A British diplomat who has helped complete negotiations for the England cricket team to tour Pakistan for the first time in 16 years has said “perceptions of Pakistan need to catch up with the reality”.
The England Cricket Board announced on Wednesday they will tour in October 2021 to play two Twenty20 internationals, their first matches in Pakistan since 2005.
Pakistan did not host any international cricket for a decade after terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009.
But over the last five years much has changed and Pakistan has seen an 80% decrease in security incidents, said Christian Turner, the British High Commissioner based in Islamabad.
Now the England Cricket Board has agreed to a trip which will be equally important off the field as on it, according to the diplomat, who played a key role in the negotiations to make the tour happen.
Mr Turner told Sky News it’s “an enormous moment” which will “bring the two countries closer together”, saying it was his personal ambition to make it happen.
He said: “When I arrived a year ago, I reviewed our travel advice to Pakistan, the security issues here, made recommendations to the foreign secretary and that led us to be able to say that it’s good for people to travel here. I felt it was safe to recommend that.
“This tour is massive news. With everything that’s gone on with the security issues that led teams to stop touring, to everything the Pakistan game has been doing to rebuild.
“It’s brilliant to have two of the greatest teams in the sport coming together on Pakistani soil.”
Mr Turner also feels this cricket tour will be a good way to strengthen political ties between England and Pakistan.
“Diplomats like me care about sport because it transcends boundaries. You get in any discussion anywhere in Pakistan and one of the first things you talk about is cricket. I do think it will serve to bring the populations together.
“I’m a guardian of this relationship between England and Pakistan, that has long history and some of that history is complex but this cricket tour will play a huge role in that.
“It could be a powerful moment and is such a valuable thing for this relationship.”
As to the wider issue of security and the terror threat that has faced Pakistan for many years, Mr Turner insisted he is not being a cheerleader for Islamabad.
He said: “A lot of what I find myself saying is the perceptions of Pakistan need to catch up with the reality and a lot has changed over the last five years.
“I think Pakistan deserves credit for that. It’s been achieved by a lot of hard investment and sacrifice through the loss of life.”
He added: “We want to spare no efforts to make sure all the best security arrangements are in place for when England tour Pakistan, but frankly, the hard truth is bad things can happen all over the world.
“We’ve seen in the UK and in other places, terrible events happen despite the best efforts of our own apparatus and I just think we have to approach this with a sense of positivity.”
Tensions persist between Pakistan and its neighbour, India, their longstanding feud having escalated a number of times over the last decade.
The two countries have not played each other in a cricket match outside of a major tournament since 2018, and that in Dubai, where Pakistan have been playing since 2009.
Mr Turner believes the England tour to Pakistan can help heal divisions.
He said: “The India-Pakistan relationship is hugely complex, those teams playing is something we’d all like to see and would be the ultimate prize.
“But it’s clear a lot would need to happen between now and then to make that work.”
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