ISLAMABAD: New Zealand’s prime minister informed her Pakistani counterpart on Friday her government had received intelligence that her country’s cricket team would be attacked if it left the hotel to play its first match in Pakistan, Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference in Islamabad.
Ahmed briefed the media only a few hours after New Zealand Cricket (NZC) announced it was abandoning its series with Pakistan “following a New Zealand government security alert.”
The visiting team was to face Pakistan today at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Cap squad, which returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2003, was staying at an Islamabad hotel guarded by a heavy contingent of police.
“We spoke to Prime Minister Iman Khan in Tajikistan and alerted him about the situation,” said the interior minister. “He then called New Zealand Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] and gave her guarantee there was no security issue here. However, she said her government had received information that her country’s team would come under attack if it went out to the stadium.”
He said the decision was made at a time when Pakistan was playing a crucial role in establishing peace in the region.
“The tour has been cancelled on the basis of a conspiracy,” he continued. “To undermine Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region, hidden hands conspired for the cancellation of the tour.”
Ahmed said New Zealand had no solid evidence that its cricket team was under threat in Pakistan.
“The security team sent by Kiwis had checked all the arrangements well before the arrival of the team and found no issue,” he added. “Pakistan also offered to organize matches without audience, but it was all in vain.”
According to Reuters, New Zealand’s prime minister said she fully supported the decision to pull out the team from Pakistan since safety of the players was paramount.
“When I spoke with the Prime Minister of Pakistan I conveyed our thanks for taking care of the New Zealand Cricket team,” Ardern said in a statement. “I know how disappointing it will be for everyone that the game hasn’t gone ahead, but we totally support the decision that’s been made. Player safety has to be paramount.”
Pakistan’s interior minister, however, said his country had taken solid measures to protect the visiting team.
“The Pakistan army, security forces, and 4,000 police personnel were deployed for the Kiwis’ security,” he told the news conference. “Our strong intelligence agencies did not have any threat alert or information.”
Asked who was behind the conspiracy to undermine international cricket in Pakistan, Ahmed said he was representing a responsible state and would not name anyone.
Responding to social media speculations, however, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner said in a Twitter post it was not right to blame his country’s diplomatic mission in Islamabad for New Zealand’s decision.
“Speculation that British High Commission was involved in PakvsNZ tour being called off are untrue; this was a decision for the New Zealand authorities & taken independently,” he wrote.
Discussing England cricket team’s forthcoming tour to Pakistan, the interior minister said all arrangements were complete and there was no security threat to any visiting team.
“I was informed that England team is also thinking along the similar lines [as New Zealand] and will decide [the fate of the tour] in the next 48 hours,” he said. “I want to make it clear to them there is no security threat in Pakistan for any team.”
Earlier in the day, NZC announced its decision to call off the Pakistan tour in a statement.
“Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisers on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour,” NZC said. “Arrangements are now being made for the team’s departure.”
NZC chief executive David White said “we believe this is the only responsible option.”
New Zealand Cricket Players Association chief executive Heath Mills echoed White’s sentiments.
“We’ve been across this process throughout and are fully supportive of the decision,” he said.