After Mohali - Tanvir Ahmad Khan - Wednesday, April 06, 2011

In the early years of the post-independence era, one thought of the English language, constitutionalism, and the rule of law, as the defining features of the British legacy in South Asia. The just concluded World Cup, however, reminded us that the legacy is now dominated by the English language and cricket, and that South Asian cultures have imprinted their own signatures on them.

The region has added to the accents and styles in which English is spoken or written at the popular level. The ruling elite conduct business with one another and the rest of the world in a more or less standardised version of the language with such devotion to it that negotiations often become a matter of scoring points and a competition in its use. When it comes to cricket, a mass spectator sport in India, Pakistan Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a match between any two sides is an occasion to celebrate nationhood and work out historical tensions.

Several pundits in Pakistan have said that the Mohali semi-final with India bonded the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Pakistanis together as nothing else had done in recent times. The fabulous festivity in India after it won the championship showed that it was a celebration of India’s exalted place in the world. As to the British-ordained rule of law, the speculators demonstrated that it was now a low priority issue.

The Mohali match brought a vivid interface of cricket and diplomacy. It was as if Manmohan Singh had successfully loosened the knots that New Delhi’s powerful establishment uses to circumscribe his “vision” of better relations with Pakistan. The ensuing ‘Spirit of Mohali’ is now expected to flow into the deliberations of officials engaged in the resumed dialogue.

One doesn’t know what exactly transpired between the two prime ministers but the least one would expect would be that they have instructed the officials not to score points but move towards a resolution of differences. I accompanied General Ziaul Haq when he virtually invited himself to an Indo-Pakistan cricket match in India. The circumstances were even less propitious. There was much bitterness caused by huge mobilisation of troops during India’s Exercise brass-tacks.

The meeting with Rajiv Gandhi took place after considerable effort, but once it happened, the atmosphere improved perceptibly though, it also deteriorated rapidly when the Kashmiris launched a militant movement in late 1989. By the spring of 1990, the two countries were again on the brink of war.

One of the lessons from the past is that India and Pakistan should move faster at least when it concerns that which looks “doable”. The meeting between the Interior secretaries has gone well. The Siachin issue and Sir Creek now loom large as the outcome of the talks about them would indicate how far the Mohali spirit informs the negotiating postures. Progress in them may bring Manmohan Singh to Pakistan to open a new chapter. This in turn, may mark a fresh approach to issues of trade and investment.

It is also time to decide if the back channel on Kashmir would become operational again. The assumption that we can wait for a solution of the Kashmir dispute was challenged by the Kashmiri youth last summer. We may see greater impatience with India and Pakistan and a greater assertion of Kashmiri will in future.

The 1989 uprising was partly fuelled by what happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The present wave sweeping across the Arab world may galvanise the Kashmiris into stronger action in the coming summer. Mohali should inject a new urgency and momentum in India-Pakistan talks.

The writer is a former foreign secretary

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