It should not be difficult to have a constructive debate on issues surrounding the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and its final match in Lahore last week, but something completely different is unfolding. The blind faith of PSL-zealots has made it impossible to have a rational discussion. As per their new religion, those who do not believe in the healing magic of the heavenly lights that shone upon Gaddafi stadium on March 5 are as good as blasphemers.
The first tenet of this new religion goes something like this: We must believe in the miracle of PSL-final like believers believe in the Day of Judgment. We must believe that the miracle broke the back of terrorism and defeated extremism, all in one go. That the miracle certified Pakistan’s credentials as a peaceful place and now we can all live happily ever after. And, of course, those who do not believe in the miracle must be demonised and condemned to hell.
Beware: The idol of this brand new holy cow is clearly made out of solid opium. Why should it be a sin to question the bloated feel-good narrative being shoved down everyone’s throat by the pundits of this new religion? Why should the motley crew preaching the virtues of PSL and singing hymns to the blessings of bringing its final match to Lahore be allowed to frame the issues and dumb them down? What’s wrong with bringing a bit of perspective to the debate and balancing their self-righteous euphoria with a healthy dose of reality?
It’s interesting how, all of a sudden, it seems to have dawned upon the PSL-zealots that what we really need to defeat militancy is bringing international players to play cricket matches in our stadiums. They are the ones who kept reminding us that military operations were not the solution and how we needed a comprehensive strategy to tackle the twin monsters of terrorism and extremism. How the menacing twins had grown deep roots and needed extensive surgery. Seems like their comprehensive strategy boiled down to a cricket match.
Choosing to ignore thousands of Qadri supporters who gathered at his mazar a few days before the match despite a ban on their congregation, the PSL-zealots would like to convince us that the scourge of intolerance and militancy has been defeated because a handful of foreign cricketers were hired to play a match at Gaddafi stadium. They don’t wish to talk about the priorities of a government that deputed tens of thousands of security personnel for the match but could not muster enough force to stop a mob of extremists from celebrating the urs of a convicted murderer who has come to symbolise intolerance.
All of a sudden, the successful holding of the PSL-final became the measure of our society’s health. At a time when terrorists continue to attack our soldiers guarding the Afghan border and officers are being martyred in counter-terrorism operations, bringing the final match to Lahore became our national goal. Pundits of the new religion came out to convince us that our salvation lies in the return of international cricket to Pakistan and holding the PSL final in Lahore was the right path to reach that goal.
It wasn’t our national team playing an international match on the home-ground after all these years but the final of a sponsor-driven domestic league where local and foreign players are bought and sold like race-horses, a league that has been plagued by unethical practices. But, all of a sudden, unconditional devotion to PSL became a yardstick of measuring our patriotism, while criticising the league, or any aspect of it, became an unpardonable sin.
The match has been held but it is still a taboo to question its worth. Critical comments are not allowed. The PSL-zealots pounce upon anyone who questions the standing of ‘international cricket stars’ who graced the occasion. You are as good as an infidel if you believe that international cricket would not return to Pakistan with such gimmickry. You are not supposed to talk about the misery visited upon the citizens of Lahore for days. All must believe in the divinity of our March 5 miracle and hail it.
I’m not being cynical. I can understand the enthusiasm of cricket-lovers and their hunger for live entertainment. I can also understand the positive psychological impact of the lights that shone on Gaddafi stadium that night. What I find hard to digest is this new religion being hastily constructed around a cricketing event, complete with its magical myths and hollow mantras. What I find hard to digest is how the debate has been framed to exclude and ridicule dissent.
As for my cricket-loving friends, only those with wads of cash or contacts made it to the stadium. Most of them watched the match on television, something they would have done even if the match was held in Dubai. Those who were supporting Quetta Gladiators thought it unfair that their winning combination was broken by the decision to hold the final match in Lahore as the international stars originally included in their team refused to take the risk of playing here.
As for myself, never much of a cricket fan, I was forced to abandon my ride that night miles away from home, all routes leading up to Gaddafi stadium blocked by barbed wires and barriers manned by rude policemen. Dressed for the warm spring day, I was unprepared to walk all that distance in the chilly night and caught a cold by the time I got home, a cold I’m still recovering from.
As for the large number of people I encountered on the way, obviously no cricket fans either since they were not glued to their television screens watching the match and had other stuff to do, they were not amused. There were those held up at the barricades with their vehicles, waiting for the miracle to end. Some, like me, were walking to their destinations; unwanted strangers in a city they call home.
Obviously, not everyone in Pakistan is a cricket-lover. And everyone who loves cricket is not necessarily a PSL-zealot.