Our limited crossovers By Asha’ar Rehman - Tuesday 29th March 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/29/our-limited-crossovers.html

CRICKET diplomacy is bringing India closer and closer to Pakistan: we began in Jaipur in 1987 and have now progressed up to Mohali via Delhi.
That we are still so heavily dependent on these metaphorical bridges and on the occasional possible run-up to peace afforded by the old gentleman’s game is symbolic of just how limited our crossovers have turned out to be.
As for real Pakistan-India progress, a few lines by the very learned Omar Kureshi in his narration of the second day’s play in the February 1987 Jaipur Test would perhaps sum it up: “The morning session was watched by President Zia and he was introduced to the two teams. Just as well he left at lunch. The cricket was hardly worth watching.”
All these years, the peace-loving people of Pakistan and India have been subjected to what the kind and very proper Mr Kureishi wouldn’t even wish on a dictator. It is as if those who negotiate on our behalf are forever aiming for a no-result.
The two countries have been attempting to know each other well for long, and while the pressure on them to move forward may be greater today than was the case in the past, this is where the relationship is still stuck.
Some 24 years ago, Gen Ziaul Haq hopped over to Jaipur to watch a game and he returned to boast about the ‘sixer’ he had hit in India — the ensuing laughter at the post-visit press conference in Islamabad denying the general a chance to elaborate as to what his ‘six’ actually stood for. But just as he couldn’t explain an uppish shot and couldn’t tell “a googly from off spin”, the two countries also did not know much about each other back then.
It was a closed world. Mr Gorbachev had wished the two neighbours on the subcontinent well in their much-flaunted endeavour to befriend each other, but the presence of pre-global market curtains here had blocked cross-border views as it did in other parts of the world. Back then, when the Pakistan press wrote about Jaipur, it hadn’t quite worked out whether to capitalise the ‘p’ in the Pink City.
Zia’s was essentially an attempt to defuse tension on the borders. As he came back, however, he brought us rain from Saint Chishti — his own auspicious visit to Ajmer Sharif having earlier ended a long dry spell in the area.
“During this period [the period of Zia’s stay in the city], Ajmer Sharif and the adjoining areas, he [Zia] pointed out, had received rain which broke a four-year-long drought …The rain was considered a great blessing by the people. On reaching home, he [Zia] said their plane also landed in pouring rain which the Punjab governor Makhdoom Sajjad Hussain Qureshi said was a great boon for wheat.”
This extract from a news report on Gen Zia’s visit is sufficient proof that the saints were conspiring for a cooling down of temperatures but Zia’s death a year and a few months later ended the partnership. Instead, emerged children whose birth is easily traced to the times and needs that Gen Zia fathered. They would rather wield the gun than wave a bat, brought up as they have been on the ideal that identifies many of our loves including cricket as evils.
Gen Musharraf resumed the cricket thrust from where Gen Zia had left off — in Ajmer Sharif, in the year 2005 — but despite instances where he really appeared to be showing off his qualities he was ultimately too modest to trade in anything, much less in the elements, with the great Khwaja Gharib Nawaz. In the end, all he could bring us back was a municipal certificate which, while it reconfirmed that he was born in Delhi, disputed his assertion about the time of his birth.
In a very literal sense though, cricket had drawn the two countries closer. During Gen Musharraf’s cricketing visit in April 2005, the venue had shifted from the dull and dreary scene inside Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh stadium to the brisk and lively proceedings in Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi. Diplomacy had adopted fast-track one-day ‘international’ mode. The implication was that the world was watching and the game could no more end in stalemate.
Tellingly, according to his own estimates, Gen Musharraf found the situation in 2005 much more conducive for a push for peace in comparison to 2001 when he had left Agra in a huff. The two countries had come perilously close to war in 2002, yet these tensions were followed by developments that raised hopes of a meaningful advance beyond the symbolic.
Significantly, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service had just been flagged off when the Pakistani president landed in the Indian capital for the ODI in 2005. In the background of the Pakistani government’s effort to stop militant crossovers into the valley, there was talk of using the ceasefire line in Kashmir as a bridge rather than just as a divide. But the
promise has since been made to fight hard against a set of old fears, and the November 2008 attack on Mumbai has been the biggest factor in the stalling of the initiative the two governments had been brought around to taking.
The semi-final match between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani comes at a time when the relationship is in need of a new partnership. Yet in a reflection of just how crazily divisive sport can be contrary to its stated objectives, the crowd would rather have their leaders bring good luck to the players on the field on April 30 than put peace back on track.
The alternative practice of theatrics that is supposed to rid the people of their warring tendencies has been enacted again and again on cricket grounds contributing to instead of detracting from passions. After all Zia may have been right in his choice of interventions for the subcontinent’s problems. Rain beckons as a solution for the war in Mohali tomorrow.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

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