By Ayaz Amir
April 01, 2011
From the largely self-invented problems of the Islamic Republic cricket was a huge and splendid diversion, and while the fever lasted all the solemn and angry nonsense spouting from self-righteous throats about national honour and the rest was mercifully forgotten.
If there is a world prize for unrelenting bad news no marks for guessing which country would win it hands down: Pakistan. And here for a change was something ordinary Pakistanis could take pride in, the performance of its cricket team, battered by scandal though it was and beset by an administrative setup that would have re-sunk the Titanic. Yet, amid these bleak circumstances, coming from nowhere and going on to the semi-finals to play traditional rivals India. Surely something to be proud of.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is right to say he would be on hand to welcome the team. It deserves nothing less. But, if I may say so, he had no business saying that if the team won at Mohali each player would get 25 acres. This is exactly the kind of emotional excess, not to mention Mughal largesse; we should be avoiding as a nation, taking a game of cricket to be just that, rather than a matter of life and death.
And of course there is no cure yet, at least not in known medicine, for my friend Rehman Malik, less interior minister than verbal blunderbuss prone to go off at the most unexpected moment. About match-fixing he had to deliver a warning right on the eve of the match, further underscoring his great sense of timing. And then perhaps to make up for the fireworks, he had to go and offer special prayers at Faisal Mosque for the team’s success. It isn’t just our cricket team which cracks under pressure. Put any government of Pakistan on a stress test and it can be almost counted upon to behave in a silly manner.
And what got into the team itself to have itself photographed offering congregational prayers in the centre of Mohali ground during a training session? Whom was it trying to impress, the inscrutable powers above or the folks back home? All the world cup teams – all – subscribe to different faiths and it would be perfectly natural for them to call on the Most High for success and victory. But the kind of exhibitionism at which we somehow seem to excel, and which doesn’t embarrass us in the least, is best avoided. We don’t have to wear our faith on our sleeves.
Yes, yes, I know the standard mantra that we are God’s chosen people and Pakistan was created as a special gift from heaven (there is no shortage of Pakistanis who actually believe this). Still, it would improve the tone of things in Pakistan if we learnt to shout less about matters of faith. Why don’t we take a page from Bangladesh’s book? It is now not the Islamic Republic but the People’s Republic of Bangladesh but its Muslims are no less Islamic for this change of name.
The people of Pakistan, left to their own devices, for the most part are perfectly sensible in these matters, firm in their religious beliefs but going about their everyday lives without paying too much heed to the usual ranting of the clerical crowd. Indeed, throughout the history of Islam in the sub-continent, the role of the mullah has been largely confined to two functions: performing the nikah at marriage ceremonies and leading funeral prayers. The saint or the qalandar commanded popular respect and even adulation, not, alas, the fire-breathing maulvi.
The names of how many traditional mullahs have stuck in the popular imagination? But the names of Ali Hajveri, Lal Shahbaz and Moinuddin Chishti, to name only these three, are on everyone’s lips. And, such was the force of their example, not only on the lips of Muslims but Hindus as well. A Sikh will as readily dance to that heady song, timeless in its resonance, lal meri pat rakhio bala jhooley lalan, as any Muslim devotee of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
The Islam which Gen Ziaul Haq tried to force upon Pakistan was not the Islam of the sub-continent, not the Islam of Ali Hajveri or Lal Shahbaz. Its inspiration came from elsewhere – let discretion be my guide and let me not be more specific – and it received a fillip from the first Afghan ‘jihad’ when the CIA and Saudi Arabia and our own ISI came together in a broad coalition to counter the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
As was only to be expected, the US was pursuing its own interests – trying to weaken the Soviet Union – but Zia and his generals had convinced themselves they were fighting for the greater glory of Islam. From the seeds scattered in that struggle arose the ghosts and dragons haunting Pakistan today.
If the religious parties still don’t make much of an electoral impact we have to thank the good sense of the Pakistani people for that. But as seen in the recent agitation over the anti-blasphemy law they retain the power to influence the national agenda, while the mainstream political parties, despite enjoying popular support, somehow find it politically expedient not to resist them. Or perhaps it is just a lack of courage.
But one thing should be instructive and that is the reaction to the release of the CIA operative, Raymond Davis. The protests called by the religious parties petered out very quickly. Why? Because behind the deal which freed Davis was the deft and powerful hand of the ISI. If the federal government or any other entity had been involved, without the army’s concurrence or approval, there would have been hell to pay, with the religious parties taking to the streets in a stronger manner and the ‘patriotic’ media blaring its trumpets and not letting go.
We have seen protests but they have been of the muted kind, serving only to emphasise the hidden strings of agitation in Pakistan. Spare a thought for political governments which must put up with their own shortcomings and the tender affections of the guardians of national security. More than being an inherited condition, religious extremism is an acquired taste in Pakistan, the godfathers of national security having more to do with this acquisition than we usually care to think.
This has been a long digression. What does it matter if we lost? It was good while the euphoria lasted. We could forget our sorrows and, even if briefly, bask in the glow of a more uplifting experience.
Come to think of it, even losing may not have been such a bad thing. We are an emotional people given to over-excitement. If we had won wouldn’t the temptation have been strong to put down our victory to divine intervention rather than anything simpler or more mundane like the team’s own effort? The fortress-of-Islam explanation would have gone into over-drive, testing everyone’s nerves. The splash of cold water that defeat has meant is probably therefore just what we needed.
Even so, the nation owes the cricket team a debt of gratitude. Its performance surpassed all expectations and thrilled the entire nation. So let our players be welcomed warmly and let us pay greater attention to improving not just the prospects of cricket but other sports as well. More than GDP sport tells us about the state of a nation. If you are doing well on the field or in the gym it means you are okay in other departments of national life.
We have more than our share of hypocrisy and manufactured problems. It is more secular entertainment, more secular pursuits that we could do with. So here’s to our team...pass the ice, please...and may the next cricketing triumphs be ours.
Source: The News