New Zealand pulled out of their cricket series against Pakistan on Friday over security concerns just as the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi, while Islamabad called it a ‘conspiracy’ aimed at damaging Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region. “Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from New Zealand Cricket security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour,” New Zealand Cricket said in a statement. New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said Pakistan had been “wonderful hosts”, but “player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option”. The Kiwis are in Pakistan for the first time since 2003 and were due to play three ODIs, followed by five Twenty20 matches. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said New Zealand made the decision unilaterally. Before the match was to start, Prime Minister Imran Khan – himself an international cricketing legend – spoke with his counterpart Jacinda Ardern to assure her of the team’s safety, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said at a press conference. He said Ardern reported that the team may be at risk of an attack outside the stadium. “There is no threat to cricket in Pakistan, there was no threat to New Zealand and there is no threat to England,” he added. While declining to share names of those involved in this conspiracy, the minister termed the tour cancellation an attempt to damage Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region. He said that in order to ensure foolproof security of foreign team and matches, Pakistan had not only deployed 4000 policemen but also commandos from Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG) and Pak Army soldiers. “We even tried to convince them to play the match without spectators however they were not willing to come,” he said. The minister said that the government’s team also reached out to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is currently in Dushanbe to participate in the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Heads of State Summit. In direct conversation, Imran Khan assured New Zealand’s Prime Minister of complete security to the Kiwis. “The New Zealand prime minister said there was no issue of a threat and added that the New Zealand government had received intelligence that the team could be attacked when it steps out to go to the stadium”, Sheikh said. “It is their decision as we had deployed full security for their team. Pakistan is a peace promoter in the world but this tour was cancelled through a conspiracy,” he added. Sheikh Rashid made it clear that none of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which are among the best in the world, have any information about a threat. “We are playing a major role in the region and our enemies do not want us to prosper.” He said that unfortunately the tour was cancelled at a time when Pakistan was playing its role in ensuring peace in the region and also contributing its share in making the globe more peaceful. “No doubt there is a conspiracy behind this to harm Pakistan’s efforts for peace.” He said that the same forces who wanted to hurt Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region are actually behind the cancellation of the New Zealand cricket team’s tour. “This is an attempt to damage our image and the New Zealand authorities one-sidedly decided to cancel the tour,” he said. He said that Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan and provided full support to many countries in the evacuation of their citizens from Afghanistan.