Samir Chopra September 23, 2008

Why India is not Pakistan

There is a quite simple reason why teams tour India rather than Pakistan

A couple of days ago on Different Strokes, I wrote that it would be fun to start talking about the playing of cricket again. Today, I'm going to ignore my advice and talk about cricket's political context. The recent bombing in Islamabad has forced my hand.

Folks might remember that Australia's decision to tour India had resulted in extremely loud denunciations of its "hypocrisy" in choosing to go to one country where bombs go off and making excuses to not go to another where bombs go off as well

I'd suggest the Aussies are on reasonably good ground, if what guided their decisions is their overall perception of the countries. There is a quite simple reason why teams tour India rather than Pakistan. Pakistan has been in the headlines (literally) for a very, very long time with regards to its internal political instability and violence. Think about all the things the West associates with Pakistan since 1979: Afghanistan, the mujahideen, refugee camps, military coups, the Taliban, the ISI, assassinations, the wild Northwest, fear of nuclear weapons falling into jihadi hands, Dr Khan's proliferation network, the Daniel Pearl beheading, the list goes on. And when a country is led by Army generals for a long time, it is quite difficult to remove the aura of political instability around it. Pakistan's problems have been on the West's radar for a very long time and are associated with a set of issues that the West is obsessed about. No one in the US or UK gives a hoot about the PWG in India or violence in the North-East or wherever, no matter how many Indians die. The patron of the Pakistani government, the US, has elevated and demoted Pakistan simultaneously to problem child and critical geo-political player.

And since 911, Pakistan cannot stay out of the news even if it wanted to. Pakistan's violence appears systemic, and embedded in a larger narrative about the "unstable, violent, Islamic world". India's violence appears sporadic, and discordant with a broader narrative about the rising economic superpowers of Asia. I live in the US and the constant stream of articles in the press about Pakistan's wild NorthWest, the ISI's implication in the activities of the Taliban, and the prospects of its civil government falling next year to another military coup is supplemented by articles about India's corporations going on acquisition sprees, the growth rate of the Indian economy, Snoop Dogg going to Bollywood and so on. Under these circumstances, I'm a little surprised that so many people consider the Australians utter and total hypocrites. This is the information they read about on a daily basis. Why wouldn't their perceptions of the country in question be affected?

I'm willing to bet good money that more English and Aussie backpackers have visited India than Pakistan in the last seven years. Are they also all hypocrites? Are they all also getting fat checks from the BCCI when they alight from their flights at Delhi International Airport? What guided their decisions?

The clincher is in the comparison between how the Delhi and Islamabad bombings were covered. Delhi did not even make it to the front page of the New York Times. Heck, it was hard to find any coverage on it. But the Islamabad incident went to the front page and stayed there. Why? Because this is supposed evidence of Pakistan's vulnerability to the Al-Qaeda and so on and so forth. Delhi's bombings? Oh, the usual stuff the US can't care about. I wonder if the Presidential candidates even commented on it

Pakistan's violence is of interest to the West. It imagines its interests are implicated there. This brings attention. Plenty of it, and it ensures that the country acquires a scary aura. And honestly, if folks read that in the Pakistani capital, a 600 kilo payload of high-explosive can be transported in, assembled, and then driven around in a VIP area, then, well, what reassurance can the PCB provide to already apprehensive boards?

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Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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