Pakistan's unhindered security litmus test

A Pakistani army helicopter patrols over the Gaddafi Stadium AFP

It is a kilometer or so from Liberty Chowk to Gaddafi Stadium. In that distance, fans attending Pakistan's three T20 games against the World XI would have gone through at least eight manual searches and four scanner searches.

They could not walk the distance, which would have been significantly less cumbersome. One bus took them from the Chowk to the entrance of the premises within which the Gaddafi Stadium is located. There, security personnel would board the bus to check the spectators' IDs and tickets. From there, the fans boarded another bus that dropped them to the actual entry gates into the stadium. This combination of searches and the bus service was replicated at the other main entry point to the stadium.

That was just one part of a comprehensive security plan for a series widely seen as a litmus test for future tours to Pakistan. It was not too different to the security for the last high-profile game in Pakistan, the PSL final in Lahore in March. Turnout in the first two games was affected, but safety ensured, a trade-off Pakistan cricket will face for some time.

Close to 20,000 security personnel were said to have been deployed on each of the match days, as part of the PCB and Punjab government's plan, across the routes the teams took, at the stadium and at the team hotel. The majority of that was drawn from local police but the military and various intelligence forces were deeply involved.

Keeping an eye on how the tour played out were the security consultants, Eastern Star International (ESI), who will be the PCB's consultants for the next three years. Readers might be more familiar with the surname of the man who headed the operation in Pakistan: Dickason.

It wasn't the elder Dickason - Reg - who has been a security consultant to several cricket boards since the mid-1990s. Instead, overseeing this trip was his son Sam, ESI's general manager who, as Pakistan attempt to attract more visitors, will likely become as familiar a presence.

Already, this was his second trip to the country within months, having been to Islamabad recently to oversee a squash event in which players from around the world participated.

For this series, there was an enhanced focus on the transit stage of the security plan - the movement of teams from the hotel to the ground. That, according to Sam Dickason, was the "high-risk" area of any plan because of the fluidity; it was during this movement that Sri Lanka's team bus was attacked in 2009, at Liberty Chowk.

"The trick, now that the series is over, will be to manage expectations. One successful tour does not ensure another, although it raises the probability"

"Did we learn from that?" Dickason said. "Absolutely we learnt from that - you have to maintain positions of dominance in that area. We had to clear the roads because people took the opportunity, in a non-sterile environment, to launch an attack."

The Punjab government's commitment to providing security was a major factor in the series going off without any serious glitches. PCB officials say the coordination between the local government, the cricket board and various security agencies was unprecedented, with intensive daily briefings at the board's headquarters in Gaddafi Stadium.

Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister - and brother of Nawaz Sharif, recently deposed as prime minister - is said to have taken a personal interest in affairs, sitting in on several conference calls. Underpinning it has been the new Punjab police command centre (PPIC3), part of the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) body created last year. The PSCA is actually the sell in all this: a radical upgrading of the way crime and terror is fought in the city, and eventually the province. Think of it as a move up from the Nokia 3310 to the iPhone X (jokes about the sturdiness of each aside).

One particular scene you will often be drawn is of the PSCA's main space, the office's heartbeat peopled by fresh and bright young IT grads, monitoring wall-to-wall screens overseeing extensive CCTV surveillance all over the city. Members of the Pakistan cricket team paid a visit to the offices late last month and left in awe, amazed that from inside the centre surveillance cameras allowed them to zoom so close onto the pitch at Gaddafi Stadium, they could carry out a decent pitch inspection.

If it sounds a little too much like some first-world scene from inside NASA, be reminded that Lahore has been hit by a spate of attacks this year, with significant casualties; which is to say that these things take time.

But it also highlights that the security for this series has done its job, more so because a major by-election on Sunday in the city - with countrywide implications - would have complicated matters further.

"What we have seen so far, in the PSL and now, has been very, very good," Dickason said. "They have delivered a security footprint which they have maintained. They have not backed off on that. So far the team has been here for a few days now, we've not seen any backward steps in their planning and processes."

The trick, now that the series is over, will be to - as the suits love to say - manage expectations. One successful tour does not ensure another, although it raises the probability. To suggest otherwise, said Dickason, who has also been New Zealand Cricket's security coordinator for the last four years, would be "irresponsible".

"It'll be irresponsible for me to say that yeah, the plan is completely robust and nothing more can happen," he said. "What they have delivered has been impressive. The level of commitment throughout the entirety of this tour has not changed, it has not gone down and it has stayed at a high level. We have been impressed but we can't rest on our laurels - the ESI, PCB, ICC."

Keep in mind also that none of this comes cheap.The PCB is not in as perilous a financial state as has often been advertised, but to deploy a security force of the size they have is a massive strain. That is beginning to tell, as revealed by the PCB chairman Najam Sethi earlier this week. "This tour is going to lose money because security considerations have been enormous," he said. "Even as we speak, the Punjab government has been saying we owe them so much money and so on. We are saying law and order is your issue but costs are going up."

Adding to the costs is the precedent set by payments the board has made to players to convince them to tour. The PCB paid Zimbabwe players $12,500 each to tour in May 2015. In March this year, foreign players were paid up to $50,000 to play in the PSL final in Lahore. For this series, the World XI squad has been paid around $100,000 each. Foreign teams and players will continue to seek financial incentives to visit and at some point, financial reserves not being endless, the PCB will have to draw the line.

The immediate challenge is to stage games outside of Lahore, where all internationals since March 2009 have been held. The PCB is especially keen on going to Karachi, partly because the National Stadium is one of the venues it actually owns, which would help with managing the entire operation and costs.

But Karachi has its own, complex set of security issues. It is an unwieldy city too, where the PCB may not expect the degree of support from the Sindh government that it gets from the Punjab government. Still, the PCB intends to press ahead with plans to stage games there during the next PSL.

"From our perspective, we get through this series and of course you hear talk of other places," Dickason said. "There's always talk. Cricket in Pakistan is huge, everyone wants it. All the major cities will want it but it has to be a slow, steady introduction. We have to do it right.

"The importance in taking time to ensure that the roll-out of the security programme is done correctly cannot be overstated. The journey to get international cricket back in Pakistan has just begun and it's very exciting."

Exciting maybe, uncertain definitely, as was driven home on Friday. According to the FTP, Australia are due to tour Pakistan next year in October for a limited-overs series. But as Pakistan and the World XI prepared for the decider in front of what would turn out to be the series' most rousing crowd, Cricket Australia - who have not sent a team to Pakistan in nearly 20 years - reinforced the reality of the situation.

"I don't see in the short term that there are any plans for us to play in Pakistan," said the chief executive James Sutherland.