Islamabad - Pakistan's interior minister has invited the
England cricket team to tour the country for the first time since 2005, after a
successful visit by the West Indies amid improved security boosted hopes of an
A visit by a major Test-playing nation such as England would
be hugely significant, in terms of both cricket as well as Pakistan's wider
security and the message it hopes to send about its crackdown on extremism and
Interior minister Ahsan Iqbal extended the invitation to UK
High Commissioner Thomas Drew on Tuesday, urging the international community to
recognise the strides Pakistan has made.
"The successful staging of international matches in
Pakistan is a clear proof that we have defeated terrorism and extremism,"
he said, according to an official statement.
Drew said he was already looking forward to "this
summer's big cricketing event", Pakistan's upcoming England tour.
"But I also hope that it will not be long before I can
welcome an England team to Pakistan," he said on Wednesday. "That
really is something to look forward to."
For years foreign teams refused to tour Pakistan, wracked by
Islamist attacks. In 2009 an attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore drove
international cricket from the country entirely, and their fixtures have been
played in the United Arab Emirates.
But security has improved dramatically in recent years, and
since 2015 Pakistan has hosted Zimbabwe, a World XI, Sri Lanka, the finals of
its domestic T20 league for two years running and, most recently, the West
Indies, for a short T20 series which finished on Tuesday.
The matches have been staged in both Lahore and Karachi, the
cricket-obsessed country's two largest cities, both of which have been hit
repeatedly by militant violence over the last decade.
Head-of-state level security has been provided for visiting
players, most of whom have come away praising the arrangements.
Various military operations across the country have led to
the increased security, particularly in the north-western tribal region, where
militants once operated with impunity.
But the US maintains that Pakistan is hosting militant safe
havens in the northwest, accusations Islamabad denies; while critics warn that
the country has not gone far enough in rooting out the long-term causes of