The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has insisted that South Africa's tour to Pakistan later this year will continue despite the ongoing political crisis in the country.
South Africa are due to tour for a two-Test and five-match ODI series in September and October. According to an itinerary finalised last month, they will play matches in Karachi and Peshawar, two venues which have been regularly overlooked in the recent past due to security concerns.
However, the itinerary was finalised before the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in Islamabad which saw the government crack down on hardline clerics, a large band of students and alleged militants who were illegally occupying government land and carrying out vigilante activities in the capital.
The operation has sparked a spate of suicide bombings, particularly in the North-West Frontier Province and the country is currently on a high state of security alert. Additionally, this may be election year in Pakistan and parts of the country have also seen widespread, albeit largely peaceful, protests against the suspension of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. In Karachi, however, there were riots related to the incident in May in which over 40 people were killed in a single day.
Security concerns, particularly in the aftermath of September 11, have forced sides to cancel tours to Pakistan but for the moment, says the PCB, there is no such problem. "As the situation currently stands, right now, there is an unqualified commitment from South Africa to tour. The tour is 100% on currently and Karachi and Peshawar are on the itinerary," said Shafqat Naghmi, chief operating officer, PCB.
Privately, however, board officials concede that if the situation worsens, and in particular a big city is attacked, the tour may face obstacles. One newspaper report suggests that the board will be meeting the interior ministry for assurances of fool-proof security to South African players.
The situation in Peshawar is further complicated by a match referee's report after the last international the city staged. Chris Broad told the Pakistan board after Pakistan played an ODI against India in February 2006 that the venue was not fit to host international matches. The situation, according to a PCB official, has not yet been fully resolved.
"What happens many times is that the local authorities just carry out cosmetic changes without really bettering the situation at the ground just to be passable for the match. Problems remain and it is the case with Peshawar but we just have to sort it out. We have got control of the stadium now and we will have it ready for when South Africa arrive," said one official.
A security delegation from Australia also arrives in Pakistan on Monday to undertake a quick-fire inspection of venues. Australia A is due to tour in September after which the Under-19 team will also visit. The senior team are also scheduled to visit in March-April next year, for their first tour of Pakistan in ten years. The security delegation arrives after visiting Malaysia and India for similar inspections ahead of Australian tours to those countries.