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Current Affairs ( 27 March 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Playing with India

By Ghazi Salahuddin

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has batted well to lob what Geo’s World Cup song has tunefully been exhorting as “aman ka chukka”. By inviting Pakistan’s prime minister and president to India to watch the semi-final between the two countries in Mohali on Wednesday, he has launched another spell of ‘cricket diplomacy’. But will it be more rewarding this time than its previous incarnations?

In any case, this essentially hopeful development has added to the frenzy that is building up for what will be the mother of all World Cup matches. We can be sure that the final, which one of our two countries is destined to play, will not match this excitement. The very thought of India and Pakistan battling it out for cricketing honours is electrifying.

As for cricket diplomacy, we may recall that it was initially the initiative of General Zia-ul-Haq, who went to Jaipur to watch an India-Pakistan cricket match in 1987. A couple of years later, of course, events in Kashmir totally spoiled the pitch on which the two countries were playing their diplomatic games.

And since relations between out two countries have been a roller-coaster, there was this spectacle in 2004 when Rahul Gandhi, possibly a future prime minister of India, and his sister Priyanka came to Karachi in March 2004 to watch a cricket match. During the same Indian tour, Lahore presented a show of love and friendship between cricket lovers of the two countries that is truly memorable.

Then, General Pervez Musharraf was in New Delhi in April 2005 to watch Pakistan rout India in a one-day played at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground. And his visit was marked by some unprecedented declarations of friendship. I was there at that time and it was a very festive occasion. Manmohan and Musharraf went so far as to talk about borders eventually becoming irrelevant. There were hints that the Kashmir puzzle was about to be solved.

You see, we have our memories of playing cricket and playing other games, mostly as spirited enemies. There were times when we were not even talking to each other. It is a history that would baffle the rest of the world, considering that ‘aman ki asha’ has forever been throbbing in the hearts of most of the people of both countries.

Talking of memories that are associated with cricket between India and Pakistan, I must refer to that extremely touching encounter with history that attended the visit of Dina Wadia, the only child of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to Pakistan in March 2004. I was rather pleased with writing this first sentence of the column published in this newspaper on March 28: “Wearing her father’s features on her face, Dina Wadia came to Pakistan to watch cricket”.

This was her first visit to a country founded by her father, after she had attended his funeral in 1948. She watched the one-day final of the Indian tour in Lahore’s Qaddhafi Stadium, with her son Nusli Wadia. Her two grandsons had also come to see Pakistan. I remember that she did not speak to the media.

Naturally, she flew to Karachi to place a floral wreath on the imposing mausoleum of the Quaid and what she wrote in the visitors’ book is the only evidence of her emotional state of mind. She wrote: “This has been very sad and wonderful for me. May his dream for Pakistan come true”.

Can Manmohan Singh and the leaders of Pakistan move forward to bring us closer to the realisation of the Quaid’s dream? We should be encouraged by the fact that the stage for reconciliation between the belligerent neighbours has fairly been set by such initiatives as ‘Aman ki Asha’, launched by the Jang Group and the Times of India Group. This has been assisted by other civil society movements. A peace delegation from India is about to conclude its tour of Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Aman ki Asha’s second strategic seminar was held in Karachi, bringing together some noted experts from both countries to underline the logic for peace. This ‘Re-engaging for peace’ seminar was inaugurated with a presentation from the French and the German ambassadors to show how animosities that were nurtured for centuries could be set aside by exigencies of history.

The point, simply, is that India-Pakistan relations are reaching a point where a meaningful breakthrough is very possible. Whether cricket diplomacy at this time can make any contribution to this process or not is something else. But I am tempted to make another diversion in this reference to how cricket is intertwined with the history of South Asia.

On Wednesday this week, we celebrated Pakistan Day. Every year, we do so in a ritualistic manner. But this year, the Day was celebrated by our cricket team when it demolished West Indies in the World Cup quarter-final. It became a gift of joy for the nation. How history may have cast its shadow on this victory is something that was not fully brought out.

Well, you know that on Pakistan Day we now invoke the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940. There was this allusion to “states” in the Resolution that was later amended. Be that as it may, we played the game on Pakistan Day in what was once East Pakistan. Moreover, the stadium in which the match took place in Mirpur is named after Shere Bangla – the venerable leader from East Bengal who had proposed the Lahore Resolution.

Coming to cricket itself, I do not have much to say because I have no expertise in the game. I can only applaud the potential that this game has to unite the country in an expression of national pride at a time when we are surrounded by difficulties. Talking of memories, I cannot forget the exhilaration of winning the World Cup in 1992. I happened to be the editor of the Karachi edition of this newspaper at that time and we had splashed the news across the front page with this banner headline: “We rule the world”.

Let us hope we can do that again. We know that sports events have the power to transform the national mood. So many countries in the world are addicted to football and the World Cup held recently in South Africa was a much bigger story than this Cricket World Cup. There are examples of how an international victory can have lasting effects on the politics of a country.

So, fasten your seat-belts and wait for Wednesday. We can be sure that the masses in both countries will watch the game with bated breath. Finally, only one team will go to the final. Let us pray that cricket diplomacy can somehow bring victory to both sides.

Source: The News