New Zealand team nevertheless came following assurances by the then Pakistani government and review of plans by NZC authorities. However, the security agencies in the country could not prevent the bomb blast that was believed to be carried out by a suicide bomber. Waqar Younis, who was the captain of the Pakistani team, however, understood the impact that the terror attack would have on the future of cricket in the country.

“Thanks be to God that all the players and the officials of both the teams are safe. But cricket will suffer badly in Pakistan. We are helpless and can’t play cricket in these conditions which is sad for cricket lovers in Pakistan as well as for the teams. We wait to see what measures the Pakistan Cricket Board will take for the future cricket,” he had said then. Sindh police chief Kamal Shah had tried to pin the blame on India and the Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. “We cannot rule out the involvement of al-Qaeda, but our suspicions are across the border. I am pointing towards India,” he had claimed.

Terror attack on the Sri Lanka Team in 2009

While Pakistan continues to blame India for stalling the development of cricket in the country, the truth remains that the Pakistani army paid the price for providing a safe haven to terrorists. 7 years after the New Zealand team narrowly escaped the Karachi bombing, the visiting Srilankan side came in the line of a deadly terror attack on March 3 in 2009. The visitors were en route to the Qaddafi stadium in Lahore for Day 3 of the 2nd tests when the attack took place. The target of the terrorists was the convoy of the Sri Lankan team.

Terrorists firing at the convoy of Sri Lankan team, image via Reuters

Equipped with guns, hand grenades and RPGs, the Islamic terrorists stormed the Liberty Chowk in Lahore and opened fired at the convoy of cricketers. The driver of the bus sustained gunshot wound but managed to steer the bus to safety. In the deadly attack, about 7 people were killed and 20 others were injured (including 7 Sri Lankan players). “For some reason, I moved my head to get a better view and a split second later I felt a bullet fizz past my ear into the vacant seat,” recounted Sri Lankan cricketer Mahela Jayawardene.

He thanked the bus driver for saving his life and that of the team members. “We owe the team bus driver our lives for his remarkable bravery in the face of direct gunfire … Had he not had the courage and presence of mind to get the bus moving after the initial attack then we’d have been a far easier target for the terrorists,” Jaywardene said. In the aftermath of the attack, Lahore police officer Haji Habibur Rehman tried to pin the blame on India and its Intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) by citing a non-existent Intelligence input from the Punjab government. His claim was rubbished by the police chief Khawaja Khalid Farooq.

Future of cricket in Pakistan

In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistanis have come out in support of the radical Islamist outfit. The fanaticism also found resonance with the incumbent Imran Khan government. Reuters reported that the government had decided to send ISI chief to Afghanistan to help the Taliban reorganise their military. It also intended to provide necessary training to the Taliban, largely made up of Pashtun fighters trained in Pakistan madrasas.

As such, the possibility of a security threat in Pakistan, which has been harbouring UN-designated terrorists, cannot be ruled out. However, instead of cleaning their mess, Pakistanis are busy peddling conspiracy theories of India’s involvement. Following a dual snub by New Zealand and England Cricket Board, the domestic cricket season of Pakistan lies in tatters.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Duttahttps://dibakardutta.in/
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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