The PCB Chief Executive spoke to the media after New Zealand abandoned their 2021 tour of Pakistan.
I’d be hoping that we would be having this conversation today in better circumstances. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the events of the last 48 hours. We felt that as the PCB, we had an opportunity to talk through some of the sequences of events that took place on the morning of the 17th. We want to provide some factual information about what took place thereafter amid various reports that are circulating about what did and didn’t happen.
At 3 AM on the day of the match (September 17, Friday morning), I received a call from the ESI Head of Security, Mr. Reg Dickason, who is the security consultant for New Zealand. He informed me that a report had landed on the government’s desk of New Zealand through their government security agencies. The report stated that there was a threat to the New Zealand team, and the threat was direct and imminent on that particular day.
I arrived in Lahore later that morning, and we met with Reg Dickason to get some more clarification. He stated that there is a setup called the Five Eyes alliance, which is set up to share intelligence and security information. He stated that information had come from that circle and reached the Deputy Prime Minister’s office in New Zealand. He said it was serious and something that we needed to try and address immediately.
We proceeded to meet with the security agencies and intelligence of Pakistan to ascertain whether they believed there was any threat. They made it very clear that as far as they were concerned, there was absolutely nothing they had picked up to suggest there was an immediate threat on the New Zealand team. Bear in mind this is one of the top intelligence agencies in the world. This correspondence with the intelligence went on for a few hours.
I then received a couple of phone calls from David White, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Cricket Board (NZC), firstly to inform me that the report had emanated. Secondly, he informed me that the Prime Minister of New Zealand had directed the New Zealand squad and support staff to return back to New Zealand immediately.
There have been reports that the report that the New Zealand government received was shared with our intelligence services. I can categorically tell you right now that despite our requests during that period of time, it was deemed to be confidential information, which couldn’t be shared with anybody. This was hugely disappointing for us, considering that this was now threatening the tour. What we would ideally liked to have done, even if that information went to our agencies, was for the intelligence to be shared and for us to mitigate any potential threats that they deemed were possible in that report. We would’ve liked to have dealt with it collectively so that we could continue and keep the tour on.
We’ve seen in the past, in places like Bangladesh and elsewhere, where attacks have happened, but tours have continued based on security reports by security experts. As far as we’re concerned, the security expert for New Zealand has maintained and continues to maintain that Pakistan is safe in terms of the security protocols that we have in place. Just to give an example, the Royal Couple, who visited Pakistan last year, had exactly the same Presidential Security.
Here, there are three elements. One is the hotel itself, which was protected like a fortress for the players, safe and secure. The second is the route to and from the ground, and I reiterate that the Royal Couple themselves, and other presidents and prime ministers who have traveled to Pakistan, have received the same level of security and provisions that are set in place for routes that they have to travel. The third was the ground. The NCOC had agreed to allow 25% of fans, there were nine checkpoints to get into the ground, Those checkpoints ensured the complete safety of fans before they even arrived, and we had even given fans notice to expect 2.5-3 hours of delay of getting into the ground, so that everything would be checked out. From our side, it’s needless to say – everything was in place. Those plans and protocols were given a clean bill of health by the security expert, who maintains to this day that is exactly what was put in place and was as secure as possible.
Normally what happens is that when the threat levels increase, a lot of the Western countries here who have embassies and high commissions change their travel advisory. Considering there was a supposed threat in that report, the countries who are privy to it haven’t changed their travel advisories since that report was produced.
For us, the credible information that was within that report should have been shared. It sets a very dangerous precedent when countries are unilaterally making decisions that could potentially have long-term consequences for countries. We probably expected some dialog and some discussion between the New Zealand intelligence and our intelligence so that they could discuss what type of threat had been perceived. Then, we could try to mitigate that to ensure that the tour continued. Of course, health and safety will always remain paramount. However, we absolutely believe had that information been shared, we may have been able to enlighten the NZ government a little bit on what the information was on the ground here and what we could potentially do to mitigate that.
The team had been practicing for three days, incident-free, and were very happy traveling to and fro from the Pindi Stadium. The feedback we were getting from the players was that the security was excellent. The travel to and from the ground was excellent in terms of the security provision, so there were no complaints there. Everything was running very smoothly as far as we were concerned.
We continue to have foreign visitors from all over the world coming into our beautiful country. They continue to visit Pakistan, go to the north into various places, visit some of the scenic and tourist areas.
For us, there’s disappointment, despondency, and potential ramifications and repercussions long-term. We’ve worked very hard from a journey we started five years ago to get to where we are now. Over the last 2.5-3 years, we’ve seen Test cricket return. This is probably the busiest cricket season that we’ve ever had in Pakistan history, with New Zealand and then England due to arrive, and then West Indies, and finally Australia due to come for 40 days – the longest period they’ve ever spent on a tour of Pakistan.
