Wall of security or affection!
I still recollect an incident when an officer in our bus asked a player to hold his weapon, then swiftly pulled out a camera to take Sachin?s picture, writes Amrit Mathur.india Updated: Jan 07, 2006 01:23 IST
For touring teams, security is an issue in Pakistan, more so for India, hence an assessment team was sent there in advance to check things out. The first stop was a crisp meeting with officials of the Ministry of Interior who, after wondering what the fuss was all about, issued instructions that nothing should be left to chance.
That the state machinery was switched on was evident at Pindi where an assassination attempt was made on President Musharraf earlier. A senior police officer made a slick laptop presentation, spoke about different rings of security and employing the latest inputs, ranging from crack commando units to high-tech equipment.
In Multan, the security meeting commenced only after a priest delivered a short prayer. Multan has a strong tradition of Sufism, this part of Punjab was free from violence, and everything, we were told as final reassurance, was firmly under control. Which meant all suspects with dubious records had already been rounded up. In Karachi, a violent flashpoint, the Rangers (an elite military force doing normal policing duties) were all polish and style. They declared the match would be trouble-free, therefore, no traffic in the Shehrah-e-Faisal (the equivalent of Marine Drive) when the team moved from Hotel Sheraton to National Stadium. There would be snipers on terraces of buildings as well as bomb detection/disposal units along the route.
Peshawar too tied up all loose ends - fierce commandos on the tarmac, helicopter surveillance along the rout, jammers all over the city. Of course, at every hotel, players were roomed on sanitised floors, access was restricted and heavily guarded, visitors disallowed and phones screened. Players were told to move out only when escorted by security.
Initially this bandobast made everyone think they were trapped in some war zone. The team bus invariably left the hotel with police sirens screaming, red lights flashing, escorted with mobike outriders and armoured vehicles crammed with soldiers holding automatic weapons. For a while there was a sinking feeling of numbness and apprehension but later on, once the novelty wore off, the players enjoyed the attention and thought the spectacle was like a raja ki sawari.
Despite the elaborate arrangements, there were occasional glitches as security cordons at airports collapsed, unauthorised persons infiltrated into hotel corridors, once a stranger climbed into the team bus and was detected only when he asked for autographs!
Everyone (from jawan lining streets in Peshawar to Punjab police commandos with 'No Fear' written on their black) did their best but in the end two thoughts remained on the security aspect. One, the officer in our bus asking a player to hold his weapon for a minute, then swiftly pulling out a camera to take a picture of Sachin. Two, despite the power of the state, security was ensured by the warmth and genuine love of the people of Pakistan. Nothing could breach this wall of affection.
(This is the first of a series of articles that the columnist will write on his memorable experiences during the 2004 tour.)