Given the passion that cricket arouses in the people of both India and Pakistan, a Test series between the teams of the two countries would work wonders in normalising relations between them. There's no doubt that has been one of the main considerations prompting the BCCI to agree to a Test and ODI series in Pakistan. But no matter how much one may want to see the two teams play each other again, it is necessary to caution the BCCI in the strongest possible terms against sending the Indian team to Pakistan at this juncture. The reason is not simply the risk to the players, which is far, far greater than what BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya seems to have grasped, but the risk to the entire process of detente that has begun at last between the two countries.
Dalmiya is not, by any stretch of imagination, an irresponsible man. He has sent a three-man team to Pakistan to assess the security situation there before he takes a final decision. But to make a reliable assessment of the threat that the Indian team will face, it is not only necessary to gain reasonable access to intelligence on what the jehadi groups in Pakistan are saying about the tour, but also a fairly good understanding of the rapidly evolving political situation in Pakistan. The first can give a clue to their intentions, but it is the second that is necessary to gauge the strength of their motivation. Dalmiya's investigators will not have access to the first and do not have the competence to judge the second. All they will be able to do is get assurances from the Pakistan police, examine the security arrangements they intend to make, and get briefed by the Indian high commissioner on the extent of Musharraf's control over the jehadis. That level of knowledge might be sufficient to judge, for example, whether the English team should play in Zimbabwe or not. It is nowhere near sufficient to assess whether the Indian team will be safe in Pakistan.
Any assurance that a Pakistani government gave before 9/11 would have amounted to a cast-iron guarantee of the Indian players' safety. That was because till then the army and the ISI had almost complete control over the jehadi organisations. But Musharraf's decision to side with the US against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and to allow the US to use Pakistan as a base of military operations against Afghanistan, has turned him into a traitor in their eyes. By December 2001, Pakistani intelligence had become aware that elements had broken away from most of the jehadi organisations, and formed a new group that regarded Musharraf as its prime enemy. According to their preliminary estimate, the new group contained as many as 5,000 jehadis.
There were two ways of removing Musharraf from power: the first was to assassinate him; the second was to plunge Pakistan into a war with India. It could have been the latter motive that sparked the attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001, for a military response from India was precisely what Musharraf did not need at that moment.
Since then, evidence that Musharraf and his government are not in control of this radical fringe of the jehadi movement has accumulated steadily, for there have been a spate of attacks on foreigners in Pakistan that have embarrassed his regime acutely. These attacks culminated in the three attempts on Musharraf's life last December, two of which came within a hair's-breadth of success because they had support from inside his personal security staff. Today even George Fernandes, who isn't exactly a dove on Pakistan, concedes that Musharraf does not have control over all the jehadis operating in Pakistan. That automatically means that the government cannot guarantee that no attempt will be made on the lives of the Indian cricketers.
As to the jehadis' motivation, it simply could not be stronger than it is just now.Musharraf followed up his first 'betrayal' of their cause with a second in May 2002, when he committed himself, under Indian and American pressure, to preventing the use of territories under Pakistan's control for launching terrorist attacks on India or in Kashmir. That control was less than complete, but it did pave the way for Vajpayee's Srinagar initiative, and eventually for the Islamabad declaration. The detente that is now gathering momentum is, in their eyes, his third and final betrayal.
All through 2003, as India and Pakistan have edged closer towards a detente, the jehadis' desperation has grown. It is more than likely that the three attempts on Musharraf's life were intended to prevent him from meeting Vajpayee. Their failure to kill him, and the breakthrough that followed, must have stoked their desperation further. The jehadis are therefore likely to regard the arrival of the Indian team as a gift from heaven—a sacrificial lamb tethered in the open for their express hunting pleasure.
One has only to imagine what would happen in India if one or more of the members of the national team were hurt or more in an attack upon them. That is what makes sending the Indian cricket team to Pakistan just now a singular act of folly.
This does not mean that Pakistan and India should not play each other. Pakistan has a formidable team, and the Indian team is the best in decades. Thus the cricket one would be treated to would be of a rare vintage. But it would be far wiser to play the first series in India, where the security threat to a Pakistani team is virtually non-existent, or, if that is not acceptable to Pakistan, then in a third country like Sharjah, where the audiences are as enthusiastic and as partisan as those of the subcontinent.
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