RAWALPINDI: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Friday said that there was a "conspiracy" behind the cancellation of New Zealand's tour to Pakistan — the team's first in 18 years.
In response to a question, Ahmed declined to name the country responsible for the conspiracy but termed the cancellation "an attempt to damage our efforts for peace in the region".
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister said the New Zealand team's security incharge spoke to government officials in the morning and informed them of a threat. When the officials asked for further details, the NZ security incharge "did not have any", he added.
Pakistan had deployed commandos from Pakistan Army's Special Services Group (SSG), soldiers, and 4,000 policemen for the matches in Rawalpindi, Ahmed said.
"We also tried to convince them to play the match without spectators. But they did not agree to it," he disclosed.
The minister said that the government's team also reached out to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is currently in Dushanbe to participate in the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Heads of State (SCO-CHS) Summit.
"He called New Zealand's Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] and assured [her] of [providing] complete security to the Kiwis. The New Zealand prime minister said there was no issue of a threat."
However, Ardern said the NZ government had "received intelligence that the team could be attacked when it steps out to go to the stadium", Ahmed added.
"It is their decision. We had deployed heavy security for the team. Pakistan is a peace promoter in the world. And this tour was cancelled through a conspiracy. It is their (NZ's) problem and what they decide."
The National Crisis Management Cell had also tried to convince the Black Caps not to call off their tour but they did not agree, he further said.
The minister noted that New Zealand's security team had visited Pakistan four months ago and the tour itself had been scheduled months before the Aug 31 deadline for withdrawal of international forces from neighbouring Afghanistan.
"None of our intelligence agencies, which are among the best in the world, have any information about a threat. Pakistan is playing a major role in the region and they do not want us to prosper."
Indian media was "defaming Pakistan", Ahmed said, adding that its designs would be foiled. "We have sacrificed before and peace will prevail here at all costs," he emphasised.
Talking about the upcoming tour by the England team, Ahmed said they would make their own decision. "My ministry has all [done] all arrangments," he added.
"In our country, there is no security issue for cricket," the minister concluded.
The New Zealand cricket team backed out of its tour of Pakistan earlier today over security concerns minutes before the first match was scheduled to start at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium.
In a statement, the Pakistan Cricket Board said that New Zealand Cricket (NZC) informed the board they had been alerted to "some security alert" and unilaterally decided to postpone the series.
The New Zealand contingent in Pakistan is now preparing to leave the country. The NZC said Pakistan had been "wonderful hosts" but added that player safety was "paramount".