Security beefed for Pakistan’s first Indian tour since 2008 Mumbai attacks
BANGALORE: Police were out in full force in Bangalore on Tuesday as part of a massive security operation ahead of Pakistan’s first cricket tour of India for five years, after 10 Pakistan-based gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai leading to strained ties between the two neighbours.
The tour, the first by Pakistan since 2007, begins Tuesday 1830 (PST) with a Twenty20 international to be played under lights at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy stadium.
Analysts see the cricket series as a sign the two sides are ready to move past the enmity that followed the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. India had blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group for the attacks and demanded that Islamabad crack down on terrorism.
Iron barricades were lined up and riot control vehicles on duty as security men patrolled the stadium in the heart of Bangalore, the capital of the southeastern state of Karnataka.
“We have completely sanitised and secured the stadium. We are confident that the match will be played without any disruptions,” a security officer on duty told AFP.
Police were seen carrying out heavy frisking at the imposing stadium gates with as many as 200 surveillance cameras mounted on mastheads for constant monitoring of all activity in and around the ground.
A crack police force, including Indian army commandos, was guarding the luxury ITC Gardenia hotel, where both teams are staying.
The 2008 attacks had led to a complete breakdown in relations between the two countries before efforts were renewed last year to bring their fragile peace process back on track.
Hardline Indian nationalist organisations including Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena have both threatened to hold protests outside all the venues, slamming the Indian government’s decision to host Pakistan.
New Delhi has defended the move by stressing the need to move the “clock forward”.
Cricket has been used in the past to mend diplomatic ties between the two nations, which have fought three wars since they gained independence in 1947.
In the years since the Mumbai attacks, some efforts have been made to bring bilateral relations out of the deep freeze. Direct trade has been increasing steadily and both countries have made efforts to increase trade across their land border.
At the Wagah-Attari land border in Punjab, India has opened a huge customs depot and warehouses that can handle more than 600 trucks a day from Pakistan. Two-way trade direct between India and Pakistan totals around $2 billion, but a large chunk of the trade is channeled through Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore.
Earlier this month, India and Pakistan signed an agreement that makes it easier for business travelers to get visas. People aged over 65 also will be entitled to get visas “on arrival.” Members of families divided during Britain’s partition of the subcontinent, along with tourists and religious pilgrims, are also supposed to get quick visas.
“When Indians enter Pakistan and when Pakistanis enter India, they should feel like they are coming home,” Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, said during a visit to New Delhi two weeks ago when the two sides signed the visa agreement. India has issued more than 3,000 visas to Pakistanis for the cricket matches. But analysts caution that policy makers in India should not get carried away by the ‘friendly neighbor’ rhetoric.
“All forms of people-to-people contact, including sports, are important and should be pursued, but never at the cost of our main focus, which is terrorism emanating from Pakistan,” said Vivek Katju, a retired diplomat who has served in Pakistan and was India’s ambassador in Afghanistan.
Across the border, Pakistani analysts feel that while the resumption of sporting contact between the two neighbors is welcome, the two sides can make real progress only when they succeed in resolving their long-standing disputes.
Rasool Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan, said sports could be a “major avenue through which hostilities between the two nations could be set aside.”
In a show of diplomatic bonhomie, the prime ministers of both nations symbolically shook hands as they watched their teams in the semi-final of last year’s World Cup in the northern Indian city of Mohali.
But the prospects of a diplomatic dividend this time round appear slim and there has been no announcement of a visit by a Pakistani leader for any match.
The local press on Tuesday lamented the lack of buzz that usually marks the build-up to India-Pakistan encounters.
The Indian Express newspaper noted that the series had been put together more as a “neighbourly gesture than anything else, leaving the tour in many ways fighting for context”.