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Let peace win at Mohali -by Shahid Nadeem

Pakistani cricket fans are on their way to Chandigarh to cheer their team in the mother of all matches taking place at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali.

Among them are Pakistani peace activists who will be joined by their Indian counterparts to promote peace. Pakistani cricket fans would have crossed the border without obtaining no objection certificates from Rehman Malik and by passing the Indian government’s newly introduced stringent visa policy. While stepping over the imaginary border line, they will surely notice the well-built, tough-looking border security jawans from both sides, who behind their thick, oiled moustaches, may be hiding their desire to join the cricket caravan. Back home, people will be taking half day off, even if the government doesn’t announce it. The tyre-burning mobs may suspend their ‘noble’ campaign and Karachi’s target-killers may give themselves a much-needed break for the day. Cricketing hero-turned-playboy-turned-The Avenger, has already instructed his Tehrik-i-Dharna brigade to schedule the anti-Nato sit-in well after the World Cup final.

In Mumbai, Bal Thakray may be getting ready to play ball in case Pakistanis attack Mumbai again under the pretext of the World Cup final. Geo TV will probably make a last ditch attempt to get the Supreme Court issue injunction against PTV, Pemra, cable operators or anyone else showing the matches. Spectators will be getting ready for the fight with flags, painted faces and hooters. Cricket yatris traversing GT Road may pass by the legendary battlefields of Kurukhshetra and Panipat, and wonder if the Battle of Mohali will go into the annals of history, as the biggest clash of cricketing history.

The sports rivalry between India and Pakistan could be quite healthy and cathartic. But the passion for cricket in the two countries can reach neurotic propositions. It may be worth checking if the fanatical enthusiasm for the Indo-Pak cricket clash has its roots in intense and irrational hatred for each other, and the desire for victory over the other, is a desire to humiliate and disgrace the ‘enemy’. Even if not widely shared by the people, this unsporting behaviour is evident among the chauvinist lobbies in the media and political circles. It is important to stress that the contest must be restricted to the sporting arena and enjoyed, rather than make it a life and death issue.

Many of us have lost the ability to appreciate and enjoy sports. We see conspiracies everywhere and every issue becomes a matter of national honour. World Cup 2011 victories have given us some breathing space and, a desperately needed feeling of achievement and joy. It is an inspirational sight to see Team Pakistan fighting as a united and determined unit, showing maturity and guts in tough situations. Equally gratifying were the scenes of gracious and whole-hearted support for Pakistan shown by Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi crowds (which, we as a country have done nothing to earn).

Regardless of the results of the match on March 30, let peace be the winner at Mohali. And let us hope that regaining of our cricketing confidence will make us ponder why, this match couldn’t have taken place at the more spacious Gaddafi Stadium, and why our boys are forced to have their home matches, abroad. Let us strengthen our resolve to exorcise the ghost of the 2009 attack on Sri Lankans, let us wake up from the nightmare of 2010 London match-fixing disgrace. We may win or lose the match at Mohali, but the match with the terror team must be won at all costs.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2011.

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  • Amid Troubled Relations, Cricket Diplomacy Offers Glimmer Of Hope For India, Pakistan

    By RFE/RL
    Pakistan’s prime minister has announced he is accepting an invitation to watch a key cricket match in India this week.

    Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his counterpart, Yusuf Gilani, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the semifinal of the cricket World Cup to be played in Mohali, India, on March 30.

    For both the cricket-mad rivals, there is huge popular interest in the match. The winner will advance to play for the world title against the victor of either New Zealand or Sri Lanka.

    With diplomatic relations between the two countries at a low after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that left 166 people dead, the invitation (and acceptance) is being seen as a rare glimmer of hope.

    Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said on March 27 that “we welcomed the invitation of the Indian prime minister” and confirmed that Gilani would also be going to the match.

    In the past, “cricket diplomacy” has brought leaders from the two nuclear neighbors together when attempts at holding more traditional bilateral meetings have been unsuccessful. Former Pakistani President Ziya Ul Haq attended a match in India in 1987 and former President Pervez Musharraf did the same in 2005.

    India and Pakistan have long been divided over issues such as the disputed Kashmir region, but relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly after the Mumbai attacks, which India claims were carried out by Pakistani militants.

    When All Else Fails…

    Pakistani Home Secretary Chaudhry Qamar Zaman, who was visiting India on March 27, told journalists that, “More than me, I think it is the entire country out there who have appreciated this gesture of the honorable prime minister of India.”

    Chaudhry also credited the potential role of cricket in bringing the two countries together.

    “You know, cricket is vastly popular in both our countries and anything which [has] got a commonality and which is equally [respected] on both sides should definitely lead toward creating commonality and harmony,” Chaudhry said.

    Pakistani political analyst Sajjad Naseer told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that Singh’s invitation and Gilani’s acceptance shows again that cricket diplomacy succeeds when all else fails.

    “Still there is stress in India-Pakistan relations, especially after the Mumbai blasts. To resume a comprehensive dialogue, this invitation from the Indian prime minister will help both countries to go forward in the coming bilateral dialogue process,” Naseer said.

    Former Pakistani cricket player Wajahat ullah Wasti told Radio Mashaal the pressure is on for both the players and the politicians.

    Few among the 30,000 spectators expected at the cricket match are likely to be supporters of the Pakistani team. But concerns about the safety of both players and fans is paramount for law-enforcement officials in Mohali. Security is expected to be extremely tight on match day.