By Muhammad Nawaz Khan
Cricket diplomacy at best is part of public diplomacy, or Track – Two as it is called in the subcontinent, shod of pomp and officialdom. It should be just an opportunity to share something that is common to the two nations, the mania of cricket. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the Cricket World Cup semi-final between the two countries is not quite a googly — cricket diplomacy has been used in the past — but can something come of the gesture?
As for cricket diplomacy, we may recall that it was initially the initiative of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1987, using a cricketing occasion; he went Jaipur to watch an India-Pakistan cricket match and met Rajiv Gandhi and consequently watered down mutual mistrust. In 2005, Gen Pervez Musharraf visited India to watch a cricket match and met Manmohan Singh to revive talks on Kashmir. What is unique in the visit of Gilani is that it is the first time a civilian representative of Pakistan is practising cricket diplomacy with India. That the two prime ministers met at Mohali on Wednesday in an environment enlivened by a carnival is itself an achievement. Since their second meeting in February at Thimphu, this get-together should serve to help revive the ‘composite dialogue’ uninterruptedly. The safeguarding of peace is itself a challenge between the two countries. Efforts to enhance people-to-people contact to lessen mutual misunderstandings were shattered by the Mumbai episode.
Tracing their bi-lateral history, trust deficit has been the biggest problem facing Pakistan and India, since the last sixty-four years. Would this gulf would ever be bridged? Can Manmohan Singh and the leaders of Pakistan move forward to bring us closer to the realisation of the Quaid’s dream? Whether cricket diplomacy at this time can make any contribution to this process or not is something else. It is reviewed past instances of cricket diplomacy and moaned over its negative results. Let us pray that cricket diplomacy can somehow bring victory to both sides. This should be a matter of satisfaction seen against the background of the mistrust that has characterised India-Pakistan ties for six decades. More significantly, the Mohali meeting is a clear indication of the two prime ministers’ resolve to pursue the peace process despite the hurdles in the way, not the least of which is the opposition from the hawks in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet to a soft line towards Pakistan, and his weakened position because of the corruption scandals now rocking Indian politics. His Pakistani counterpart has troubles that include corruption allegations that cut pretty close to him personally. Now they want to meet for separate reasons. Quite possibly, Dr Singh wants the passionate India-Pakistan cricket duel to distract a public shocked by his government’s corruption. Dr Singh and Mr Gilani genuinely want to lower Indo-Pak tension levels to be better able to cope with the problem of intra-state conflict. They have met in the past and created good vibes but all in vain.
Last July’s talks in Islamabad were an unmitigated disaster, for the two foreign ministers achieved nothing, with the then foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi blaming the Indians for coming unprepared. The meeting of Indian Home Secretary Shri Gopal K Pillai and Pakistan’s Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry for two-day talks has revived the promises made with such fervour in Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2009. Both secretaries have paved the way now for the upcoming foreign secretaries meeting and then the foreign ministers meeting by reviving the peace process. It seems that finally wisdom has dawned on the representatives of both countries to coordinate a counter-terrorism plan by sharing intelligence in an organised manner. Hence they have announced that plans are afoot to establish a “terror hotline” to be used by the interior secretaries, which will allow real-time intelligence sharing on any perceived and real terror threats. By far, this is the furthest we have come in making any real headway in addressing the terror threat being faced by the region as a whole. It was also decided that both countries would be willing hosts for investigators — from India — and a judicial commission — from Pakistan — in connection with the Mumbai and Samjhauta Express attacks respectively. It is encouraging to see that the door is finally being opened to coordinate satisfactory investigations into the events that sabotaged the peace process. Both sides also agreed on visits by Pakistani and Indian delegations in connection with the Mumbai probe, and there was a marked understanding on what is a perennial problem — fishermen’s arrest and ‘inadvertent crossers’.
The resolution of Kashmir issue undoubtedly is a gateway to the regional peace and amity. Both India and Pakistan are under obligation to create conducive conditions for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute in consonance with the UN resolutions.
Shining India has captured the world’s imagination and the country’s rapid economic growth rate has meant that many of its citizens do not really care much for their neighbours. Despite of Indian economic growth, today 72% Indian are below the poverty line, if universal standard of the poverty are applied to this world second most populous country. Somehow, the people in Pakistan are facing a similar situation in the poverty level. It is in Pakistan’s interest to make the peace process meaningful because, in doing so; it can ultimately benefit from the economic cooperation and enhanced trade ties that will necessarily come about as a result of a lasting peace. The continued hostility and consequent arms race between India and Pakistan forced both the countries to divert their scant and precious resources to enhancing their defence capabilities, which they could have employed on the social and economic development and changing the economic situation of millions of people groaning under the weight of abject poverty. The region has a great potential for economic progress, waiting to be exploited to the advantage of the poor masses of the two countries. That however depends on ensuring peace in the region through the resolution of all disputes between the two countries. Hopefully the Mohali message should have drawn up a programmatic approach to bilateral relations, which in a near future Dr. Singh can carry forward during a long-overdue visit to Pakistan
(Muhammed Nawaz Khan is a Research Analyst at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be contacted at [email protected])