| Pakistani commandos flank Sourav Ganguly as he arrives at a news conference in Lahore on Wednesday. (AFP)
Lahore, March 10: Whatever the official explanation, the departure of Indian Airlines’ special flight (IC 1845) from New Delhi this afternoon, carrying Sourav Ganguly’s Team India for the first full tour of Pakistan in over 14 years, was delayed by half-an-hour for “security reasons”.
According to The Telegraph’s sources, the Airbus 320 left at 1.30 pm (IST) and not as scheduled because the Indian security agencies wanted to “eliminate the possibility of a time-specific explosion” on the route to be taken by the team after landing at the Allama Iqbal International Airport here.
“The world had come to know the flight would leave at 1.00 pm. And, so, people inimical to the growing relations between Islamabad and New Delhi could have planned something coinciding with the scheduled arrival. The 30-minute delay, therefore, was meant to thwart any time-specific mischief,” a source said.
Nothing untoward happened — perhaps nothing can, given the incredible level of security scripted by President Pervez Musharraf’s secretariat. To start with, there was a dummy team bus and a decoy convoy in place at the airport. Besides outriders and commandos, the bus carrying the players was flanked by armed policemen on mobikes.
Apparently, “protection on the flanks” was insisted upon by Yashovardhan Azad, the IG who made a recce trip to Pakistan last month. One understands he also insisted that traffic come to a halt at “all intersections” crossed by the Indians. The second drill seeks to eliminate the risk of a suicide bomber ramming into the team bus.
Further, it is learnt that the Indian security agencies have requested their counterparts to “doubly verify” the antecedents of all drivers and helpers assigned to Sourav and Co.
At the hotel (Pearl Continental), it is difficult for even a fly to sit on Sourav’s shoulders as he is being guarded by six commandos, all armed and wearing black T-shirts proclaiming “No Fear”. That is the motto of the personnel drawn from the most elite wing of Punjab Police.
The players have been formally cautioned against going out alone. Moreover, there is a directive from the home ministry in Delhi to avoid sightseeing and shopping in Karachi and Peshawar. The two cities will only be hosting ODIs.
The dos and don’ts were conveyed at a briefing by the home ministry this morning, where Azad held centrestage. That had been preceded by a “backgrounder and tips” from a senior foreign ministry mandarin.
Only two IPS officers — Azad himself and Manoj Lal, an additional commissioner in New Delhi — have accompanied the team.
It is possible that both are going to go back after the five ODIs. If that is so, they will be replaced by DIG Dharmendra Kumar and Prabhakar, a deputy commissioner in New Delhi.
Azad was not available for comment, but sources pointed out that “everybody is going to breathe easy” once Karachi (March 13) and Peshawar (March 19) are “out of the way”. It is not insignificant that both are hosting day games.