Think India versus Pakistan and it immediately conjures up images of not only great sporting encounters but also of terrorism and acts of terror. It is impossible to separate the two in the minds of most Indians or Pakistanis because even though sport and terrorism are on the opposite side of the thought spectrum, in this case they are joined at the hip.
So when the Board of Control for Cricket in India decided to extend an invitation to Pakistan for a cricket series – three ODIs and two T20 matches – what are we supposed to make of it?
Sport, politics or money – what is driving the enterprise forward this time round? Or is it a genuine effort to simply find a way to try and counter terrorism?
PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf was prompt in accepting the invitation, saying: “Relations toh start ho. Relations bahal hone ke baad, phir baatein aage badegi.” (Let us at least make a beginning, once things get normal, we can then talk some more.)
There has been no international cricket in Pakistan post the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, and that has left PCB severely cash strapped. They need this more than India and that is why over the last year or so, they have been hounding the BCCI to put together an itinerary.
BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla pointed out that the BCCI and PCB already have good relations, and the Pakistani team has played matches in India in 2003 and 2004.
“Even after the Kargil War, and the 1965 and 1971 wars, Pakistani cricket teams toured India,” he said. “Even the public wants Indian and Pakistani teams to play against each other.”
We don’t know about the public but certainly the Boards will want this series to happen — they have been trying for a while but have been turned down by the Indian government. Even by conservative estimates, the valuation of this series will be pretty high however, it is impossible to imagine how those affected by the Mumbai 26/11 attacks will react to this news. Will it be possible for them to think of this series as solely a sporting event?
The difference between Kargil, the 1965 and 1971 wars and the 26/11 attacks was that for the first time civilians were attacked in such a vile manner. There was nothing covert about the operation and it scarred the minds of all those present or watching it forever. It also showed that neither the State, nor the army, nor the CBI, nor the RAW can guarantee anyone’s safety on Indian soil.
India and Pakistan should continue to meet on the cricket field but one also hopes that their encounters happen without the shadow of terrorism, politics and other climbers-on of the peace badwagon. Let the matches be about sport and to those who say that it is impossible, and then wouldn’t it be better to just wait till we arrive at some sort of concrete decision. While it is indeed, the political history of the countries that makes the rivalry an emotional, using it as a tool in today’s politics is futile.
India and Pakistan need peace but it’s not going to be achieved on the cricket field. That’s not going to fool anyone. We’ve seen it happen so many times, that we now listen to such news with disbelief — it may take just one more bomb blast or terrorist attack for the series to be called off again.
Honestly, peace is too big a burden for cricket to carry — so let the game be a sport and not an instrument of diplomacy. Let it not be used thus.