Written By: Muhammad Luqman
In February 1987, when Indian military exercises such as Brass Tacks along Pakistani border were at their peak, the President then, General Zia-ul-Haq, ventured to the Indian city of Jaipur to witness a Cricket test match between the two countries. Zia-ul-Haq’s meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi worked well and the fear of having a fourth Indo-Pak war was averted.
In April 2005, former President General Pervez Musharraf, in a bid to replicate this feat, visited India to witness the Indo-Pak match at Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in New Delhi. This visit helped the cricket diplomacy bring tempers down in the bilateral relations of the two nations.
During the 2011 World Cup, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani visited Muhali to witness the Semi Finals played between India and Pakistan. Though Pakistan lost the match, Gillani’s meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped normalize ties.
Cricket has always been a major factor in determining the bilateral relations in South Asia. How a mere cancellation of a test series affects the ties, is evident from the sour Pakistan-Bangladesh relations after a Bangladeshi court ordered the postponement of the Ban-Pak series in March 2012 that was scheduled to be held in Lahore.
Normal cricket ties between the India and Pakistan are spoiled every now and then. Observers believe that the Indian government has mostly been responsible for stopping the Indian team from playing against Pakistan; simply to attain political mileage in opposition, at the time of union or state elections, especially in the Hindi-speaking northern India. In addition to its own efforts, the Indian civil and military establishments have been encouraging the ultra-nationalist and Hindu revivalist forces like Shiv Sena, RSS, and Bajrang Dal, to stall the normalization of Indo-Pak cricket ties.
The recent siege of Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) headquarters in Mumbai, during the visit of Chairman PCB Shehryar Khan, and board member Najam Sethi, is an example of this ideology. This incident just worsened the relations that are already affected by the provocative firing incidents on the Line of Control and RAW activities in Balochistan and FATA. The behavior exhibited by the ultra-right group led to the cancellation of the meeting between the heads of PCB and BCCI, sealing the fate of any cricketing activity between India and Pakistan for the time being. The future of T-20 world cup in India is also hanging in balance after the Mumbai incident.
Shiv Sena has history of disrupting Indo-Pak cricket relations on many occasions. Its workers dug up the wicket at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in 1991 ahead of the India-Pakistan Test Match, forcing the cancellation of the series. In the year 2000, the Shiv Sena protests once again forced the Indian government to postpone the matches.
Apart from South Asia, different sports have always led to unity in other parts of the world. About a dozen Caribbean Sea nations have been contributing players to the West Indies cricket team for the last several decades.
The Sub-continent, home to about 1.5 billion population, has failed to benefit from this magic, which is cricket. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, due to their typical political and diplomatic conditions, may not participate in the world events as one team, but may play with one another without holding matches at neutral venues to help their home crowds enjoy cricket. To avail the true benefits of cricket diplomacy, both government and the people of these seven nations, have to play their due role.