It’s straight out of a suspense flick. Cops in mufti, subterfuge, talk of secret plans and locations, hourly intelligence updates, terrorist threats, assorted wheels within wheels. The Pakistanis are here and no one is taking chances.
On Saturday evening, on the sidelines of Pakistan’s practice game at the local Neerja Modi School, a sturdy man was in charge, constantly shouting instructions. Meet Col Anil Kaul, Vir Chakra, a man who saved 250 soldiers during the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka and lost an eye along the way. Kaul, now retired, is handling the ICC’s ramped up security detail for the Pakistan team in India — no easy job — and says he can’t afford to take any chances.
For instance, on Friday, all the players wanted to offer namaaz at a mosque. “There is a real threat perception,” Kaul told HT. “Madmen can do anything. Look at the Mumbai blasts. In this case, it’s not just the Shiv Sena who keep making noises… There are serious threats from other groups who would want to sully India’s image by targeting Pakistani cricketers.”
The Pakistanis couldn’t be taken to a mosque where they could be recognized. “But they had to go, so I quietly took them to an unknown mosque, without even the local police’s knowledge. We spent 20 minutes there and came straight back.” Kaul was approached for Pakistan duty by a private group called Tops Securities, hired by the ICC for this event.
“We don’t want to suffocate the players,” said Kaul. “If people don’t recognise them, some of them go out individually or in pairs, wear colourful clothes and not the Pakistani colours… It’s fine with us.” Kaul spoke of how Umar Gul and Kamraan Akmal went off to the Rajmandir cinema hall here to see Lage Raho Munnabhai.
The problem lies with the superstars. The Akhtars, Younises and Afridis. “They are given a schedule that they must follow and thankfully, they have been cooperating,” Kaul said. “It is difficult on them but they have handled it maturely, they understand our constraints too.”
But it obviously isn’t always a happy situation. Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer admitted his players were upset about the cancellation of a planned trip to Ajmer Sharif on Thursday. Ajmer apparently wasn’t ready with foolproof security cover but Kaul said the trip could materialise. “The government works differently.”
Media caught in power struggle
Incidentally, Kaul said he had given no instructions to stop the media, who were abused and manhandled by the Rajasthan Police — led by circle inspector Naseem Ullah and sub-inspector Manish Kumar — at the practice venue on Saturday afternoon, even as they allowed about 2000 other people, friends and relatives of policemen and school authorities.
The incident apparently has its genesis in a vicious argument between BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi and a top cop at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium on Friday. Modi had issued instructions that the policemen would only man the perimeters. When a senior IPS officer walked on to the ground, Modi apparently ordered him out. The officer retaliated that while the stadium was the latter’s fiefdom, the roads outside were his. Journalists at the school were only unfortunate to be caught in that power struggle.