An international union of cricketers has advised its members not to play cricket in Pakistan due to security concerns. Pakistani cricketers, however, say a boycott would be tantamount to surrendering to extremists.
On Tuesday, Tim May, chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA), said he had advised the associations' members not to take part in Pakistan's "Twenty20" (T20) Super League tournament - which is due to start in March - on security grounds.
International teams have stopped visiting Pakistan to play cricket since a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March 2009. Though the Sri Lankan cricketers escaped the attack on their van, the incident was enough to discourage international teams from visiting Pakistan.
T20 cricket - a relatively new 20-over format of the sport - has become immensely popular in the cricketing world due to its fast pace and off-the-pitch glamour. India successfully hosts its T20 premier league - the Indian Premier League (IPL) - every year, which is a big source of income for India. Following the IPL, the Pakistani cricket board has now decided to organize its own league, offering to pay international players huge sums of money. But sports experts say that the league won't be successful if international players stay away from it.
"I think you'll find the majority of current international cricketers will heed our advice," said May in an interview with the BBC. "The security consultants came back and said that the risk of touring Pakistan in a cricketing sense is unmanageable," the former Australia off-spinner added.
But Pakistani cricketers say there is a difference between "perception and reality" about the security situation in Pakistan.
Naveed Akram Cheema, manager of the Pakistani cricket team, told the AFP news agency that Pakistan was a safe place to play cricket.
"Other teams do not come to Pakistan on the pretext of security concerns, but it is as safe as any other country in the world," Cheema said.
But it is a tough job for Cheema or the Pakistani cricket board to convince the international teams that there is no security threat for them in the Islamic Republic, which is facing a protracted Taliban insurgency. Thousands of people died in Pakistan in 2012 in militant attacks, according to country's rights organizations.
"It is true that things are not very good in Pakistan," former Pakistani cricket team captain and coach Mohsin Hasan Khan told DW. "But there was a time when Sri Lanka was facing similar problems and Pakistan was one of the countries which went ahead and played cricket in Sri Lanka," Khan said, referring to the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka.
Khan was of the view that instead of isolating Pakistan in these difficult times, international cricketers should come forward and help his country.
Khan said that Pakistanis were extremely passionate about cricket and it was only next to religion for a great many. He said Pakistanis needed healthy activities like sports to vent their frustration. Cricket, he believed, could also provide an alternative to extremism.
The ICC has welcomed Pakistan's decision to host the Twenty20 competition with foreign players, however, it says that it will take time for the international players to regain confidence in Pakistan.
"It's our role to support Pakistan in its efforts to make sure that international cricket returns to the country," said International Cricket Council's (ICC) chief executive David Richardson. "But it's difficult to say exactly when ... ICC is not in a position to do (security assessments) when it comes to teams touring and countries make their own decisions."
A popular sport
International cricket in Pakistan came to a halt after a failed attack on Sri Lankan cricketers
Tariq Saeed, DW's sports correspondent in Lahore, said that relations between the Pakistani cricket board and FICA had not been very good for many years and this could be a reason why May advised the FICA members to avoid Pakistan's Super League. He said that cricket board of Pakistan should try to improve its ties with powerful organizations of cricketers like FICA.
Saeed was also of the view that if big names in international cricket agreed to participate in the Twenty20 Super League, it would help remove the "perception" that Pakistan was not secure for cricket. International cricket would then resume in Pakistan, he added.
"The Pakistani board is not trying to compete with the IPL. It knows it limitations. But it is offering more money to players than the IPL. It would be great for this 12-day tournament if big international players like Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen would come and play in the Pakistani league," Saeed said.
Zakria Zubair, a cricket fan in Islamabad, told DW that the T20 had proved to be very popular in almost all cricket playing countries and should thus be facilitated in Pakistan too. "Its short duration coupled with entertainment gimmicks, such as cheerleaders, mascots, celebrities, after parties, bring new audiences to cricket stadiums. So I am sure it will be successful in Pakistan too," Zubair said, adding that the security situation wasn't ideal but if the authorities took appropriate steps, there should be no problem for international cricketers to play in Pakistan.