The English Cricket Board announced last week that it has cancelled the tour of its men and women teams to Pakistan, citing security concerns. The English follow the footsteps of the New Zealand team which abandoned its series in Pakistan on the same day it was supposed to play, again citing security concerns.
These are worrying signs for Pakistan as it once again finds itself in murky waters.
For close to a decade, Pakistan became a ‘no-go zone’ for international cricket following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus at Lahore in 2009. It is once again stepping into another episode of international isolation because of the worsening security situation in the country.
In the last few years itself, there has been a rise in terrorist related incidents. From 2019 to 2020, there has been a spike of 11% in the number of terror attacks. This trend has carried on from 2020 to 2021 with a 27% increase, as per data compiled by independent observers.
Even China has come under the cross-hairs of these terrorist groups with attacks against Chinese nationals and interest also on the rise. The latest such attack was in Khyber Pakthunkhwa where a bus carrying Chinese engineers was bombed, killing nine Chinese citizens. This is considered to be one of the deadliest attacks targeting the Chinese in Pakistan.
Who is responsible?
Pakistan has been a victim of terror for long, with thousands of civilian lives lost. The government continues to point to a “foreign hand” behind these attacks, but security experts disagree, citing Pakistan’s hobnobbing with certain terror groups while cracking down on others as a reason for the country’s terror woes.
Pakistan continues to not have a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards terrorism. It has repeatedly chosen to look away with respect to various terror outfits using Pakistani soil as a launchpad for its attacks in the region, as long as their targets are beyond Pakistani soil. Islamabad continues to extend its overt support to many of these groups, like the ones operating against India in Kashmir and also the Afghan Taliban, who lived in Pakistan for the last many years before moving back to Afghanistan after the occupation of the country by the terror group.
Facing international scrutiny, Pakistan has claimed to take action against some of these terror groups but it is cosmetic and performative, like in the case of Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), who continues to live at his residence despite being convicted, and continues to command the LeT.
Such terror groups help Pakistan in its strategic interventions of subverting peace in Kashmir and countering Afghan nationalism that Islamabad views as a threat to its unity.
It has recently been lobbying internationally asking the Western nations to recognize the Afghan Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan as a legitimate takeover, despite widespread reports of human rights abuses by the terror group, which has started to target women, minorities and other vulnerable groups in the country.
The good and the bad terrorists
While Pakistan’s support has helped such terror groups to attain power, these very groups also help anti-Pakistan militants by providing them refuge, logistics and other material and non material support, given they have the same Islamist leanings. And hence, as Pakistan continues to ignore those terrorists it considers good as they serve its interests, it ends up being a victim of those terrorists that it deems bad, because most of such groups share geographical, and ideological space with each other.
Now with the recent abandonment of international cricket tours, it appears Pakistan is once again going down the path of isolation due to its own strategic follies. Will this prompt Pakistan to take some real, definitive measures against all terror groups without any distinctions? Or will the world continue to see Islamabad play the blame-game where it takes no responsibility?