Resumption of Indo-Pak cricket ties

When I first heard about the resumption of cricket ties between India and Pakistan, I was ecstatic. Plans were made with my Pakistani friends to go to India in December-January to watch the upcoming Indo-Pak series (three ODIs and two T20s). For a Pakistani cricket fan, this was a wonderful piece of news but for some Indians, it was simply unacceptable.

On July 17, this newspaper [MiD DAY] carried a hard-hitting editorial titled: ‘It can’t just be fun and games with Pakistan’. It was written, “India suspended all cricketing ties with Pakistan following the horrific attack by Pakistan-trained terrorists on November 26, 2008 across various, carefully chosen targets in Mumbai. The attack claimed 169 lives, and India should never forget that … Even if India and Pakistan would want to restart playing against each other (and it is indeed a noble sporting cause), the symbolism of suspended ties cannot be discounted.”

MiD DAY is not alone in voicing this criticism. Many Indian twitterati have also criticised the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) decision to host the Pakistan cricket team on Indian soil. With all due respect to MiD DAY and others who support their stance, I beg to differ. Sports and entertainment have no boundaries. When Mehdi Hassan sahib passed away, millions of his fans in India mourned his death. When Rajesh Khannaji passed away, millions of his fans in Pakistan were struck with grief. Suspending cricket ties is not going to help resolve anything. In fact, resuming cricket ties will lead to more camaraderie between the two countries.

No one can forget the gruesome attack in Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists; nobody can just ‘move on’. That is the most insensitive thing to expect from the Indians. After 26/11, the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan was also suspended. Fortunately, the governments of India and Pakistan realise that suspending dialogue is not a permanent solution. Likewise, suspending cricket ties is not a means to an end. Now that both countries are back on talking terms and moving towards normalisation of relations once again, inviting the Pakistan cricket team to India is indeed a good symbolic gesture. Pakistan and India have already played a match on Indian soil during the 2011 Cricket World Cup. It was the most exciting match of the tournament.

As President Asif Ali Zardari wrote to India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, “…cricket matches between our two countries would prove to be a formidable confidence building measure [CBM] and a way forward towards encouraging people-to-people contacts.”

It may be a cliché yet we cannot deny that cricket is a religion in the subcontinent. An Indo-Pak cricket series anywhere in the world would ensure a packed stadium and millions of viewers glued to their television screens. An Indo-Pak series in either India or Pakistan is even more of a success. Many cricket enthusiasts in India are also looking forward to some exciting cricket between the two sides.

Of course there are people on both sides of the border who have a deep-seated dislike for each other. Add to it Pakistan’s inability and/or lack of will to act against terrorists involved in cross-border terrorism. Many Pakistanis have demanded that the state should take strict action against terrorists involved in terrorism inside and outside the country. It will not just give a closure to the families of the 26/11 victims but the people of Pakistan would also benefit if terrorism is eliminated from our soil.

Dialogue and people-to-people contacts are essential for peace between the two countries. Last week, PeaceNiche organised the Pakistan-India Social Media Mela 2012 in Karachi. Almost all the Indians who attended the social media summit had come to Pakistan for the first time. They left with fond memories. One of the Indian participants, Annie Zaidi (@anniezaidi), tweeted: “Back home from the Social Media Mela in Karachi. A bit of baggage gained, some of it in the heart, & a bit of political baggage lost." Such is the power of people-to-people interaction.

I, for one, cannot wait for December. Here’s to wishing that there are many more like me on the other side of the border as well.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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