Pakistan cricket July 19, 2012

Cricket: A potent tool of diplomacy

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery
Whatever strides have been made for achieving thaws have been espoused by the love for cricket across the international border between India and Pakistan

Diplomacy is a vital cog in international relations; it is a process of amicably dissuading other states from doing something detrimental to a state's interest. It also includes the abdication of some secondary interests in lieu of some favours. However, states do not find the middle ground on their vital interests, and are not reticent to go to war for their protection.

Ever since, the inception of India and Pakistan, the region has witnessed, nothing but strained ties alternated with bouts of tranquillised milieus. There are various stumbling blocks, which continue to vitiate the relations between the two nemeses, but will not be delved upon in this piece.

Both nations resorted to diplomacy to ameliorate ties with each other, but as yet have failed to achieve the desired results. However, whatever strides have been made for achieving thaws have been espoused by the love for cricket across the 1610km long international border. To say that cricket binds the two nations together is ludicrous, for both nations lock-horns.

In order to look at the resumption of cricket ties in a broader spectrum, one needs to look at the past. The love for this dynamic game has been used as a tool of diplomacy. The fact that, Indo-Pak matches are or were in high demand, good relations were all the more imperative.

Cricket between the two nations started in 1952; the acrimony was same like that in the war zones, but due to wars and conflicts, cricket trysts were intermittent, yet riveting. For instance, when Shoaib Akhtar was steaming in at National Stadium Karachi on March 13, 2004, it was after 1989 that India came to Pakistan for a bilateral series.

The relation between cricket and diplomacy came to the forefront in 1987 with Operation Brasstacks, an Indian Army manoeuvre near its border with Pakistan that escalated tensions between the two countries. However, General Zia-ul-Haq was astute enough to visit India for ostensibly watching the Indo-Pak match, but it was a perfect example of cricket diplomacy; war was averted as Rajeev Gandhi and Zia sat together. Without doubt, cricket helped in avoiding disaster. The sheer euphoria of Indo-Pak encounters made the diplomacy possible. Again, due to strained relations both teams did not meet each other after June 3, 2000 till March 13, 2004, barring the World Cup 2003 encounter. This was mainly due to the aftermath of the attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. Again, operation "Parakram" brought both countries on the brink of war.

While responding to me, Mani Shankar Aiyar termed Musharraf's tenure as the golden epoch in Indo-Pak relations. True, the bilateral ties between the BCCI and the PCB resumed, with India's tour to Pakistan in 2004. Relations were bettered due to strengthened cricket ties and vice versa. We all witnessed enthralling cricket from 2004 to 2007, both in India and Pakistan. Celebrities went across the border for the explicit purpose of cricket. Even General Musharraf went to watch the ODI in Delhi on April 17, 2006 and had fruitful discussions with Dr Manmohan Singh. Things were going smoothly; Pakistani players adorned the first edition of the Indian Premier League, with Sohail Tanvir receiving the Purple Cap.

Soon, the ties were vitiated by the Mumbai attacks. War was imminent; cricket wilted under the virulence of terrorism. Since Pakistan's tour to India in 2007, both teams have only played eight ODIs in multilateral events, including the World cup semi final in Mohali on March 30, 2011. This match ended in a debacle for the Afridi-led team, but since both prime ministers along with their entourage had lengthy discussions, it paved the way for future permutations.

Since then we have seen a detente of some sorts. Off late, Sialkot Stallions, the champion of the domestic T20 tournament have been invited for the Champions League. Now, the BCCI has officially called Pakistan for a short tour in December. The tour will entail three ODIs and two T20Is.

Is this significant? Indeed. It is not only a sigh of relief for cricket lovers across the globe, but also for aspirants of peaceful co-existence. Cricket will open up avenues for resolving issues, or at the least purvey opportunities to delve on all bones of contention. It will augment people to people contact.

Having said that, cricket is not that potent a panacea for foisting peace. There are some grievous conflicts, which have jeopardised the region since the past so many years. Besides, these conundrums, skepticism and recriminations have left everyone in a huff. The only way out is to continuously embroil in a composite and certainly, cricket will kindle this process.