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Should India host cricket matches for Pakistan?

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Reviving cricket ties to repair is not a bad idea, but it cannot make up for dismal co-operation on national security matters

Ayaz MemonAyaz Memon
Sports journalist

“if can be given MFN status where trade is concerned, what’s the big deal about resuming cricket ties? Why not exploit the common passion for cricket to improve relations?”

Those who view Indo-Pak relations only from the prism of past conflicts are loath to allow a resumption of cricket ties between the two countries as proposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and accepted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last week.

“How can we play cricket with a country that harbours terrorists who are intent on destroying India’’ is the vehement argument. Considering that only recently, Pakistan-trained 26/11 terror suspect Abu Jundal was extradited from Saudi Arabia, the objection is understandable — but only to a degree.

My counter-parry would be that if Pakistan can be given Most-Favoured Nation status where trade is concerned, what’s the big deal about resuming cricket ties? Also, why not exploit the common passion for cricket to improve ties?

This could not only provide more opportunities for social exchanges between the people of the two countries, but also give the sport a fillip. By common consensus, Indo-Pak cricket is as engaging as the Ashes — and more financially rewarding.

Simplistic? Perhaps. But why complicate matters further? It hardly needs to be stressed that Indo-Pak relations are complex, carry the burden of a bitter past and are, therefore, fragile. For these and other reasons pertinent to the emerging world order, these are too important to be underpinned to a one-point agenda.

Obviously, there is no easy answer or (it seems) solution to the terrorist problem. But should this, then, end any scope of bilateral relations?

Interestingly, where cricket politics is concerned, the and the are on the same page: they have been so since they broke England’s hegemony by shifting the World Cup to the subcontinent in 1987. Even otherwise, history shows that Indo-Pak relations have almost always improved when cricket has been on the agenda.

In 1987, for instance, with soldiers of the two countries in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the western border, then-president Zia-ul-Haq air-dashed to Jaipur to watch an India-Pakistan Test match. His visit defused tension, and the war clouds soon evaporated.

This is not an isolated incident in Indo-Pak relations. Indeed, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, foreign minister in the Janata government, used cricket to broker a peace deal when he visited Pakistan in 1978.

Between 1961 and 1978, there was no cricket between the two countries — but there were two wars, in 1965 and 1971. At various other times, too, cricket has been the salve to wounds.

In a perspective broader than just Indo-Pak relations, this is precisely what sport is expected to achieve: become a bridge between people, communities and nations.

True, the vanity and severity of competition can sometimes drive sportspersons – and their supporters – to the edge. But history shows more often than not sport has a way of bringing warring nations together like little else.

During the Cold War, for instance, the US and the USSR added an extra frisson to international sporting events held on neutral ground, although neither attended the Games held on the other’s home soil.

Between China and the US, in the 1970s, “ping-pong diplomacy” was used to soothe ties when a US table tennis team that was playing the 31st World Championships in Japan was invited to China in 1971. Nine government officials and four players took up the all-expenses-paid invitation, becoming the first Americans to step foot in China since 1949. As Time put it, “the ping heard round the world”.

Sport can also be used as a weapon to discourage or combat mala fide socio-political forces. Apartheid-ruled South Africa was never part of the Olympic Games. Even in cricket, they were banned for two decades after they disallowed England to choose a Cape coloured in their team in 1970-71.

The ostracisation of South Africa was ratified in the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Interestingly, the country’s return to the global mainstream was heralded by a cricket tour to India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi, whom the African National Congress, and Nelson Mandela in particular, looked up to.

More fascinatingly, after he became president, Mandela showed support for rugby – an all-white preserve till then – by proactively supporting the country’s team in the 1995 World Cup. He needed a metaphor to help whites find trust in the new political dispensation and chose sport.

Mandela’s bold gambit got even more famous expression in the 2009 film Invictus. The message was simple: sport can be integral to statesmanship if it is seen thus.

Tarun VijayTarun Vijay
Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

“Even the invitation to the Pakistani team aims to improve bilateral ties, hence instantly turning the matches into politics of peace. This must be weighed against the sincerity of the other side”

Cricket has become a republic within a republic, as if players descend on our land from Mars and Venus to herald an era of peace and unfathomable prosperity through sponsorships. So much so that even a word questioning decisions of their boards becomes a matter of ridicule, and gets instantly labelled anti-peace, war mongering and an unsportsmanlike attitude. The republic of cricket is not expected to feel the pain and the angst of the Republic of India, so how does it matter if the players being invited represent the land that has not only continuously sent murderers killing our soldiers, security men and citizens, but has also steadfastly refused to co-operate in investigations?

Recent incidents prove that Pakistan courts and the government are in no mood to help India on the terror front, although their leaders parrot phony lines that Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism. They don’t help us on Kasab and they don’t share intelligence inputs to help India nab terrorists or prevent further terror attacks. Instead, Pakistan’s ruling party leaders and government spokespersons firmly refuse to accept India’s documented proofs against that savage called Hafiz Saeed and they even issue him certificates of honour. They keep Dawood, the most wanted mass murderer India wants to try, in Karachi’s safe cocoons. And they have tried their best to dissuade Saudis from extraditing Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, a key player in orchestrating the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, to India.

Pakistan government agencies officially issue fake passports to terrorist groups with a clear direction to create chaos and mayhem in India, provide them with training and funds, shield them from Indian security personnel and then want us to believe that their cricket team will help improve bilateral ties.

Here are a few inspiring lines excerpted from an interview to BBC given by our home minister. “P Chidambaram warns that Pakistan’s refusal to take decisive action against terror groups threatens security not only in India but also in South Asia and beyond. He said it would be naïve for western nations to think that only India faces a threat from Pakistan-based terrorists.”

Just recently External Affairs Minister said, “Pakistan has not kept its promise to take terror head on.” He added that until Pakistan evolves a comprehensive terror strategy, Indo-Pak relations would remain haunted. Great words. But to what effect?

Reports said that in a bilateral meeting in Tokyo, on the sidelines of the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, where Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, he provided more evidence to Pakistan about terrorist activities currently taking place on Pakistani soil against India. This evidence was based mostly on disclosures made by the Mumbai attack accused Abu Jundal. Krishna conveyed to Khar that India had now even more reason to believe that forces inimical to India’s interests were being encouraged by certain Pakistan state agencies.

But what was Pakistan’s response? Khar said Pakistan did not believe that its agencies were involved in perpetrating terror strikes against India, something her foreign secretary, Jalil Jilani, too had stated in India earlier.

While we must work towards peace, the other side should also prove it is willing to walk with us. Whether it’s the question of extraditing Dawood and Hafiz Saeed or apprehending dreaded terrorists like Jundal and Fasih, and having the accomplices of Kasab tried in Pakistani courts, Islamabad has been constantly dragging its feet and staying in denial mode.

It has been agreed that we must not bring politics in the noble field of games, but even the invitation to the Pakistani team aims to improve bilateral relations, hence instantly turning the matches into politics of peace. This must be weighed against the sincerity of the other side rather than becoming blind to the ground realities.

What has changed so far that makes us love Pakistan so much that we have decided to invite their players? Then, pray, for a better show of our peace-focused missionary actions, why not try inviting an Al Qaeda Eleven to Wankhede as well?

Are Indian cricketers so distanced from the Indian realities that the sacrifices made by the soldiers and their fellow citizens do not make any difference to them? Do those who cheer them holding the tricolour belong to another nation?

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