We continue to have good relationships with the cricket board, but what has to happen at an international level now is we need to look at this situation where countries can make a unilateral decision without any discussion with the host nation. This is going to cost us millions of dollars, and it has severely affected us from a credibility perspective and has set us back.
England are meeting today to make a decision on their tour. We know what their guidance is, and from the security perspective, there is a clean bill of health, and we certainly hope that England will be touring. That will be announced later today, and we certainly believe that they should be coming. We hope that they will be coming, based on what the security expert is saying – the same security expert who provided the guidance for the ECB to go to Bangladesh six weeks after the bomb blast there that killed 12 people. There’s a lot of trust in this security expert who is understood and respected all around the world. We certainly hope that the board meeting of the ECB reaches a positive conclusion, and the team will come for a short tour.
We have been a strong and brave nation for a very long period of time. We’ve had to remain resilient in the face of much adversity, and we’ve kept fighting back. We’ve kept having to brush ourselves off again as a nation and come back again. I must admit this is another blow for us, and it’s been pretty gut-wrenching for a PCB perspective and a fan’s perspective. You all feel the pain we felt as patriotic fans of the country and fans of the cricket team and the cricket that comes here. It’s been a difficult 48 hours for us, trying to dissect what has happened. The abrupt departure of the team has left many scars for us, and we certainly hope this isn’t going to have long-term consequences moving forward.
Did Reg Dickason receive the detailed report about the security threat?
He was informed that there was a security threat. The Five Eyes alliance had the security report and the information. They told him about it, but he didn’t get the detailed information because it was deemed to be highly confidential information that could only be shared among those five countries. Reg said that he spoke to the security agencies of those different countries to verify that there was content in those reports pertaining to a potential threat and then confirmed to New Zealand Cricket that was the case.
Can Pakistan boycott the World Cup match against New Zealand?
Right now, there’s no issue about us playing New Zealand. Let’s remember that what NZC are saying is it was guidelines or guidance provided to them by their government. We’ve had a good relationship with NZC in the past. Has it created potential tensions right now? Absolutely. I think the way it was done was disrespectful in many ways. However, there certainly won’t be any danger right now of us not fulfilling our obligations at the ICC T20 World Cup in the UAE.
The Prime Ministers’ discussion
The PM to PM conversation happened as a last-ditch effort to try and create some dialog. What we wanted first and foremost were discussions. Sure, don’t share the report with the PCB, but share it with the intelligence, and let’s see whether we can mitigate any potential issues or challenges because our security hadn’t picked up anything.
Will the Five Eyes’ intelligence worry England?
From a security perspective, our understanding is that the travel advisory is an indicator of the threat levels. Most of them, not all of them, the Western embassies and high commissions, use the travel advisory as an indicator of where the threat levels are. As it stands, the advisory hasn’t changed from the British High Commission, nor has it changed for the US, Canada, or Australia, who are also part of that alliance.
Do you feel helpless in such a situation?
There are a couple of things that we have to establish here. One is that there was no security breach. The tour was abandoned because of a perceived threat. The threat that was within that report is what we were saying should have been shared with our intelligence at that level so that we could try to mitigate it. That set a very dangerous precedent that countries can unilaterally leave countries or abandon tours. That does affect relationships, and where does it leave us as a sport?
We are told that our security provision is the best in world sport, and that comes from the security experts. If the potential or perceived threats can’t be discussed at a high government-to-government level, then we have a real problem in cricket. We have future tours coming up, and if this can be done unilaterally, it sets a dangerous precedent. It needs to be discussed among the members to ensure that from a very basic, courteous, and respect level, this isn’t allowed to happen. We don’t even know yet what the repercussions for us will be; time will tell.
How will the security reports possibly impact England’s decision?
There are two elements: the security provision put in place and external threats that might come in. Going back to the security in place, the provisions are world-class across any sport. It’s presidential treatment. In terms of what the security expert can report on, it’s only on the plans in place and the rollout of those plans.
The second element is any potential threats that might come, which are picked up by our intelligence or external intelligence from other countries who have picked something up, etc. That’s the level we’re a little disappointed at. If, and this is a big if, there was a threat, surely that threat is also open to the civilians of Pakistan. So are we saying that the lives of those civilians in Pakistan are any less important? Or does the threat only apply to sportspeople? What we’re saying is to share that information. Let’s work collectively as a cricketing family and find a solution. Let’s see if we can mitigate it.
At the moment, there’s inequality. The inequality is that in some cases, there’s one rule for one and other rules for others. That has to stop now. This has hit us very hard, and the consequences of this are going to be far-reaching, financially and cricket-wise. With the abruptness of how this happened, you can understand the anger. We have worked very hard, day and night, to get Pakistan cricket to where we are now. We are not for any minute saying there were any untruths in the report. But we’re saying let’s mitigate the threats together if there are any, and we weren’t even given that opportunity, which is the disappointing part.
