CRICKET BREAKS ICE IN INDO-PAK RELATIONS

The two hostile nations not only restored the relations in sports, but also turned it to be a strong tool for bilateral trade, and peace.

From SHOUKAT ALI KHAN, 
Hyderabad India
July 04 - 10, 2005

It is Feroz Shah Kotla grounds in New Delhi. The date is April 17 and the day is sunny Sunday in 2005. Thousands are gathered here and millions are glued to their TV sets in their homes, offices, restaurants and workplaces just to watch a most interesting and sensational cricket match between two arch rivals and born enemies; India and Pakistan.

It is the Indian soil where the victory of Pakistan has seldom been tolerated by a major section of society and there had always been fears and apprehensions about peace in the country. But this time the local people watched Pakistanis to win the game and clinch the one day series against India, that too in the presence of the visiting Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

This situation could be hardly imagined just four years ago when the two countries were on the brink of fourth war. An attack on Indian Parliament had led to this tragic situation, but a good sense prevailed over both the nations and the war was averted. These were difficult times for the minorities in India, the sport was treated as a test of national loyalty for the Muslims. Whatever the result, whether victory or defeat for India, some fanatic communal forces tried the spread venom of hatred and violence, and sought to convert the atmosphere in their favour to meet their political ends.

This way the cricket created euphoria lacking sportsmanship and compromise.

In India every victory against Pakistan was celebrated with zeal and enthusiasm, and every defeat pasted a gloomy picture and the results were attached with greater national significance, prestige and honour.

Though India and Pakistan had strong teams in hockey vying for Olympic championship which created a sensation every time they faced each other. Gradually the cricket gained unimaginable popularity and became a craze throughout the sub- continent. In those days, victory and defeat, both were taken in sportsman spirit.

Very few people remember that after partition, A. R. Kardar, an intellectual and cricketer, founded the Pakistan cricket team collecting scattered players. Nobody at that moment had thought that he was simultaneously fabricating a vehicle, which after half a century would pave the way for co-existence and mutual cooperation between the two hostile nations. Pakistan, carved out from the greater India in 1947 practically had no team worth name in cricket though it has formidable presence in hockey. It was A R Kardar who took all pains and troubles to create a strong team selecting players like fast bowler Khan Mohammed, spinner Ameer Ilahi, all rounder Fazal Mehmood and Nazar Mohammed, wicket keeper Imtiaz Ahmed and Haneef Mohammed, who at that time was a mere teenager of 16.

This team in its very first visit to India exhibited its extra ordinary talents and left the lasting impressions. Though the team lost the series to India by 2-1 but its amazing victory in the second test proved that it had the potential to put forth a threat to the cricket playing nations in the days to come.

The sport, notwithstanding the bitter past experiences, took a sudden turn, and the nations which were on the brink of fourth war since independence began to foster strong bonds of friendship, mutual understanding and co-operation with each other. Where politics, bureaucracy and the diplomacy failed, cricket appeared to have succeeded. The two hostile nations not only restored the relations in sports, but also turned it to be a strong tool for bilateral trade, and peace.

The same Feroz Shah Kotla grounds in the capital which was once the target of protests against Pakistan, witnessed this year a historic one day match between India and Pakistan, where Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was the star attraction, who got himself invited to watch it. Out of his 36 hour visit to India, Musharraf spent just one hour at the stadium and most of his time was used for meeting Indian leadership. His visit was culminated into a summit with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after which a Joint Declaration was issued which outlined four basic points, all of them directly or indirectly related to business and trade. Talks were also focused on Kashmir, Siachin and Baglihar issues and terrorism. Both the leaders agreed to increase cooperation in business for reshaping the relations, establishment of rail link between Munabao and Khokrapar by December this year, besides raising the frequency of Srinagar-Muzzaferabad bus service. The major thrust was on reviving bilateral Joint Commission and setting up of Joint Business Council.

It is felt that if the JBC experience is successful when infrastructure such as better and faster road links, uninterrupted and unrestricted movement of rail wagons and easier documentation for shipping trade between different parts of each other will be possible. As of now a good chunk of Indian exports to Pakistan is routed through third countries like UAE, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Owing to lack of direct road and rail links, direct export and import between the two countries is very difficult and tedious. For instance products from Pakistan will have to be first transported to the port city of Karachi and shipped to Mumbai or Chennai then dispersed to different parts of India through road and rail network.

India and Pakistan, notwithstanding their geographic proximity, common historic and cultural bonds, customs and traditions have very poor trade record. The small countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Srilanka do more business with India what Pakistan did so far. The figures of trade with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had already crossed $1 billion mark.

India and Pakistan already have relations at the Chambers of Commerce and Industry level. India has granted the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan and desires that Pakistan should reciprocate it, but the latter is reluctant. Indian business circles are also willing to invest around $3 billion in Pakistan market and want that they be allowed to enter into joint ventures with local industrialists there.

Comparing to Pakistan, level of industrial and corporate development in India is much advanced and higher. Indian industry has the superior technology, better systems and sound financial resources. India is far ahead in Information Technology as well. Pakistan can use it for its faster industrialistion and improve its competence. Recently when the Tata group visited Pakistan and offered to invest in power, steel and automobile sectors, the Pakistani government however refused it, which indicates that they still don't trust Indian investment.

However, Federation of Indian Export Organisations has sent a proposal to Pakistan for organising buyers-sellers meets in Lahore and Rawalpinidi. Indian exporters are also planning to visit Pakistan to explore business opportunities there.

Like Tennis, Cricket is also a big business benefiting the organisers, sponsors, the television companies and the players. It is immaterial that who makes how much because it is in no way related to the general public or the viewers. Their interest ends as soon as the game is over. It counts only when the benefits are reached to the common man. Under this parameter the recent cricket series between India and Pakistan have the far reaching results. How long the people in general and the cricket lovers in particular will remember the result of the matches, performance of the players and the tussle for telecasting the matches, the revenues generated. The general public of two nations will be happy if the outcome of the efforts are sustained for longer and the peace initiative is not thwarted by acts of terrorism or the unmindful steps of politicians.

Besides trade relations, people-to-people relations are also being strengthened, the recent cricket matches stand a testimony to it. People from India are willing to visit Pakistan and those who had migrated from India to Pakistan half a century back desire to re-establish contacts with their abandoned relatives. The recent series had provided them an opportunity to visit India and renew contacts with their loved ones. Srinagar-Muzzaferabad bus service is also giving fruitful results in this direction.