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NO MORE PSLs ABROAD

The pulsating cheering crowd in the National Stadium Karachi for the PSL Final, and subsequently for the three international T20s, underscored the return of peace to a city (and country) torn by internal strife.  Bereft of any sports spectacle and living in cold fear for life and limb of their (and their families) because of open-ended threats from terrorists, political, religious and the criminal kind, the people of Karachi had very good reason to celebrate, both their “freedom” and Pakistan’s return from sports “exile”. When the speakers playing the National Anthem failed during its rendition before the start of the match, the entire audience spontaneously started singing the anthem, could anyone have stage-managed patriotism better?,” to quote my articleLest we forgetof April 6, 2018.

Pakistan had not hosted a single game at home in more than four years because of the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers’  bus in Lahore. The Pakistan Super League (PSL) launched in 2016 became an instant hit in and outside Pakistan, the real success came with PSL 2017 when the final was played in Lahore. A World XI squad than toured Pakistan in Sept 2017 for a T20 series marking the return of high profile international cricket to the country. In a gesture overflowing with symbolism the Sri Lankans than played the last of their T20s away series in Lahore in Oct.

The good news about the 2019 edition is that the PCB is trying to host the opening ceremony in Pakistan, the bad news is that, including the final in Karachi on March 17, only eight matches are to be played in Pakistan. If the security in Pakistan is safe to host eight matches in Pakistan, does it make any sense to host the remaining 30 odd matches in the UAE?  In March 2018 Ramiz Raja made some rather ridiculous suggestions about (1) attracting better cricketers to PSL and (2) what needed to be done to fill up the stadiums in Dubai and Sharjah. His brainchild “hiring international tour operators to take fans from Pakistan to the UAE to fill up stadiums” was sheer nonsense. To quote my article in the Daily Times “PSL must remain in Pakistan” of March 25, 2018, Can foreign exchange-strapped Pakistan (US$ “spiking” from Rs 110 to 115 only yesterday and now Rs 125) afford the luxury of their cricket-starved citizens spending hard earned foreign exchange on hotels, meals and taxis in cash-rich Dubai for nearly one month long tournaments. UAE stadiums were less than 10% full, even on Thursday nights and Fridays. Would 10000-15000 Pakistanis flown in from Pakistan fill even half the capacity of the UAE stadiums? Can Dubai and Sharjah Stadiums financially survive without the PSL funding them 31 out of 34 PSL matches?” unquote.

Among the handful of Pakistani commentators acceptable to the Indian Premier League (IPL) where Pakistani cricketers are not welcome, was Rameez Raja campaigning on India’s behalf to keep the PSL from being staged in Pakistan?  On the one hand you have Finance Minister Asad Umar struggling to meet the need of the hour in the face of an economic crisis, clamping down on imports to save precious foreign exchange, very rightly carrying out PM Imran Khan’s instructions about an austerity campaign.  On the other we have Imran’s former teammate Rameez Raja strongly recommending the hemorrhaging of foreign exchange from cash-strapped Pakistan to oil rich UAE.

Speaking at the PSL 2017 Final Najam Sethi should have given more than passing mention to the role of security agencies and the tremendous sacrifice rendered by our soldiers and policemen over the years to make Karachi (and Pakistan) safe. Lest we forget, it is these thousands of Shaheeds and many more  wounded which made cricket a domestic happening instead of PSL remaining a Rameez Raja advertised “Yatra” filling Dubai’s coffers. Moreover despite all the heroics and ultimate sacrifice of our brave soldiers, what is the perception the world gets by PCB not holding the PSL in Pakistan? This graphically suggests that our security establishment is not confident about preserving the peace in Pakistan, that is in line with and supports India’s black propaganda against Pakistan.  Staging PSLs outside Pakistan reinforces the adverse perception that Pakistan is an insecure state, the irony is that PCB is inadvertently funding the anti-Pakistan campaign in the world that Pakistan is still not safe for sports.

During the early part of the 21st century, thanks to the dispensation afforded to militant political activists in Karachi by “Pakistan First” Gen Musharraf in 2000, armed criminal gangs took over entire localities in Karachi, with MQM’s sector offices acting as enforcement arms for Altaf’s whims and caprices. With militants belonging to the partners of the Sindh ruling coalition being now “legal” Karachi’s citizens became hostage to their cruelty. This finally evoked a response  operations form the security establishment, and that too with reluctant Federal sanction once things really got out of hand.

