Cricket diplomacy - Dr Qaisar Rashid - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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Cricket diplomacy is the opposite of the notorious “gunboat diplomacy,” in which forces are deployed and coercion is used against the opponent. In the context of Pakistan-India relations, the history of diplomatic episodes in the name of cricket is not new. In 1987, using a cricketing occasion, Gen Ziaul Haq visited India to meet 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.

This diplomacy has the potential of giving an impetus to bilateral talks on the level of foreign secretaries. The talks have been at a virtual standstill despite the fact that at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 and at Thimphu (Bhutan) in 2010 the prime ministers of the two countries had affirmed the need for the resumption of the peace process.

It is interesting that sports diplomacy is taking precedence over public diplomacy. In that sense, the meeting will be a great opportunity for the easing of bilateral tensions and promotion of peace. The opportunity should be exploited to the fullest because Pakistan is already facing certain foreign policy challenges vis-a-vis India.

Pakistan has been trying to establish its parity with India, especially in the wake of the Af-Pak strategy declared by US President Barack Obama in 2009 which de-hyphenated Pakistan from India and hyphenated Pakistan with Afghanistan. Pakistan considers that in that way Pakistan has been degraded in terms of regional importance, and that resultantly the US has disturbed the strategic regional balance in favour of India. Subsequently, the US entered a nuclear- energy deal with India while, on the energy front, it offered Pakistan only renovation possibilities for the spillways of Tarbela Dam under the Kerry-Lugar Act of 2009. Pakistan has yet to find its rightful place at the regional and international levels.

The safeguarding of peace is itself a challenge between the two countries. Efforts to enhance people-to-people contact to lessen mutual misunderstandings were disrupted by the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Pakistan has been trying to restrain non-state actors from the crossing border and afflicting any harm on India. India seems skeptical that the military and the ISI are not under the control of the civilian government in Islamabad. The incumbent government has tried to distance itself from anti-India obsessions.

On its western border, Pakistan is facing a challenge to preserve the sanctity of its sovereignty. US-Nato forces are going all out to violate the border with drones, and are killing innocent civilians. On the eastern border, India still thinks that Mumbai-type attacks can take place again. Any new episodes of this kind are a source of worry for both India and Pakistan. The mistrust is at its height. India has already included in the list of issues to be discussed in bilateral negotiations the handing over of the planners of the Mumbai attacks who India believes were from Pakistan. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, had also been summoned by a court in the US in this regard. In fact, India has made the resolution of the issues surrounding the Mumbai attacks a precondition to talk on the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan has a potential for trade with India. The European Union, where mutual ideological and political differences were overlooked for the sake of collective economic benefits, is a good example of the benefits of mutual trade. Pakistan is still not looking at the world through the economic prism. To avoid pressures from the International Monetary Fund and to deal with the slights embedded in the Kerry-Lugar Act, Pakistan has to engage in regional trade to boost its economy. India is a part of the region and under the World Trade Organisation Pakistan has not yet given India the Most Favoured Nation status in trade.

The issue of Kashmir needs solution through political means, and not through military means. The dynamics have changed in the course of time. Armed with nuclear weapons, both countries must think differently now, instead of leaving everything in the hands of military strategists. Dialogue is a better way forward in the case of Kashmir.

Nevertheless, when the prime ministers of the two countries sit together for the sake of peace, the rivalry the two countries’ cricket teams display on the ground will keep the spirit of competition alive.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


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