We always treat others well and do what we can to help; does it look like they don’t do the same?
This is what I meant when I referred to inequality. It’s there, and I don’t care what people say. I’ve been around cricket for a very long time. We went to New Zealand after the mosque attack, where the Bangladesh team was nearby. We have done everything that’s asked of us, and we’ve shown solidarity in cricket. Our players have gone through hardships in 14-day quarantine in New Zealand.
We’ve done everything that we could possibly do. What we have to look at now is that we expect fair treatment the other way as well. It’s easy to walk out of countries like Pakistan without any reason, dialog, or discussion, and that has to stop. The inequality has to stop in world cricket. Unless we do that, we’re not going to have a level playing field, both in treatment and finances.
Can we demand compensation from New Zealand at the ICC level?
We can’t do it with the ICC because it’s a bilateral series. The ICC view would be very clear that this is a bilateral series between both countries. When there are disputes or issues, the ICC will come in to try and facilitate and find an amicable solution. Still, Chairman Ramiz Raja and I will be taking this up at the ICC level and also with New Zealand Cricket, and it’s something we’ll be pushing to have a discussion over more broadly on this topic when we sit at the ICC table.
The issue we have at the moment is that people can make decisions unilaterally without any consequences for themselves. There are consequences for the others, who are the recipients, and in this case, it was us. Is it fair that can happen? Yes, we understand that there was guidance from the NZ government. But were we not owed the respect to at least have some dialog and share that information from security to security to mitigate the potential threats? We at the PCB didn’t need to know about the threats. It could have been done at the security level, and you’d hope that collaboration will happen at the international level.
We’re all in it for the same thing. We want to see a peaceful and harmonious, safe world. If we’re not able to share intelligence at that level outside a circle, which is clearly there, it’s going to make it hard for other countries to be able to deal with and mitigate any potential threats. I don’t think the answer is to not play against NZ in the World Cup. We have a duty to the fans and to get out there and play. Our job should be to go out there and win that match. We’ll continue to have dialog and discussions; the Chairman and I will continue to do that with the relevant authorities.
Can this one step undo all of PCB’s hard work over the last five years?
You can see from the reaction around the world, people’s dismay, and disappointment. It’s not just from Pakistanis. We’ve seen from commentators, from cricketers all over the world. The element here is abruptness and abandonment, moving out of the country as quickly as they did. What is important for us is to demystify any of the false understandings and information out there. This was not a security breach; let’s make that absolutely clear.
The security that the PCB puts out in conjunction with the government for international teams is the same as for presidents, prime ministers, etc. That process has been in place for a long time, and we back it. What we had was a threat that was reported through a different agency, picked up, and not shared. Our job and the job of the media is to make sure that we report information correctly on this, in terms of the processes that took place, why we’re disappointed, and what the consequences might be moving forward.
The purpose of this (presser) was to provide the background and reasons behind why we’ve come out as strongly as we have and also what the consequences are. Hopefully, we can get our point across from a factual point of view.
What about the setback for fans in Pakistan?
We share the agony and the disappointment. We were looking forward to it, and we had successfully hosted South Africa in February. We were ready for the busiest time in Pakistan cricket history with New Zealand, England, West Indies, PSL in Jan/Feb, and then Australia coming for 3 Tests, 3 ODIs, and 2 T20Is. That’s an incredible summer of cricket for us coming ahead. We’re aware of the financial losses, and we’re counting them and understanding them.
The credibility is the big thing. We’ve done a huge amount of work in building our credibility in world cricket back up again. I’ll say that it’s been like a rug pulled out from under our feet. As quick as that. Within 8-10 hours, a decision was made to abandon the tour and leave the country, and the NZ team are on their way back home. That’s fundamentally wrong, in my view, and I keep going back to the information (about the threat). Share it with our agencies, and let them work with you and assess the threats. Let’s mitigate them together.
There are huge consequences (of pulling out) to a country like Pakistan, and New Zealand are aware of how hard we’ve worked. A lot of work has been done behind the scenes to bring them to Pakistan. Then, to do all this at the drop of a hat and leave us to pick up the pieces like this? I’m sorry, but my view is that dialog should have taken place. We might’ve reached the same conclusion. It may have been that NZC would have said our government is adamant we must return, in which case there isn’t much we can do. But let’s try to work this out together. Let’s sit around the table and understand the risks and mitigate them so that the tour can continue.
Months and months of work went into this, and that’s the disappointment – within 6-7 hours, all was gone from under us. With everything running so well, they’d been in the country for a few days, and everything was running so smoothly. That’s what we’re coming to terms with.
Could the threat have been a hoax, and should Pakistan wear black armbands in the T20 World Cup match against NZ?
