Old strategy revisited: India hosts “cricket diplomacy II”
By Hilwiah Roche
Global Beat Syndicate
TAMIL NADU, India—“I would like to go down in history as someone who has resolved all differences with India and paved the way for permanent peace and stability in the region, “ Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, said recently.
He was referring to his plans for an April 17 “cricket diplomacy” visit to India that is designed to address outstanding issues between nuclear-armed neighbors. The day-long “stadium chat” between Musharraf and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recalls the cricket diplomacy of 1987, when Pakistani President General Zia ul-Haq and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reached a series of understandings that ended simmering tensions and a dangerous buildup of armed forces on both sides of the Rajasthan Desert.
Since the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars (1947-8, 1965 and 1971), two of them focused chiefly on which side owns Kashmir, a frontier territory that also borders Afghanistan, China and Russia. In 1999, newly armed with nuclear weapons, the two sides again came to the brink of war, which was averted thanks in part to White House diplomatic efforts.
It is the presence of nuclear arms—and the increasing, if limited, means to deliver such weapons—that now makes this long-standing confrontation far more ominous and deadly. War is always just one spark away, and there are at least half a dozen emotion-laden, major issues lurking like powder kegs. Strategic experts consider the Indian Subcontinent as having the greatest potential for Armageddon of any place on the globe.
Cricket, the national sport in both countries, is something of a temperature guage. Matches resumed last year when then-Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee urged his Indian cricketers to make their historic tour of Pakistan after a 14-year hiatus. The Indian team not only won the test matches, they also won the hearts of the Pakistani people, paving the way for this year’s return matches and a political atmosphere that paved the way to this informal (cricket) summit.
With the change of government in India, Prime Minister Singh will play stadium host. He was applauded in parliament recently when he said optimistically, “We are moving forward, and I must say, nothing brings the people of our subcontinent together more than our love for cricket and Bollywood (Bombay) cinema.”
Despite such optimism, and four decades of earlier efforts such as the Simla Agreement, Lahore Declaration and Agra Summit to end the antipathetic relationship, bilateral relations tend most often to range from bad to worse.
Nonetheless, there are small signs for optimism. Former Pakistan President Benazir Bhutto, who lives in Europe, said during a recent private visit to India that she sensed a great turnaround in bilateral relations. She stressed the importance of increased people-to-people contacts and suggested that South Asian countries should follow the pattern of a “Common Market,” similar to the European model. In recent days, a road link has been opened and an estimated 2,500 spectators from Pakistan are expected to fly or drive to New Delhi and attend the “summit” match. General Musharraf has announced plans to stay three extra days in New Delhi with the aim of extending talks.
Despite recent positive signs, however, the history of relations between the two sides has often reached similar high points, when rapprochement and détente seemed the order of the day, only to halt and reverse as both sides addressed the seemingly intractable issue of Kashmir, or be thrown off stride by yet another terrorist incident. This time, due to nuclear arsenals, the stakes are far higher than the results of a series of mere cricket matches.