I have never been much of a sports fan. While I understand the appeal, I have never really been able to take much of an interest in the athletic antics of young men and women chasing balls, throwing things, and smashing objects around fields and arenas. I also remain perpetually mystified by the deep, tribal loyalties sports inspires, and am endlessly fascinated by how people with little direct connection to the exploits and endeavours of their sporting heroes nonetheless develop a deep attachment to them and, more importantly, cultivate sense of community and belonging with millions of likeminded fans. To the extent that I know anything about sports, my knowledge is restricted to what I occasionally pick up in passing as I flip through newspapers and browse the internet.

I do not have an opinion on the PSL as a sporting event. Is it a good format? Was the cricket itself good? Will it have a positive effect on sports in Pakistan? I do not know. What is more interesting to me is the discourse that has emerged around PSL, and the way in which its final, to be played in Lahore this weekend, has come to be imbued with a variety of hopes and expectations that have become inextricably linked with the condition Pakistan finds itself in today. On the one hand, much of the narrative around the PSL final has a distinctly nationalist tenor, emphasizing how holding the event in Pakistan demonstrates that the country is now stable and secure enough to manage an event of this magnitude. For the purveyors of this point of view, the PSL final vindicates the view that terrorism and extremism in Pakistan have been controlled, if not defeated, heralding a long awaited return to normalcy. Hosting the final is a source of national pride and a mark of the progress that has been made over the past few years.

This can be contrasted with a more skeptical view that sees the PSL final as being little more than window dressing, a one-off event that simply masks enduring instability and violence in Pakistan. Evidence to support this contention is often comes in the form of the observation that, over the last couple of weeks, Pakistan has a seen a resurgence in the kinds of terrorist attacks that were routinely perpetrated in the country’s cities less than a decade ago. Lahore itself has been targeted in the past month, and the impunity with which terrorist organizations seem to be able to operate does not inspire much confidence in the view that they have been comprehensively defeated. Consequently, while the tremendous number of men and enormous amounts of material diverted to securing the PSL final might indeed ensure that it takes place without any untoward incidents (and one sincerely hopes that is the case), the fact that so many resources are required to safely host a cricket match belies claims that everything is normal.

The problem is not one that is limited to physical security. Those who continue to share the extremist ideology of Pakistan’s militant organisations remain a clear and present danger to the country’s stability. On the eve of the PSL final, for example, thousands of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted murderer who assassinated Salmaan Taseer, defied an official ban to congregate at the massive shrine that has built to commemorate the killer. The much vaunted ‘writ of the state’ was defied once again without a whimper from the powers-that-be and despite the launch of yet another military operation aimed at ending the scourge of terrorism, there continues to be an apparent lack of resolve to deal with the underlying issues of poverty, marginalization, and indoctrination that have made an entire generation of young Pakistanis such a fertile source of recruitment for militant and terrorist groups.

In the aftermath of last month’s blasts in Lahore (the second of which, in DHA, was subsequently declared to have been caused by a faulty gas cylinder), one of the least edifying sights in the media was that of anchors and analysts tripping over themselves to consider the impact the explosions would have on the city’s prospects for hosting the PSL final. Predictably enough, there was also a race to pin the blasts on nefarious foreign elements conspiring to prevent the match from taking place in Pakistan. What was problematic about this coverage was not the faulty assumptions that were being made, or even the concern with the PSL itself. It was the complete and total lack of a debate about the trajectory Pakistan is currently on. Thinkers taking a more radical view of sports and the media in the world today have long argued that it acts as an opiate, distracting people from thinking about weightier issues of politics and economics in their societies. Much the same could be said about the debate around the PSL, with the fixation on where the final was going to be held taking the place of much needed discussions about why Pakistan continues to experience the violence and instability that it does.

I do not think the PSL final should not be held in Lahore. It can be used as an important symbolic statement to show how violence and terrorism will not succeed in preventing people from getting on with, and enjoying, their lives. It also serves as an important source of entertainment and communal spirit at a time when events of this kind have been missing from Pakistan’s cultural landscape for far too long. But to treat the PSL final as a return to normalcy is extremely misleading. A means to an end should not be confused as an end in itself; Pakistan still has a long way to go in defeating its demons and watching some men smash a cricket ball around Qaddafi stadium while being surrounded by five layers of heavily armed security does not, in any way, signify that the battle against terrorism and extremism has been won.