From conducting counter-insurgency, in South Waziristan Maj Gen Ijaz Chaudhry was transferred post-haste from his Division engaged in counter-insurgency operation in FATA to DG Rangers Sindh in April 2010.  Re-organising his command Ijaz weeded out undesirable elements and re-trained them for their mission statement and started low-key operations. In September 2011 when the Supreme Court (SC) summoned him, he handed over a sealed list of criminals from the political parties constituting the Sindh Coalition to Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry. Stunned by this stark description of “democracy’s” governance mode in the Province, the SC gave DG Rangers the go-ahead to continue with his mission, monitoring the Rangers activity on weekly reports. The by-product was smooth conduct of 2013 elections, at least in the urban areas of Sindh. President Arif Alvi was than a net beneficiary, without the peace imposed by the law enforcement agencies (LEFs) he could have never been elected as the sole PTI MNA in Karachi.  Promoted in Oct 2011 as Lt Gen Ijaz stayed as DG Rangers for six months before taking over as Comd 5 Corps in March 2012. PM Imran Khan’s PTI is now a major beneficiary of the peace process enacted by Ijaz and carried on by successors Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar (who rid us of the 122 illegal MQM office or rather enforcement centres) and Shahid Baig Mirza.    From being 6th most dangerous city out of 300 cities in 2014, Karachi dropped in rank to 50th in 2016, amply demonstrating the sacrifice rendered by our soldiers and policemen done by the Rangers (read the Army).

With a tremendous reputation, PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani brings with him a wealth of experience having served in executive capacities in various cricket bodies. Represented the PCB in the ICC from 1989, he served on the “Advisory Committee” as PCB’s representative during the 1996 and the 1999 Cricket World Cup and on the Asian Cricket Council. In June 2003 he became the ICC President where he served with distinction, leaving this organization in 2006 in a better state for his involvement. Ehsan has “short and long-term strategies” for improvement in domestic cricket and cricketing affairs in general, and to wipe out nepotism from the cricket body in line the new govt’s agenda.

The new PCB Chairman has said that he would like the entire PSL to be played in Pakistan from 2020, Ehsan Mani should do so from the 2019 edition. In 2018 when the last three matches were played in Pakistan as many as 18 international players participated from the West Indies, England, South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and England. Cricket commentators from South Africa, Australia, West Indies and England were also there. The stadiums for these three matches were jam-packed with hardly any space left to fill. Taking the success of PSL 2018 and foreign cricketers participation as the yardstick, one can be sure that with the money saved from the logistics being presently gifted to the UAE would be diverted to enhance their remuneration and encourage more foreign players to play in Pakistan.

Not only would cost the PCB at least ten times less hosting the event in in Quetta, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Multan, Islamabad, Hyderabad, etc? as compared to the UAE, this will also directly and indirectly provide a boost to the local economy.  With PCB will stand to earn more revenues than what it does in the UAE where stadiums are always almost empty. the huge rentals that PCB doles out for UAE Stadiums should be diverted to improving the cricket stadiums in Pakistan. In fact let the big banks making big banks bid for improving each of the Stadiums.   This moreover give PCB the advantage of possibly doubling or even tripling the amount of money for more incentives to foreign players to play in Pakistan. And what about the indirect benefit to hundreds of businesses in the cities where the matches will be played?  In 2018 PCB earned a profit of $5 million from the PSL, not taking into account earnings from television rights, this will increase manifold if the entire tournament is played in Pakistan. Looked at in any way this is a win-win situation for Pakistan.

For a country that is scarred by several decades of terrorism, the collective activity of the masses cheering for their teams and favorites players will both heal and bind the nation.  Sports captures the dormant patriotism and evokes it to cement the unity of the nation.  Above all it will go a long way in negating the “Hybrid warfare” being staged by India to isolate Pakistan in sports.  Unfortunately PCB has become an inadvertent tool in the hands of Indian machinations and their agents.  The ball is now in Ehsan Mani’s court, no more PSLs abroad please.

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