Pakistan said on Wednesday that its cricket team would pull out of the World Twenty20 if New Delhi did not give an “explicit assurance” on the security of its players and fans.
After days of uncertainty over Dharamsala being retained as the venue for the marquee India-Pakistan group clash on March 19, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the match had been shifted to Kolkata over security considerations.
Though Pakistan had requested for the match to be shifted out of Dharamsala due to fears of possible protests by ex-servicemen and families of army men slain in attacks by groups from across the border, it was still not clear if the team would travel to India for the event.
Pakistani sources said a request from Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit through India’s ministry of external affairs for a meeting with home minister Rajnath Singh to discuss security was pending since Sunday. Home ministry sources, however, said no such request had come.
“Pakistan is still waiting for an explicit assurance from the Indian government on the security of its team and its spectators. Without that the Pakistan team is unlikely to participate in the World Cup. If a meeting is not possible, even a statement from the government assuring security to players and fans will suffice,” diplomatic sources told HT.
It is learnt that internal discussions in Pakistan over the security of its team and a lack of assurance from India “in a written, explicit form” would make the situation “precarious” for the team to travel to India.
ICC CEO Dave Richardson told a media conference that security in India was handled by state governments. “In this event, it is not like some country like South Africa where the national security agency takes responsibility for the delivery of security. In India, it is pretty much the state authorities, state governments that have that responsibility,” he said.
“We haven’t had that absolute assurance yet from the PCB (that the team will come),” he said. “We have given them the assurances, and we are very hopeful they will board the plane and come to the event.”
The ICC chief said the world body had, in consultation with the BCCI and various security consultants, taken all steps possible and it was up to Pakistan to decide. “If they don’t come, the match won’t take place in Dharamsala or Kolkata,” Richardson said. “Everything that needs to be done in this instance, in other words if they decide not to come after this, perhaps we will then have to reconsider obviously and go through it properly and legally. But to my mind we are heading towards an unjustified decision not to come.”
A two-member Pakistan security delegation comprising senior director of the Federal Investigation Agency, Usman Anwar, and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief security officer, Azam Khan, had assessed the security situation in Dharamsala on Monday. The home ministry held a meeting over two days to assess the situation.
The Dharamsala game was thrown into doubt after Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh expressed his government’s difficulty in providing security to the Pakistani team. The situation has again highlighted the trust deficit between the neighbours spilling over to sporting ties.
BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur blamed the Himachal government. “It is extremely unfortunate that the venue for the match between India and Pakistan has been shifted at the last minute. While the state’s reputation has been jeopardised, the nation also has been projected in a rather bad light,” he said in a statement. “It will send a message to the global audience that our country is not capable of ensuring security for as few as 30 people.”
Thakur, who is also the Himachal cricket association president, added, “Pakistan has never raised any issues pertaining to their participation in a cricket event.” He said by playing petty politics exploiting “the emotions of the martyrs’ families, the HP CM ensured that the PCB demanded utmost assurance before confirming participation.”