Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What does the "Mother of all Matches" hold for Pakistan?


With only a few hours left before this historic match begins, anticipation and tension is raw on both sides of the border between India and Pakistan. So I thought that this would be a nice occasion to reminisce about how old and deep this rivalry is.

These two teams have been arch-nemeses since the first match and each time they met on the pitch, emotions (and nerves) ran high. With a painful Partition, three wars, an arms race, a disputed territory, flip-flopping diplomacy and the so-called "export of terrorism" between the two, imagine the meaning of victory in every Cricket match that one side gains over the other (So far the count is 4-0 to Pakistan in all World Cup matches played against India). Therefore, the Pakistanis view this match as a trend-breaker while the Indians want it to be a trend-keeper. We will know in a few hours.

Meanwhile, let's talk about the reasons behind the friendly animosity (Warning: This will be a political opinion piece. You may or may not agree). Word has it that the Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gillani himself will be present at the venue, at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. Now, this has more implications than two leaders wishing to enjoy a great match of sport. In the Indian subcontinent, cricket is politics, cricket is diplomacy, cricket is war.

Former Pakistani military President Zia-ul-Haq had introduced cricket diplomacy between India and Pakistan. He had invited the Indian Test team to Pakistan in 1978. He later visited India in 1987 to watch an India-Pakistan cricket match at a time when Indian and Pakistani troops massed in a tense border confrontation. General Zia, accompanied by a delegation of 68 government officials, sportsmen and family members, had formal bilateral talks with Gandhi in New Delhi after watching the match. In 2005, then Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf had tried to revive cricket as a tool for diplomacy between the two neighbors and had visited India to watch a Test match between India and Pakistan in Delhi and later held formal parleys with Manmohan Singh (shown in the picture below).

At no time did these diplomacies bring any fruitful conclusions or erase painful memories, but they did ease tensions and mend relations (for the umpteenth time). The Pakistanis and the Indians have their own (valid or invalid) reasons to be at odds with each other but while India flourished through the decades since the Partition, Pakistan has suffered an endless battle against an ever-growing number of problems.

As a Pakistani, in my twenty or so years of life, I have seen the Kargill war, the rise of a nuclear nation, the two-faced alliances of the Western powers, crippling economic problems, crushing foreign debt, Musharraf's military coup, the deadly war on terror, a shattering earthquake, the struggle for an independant Judiciary, a tragic siege to the Lal Masjid, Benazir Bhutto's assassination, daily suicide attacks, target killings, ethnic clashes between Muhajirs and Pathans, a separatist movement in Balochistan, civil wars in Swat and Waziristan, drone attacks, a historic flood and a reputation that lies in the gutter. Anti-Pakistan sentiment runs high in the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East (Ironic, given how much we support the Palestinian cause) and unsurprisingly, the Western world. The "Land of Pure", can it take any more?


Having lived abroad, I have encountered many "Pakistanis" who openly pronounce their scorn for the land of their ancestors, the culture of their forefathers and the people who are their brethren. The Western media takes special pride in showcasing us as barbarians with nukes and their governments trample on our dignity, feelings and values (as shown in the Raymond Davis case which the picture below is about) like we are beggars that they must feed to win a war that has cost them so much.

Thus it is almost pitieous to see a nation fraught with so much chaos, have its hopes pinned on 11 men to bring it some glory and happiness. Cricket is more than a trivial pursuit in Pakistan. It unites Pakistanis in a way that nothing else does. With a mix of players from all provinces, Punjabi, Pashto and Urdu, come together in a way they do at few other forums. With an identity split on religious, lingual, geographical, cultural, political and ideological lines, cricket is the only thing that truly brings out a national identity in Pakistanis.

So, let us all pray that the match which begins soon will give us a (much-needed) reprieve from the daily violence, hunger, death and destruction. If not then, may there be brighter days ahead for us as a country and nation. Ameen.

Pakistan Zindabad!

Courtesy: Bloomberg.com, CriEnglish.com, AfPak.com, Wikipedia.com, MSNBC
Pictures: Opinion-maker.org, PressRelease.pk, CricketTamasha.com, CricLounge.com
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