Friday, January 25, 2013

On the BPL and the Pakistani Cricketers

Daily Sun
January 20, 2013
M. Serajul Islam

After some degree of suspense, the Pakistani cricketers withdrew from the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) literally at the eleventh hour.  The largest number of foreign cricketers contracted for the BPL was from Pakistan. In the 20/20 format of the game in which the BPL is structured, the Pakistani cricketers are a special attraction because of their style of playing the game and brilliance. Thus their absence will take away a great deal of attraction from the BPL that had earlier also run into other problems that were overcome after great difficulties.

The withdrawal of the Pakistani cricketers has just not spoiled the quality of the second season of the BPL; it has left in its trail implications that the senior officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said could affect bilateral relations between the two countries. The PCB decided not to allow its cricketers to participate in the BPL in retaliation for the BCB’s decision to cancel its tour of Pakistan to play limited overs games at the 11th hour. The tour to Pakistan was scheduled for early this month.  The latest cancellation is in fact a second one. In November, 2011, Bangladesh had agreed to tour Pakistan in April 2012 despite International Cricket Conference’s (ICC) recommendation against tour to Pakistan for security reasons as a quid pro quo for Pakistan’s support for the candidature of the BCB President for the post of Vice President of the ICC. That tour was aborted by an order of the Banagladesh High Court.

Ever since the Sri Lankan cricketers were subjected to a terrorist attack in Lahore while playing a Test match in 2009, no foreign team has visited Pakistan. The decision not to tour Pakistan for security reasons was made by international cricket’s regulatory body, the International Cricket Conference or the ICC after that terrorist attack.  In fact, as a result of the terrorist turmoil to which Pakistan has been subjected in recent years, aggravated by President Bush’s war on terror, cricket teams from outside were  reluctant to visit Pakistan . Thus they were quick to accept the ICC decision not to tour Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan adopted the UAE as “host country” to play international cricket but nevertheless desperate to encourage and lure foreign teams to play cricket in Pakistan.

For Pakistan, the ICC’s stand was more than an issue of cricket. It reflected a bad image for the country that was impeding its goals and objectives in international politics outside the realms of cricket. Thus the Pakistanis have been trying their best to encourage other nations to send their teams to Pakistan, assuring them of the best security cover. Unfortunately for Pakistan, no nation except Bangladesh was encouraged by Pakistan’s efforts and the country became a pariah as far as international cricket was concerned.

Therefore for the sake of transparency and setting records straight, it is essential for those who have the responsibility of overseeing the affairs of the BCB, if there is indeed any such body,  to inquire why the Board decided twice to visit Pakistan despite the ICC’s recommendation against such visits to Pakistan. Those who are aware of what is happening in the cricketing circles of course know too well that it was not cricket that was the reason why the BCB made the first or the April, 2012 effort to visit Pakistan knowing full well that the security situation in Pakistan was deteriorating and that such visits would be unacceptable to the ICC. The reason was a matter of personal interest of then President of the BCB to become the Vice-President of the ICC in 2012 that would ensure him to become the ICC President in June, 2014, a post that was very lucrative, one that former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard aspired to assume but failed.   The ICC charter has since been amended to be effective from June, 2014 when the top and the most prestigious position in the ICC would be that of the Chairman and not the President whose role would thereafter be ceremonial.

Pakistan is a major player in ICC politics. It played a significant role in helping Bangladesh achieve Test status. In fact the two have always sided together in ICC politics. Therefore the former BCB President had a good reason to make Pakistan happy by deciding to send the Bangladesh team to visit Pakistan in April, 2012 overlooking the ICC’s recommendation against tours to Pakistan. He however had a more personal reason in the decision. His interest was to receive Pakistan’s support to become the ICC Vice-President and eventually the ICC President in 2014.  He thus   even went on a personal visit to Pakistan to see the security arrangements and in fact had also expressed satisfaction at the arrangements while on that trip to Pakistan.   Unfortunately for him, sentiments in the country ran into conflict with his desire to become the ICC President by pleasing Pakistan.  A writ was filed in the court by a Dhaka University teacher against the tour.

The Bangladesh High Court reacted positively to the writ against the tour and deferred the tour by 4 weeks that led to the cancellation of the April, 2012 tour.. The cancellation   was taken as a snub and rightly so by Pakistan not just in its cricketing circles but in its highest government circles because in Pakistan, the PCB, though an independent body, cannot function independently of the government on issues that have foreign policy implications.  The BCB unfortunately does not seem to feel that it has any such compulsions. Thus the former BCB President was able to visit Pakistan and make the commitment to send the Bangladesh cricket team to visit Pakistan in blissful ignorance of any foreign policy implications. He was able put his personal ambition to become the ICC President ahead of the need to consider the interest of the country without anyone to tell him and the BCB that it was treading into areas that were none of its business.

The current BCB President revived the aborted the April 2012 tour and agreed to send the Bangladesh team to Pakistan on a shorter tour in January this year just before the BPL because of the written commitment made by his predecessor to PCB. This time also the BCB failed to consider the foreign policy implications of reviving the decision to tour Pakistan. The BCB failed to consider the reasons for which the Prime Minister had declined to visit Pakistan for the D8 Summit in December, 2012. Although her health and preoccupation were given as reasons for not undertaking that visit, the foreign policy objective was no doubt to send Pakistan the message that Bangladesh expected an apology from it for the events of 1971. If the Bangladesh Team had gone on its planned visit, it would have directly contradicted the message that the Government of Bangladesh has been trying to send to the Government of Pakistan. Although it did not come out in the media as such where the BCB said the tour will take place when security situation in Pakistan improved, the January tour to Pakistan must have been cancelled on instructions from higher authorities in the country

The lesson of the BCB’s failed efforts to send the Bangladesh Cricket Team to Pakistan twice is that henceforth the BCB must not be allowed for the higher authority to intervene in the eleventh hour to stop it from committing mistakes that impinge upon the country’s foreign relations.  It is time to bring the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into the loop in BCB affairs, not be to interfere into its affairs but to assist it positively so that it does not tread into foreign affairs matters without even the faintest clue and end embarrassing the government and creating conflict in the conduct of the country’s foreign relations.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador and Secretary

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