By B. Raman
The feel good atmosphere generated by the “wide-ranging conversations” between Prime Ministers Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Yousef Raza Gilani at Mohali on the margins of the India-Pakistan World Cup Cricket semi-final on March 30 should not be allowed to be dissipated over the subsequent expression of hard feelings in Pakistan over what they consider as the obnoxious treatment amounting to mental torture meted out to the Pakistani team by large sections of the Indian media in the run up to the semi-final in an allegedly orchestrated attempt to break the morale of the Pakistani team.
The feelings of hurt in this regard are reflected in an article titled “On the debris of defeat” written by well-known columnist Syed Talat Hussain in the April 4 issue of the “Dawn” of Karachi. I am annexing the entire text of the article for easy reference. The “Dawn” had also carried on April 1 an interview with Shahid Afridi, the Pakistani captain, which was quite negative vis-a-vis India and the Indian people as compared with his positive comments at Mohali, which were praised by many, including myself. The interview is available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/01/afridi-back-home.htm. Afridi’s negative comments in his latest interview would not invalidate our praise of him after the Mohali match.
In some of the interviews given by him to sections of the Pakistani media before Mohali, the feelings of hurt nursed by him and his team over the negative projection of the team’s professional integrity and morality by sections of the Indian media were evident, but he had kept his feelings apparently under control and did not allow them to affect his interactions with our media at Mohali.
Hardly a few hours after the team returned to Pakistan, these feelings of hurt are coming out from columnists as well as the players. We can’t just dismiss them as “sour grapes”. Nor should we counter them by pointing out that sections of the Pakistani media were as nasty as sections of our own media.
I notice that the feelings of hurt in Pakistan are not only over the negative coverage by sections of the Indian media, but also over the way (according to them) India has sought to isolate and humiliate Pakistan in the field of international cricket. The following is a typical comment which I took from the “Readers’ Comments” in the “Dawn” : “He (Afridi) is very right…look at Indian behaviour to Pakistanis in IPL. In champions league all countries teams are invited other than Pakistan. ICC management has been occupied by Indians mostly, and they are isolating Pakistan from International Cricket. We all know here in Pakistan. But we don’t care, as our team is top team of cricket and can beat any team in world on the day.”
More than any other comment, those of Afridi have received considerable attention in the Indian world of Twitters. Last night, I saw a mini-Tsunami of Tweets on Afridi’s latest interview. Why this sudden metamorphosis in him? Is the real Afridi the one we are seeing now in Karachi and not the one we saw at Mohali? Is he recanting under pressure from the extremists? What would be the implications of this pressure on the exercise for a “re-engagement” and “re-connecting” set in motion at Mohali by the two Prime Ministers? These are some of the questions being furiously tweeted around.
I also noticed the following two comments by Susan Koshy from India in the “Dawn”:
“It is very very very sad to (see) this video. First of all the interviewer is very aggressive and full of assumptions and asking leading questions based on her assumptions. Yes, it is true that the media in India are very jingoistic, loud and opinionated. But I have seen that on Pakistan TV too on my visits to Pakistan. There are also some parts of India that are more reasonable in their views. But I didn’t think that the spirit of the game in Mohali was aggressive at all – in fact that is what Afridi said too immediately after the match. We enjoyed having Pakistani people, cricketers with us for the game. That was how we experienced the game. So it is really very very very sad to hear this interview. I wonder if this interviewer has ever been to India? Doesn’t seem like it from her horrible tone and arrogance.”
“I hope the aggressive interviewer (almost doctored interview) reads the lovely article written by Maheen Sadiq on To Afridi with Love. That was the spirit of the match as we experienced it and not the really sad comments made in this video. I have visited Pakistan and experienced an obsessive media there too. I do get very angry media in India but I experienced something similar there too.”
We must take note of the feelings of hurt and bitterness coming out of Pakistan. But we should not allow these to create self-doubts in our mind about the wisdom of the exercise set in motion at Mohali. Even if Afridi’s negative comments are not under pressure that should not be allowed to vitiate the Mohali spirit
Meaningful and tension and bitterness free re-engagement between the two countries is not for tomorrow. It is going to be a long drawn-out process with ups and downs and zigs and zags. We should persist with this exercise for as long as we can without allowing the extremists to derail it.
