Over the last fortnight the security presence in Lahore has increased significantly, after a spate of bombings rocked Pakistan’s second largest city and other parts of the country too in February. The Gaddafi Stadium, situated in the Nishtar sports complex, has been off limits to the general public over the last three days. On March 5, however, it won’t be.
An estimated 18,000 tickets have already been sold for the PSL final between Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators – a full house is expected on Sunday – as the PCB attempts to bring high-profile cricket involving some overseas players back to Pakistan.
Though the PSL had maintained from the start that this year’s final would be held in Pakistan, the bombings over the last month had caused uncertainty. At least 13 people were killed and more than 80 injured in a blast near the Punjab assembly in Lahore on February 13, while more than 80 died after a bomb went off at a shrine in the Sindh province on February 16.
To safeguard the PSL final, over 10,000 security personnel have been deployed, including Punjab police, and Pakistan’s paramilitary force – Rangers. The Nishtar Park compound has been protected by huge metal gates, and spectators will be able to enter the Gaddafi Stadium only after three layers of security checks, some of which take place at a two-kilometre protective perimeter around the venue. The first layer of checks – after the five areas marked for parking – can be passed only after verification of the person’s original national identity card.
The entire complex has also been set up with a new range of scanners, high definition facial-recognition CCTV systems, and police control centres. No public vehicle is allowed within a kilometre of the sports complex, and entry will be on foot from Liberty roundabout and Ferozpur Road, through extensive security layers. Surrounding roads connected to the complex will be closed for traffic and alternative routes have been given by the Lahore traffic police.
A makeshift hospital facility has also been built within the hockey stadium adjacent to the cricket stadium in case of emergency. The opening ceremony is scheduled for 6pm and the match for 8pm.
“The entire city will function normally, and there will be less inconvenience, but for the sake of the people’s safety we have to have a tight security programme in place,” Rana Sana Ullah, the Punjab law minister, told reporters at Gaddafi Stadium.
A rehearsal of the security drills was also carried out between the airport and the teams’ hotel on Mall Road, and from the hotel to the stadium, using the PCB’s bullet-proof buses. All these arrangements are being presented to foreign security advisors in a bid to inform other cricket-playing countries about the measures put in place by the PCB.
The uncertainty over which foreign players will turn out for Peshawar and Quetta in the final is almost at an end, with the teams being asked to make up the numbers by choosing for a pool of foreign cricketers who are willing to play in Lahore. Quetta’s Kevin Pietersen, Luke Wright, Tymal Mills and Rilee Rossouw have already pulled out of the final, but Peshawar’s four overseas players are likely to travel to Lahore. It is believed that the foreign players will be offered separate payments – some as high as $50,000 – for playing in Pakistan.
The origin of this present phase of security concerns over playing international cricket in Pakistan dates back to the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009. Pakistan have been forced to play their home matches at offshore venues – primarily in the UAE – ever since.
Zimbabwe agreed to tour Pakistan for a limited-overs series in 2015, but even with extensive security measures in place for that visit there was a bomb attack during the second ODI. The blast occurred at the first checkpoint about 800 metres away from the stadium, killing two people, including a sub-inspector. Zimbabwe stayed on to finish the series, but the tour did not lead to a change in perception of the security conditions in Pakistan.