BANGALORE, India, December 24 – Police bomb squad officers and sniffer dogs combed Bangalore stadium Monday as part of a massive security operation for the start of the first Pakistan cricket tour to India for five years.
Hardline Indian nationalist organisations including Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena have both threatened to hold protests outside all the venues for the five-match series which begins in Bangalore on Tuesday evening.
The Indian government has said it will issue a record number of 3,000 visas to Pakistani fans attending the series — the first since the 2008 Mumbai attacks which led to a complete breakdown in relations between the two countries.
“As the governments of both the countries have agreed to hold the bilateral series, no organisation will be allowed to disrupt the match,” Bangalore police commissioner Jyotiprakash Mirji told reporters on the eve of the first match.
An AFP reporter saw bomb squad officers carrying out a painstaking inspection with their dogs in and around the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, the capital of the southeastern state of Karnataka.
As many as 5,000 security personnel, including a 100-member bomb squad, have been deployed to cover the match, fearing attempts to disrupt the game or even stage an attack.
Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party based in Mumbai, has branded the tour a “national shame” and accused Indian cricket authorities of “betraying the country for sake of money”.
The same organisation dug up the wicket at the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground in the capital New Delhi in 1999 ahead of an India-Pakistan Test although the match did go ahead.
Cricket has been used in the past to mend diplomatic ties, with the prime ministers of both nations symbolically shaking 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 of the games.
Ties were further strained on a trip to New Delhi by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik earlier this month, when he compared the Mumbai attacks to the 1992 razing of a mosque by a Hindu mob which sparked a wave of sectarian violence.
Few Pakistani fans had made it to Bangalore on Monday. But one who had travelled from the United States said it was too much to expect cricket to serve as a propeller for diplomacy every time the teams played.
“The Mohali magic cannot be repeated every time the countries face off on a cricket ground,” said 60-year-old Mohammed Bashir who lives in Chicago.
“That the teams are playing each other on Indian soil is in itself a big thing. We should not expect anything more to come out of this encounter,” Bashir told AFP, dressed in the green and gold of the Pakistani team.