Having said that, I will be dishonest if I do not say one thing in conclusion; I do hope Mr. Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari will be able to resist any presuure from the extremists to abandon this exercise. Reading between the lines of the “Dawn” article, I get a disturbing feeling that Mr.Gilani was probably under pressure from the extremists not to honour the Pakistani team for having let down Pakistan.
I keep my fingers crossed.
ANNEXURE ( Article carried by “Dawn” on April 4)
On the debris of defeat
By Syed Talat Hussain
THE ICC World Cup semi-final in Mohali offers us two important insights. The first is a wide-spectrum sample of public opinion trends in India about Pakistan. The second relates to our national attitude of complacency in the aftermath of defeat.
The run-up to the match showed the reality of the much-hyped Indian desire for peace with Pakistan. Here was a great opportunity for the Indian media to win the hearts and minds of friends from Pakistan by showing grace and courtesy. But what was served was nothing less than national-level sledging, lasting for days.
The host nation took special care of the Pakistani squad. Large sections of the media tore into the Pakistani team and its captain as if this was an invading army from another world. In the name of debate, targeted frenzy was worked up against the green-shirts.
Matters became particularly uncivilised as the semi-final approached. The campaign was nothing short of a psychological warfare zeroing in on Pakistan. With the use of selective data and controversial instances, derision was freely heaped on the team. Kapil Dev talked about ‘how little Pakistanis have to cheer about’. Ravi Shastri, who loses his reason when the Indian team gets even a slight drubbing, compared the visitors with a rickety rickshaw, while the Indian squad, in his opinion, was a BMW.
On local channels the attack was particularly poisonous. In several shows, where Indian film stars and music divas rooted for their team before large audiences, ridiculing Pakistan was the norm.
We know media nationalism can hijack objectivity. It can lead to distortions. It can generate propaganda. This happens in Pakistan all the time. In that context, some of the content that was broadcast or written by the Indians about Pakistan could perhaps pass off as tolerable. But the scope of this campaign, which continued well after the match, was too large and the focus too specific to be ignored as a momentary loss of balance caused by the raging passion to win against arch rivals.
More worryingly, even some among the seemingly most liberal segments of society, who generally scoff at anti-Pakistan hysteria in their own country, had nothing but barely hidden contempt when it came to discussing issues related to their neighbour. No other country, or team, was subjected to this torment — a point made by Shahid Afridi, the Pakistani captain, before the match.
It was almost as if the Mohali match had given the whole of India a season ticket to trash Pakistan. Cricket appeared to be an instrument to unleash collective contempt. This Mohali experience contrasts sharply with the popular narrative about the growing peace constituency in India that wants to treat Pakistan with respect and believes in the principle of parity of nations. At a critical time when convincing messages of brotherhood could have been packaged with courtesy and sent across the borders to Pakistan with love, the mail received from India contained little other than hate.
The second insight that the Mohali event offers is just as important as it calls for a serious revision of the way we have chosen to respond to our defeat. A fake legend of heroism is being pushed out of our pathetic performance. The central message of this campaign is that we should ‘ask no question, hear no criticism, and make no complaint’ against our team because ‘we love them’.
The mantra that is spamming inboxes is primarily led by commercial organisations that have big contracts with some of the players. After the match these organisations have a problem: the poster-boys who rope in customers have suddenly developed feet of clay. This is disastrous for marketing. Continued hero worship is therefore vital for the image of the brands the cricketers represent. And this can only happen if the nation is told that somehow the mess in Mohali is marvellous for Pakistan’s cricket.
But apart from this there is a disturbing national tendency to sweep failures under the carpet. So when Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif — in whose province thousands of doctors have been on strike for weeks demanding higher wages — offered cash to the players he was as much playing politics as he was endorsing this sorry trend.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani too wanted to fete the team for having reached the semi-final. Suddenly failure to make it to the finals has become a point of great pride, a matter of honour rather than cause for reflection and course correction.
But this is not surprising. We have consistently rewarded incompetence. We have a culture of complacency that simply lowers the bar of achievement instead of raising the game to the level where the best compete and win.
It is this criminal compromise with slackness and rank stupidity that has produced fake degree holders who flaunt their credentials with impunity and a band of corrupt-to-the-bone individuals who hold high offices. Mohali offers us a dozen points to ponder, about cricket, about the odds we face and the character we exhibit under pressure. But we will only face more Mohalis in every field of life if we, as a nation, stay proud as a peacock and prance around the debris of our defeat. We will be fooling no one except ourselves.