Peace opportunity Saleem Safi Saturday, April 02, 2011

Pakistanis are not known for professionalism; we don’t know our bounds as journalists, judges, opposition leaders and rulers. Whoever succeeds in politics turns into a dictator, a little bit of fame turns journalists into self-styled leaders and experts, while judges follow whims instead of laws. We have developed the habit of treating ideological differences as personal insults. For us, sports, particularly cricket, are an intense passion bordering on craze.

We treat our matches with other teams as a war between Islam and non-believers, thus paralysing our routine life. Or we make it a point of discussion in every meeting and try to impose our views on sports on others. In such a situation, the sport becomes boring. However, many people are of the view that it is better to watch cricket, or talk about it, instead of slitting throats, making others’ lives miserable with protests and processions, dacoities, theft, backbiting, corruption and useless political analyses.

Notwithstanding the varied views on cricket, the sport has played a very important role in the context of Pakistan-India relations and their normalisation. For both of us, the game has domestically been a uniting factor and works to arouse nationalistic feelings. Without considering the ethnicity or region of Pakistani cricketers, people from across the country pray for each and for every player to bring glory to the game and to Pakistan. Our leaders like Asfandyar Wali leaves all business to watch cricket matches and his family pray for the win of our team. Similarly, Altaf Hussain wishes Afridi the best in the match and promises to give him a good reception on arrival at Karachi Airport.

Cricket has played a huge role in avoidance ofwars between India and Pakistan. This time round, the game has again become a source of rapprochement between the two countries. In the decade of the eighties, the two countries were on the verge of war, but Gen Zia found a good opportunity in a cricket match to visit India and cool the tempers through deft diplomatic messages.

This time round, the Mumbai attacks had already vitiated the atmosphere. Earlier, the tension had reached the stage of a war between the rivals. But once again the Indian prime minister proved mature enough to invite the Pakistani president and the prime minister to watch the Mohali cricket match to open the way for a new start between the two countries. Now, after the cricket mania has died down, the test of the two leaderships has begun. More than a billion dwellers of the subcontinent are watching their leaders that how they exploit this opportunity to pave the way for peace. Or it is squandered like the previous ones because of the stubborn approaches by the establishments on both sides.

The Indian leadership’s invitation to Pakistani leaders to watch the cricket match shows that Indians now realise the importance of peace in the subcontinent. Recently, they had expressed such interests in backchannel talks before this. One example of this interest was the meetings of various tops figures of the Indian establishment with the head of Kashmir Committee of the National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, during his visit to India a few days back to condole the death of a leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e Hind.

A secret meeting between the Maulana and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh followed these interactions with officials of the Indian establishment. In this meeting, the Indian leadership expressed the wish for resumption of dialogue from the point where it broke during the Musharraf era. However, the Maulana insisted upon his interlocutors to acknowledge the centrality of the Kashmir issue and then start negotiations afresh.

The warming does not mean the Indian leadership has changed its mind vis-a-vis Pakistan or has started liking us overnight. There is still a very strong anti-Pakistan lobby in the Indian establishment. They have their fair share of extremists as well. However, it seems that India’s priorities have undergone a serious change; they have concluded their dream of rising as a competitor against the rising China would not be realised in the presence of continued tensions with Pakistan. Similarly on our side, the leadership knows that tensions with India further inflame extremism and terrorism in our midst. These dangers have challenged the very existence of this country.

Historical wrongs cannot be corrected with quick fixes. Our enmity and differences have been fed by hate for many decades and have now become almost insurmountable obstacles to peace in the region. Both countries have produced powerful interests that feed on war and tensions. Such interests will scuttle this nascent process. However, if leaders on both sides show courage and determination, nothing is impossible.

Both countries had misread each others sincere intentions for rapprochement in the past. Pakistan extended hands for normalization of relations at times, but it was rejected by Indian leadership due to fear of a backlash from the extremists in their fold.

Similarly Vajpayee came to Lahore to start a new chapter in the relationships, but Pervez Musharraf vitiated the whole process through the Kargil misadventure. However, a cricket match again provided a good opportunity to restart the process. It is yet to be seen whether or not Manmohan Singh canresist pressures from extremist elements like Bal Thakray and BJP leaders.

Our leaders and permanent governments give little importance to the opinions of the people when it comes to the relationship between India and Pakistan. The people are mere spectators like the ones watching the cricket match in Mohali.

This beginning should not end with one’s loss and the other’s gain, or one’s disgrace and the other’s win. Both the leaders and establishments should know the fact that people on the two sides of the border have no stomach for further games of tension and wars.

People thought that India-Pakistan enmity would quickly come to end like a twenty-20 match, but instead it has not come to an end for the last five decades. This game has cost us many opportunities. We are among the poorest, most illiterate people in the world. Terrorism has also crept into our lives.

Leadership on both sides needs to play clean, give sacrifices and show maturity and courage. This is the best opportunity for both leaders (the politicians) and players (the establishments) to take a new start for peace and prosperity of the billion-plus inhabitants of the subcontinent.

The writer works for Geo TV.


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