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A stadium called Gaddafi

Lahore’s fabulous cricket ground captures the Libyan leader’s flamboyant diplomacy.

The Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore is Pakistan’s Lord’s or Eden Gardens,no less. It is one of the best-equipped cricket grounds in the world,a symbol of national pride,which hosted the 1996 World Cup final. But this being Pakistan,it follows,as if as a rule,that this national structure too be blemished somehow. And it has got enough infamy to its credit in recent years.

First came the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the vicinity of the ground on March 3,2009,as they were making their way to the stadium for a fixture there,and now it is the very name that earns it another,perhaps bigger,infamy after all these years. Not that the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was a much-liked character in the recent past,as he supported terrorism directed against Western and other targets,including those of the Moro Muslim rebels in the Philippines.

Besides being alleged to facilitate the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie,Scotland,in December 1988,Gaddafi has in the past extended support to acts of terrorism in Pakistan itself after the overthrow of the Bhutto regime in 1977 by General Zia-ul-Haq. He allegedly funded terrorists belonging to Al Zulfikar,a pro-PPP terrorist outfit that hijacked a PIA airliner in March 1981,which finally landed in Damascus via Kabul. The 13-day-long hostage drama saw a Pakistani diplomat travelling in the plane shot dead and some 55 PPP political prisoners released by the Zia regime in the final settlement. The hijackers named Tripoli as the destination of the released prisoners. However,Gaddafi being Gaddafi,changed his mind at the last minute as the plane carrying the prisoners approached Tripoli. It was diverted to Damascus instead.

Later,through much of the 1980s,Libyan diplomatic and trade missions in Islamabad and Karachi were consistently linked with anti-Zia regime terrorist activities,and Pakistan-Libya relations were at their lowest ebb. The number of professional Pakistani expats serving in Libya also dwindled and virtually came to a naught. How the two countries managed to keep their embassy staff in the respective capitals was no less than a mystery. Perhaps the centrality in the Pakistan foreign policy of the principle of avoiding conflict with a Muslim country was the major factor behind the restraint.

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It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,as the prime minister,who embarked on the policy of looking west to the Arab world for bonding and the obvious financial benefits that would accrue to Pakistan by being a player in the petrodollar economy of the Arab states,even if they were run by despotic autocrats. In 1974,Bhutto hosted the heads of Muslim states in Lahore for the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit,which included such adversaries as the reigning sheikhs of the oil-rich Gulf and Arab revolutionaries like Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat. The occasion was chosen to elicit support for Pakistan’s nuclear programme,as India was all set to go nuclear,and Gaddafi fitted the bill. In a grand ceremony at the Lahore Stadium,Bhutto announced the renaming of the cricket ground after the man whom he came to call one of his best friends.

Only Bhutto could have got away with feting and feasting such pro- and anti-US leaders as the Gulf sheikhs and the Shah of Iran on the one hand,and the Syrian,the Libyan and Palestinian leaders on the other,at the same table. At the Lahore summit,there were no walkouts by Gaddafi or other revolutionaries from the proceedings,as was and has been the norm at OIC summits held before and after 1974.

Lahoris cherished the grand mela that was being held in their city and broke into spontaneous dance at the sight of a visiting dignitary’s convoy. It was in such spirited bonhomie that they lost their stadium to the man called Gaddafi,although they have a long history of resisting any change of names,be it the city roads,neighbourhoods or landmarks. Pre-Partition names are still the currency in a city that celebrates history,and so Dhani Ram and Chet Ram roads,Krishan Nagar and Bharat Nagar,Qilla Gujjar Singh,Qilla Lakshman Singh,Ganga Ram Road (and Hospital and Mansion),Ram Gali 1,2,3,and so on,and innumerable others have stayed,despite concerted efforts by the Zia regime’s Islamisation process that officially renamed all of these after Muslim heroes.


Colonial names are also held on to as a matter of city’s heritage,although each was given a parallel Muslim name that never took off. The Mall remains The Mall and not Shahrah-e-Quaid-i-Azam,and so does Queen’s Road which was renamed after Fatima Jinnah. Bus stops are still called Charing Cross,and not Faisal Chowk (after King Faisal of Saudi Arabia). But Gaddafi Stadium somehow was accepted,maybe because it was built only in 1959 and was called simply Lahore Stadium until 1974,and was not named after a Lawrence,a McLeod or a Ganga Ram.

The writer is an editor with ‘Dawn’,Karachi

First published on: 25-02-2011 at 01:57 IST
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