Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cricket with Pakistan: India Hits Its Own Wicket Again

Sushant Sareen
Senior Fellow, VIF


It would be really interesting to know what exactly prompted the BCCI to invite Pakistan for a short cricket series in India later this year. Who raised this matter in the BCCI meeting and who all supported the decision? Where did the pressure come from – was it the PMO that took the decision and got the BCCI to rubber-stamp it? Did the CBI investigation in the Jaganmohan Reddy case have anything to do with the BCCI agreeing to host Pakistan? Or was it only the lure of lucre that prompted the BCCI to take this decision? Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: the Pakistanis have been proved right in their assessment of India as a namby-pamby country with a leadership that has made appeasement a pillar of foreign policy. Even worse, the Pakistanis would also be sniggering about how their stereotyping of India as a country of ‘banias and lalas’ who would do anything to earn an extra buck has come true, yet again.

Clearly, just as the Romans had their spectacles to befool the public and distract its attention, the Indian political leadership uses cricket as the opium to lull the masses into believing that all is now well with Pakistan and the bonhomie on the field (and off it during the series) is real and not contrived. It is another matter that when Shahid Afridi goes back after the World Cup semi-final, he makes disparaging remarks about Indian (or was it Hindu?) hospitality. Or when Sohail Tanvir is asked about the ban on Pakistani players in IPL, he blithely says that this is the ‘Hindu Zeheniat (mentality)! While Indians go overboard in welcoming Pakistanis, they would do well to remember the example of a renowned Pakistani ghazal singer who inadvertently told an Indian diplomat (who he thought was a Pakistani diplomat in India) that he enjoys the money and the booze in India but at the end of the day he doesn't forget that Indians are Kafirs. Of course after he was blacklisted and the black money and Black Label stopped flowing, the Kafirs became kosher!

A former Indian foreign secretary had once dismissed Pakistan's raising of the Kashmir issue at the UN as ‘the annual itch’. It now seems that India too has a ‘Pakistan itch’, what with politicians suffering withdrawal symptoms after a few months of disengagement. Not surprisingly, having received no satisfaction whatsoever on the issue of terrorism from Pakistan, the Indian leadership has reconciled itself to the unrelenting export of terror from Pakistan and come to the conclusion that there is nothing India can do except turn the other cheek. Talk to top officials and policymakers and it becomes clear that India is forging its Pakistan policy on the premise that its only hope lies in making a dent on Pakistan's unremitting hostility through promotion of trade and people-to-people relations. Even the earlier pretence of punishing/penalising Pakistan for exporting terrorism into India has now been given up.

A justification of sorts for resuming bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan has been given by Manish Tiwari, a spokesman of the ruling Congress party, who put forward the specious argument that politics and sports should not be mixed. For the ruling party to make such an argument means that it puts terrorism and mass murder in the category of politics. The bizarre corollary of this is that India will not break off sporting contacts even if there is another 26/11 type outrage because doing so would tantamount to mixing politics with sports. Indeed, if politics and sports should not mix, then why was South Africa boycotted when it practised Apartheid and why was India so reluctant on sporting contacts with Israel in order to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause? A leading light of the BCCI who is also a minister in the Central Government has been a little economical with the facts when he said that India played cricket with Pakistan even after the 1965 and 1971 wars and after the Kargil war. The facts are otherwise. Bilateral sporting contacts with Pakistan remained suspended for over a decade and only restarted in 1978. If at all there were any sporting contests, then it was at international events in which India did not have a choice but to play against Pakistan. The commencement of bilateral sporting contacts did not however lead to any improvement in the bilateral relations and in fact every time India resumed bilateral series, it opened itself to terrorist attacks (or should we says Pakistani politics?) first in Punjab, then in Kashmir and now in rest of India.

Apart from the disingenuous logic of the ruling party apparatchiks, the decision to once again resume bilateral cricketing ties with Pakistan is also a classic example of the complete absence of statecraft in this government. Given that one constantly hears the lament that India doesn’t have enough leverages over Pakistan, it is a little shocking how cavalierly India treats even the leverages it has. What should have been used as a reward for Pakistan if it delivered on bringing the planners and perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks to justice has been handed on a platter to Pakistan only so there can be some improvement in the atmospherics.

All this in large part appears to be motivated by the burning desire of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit the land of his birth. Not that this visit will bring about any paradigm change in the state of Indo-Pak relations, unless of course the Indian government wants to play Santa Claus and bear gifts of Siachen and Sir Creek for the Pakistanis. The problem, however, is that these gifts will only whet Pakistan's appetite for more – Kashmir next? The other problem regarding the proposed visit (probably towards the end of the year) is that there will be no credible interlocutor with whom the Indian PM can engage with, at least not before March/April 2013. By the time his visit comes through, Pakistan will either have a lame-duck Prime Minister in office in Islamabad, or a caretaker PM (who in any case cannot make any far-reaching political decision). Therefore, unless Dr Singh intends to hold a dialogue with either Gen Kayani or Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry or even the rising stars of Pakistani politics (a certain Mr Hafiz Saeed or his ideological alter ego, Imran Khan), his visit to Pakistan is going to be quite pointless.

All this aside, what is inexplicable is how Indian governments go out of their way to pull Pakistan out of the hole it keeps digging for itself. Every time Pakistan starts getting isolated in the international community, guess who comes to its rescue? India. After giving respectability to Gen Pervez Musharraf by inviting him to Agra, India has now once again taken a step to resurrect and rehabilitate Pakistan's image in the international community. While Indian officials never stop berating the Americans and Europeans for mollycoddling Pakistan despite its rank bad behaviour, the Republic of BCCI and the Republic of India have gone ahead and done something similar to what the West does. One can only wonder how the Americans will react when after the next terror attack India once again goes running to Uncle Sam asking him to take action against Pakistan.

Meanwhile, let us all put on our flannels and get ready to host Pakistan and fete Dawood Ibrahim’s close relative, Javed Miandad, in either The Oberoi, or better still in The Taj Mahal hotel. After all, isn’t cricket a religion in India and isn’t it true that cricket is ‘bigger than us all’ and the thousands who have died in terrorism are only a mere statistic?

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