Let’s not speculate. All we can go with is what we were told and the sequence of events, which is what I’ve been discussing today. In terms of the black armbands, we need to be careful from the ICC perspective. We don’t want to take that route and show political posturing or any sort of visible protest. What we can control is to remain positive and professional from our side.
We need to keep our heads up high and keep doing the right thing as a nation. We’ve tried to do that, convincing countries to come back. Not because they’re doing us a favor, but because we’ve convinced them that it’s safe to come to Pakistan and play. The security we offer is as safe as any across any sport in the world or any president or prime minister visits. We will continue to do that, but we won’t make any political gestures at an ICC World Cup.
Are we going to get stuck in that phase again where we need to convince others to come and play?
There are two avenues for us. Firstly, we’ve written NZC a letter, and we’ll take it up directly with NZC. Secondly, this will be picked up with the ICC. The biggest issue we have right now is to stop anything like this from being allowed unilaterally. What we can do – that’s something for ICC and us to have a discussion about.
Once intelligence and security are involved, the argument might be that it gets escalated to a government level, and it’s out of our hands as a cricket board. What we have to try and work out is that when reports are generated and shared with boards, there are elements, or boards are allowed to sit down with the opposing board and discuss the issues in that report and work collectively to sort them out.
If we didn’t go to New Zealand after the Bangladesh attack, what would the implications have been for NZC? There are things that happen in other countries. What would’ve been the financial consequences if we didn’t go to England last year? That’s what I mean when I talk about inequality and making sure that everyone’s on an equal field, not based on your financial clout but based on equal respect across all ICC members. We should have a consistent policy and procedure that is followed for such incidents to ensure that something like this can’t happen again. If it happens again, it’s going to continue to put cricket boards in perilous positions, and we find ourselves in that position today.
What can be done to counter this situation?
We have written a letter to New Zealand Cricket, and we will have a dialog and discussions with ICC. It’s important that we don’t target this toward New Zealand. It should be targeted toward the lack of processes there are in place to deal with these types of situations and the lack of respect we feel as a nation of 230 million people who love their cricket and sacrificed a lot over the last 12 years to get cricket back – and it can be pulled from under our feet in 8-9 hours without any discussion or sharing of information. That’s the issue.
If the information was shared and there was a mutual agreement between the security agencies that there was a credible threat and we ascertained that and it couldn’t be mitigated, that’s where you mutually agree after you’ve explored it and exhausted the options. Nothing comes ahead of players’ welfare and safety. Please, throughout all of this, I’m not saying for one minute that we compromise the health, safety, and well-being of players. I’m disappointed with the unilateral process and the unilateral decision that has been made with no information being shared before the final decision was made.
Have you spoken to Cricket Australia?
Not yet. We are currently in talks with ECB, which is our priority. After that, we’ll start a dialog with Australia. West Indies is also coming here before that, so we’ll need to talk to them and give them reassurances.
We’re very lucky that we have a very credible security expert in Reg Dickason, who works for ESI. They are world-renowned and respected, and they are utilized by many cricket boards. Boards listen to them and take their reports on board. They’re generally confident to go ahead with whatever reports they (ESI) provide. They will always provide an honest assessment, and right now, as far as they are concerned, Pakistan right now, in terms of plans and rollouts of plans, is as good as anywhere in the world.
Has there been any communication from NZC since the players left Pakistan?
There hasn’t been any official correspondence from New Zealand Cricket. There was a press conference today, but apart from my last conversation with CEO David White on the early afternoon of the 17th, the day the tour was abandoned, we haven’t received anything in writing from NZC, but we have written to them.
Ehsan Mani said we would play our home series at home. If England don’t come, will our stance remain the same, or will we change it?
As it stands, we have no plans to go abroad to play our (home) cricket series. It’s taken us a long time to return, and we are adamant that we remain safe. Of course, we always have to have contingencies and backups, but as it stands, there is no conversation about us playing our cricket abroad in the near future.
What have you written to NZ, and is there any optimism or pessimism on the England tour?
I can’t disclose the contents of what we’ve written; that’s between us and New Zealand Cricket. Regarding the tour, there are two things every board looks at. One is the advisory of that country they’re going to, and secondly, it’s about the security provision put in place for the team. From both those angles, we’ve been told there’s a clean bill of health, so there’s confidence on both of those sides. However, the decision is the ECB’s, and we’ll know very soon.
Should PCB try to call Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to play a few matches to send a message that Pakistan is safe for international cricket?
We have reached out to both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Unfortunately, it’s very short notice. There was a strong willingness to come and play, but logistically, it’s difficult for them. They have plans, and players in Bangladesh are dispersed in different places while Sri Lanka are going to Oman soon. For this short timeframe, it’s not possible to put anything in place, but it’s been explored by the Chairman, and it’s something we’ve looked at in the last 24 hours.