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The Problem With India-Pakistan Cricket Tours

The Problem With India-Pakistan Cricket Tours

November 05, 2012

When it comes to India v Pakistan, cricket is much more than a game.

When it comes to sporting relations between Pakistan and India, there are no clearly demarcated lines. Just as the border at Kashmir is disputed, where one country blurs into another amid minefields and army patrols, politics blends into Pakistan-India cricket matches like blood dripping into water from a raw wound. In December 2012 and January 2013, Pakistan's national cricket team is going to tour India. They will play two Twenty20 matches and three one day internationals (ODIs) over a two-week period. This is quite a big deal: it will be the first bilateral series between the two teams since 2007, and the latest in a long line of attempts at cricket diplomacy. To those unfamiliar with the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry, it's difficult to explain just how nebulous and far-reaching the mutual discontent has become. Sixty years of flashpoints on and off the field have piled up to the point that it seems impossible to separate a Sachin Tendulkar off drive or Saeed Ajmal doosra from the communal violence of the Partition and multiple all-out border wars. On top of these clashes, cricketing stars like Pakistan's Shahid Afridi and India's Gautam Gambhir have explicitly linked their efforts on the field to the sour relations between the two countries. The thought of mending cricketing relations is mind-boggling – where do you start? – and, to many disgusted citizens on both sides, entirely unwanted. As far as a lot of Indians and Pakistanis are concerned, they would be happiest if they had nothing to do with each other. At the moment the rawest wound is the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which 164 people were killed by fundamentalist Islamist terrorists from Pakistan. Crucially, those involved with planning the attacks have said they were working for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistan Government's major intelligence agency. In their attempts to uncover who exactly was to blame for the attacks, Indian authorities reported a lack of cooperation from Pakistan – indeed, it took the Pakistan Government more than two months to confirm that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist, was a Pakistani citizen. Kasab, meanwhile, has been sentenced to death in India but remains very much alive. To many in India, including a blogger at Youth Ki Awaaz, he is a constant reminder of Pakistani belligerence and the Indian Government's failure to punish those found responsible. And now we have a bilateral sporting tour, when Pakistan's cricketers will visit India with the express permission of India's Home Ministry. The powers that be have at least had the foresight to not schedule any India vs Pakistan matches in Mumbai, but it seems certain that there will be much vocal objection. Fundamentalist Hindu group Shiv Sena has condemned it, as has Kirti Azad, a winner of the Cricket World Cup for India in 1983 and now a Member of Parliament for the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently the principal opposition in Indian Parliament. The Congress-led Indian Government seems keen to turn over a new leaf. “We cannot restrict; we must have friendly relations. What has happened in the past, all the time we should not repeat it," said Sushilkumar Shinde, the Indian Home Minister. “Cricket as a sport is certainly welcome. It should be free from politics.” Smruti Koppikar, a columnist for the Hindustan Times and a Mumbai resident, disagrees. “For many of us, there's a sense of betrayal [...] a feeling that revenues from these cricket matches – to the Boards, sponsors, whoever else – carry more currency than our need for justice in the 26/11 attack.” India's newly appointed Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, seems content to stay on the fence. “It is always possible to review any decision we take. […] My understanding of dealing with difficult situation with neighbours has been that we do put aside some issues on which there isn’t an immediate resolution, and we continue with those issues on which consensually it is possible to have improvement of relations.” So, who's right? Should politics and sport interact? Are cricket players adequate representatives for Pakistan's role in the Mumbai attacks? As a New Zealander, I've grown up in a country that has a history of mixing sport and diplomacy. Our Government joined the international cricketing blockade of South Africa during the apartheid years; since South Africa's readmission to the fold in 1992, we've built relations on the back of multiple cricket tours. Conversely, to test whether a line could in fact be drawn between sports and politics, we allowed South Africa's rugby team – the Springboks – to tour New Zealand at the height of the apartheid regime in 1981. It resulted in mass protests, including two so intense that matches were cancelled. Sport, it seemed, could not stand clear of politics, whether by the government's or the electorate's interference. New Zealand's rejection of apartheid is a relatively simple matter compared with the turbulent nature of India-Pakistan relations. I don't expect to ever fully understand how it feels to be on either side; all I know for sure is that there are friendly, reasonable, intelligent and kind people in both countries, and some of them still feel genuine hatred for the other. I'd like to think that it's in everyone's best interests to be able to carry out a cricket match without worrying about the politics involved, but the lessons of the Springbok tour suggest that isn't really possible. Posts by friends on Facebook and Twitter in the days since the Pakistan tour itinerary was announced would seem to back that up. The political conflicts – Kargil, Mumbai and all – are unavoidable, not so much the elephant in the room as the bull in cricket's china shop. As a cricket fan, I hope the tour produces some good contests and strong individual performances. Both Pakistan and India have some outstanding players, and Pakistan are looking more together as a team than they have for years. For these reasons, it would be nice if the matches could go ahead. Nevertheless, the political context surrounding the tour looks likely to be remembered for a lot longer than the cricket itself. More than casting a shadow over the cricket, politics is an active participant in it. Politics is the dressing-room tyrant, the meddling administrator, the naming rights sponsor and potentially even the star player. This is just how it is with India versus Pakistan. Photo credit: Dear NRI readers why not connect with us on the following social media platforms. Click here to join our Facebook Fan Page Click here to join our LinkedIn Group

1 Comment

  • Akanksha Dureja
    Akanksha Dureja
    06.11.12 11:25 AM
    Oh when it is India Vs Pak, it is not just a cricket match, it is a war!!!

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