Pakistan and India have used cricket as an effective diplomatic tool to the benefit of the two countries

Jan 30 - Feb 05, 2006

Sports in recent times has played crucial role in bringing countries known as sworn enemies closer quicker than hoped. Nixon's Ping-Pong diplomacy has become part of political legend, how sports brought USA and its former arch enemy Peoples Republic of China closer. Even Saudi Arabia used a sporting event to indirectly give Peoples Republic of China recognition dumping former Taiwanese government. In 1985 Asian junior volleyball championship held at Riyadh was used to downgrade Chinese Taipei's diplomatic status when its team was advised to use its own flag and own national anthem in the presence of a team from PRC which was visiting the Kingdom first time.

Similarly Pakistan and India had used cricket as an effective diplomatic tool to the benefit of the two countries whose relations for the past 57 years remained tense even in the best of time.

Pakistani and Indian cricketers with their sling bags hanging from their shoulders had done better job in lowering the political temperatures than the hard-nosed well dress diplomats. Who could forget the cricket diplomacy of Ziaul Haq who crossed the border on a short notice to watch a match at Jaipur about two decades ago. President Pervez Musharraf did the same when he went to New Delhi despite reservations of the Indian security agencies who tried to abort the trip saying securing Pakistani president at small Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground would be great security concern.

Since Pakistan and India gained independence, the two countries had exchanged visits at regular intervals. However, there was a long 14 years forced pause to the mutual tour due to 1965 conflict. But when sports legendary spinner Bishen Bedi brought the Indian team in 1979, cricket relations resumed, which only gained strength and momentum with the passage of time.

The current visit of India under Rahul Dravid to Pakistan to play a Test and one day series all over the country without any security reservations is another high water mark in the relations of the two countries who only a decade ago were on the verge of another war.

Usually the foreign ministry of the two countries gives green signal for the high profile cricket tours and when Rahul Dravid and his team were preparing for the tour waiting for go ahead signal, they were pleasantly surprised that the South Block in New Delhi where Indian External Affairs Ministry is located, had given approval to the team to visit Karachi and Peshawar where earlier Indians hesitated to play due to security concerns.

Change in Indian posture in touring Pakistan was witnessed when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) security team under Yashwardhan Azad visited about a month ago. The entire delegation was so casual and relaxed in its approach that they paid just a quick 15 minutes visit to the National stadium and later declared Karachi as secure. The same team about a year ago when Indian came under Saurov Ganguly, argued against Karachi and barely approved the city having the biggest cricket facility in Pakistan to host just one dayer.

Cricket is great passion in the two countries. Millions of people of the two nations follow the fortunes of their teams with such interest as if their life depended on the loss and success of their teams. Only a few years ago cricketers were considered modern day gladiators who fight for the pride and honour of their countries in front of cheering crowds. These were the days when Test series between the two was a rare phenomena. Test matches were compared to wars and a defeat was taken as if the losing country had lost its honour.

However, in recent times things have changed. The public of the two countries are less offended if the team loses at home or foreign soil. When Saurov Ganguly's men left Pakistan winning the series, no effigies of Pakistani captain Inzamamul Haq were burnt on the streets and when Saurov lost to Pakistan in India, the Indian public took things in its sporting stride.

Tensions between the teams and public were high when the tours were rarity. However, when the teams started crossing the borders more frequently Test series became just another sporting contest having little or no effect on the pride and honour of the nations.

Public of the two countries have come to terms that sporting contest should be taken as sporting contest and no more.

Another positive factor about cricket series which is usually shown live to the millions across the sub continent and abroad is that it brings common people together who can share their personal experiences and get a first person experience about their fellow citizens. This helps each other to remove misconception and doubts that in the past had led to tension.

Hordes of spectators cross the borders and create new friends and contribute though in a small measure in commerce and trade. Markets in Lahore usually get flooded with Indian goods during a Test match and the turn over of the traders in the city also increase as the visitors go for buying spree.

People of different walks of life view the tours in their own perspective and experience. Politicians and diplomats see it all together differently than the intellectuals and businessmen. The last named find such exchanges as an opportunity to fathom the political commitment to enhance trade and commerce. Policy makers in the trading community get a chance to meet their counterparts to discuss and debate issues in more relaxed and informal atmosphere.