Thursday, April 7, 2011


Cricket diplomacy is not likely to be a success, as it has never been in the past

After almost a month of excitement and momentary despair, the Indian cricket team recreated history and finally won the ICC World Cup 2011. The madness peaked at the quarter finals stage when India were meeting Australia, and by the time it reached the semi-final stage, where India were to meet Pakistan, it was as if the entire nation had come to a stand still! Whatever said and done, at the World Cup stage a match between India and Pakistan is an unparalleled spectacle. At this stage, wherein a real time war is going on in everyone's mind on both sides of the border, expecting peace is seemingly foolish. And to think of cricket between the two nations as a platform for foreign policy implementation is equally stupid.

It showed during the recent visit of Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to Mohali to watch India-Pakistan match, in which he received as much coverage in our mainstream media as the players performing out in the middle did. This visit was touted as a new found opportunity to re-initiate peace talks with our neighbour, which is right now is passing through a very lean patch. Critics and cynics went all-out to analyse and predict the possible outcomes of this visit of the Pakistani PM. Obviously, it was a significant move by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to invite Gilani as a special guest for this particular match. But then how much of this gesture actually translates into a healthy relationship between the two nations is extremely doubtful. At least that is what one can say, going by the precedence of failures and futile summits and talks organised in the past.

To break ice with Pakistan has never been easy – be it through cricket diplomacy or be it through some other measure. “Cricket diplomacy cannot resolve disputes” is how Musharraf reacted during his last visit to India, and of course he had got a ground for making such a statement. Everybody remembers the futility of such a move in 2005 between Musharraf and Singh, even after they jointly declared that peace between the two countries was irreversible.

This 2005 General Pervez Musharraf visit to India for a cricket match was viewed as a step to end dispute over Kashmir but then it did not last long as a series of blasts believed to be carried out by Pakistan sponsored terrorist outfit, Lashkare- Taiba, rocked the suburban trains in Mumbai on July 11, 2006 killing hundreds. So much so that after the Kargil conflict there were calls to pull-off even cricketing relations with our dicey neighbour.

In fact, the fruits of cricket diplomacy have always been sour for India. It happened in 2004 when Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi accompanied Indian cricket team to Pakistan for cricket match series that ended a 10 years drought in cricket matches between the two nations. The then National Security Advisor, Brijesh Mishra, was also present there to see ‘The Declaration of Islamabad’ through, where President Musharraf promised that Pakistani soil would not be used to harbour terrorism! But the promise was not kept — as the situation in Kashmir deteriorated further just after this visit — compelling India to accuse Pakistan once again for all the obvious reasons. Something similar had happened way back in 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi invited the then Pakistani president Zia ul Haq to watch a test match between the two countries in Jaipur. However, by 1989 the terrorism and subversion in Kashmir had peaked to an extent that the two countries were back to square one.

It goes without saying that sports and diplomacy rarely make an eff ective cocktail. Globally, such visits are a very common phenomenon. One can sight presidents, prime ministers and heads of the state turning up for global sporting events on the host country’s invitation. A simple recall of big matches in the NBA, Olympics and FIFA would be enough to gauge the same. And such invitations and visits rarely convert into diplomatic ties and very rarely into meaningful peace talks. It would be really juvenile to assume such symbolism and gestures as diplomacy and silly to assume such visits as an avenue for peace talks especially between the nations that have a long history of friction. When a series of peace initiatives from the much touted Agra Summit to the Delhi-Lahore bus service failed to improve relations, then one such sport visit would be the last thing that can be considered as a stepping stone.

There have been numerous instances where fans have reacted violently during games. But this phenomenon is confined to India laone. During the 2004 AFC Asian Cup held in China, fans insulted Japanese national anthem during China-Japan match and expressed their anti-Japanese sentiment and some Chinese fans rioted outside the Beijing Worker's Stadium. In such situations, a few hours of a sugar coated visit during sporting event would not bring in major improvement in strained relations. Such a visit would only be seen as a goodwill gesture, not as an opportunity for peace talks, especially when the past is full of betrayals.

But then such an initiative by our Prime Minister would let the world feel our generosity and open-mindedness without expecting anything in return. Can anyone expect the same gesture for India from China or may be from North Korea for the United States for that matter? Nevertheless, the precedence gives us enough reasons for not being overtly optimistic about this meet, as there is a strong likelihood that it would fall flat on its face this time around as well! When it comes to sports – a sporting spirit of the inviting heads of state makes sense, but then using this as a platform for peace talks is a ‘silly-point’, and more so, when it is betweenIndia and Pakistan!


No comments:

Post a Comment