Imran Khan is wrong. The Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in Lahore today is a win for everyone. With one voice this nation is praying for a fantastic game of cricket without any incident to spoil the festivities.
Today is about more than just cricket and more than the Peshawar Zalmi or Quetta Gladiators lifting the championship trophy. Today is even more than the security arrangements and genuine concerns about any untoward incident. Today is more than political messaging and partisan sloganeering; in fact today is much more than the egos of leaders or the sulking of politicians or even the rhetorical bluster of inconsequential freeloaders. Today — ladies and gentlemen — is about a deeper collective yearning for a life less abnormal; a life that can still reverberate with the sounds of laughter and merriment; that can sway to the tunes of unfiltered conviviality and relish the chance, any chance, to revel in the moment.
Today took a long time in coming.
The fresh wave of terrorism that has hit our country is a gruesome reminder of what happens when official bombast outpaces real action. This new trail of blood and grief has shredded the glean of the State’s self-claimed victory; it has torn asunder the carefully crafted narrative of success and triumph against terror; and it has jolted us out of the reverie we had slipped into by believing that good had finally prevailed over evil.
Well guess what — we were wrong. Perhaps ‘wrong’ is too forgiving a word to use for all those people who peddled the narrative of victory, who backtracked on their commitments to take steps spelt out in the National Action Plan, and who remorselessly went about their grandstanding and politicking while the bad guys quietly prepared for their next offensive. And when the dreaded offensive came, it appeared we had no defence. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put the victory narrative together again.
Will today’s final in Lahore re-seal this narrative? Not really. The only thing that can stitch it back together is genuine success against the terror networks. For this success to happen, real reform will need to unfold from the lap of the State itself — the same State that deceived us by saying it had broken the back of the terrorists and the same State that is unwilling to act upon its own National Action Plan. There is clearly a yawning gapbetween what the State should do and what it is willing to do. Victory against the terrorist is not around the corner.
Even the path to victory is hazy. The National Action Plan was meant to show us the way to salvation but it got trampled under the hooves of expediency and incompetence. Its quasi-implementation has birthed uncomfortable and thorny questions about the capacity, the inclination and the will of the decisionmakers to make decisions that are necessary. These unanswered questions in turn have spawned fears that all is not under control because those who are mandated to control the situation are falling short of the task at hand.
Yes indeed things were looking up the last few years and even today we are told that the economy is breathing healthy. The ruling PML-N is now on the threshold of bringing all its mega projects to closure with a razzle and dazzle that exemplifies the closing days of a vigorous election campaign. We were told that good news was billowing like subtle fragrance in the wind and glad tidings were approaching our way. The CPEC was unfolding across our land like a royal red carpet and Chinese were coming down through Khunjrab bearing gifts. Energy plants were slowly groaning to life and readying to pump electricity into our grid so that our homes and factories and our lives would light up like a cosmic Christmas tree.
And then death returned to stalk this land once again. The dark shadow across the Durand Line grew larger and larger as it devoured precious lives across thousands of miles of sacred land. The stench of gunpowder overpowered the fragrance of hope as fear pushed its way back into the heart of every citizen.
Fear and oh, yes, PSL. The debate over whether to hold the final in Lahore was never really a debate — at least not in any real sense. Opting out of Lahore would have basically meant accelerating the slide into dismay, despair and dread. Was it a reckless decision? Perhaps. Will the cost outweigh the benefits? In a worst case scenario, perhaps. Was there any other option? No.
No there was no other option because in these dark days the bright lights of the Gaddafi Stadium will lightup more than just the cricket ground. For a few days here now time stands still as the nation gyrates in slow motion to the melody of transient joy. Today nothing else matters — not the military courts, not the highs and lows of Panama Gate, not the humdrum of partisanship — none of this matters today except the magic of cricket wrapped in the enchantment of a shared belief of commonness.
But the lights will go off once the match is over. There will be darkness in the stadium as silence replaces the roars of tens of thousands of ecstatic fans. Time will start to flow again like a frozen river melting in the heat of reality. We will return to our failures and disappointments and prospects of terror mongers slithering back into our midst. Heartbreaks lurk around the corner and perhaps tragedy sharpens its knives in anticipation. Life as we know it will trudge along like a disoriented person shuffling in a dark alley.
And yet the events of today — may they turn out well — will keep reminding us that our lights can be switched on — and stay on — if we can play life as well as we play cricket.