|| AFP ||
New Zealand pulled out of their cricket series against Pakistan on Friday over security concerns just as the first one-day international was due to start, in a devastating blow to the South Asian country.
The move is a massive setback to Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan side.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said it would decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month.
"Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from (New Zealand Cricket) security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour," New Zealand Cricket said in a statement.
Arrangements are being made for the team to leave the country.
New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said Pakistan had been "wonderful hosts", but "player safety is paramount and we believe this is the only responsible option".
The Kiwis are in Pakistan for the first time since 2003 and were due to play three ODIs, followed by five Twenty20 matches.
They previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a bomb blast outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 French naval staff.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said New Zealand made the decision unilaterally.
"The PCB is willing to continue the scheduled matches," it said in a statement.
Before the match was to start, Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke with his counterpart Jacinda Ardern "and assured her that New Zealand team is provided foolproof security", Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted.
Khan is himself a former international player and cricketing hero.
Other tours in danger
A security delegation from New Zealand last month inspected arrangements in Pakistan and it was only after their clearance that the tour was given a go-ahead.
"The security officials with the New Zealand team have been satisfied with security arrangements made by the Pakistan Government throughout their stay here," the PCB statement said.
Most of the squad arrived on Saturday and Sunday with a level of security usually reserved for visiting heads of state that included armed guards escorting their bulletproof buses.
Their Islamabad hotel has been guarded by a heavy paramilitary and police contingent.
Pakistan are due to host England for two Twenty20 internationals next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also to tour in the next six months.
"We are liaising with our security team who are on the ground in Pakistan to fully understand the situation," the England Cricket Board said in a statement.
"The ECB Board will then decide in the next 24-48 hours whether our planned tour should proceed.”
Pakistan's interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad was due to make a statement later in the day over the issue.
'Past still haunts us'
There was an outpouring of frustration over New Zealand's decision.
"Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan cricket fans," the captain of the Pakistan side Babar Azam tweeted.
Security analysts said Pakistan had made huge efforts to secure the safety of the New Zealand team.
"It seems that the past is still haunting us, those incidents have badly damaged our reputation and now the Afghan situation has also impacted our regional security," a retired general turned security analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
Fans, who were allowed to return to stadiums in small numbers after Covid-19 restrictions were eased, began to realise something was wrong when neither team entered the pitch for the 2 pm toss, half an hour before the match was due to start.
"After waiting so many years, we were minutes away from watching a major cricketing team playing in Pakistan," ticket holder Osama Malik said outside the Rawalpindi stadium.
"I have seen Zimbabwe playing in Rawalpindi, but this team was a World Cup finalist and are currently ranked number one in ICC ranking."
Others on social media said New Zealand had caused drama and embarrassment for the country.
"New Zealand cricket team's decision to leave the country after being here for 6 days is terrible. There is no basis to cause such an embarrassment," Mohammad Zubair said.
"This is not fair. Seriously you guys are having world best security," another said.