The PSL Final will be held in Lahore today. This statement, seemingly simple in text, is packed with unprecedented emotions and a stream of painful memories. Almost two decades on from the 1996 World Cup Final, which was held in Lahore amidst all the pomp, today Pakistan is having a tough time attracting foreign cricketers to play on its soil.

This journey – this descent into a creed of militancy, which banished international cricket from our soil – was not gradual. It happened almost instantaneously; within a short span (of just two decades). And the final nail, in this regard, was the fateful attack on the Sri Lankan team, in 2009, which revealed catastrophic lapses in our (civilian) military apparatus. Since then, all attempts of attracting international cricket to Pakistan have looked towards a khaki guarantee. For better or worse, no one trusts the Punjab Police (on its own) to be able to provide foolproof security to international players, especially when cross-border militant organizations and intelligence agencies (read: RAW) have sworn to disrupt all such efforts.

And so, ever since 2009, our military has been the lynchpin for bringing international cricket back to Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this fact did not mean much during General Kiyani’s years. Military leadership was seen to adopt a dubious policy of distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants. While sporadic military operations, against isolated pockets of militants, were conducted to appease the international community as well as domestic clamor, the entire exercise lacked the requisite intent and resolve. And this insincere ideology eventually resulted in what is perhaps the most embarrassing episode of our entire military history (barring East-Pakistan debacle, perhaps): the infiltration of American forces into Pakistan territory, in the quiet of the night, to kill Osama Bin Laded, who had been “residing” a stones throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy. This episode further plunged Pakistan’s reputation in the international community, and closed all possible doors for a revival of international cricket in the country.

Enter General Raheel Sharif. With a change of command in our Khaki leadership (in 2013), the past legacy of shadows was soon replaced with a purposive and deliberative intent towards eradicating militancy from our soil. General Raheel’s operation Zarb-e-Azb has been, till date, the most comprehensive operation against militant outfits throughout the course of this elusive ‘war of terror’. And in the aftermath of this operation, as Pakistanis started to enjoy a slight reprieve from recurring militant attacks, there appeared (on the horizon) a sliver of possibility that international cricket might return to Pakistan.

In pursuance of this dream, the Zimbabwe team visited Pakistan in May of 2015, and the entire series was held in Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, without any (notable) untoward event. But despite this success, major international teams still refused to come to Pakistan, and our ‘home’ series continued being held in Dubai and Sharjah.

While militancy and terrorism is, in part, a domestic problem of Pakistan, the absence of cricket from our country seems to (almost entirely) be a result of efforts from India, and its intelligence agencies. Putting it simply: most of the domestic militant organisation who have carried out terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the recent years (ASWJ, LeJ, SSP, etc.) or the militant wings of political parties (such as MQM, and BLF), have no express desire to stop international cricket events in Pakistan. In fact, members of these outfits may even be fans of cricket in Pakistan. It is only the foreign organisations, or at least those funded by foreign elements (including RAW, TTP, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, etc.), that oppose international cricket in Pakistan. And, as a result, countering these elements has required khaki forces to be employed for the cause.

In the circumstances, when international teams (nudged by India and its cricket board) refused to visit Pakistan, the PCB turned towards creating PSL, with the express aim of attracting international players, and even holding these matches in Pakistan.

PSL’s success, in the first season, was a surprise to all the cynics. It had been assumed, by the naysayers, that PSL will have trouble attracting foreign players, and might fail as a commercial and cricketing venture. But here we are, in the second season of PSL, just a few hours away from conducting its final in Lahore, with at least 8 international players participating in the event.

For this, credit must be given to the PCB management, the PSL management, and individual management of the franchised teams. But above all, credit must be extended to the new khaki leadership, which has come to the forefront in guaranteeing the safety of PSL final in Lahore, just a fortnight after the latest wave of terrorism in Pakistan.

The shoes are now shined, and we are ready for the event. It has been claimed that some 12,000 security personnel have been deployed around the Qaddafi Stadium, in a five tiered security plan. That Punjab Rangers will be seen at the forefront of these efforts, and that Army will have the command responsibilities, working in tandem with Punjab Police. And what is at stake? Not the PSL trophy… but the future of cricket (a solitary unifying force) in Pakistan.

There has been controversy about Imran Khan Sb. opposing the holding of PSL Final in Lahore. There has also been controversy about test cricketers not having been invited to the event. There are allegations that PML-N supporters have been given the tickets, in an unfair manner, instead of allowing fans to purchase them through open market. These controversies, even if true, are not the most important issue of the moment. Nor should it made out to be as such. Even if past cricketers have not been invited, they should just buy a ticket and come. Even if the stadium will be packet with Nawaz Sharif supporters, so be it. Politics and partisan bickering can wait for another day.

Today, after a long time, it is about Panama Leaks or the Supreme Court. It is not about Rana Sanaullah (despicable as he is) or Daniyal Aziz. It is not about Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif. It is about ensuring, and praying, that the greatest bet ever placed on Pakistan cricket – that of peacefully holding PSL Final in Lahore, amidst explicit threats from neighboring enemies – pays off. That when the final ball is bowled, and someone stands in the middle of the pitch, with both arms raised, we realise that Pakistan has won.

Post-script: Imran Khan Sb., it is time to put politics on hold for a moment. Come watch the PSL Final in Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore. There is an enclosure with your name on it. Won’t it be a sight to behold, if Imran Khan sat in the Imran Khan Enclosure, and cheered on, as the tide of international cricket turns in Pakistan.