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Why did the Pak tour go ahead?
February 16, 2004
It is heartening that the political leadership has finally taken a decision and spared the country a perfectly needless controversy over whether or not to play cricket in Pakistan next month.
The issue was needless not because there aren't perfectly legitimate fears of some crazy jihadis mounting an attack on the Indian cricket team. It is, after all, not for nothing that most cricketing nations shy away from facing the Rawalpindi Express inside the Land of the Pure. Pakistan, let us be perfectly clear, is not exactly an Islamic version of Goa. It is a bizarre place where national heroes peddle national secrets for a handsome consideration, where the president of the country is attacked inside the most secure cantonment and where an assortment of crazy fanatics, armed with deadly weapons, work themselves up for martyrdom.
Pakistan is what the world imagines the Wild East.
The prospect of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, both of whom are on some jihadi hit list, being exposed to such dangers is not easily digestible. This is regardless of what some Pakistan-friendly journalists have suggested in the Indian media from Peshawar. Yet the incontrovertible fact is that nothing has happened inside Pakistan to suggest that the conditions for a cricket tour are more dangerous today than when the decision to tour was taken two months ago. If Pakistan is too volatile for sensible tourism, the proposal to resume cricketing ties should have been kept in abeyance. On its part the government too could have warned Jagmohan Dalmiya to not rush into a commitment immediately after January's Islamabad
Nothing of the sort happened. Instead, both the government and the BCCI promptly linked the cricket tour to Pakistan with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's other confidence-building measures. Indeed, that is how it was perceived in both countries and the world.
Those who posit the argument that sports and foreign policy should be kept firmly apart are being patently disingenuous. Whether it is today's terror-exporting Pakistan or yesterday's apartheid South Africa, sports diplomacy is only an extension of a country's foreign policy. To play or not to play requires an initial political clearance before it is subjected to the test of commercial viability. This is as true for India playing Pakistan as it is for England touring Zimbabwe. Of course, in the case of an India-Pakistan cricket series there are big bucks involved and the interested parties cut across the political divide.
Was the government right in putting the progress of Indo-Pakistan relations above legitimate concerns over the security of the touring cricketers?
To begin with, it is important to discard all the romantic waffle surrounding people-to-people relations with Pakistan. There is nothing remotely resembling goodwill during India-Pakistan matches. The crowds in the Gaddafi stadium will not be saying 'well played sir' when Tendulkar executes one of his delectable straight drives to the boundary. They will be baying for his
blood. Pakistani crowds are as fiercely partisan and unsporting as Indian crowds. At the mass level, cricket matches don't generate goodwill, they provoke competition and sometimes spills into hate.
Yes, it is entirely possible that those of us who travel beyond Wagah to watch cricket will be treated to Pakistani hospitality at its charming best. The whiskey will flow generously in 'dry' Pakistan and Tendulkar and V V S Laxman will be feted with the same affection in Karachi as Imran Khan and Wasim Akram are in Delhi.
But this off-the-field sadbhavna is incidental. The real importance of the Pakistan tour lies in India's implied vote of confidence in President Pervez Musharraf. Since he made that great jump in Islamabad and promised to stop cross-border terrorism against India, Musharraf has so far kept his word. In return, India has not created a fuss over the nuclear scandal involving A Q Khan. Indeed, India has expediently accepted Washington's theory that everything is rotten in Pakistan except Musharraf.
Never mind the past, as things stand today, Musharraf is India's best bet in Pakistan. Like Vajpayee, he too has staked his reputation on the guns falling silent in Jammu and Kashmir.
Cancelling the cricket tour at this stage would have been a grave setback to Musharraf. It would also have suggested within India that the Islamabad statement is hollow and non-binding. Sonia Gandhi would have jumped at the opportunity to score political points.
The Pakistan president wants to show the world that he is steering his country back to moderation and modernity. India knows he has a long way to go and that he has exhausted some of his nine lives. But it suits us to give him a helping hand. It also helps to let him know we are doing him a big favour.
Maybe that is why there are those who feel that last week's to-play-or-not-to-play controversy was a piece of contrived shadow boxing.