Cricket is a public passion in the width and breath of Pakistan. Despite field hockey being our national sports, cricket has successfully captured popular perception and international patronage. We can rightfully take pride in our cricket’s history which holds one world cup win along with host of other achievements in all three formats of the game. I still recall my days in FC College when we somehow managed to skip classes to watch international matches in the nearby Gaddafi stadium. Not only Lahore, the nearby city of Sheikhupura hosted international matches that we watched while making to the stadium. Moreover, Gujranwala, Multan, Peshawar and Karachi cricket stadiums were popular venues for cricket fans and sponsors. However, with the increasing incidence of terrorism in Pakistan in the wake of 9/11 Attacks and the War on Terror, cricket, among other sports andpublic festivals such as Basant, bore the brunt.
Thus, it is hard to cite any international cricket series being played in Pakistan during the last decade or so. The absence of international cricket deprived Pakistan not only of cricketing opportunities thatimplicitly encourage sportsmanshipamong especially the youth, but also of much-needed revenue and diplomatic space. It was, therefore, heartrending to see our team play Pakistani-oriented series oversees i.e. UAE. The departure of international cricket from the domestic scene discouraged many a local fans and sponsors.
Nonetheless, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), owing to NajamSethi’s appreciable efforts, somehow realised the degree of damage done to our (domestic) cricket and market and convinced the International Cricket Council (ICC) to authorise and encourage Pakistan Super League (PSL) whose first series was played in UAE last year. This year witnessed the successful conduct of PSL’s second season. All leaguematches were played in the UAE except for the final.
It is the PSL final which was assumed by some political parties as an arena forrealpolitik. To begin with, the PML-N, the ruling party, was initiallyreluctant to hold the match in Lahore, as the city had suffered from a deadly terror attack around mid-February. Contextually, however, Pakistani military pushed and facilitated the PML-N government to go ahead with the event. Interestingly, when the final decision was announced, PTI’s leader Imran Khan not only disagreed with thegovernment’sdecision but also warned the PM by saying, ‘If another terror attack occurs in Lahore, the entire responsibility would lay with Nawaz Sharif.’
Khan failed to pressure the Sharifs and ultimately the match was successfully held. Indeed, it was an encouraging and healthy sign on economic and tourism level.
Regardless, the politics of PSL continued in the post-final period. Imran Khan furtherregistered his disappointment and displeasure in an allegedly off-record session with journalists. Khan stated, ‘Phateecher(worn-out)players from Africa were brought to play and there was no need for any security for these players, as they would have come anyway if lured with money.’
As soon as Khan’s video went viral on the social media, hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis started criticising him for being racist. This led to JavedLatif, a PML-N MNA, to objectionableremarksabout Imran Khan. This led to ascuffle betweenhim and PTI’s MuradSaeed, who also faced lewd remarks about his family.
Indubitably, Khan’s remarks regarding the foreignplayers are racist and dehumanising. However, it is also derogatory to dub Khan, among others,as traitors. Criticism of state policy should not be bracketed with anti-state rhetoric. Moreover, Latifshould bear in mind thatat the core of ourcivilisational values lay thesanctityof relations. In addition, there is no doubt that Pakistan’s internal security is a major concern for the international community. Imran Khan is absolutely right in this regard.
Last but not the least, Pakistani political parties should learn to disagree with a policy, not person, and argue with verifiable facts rather than self-assumed polemics. Moreover, our parties ought to manoeuvre public opinion in the larger interest of the country than mere petty interests. Unethical, racist and dehumanising politics, however, should be avoided for it divides the society that is already reeling with intolerance and hatred. The next general elections are due next year and it is hoped thatour political partiesmature enough to focus on state matters than indulge in mudslinging.
The writer is a political scientist by training and professor by profession. He is DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow. Currently, he is a visiting scholar at Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. He tweets @ejazbhatty