SAFMA discusses cricket’s role in Indo-Pak diplomacy

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LAHORE – A seminar was organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) on Wednesday where high-profile speakers discussed “If cricketing could act as a diplomatic effort to build ties with India?” The seminar was led by the speakers Hasan Askari, IA Rehman, and Khaled Ahmed who each voiced their view on the role of sports, especially cricket, in the relations of the two countries and discussed how it could act positively.
IA Rehman said there was a common saying that “if one wishes to understand the other, one must do two things: eat with the other or play sports with the other”. He said with sports one sees the level of expertise, strategic ability, intelligence applied and then eventually experiences either the attitude towards victory or acceptance of defeat. These factors, he said, marked the character of the other team.
In the recent context he said that the match at Mohali was a good example of a casual meeting between the Indian and Pakistani premiers with the support of the ruling parties on either side. “Unlike what happened in Bangalore earlier, where inappropriate headlines prepared the public for a match and chaos met with the teams this was a good match and displayed better sportsmanship,” he said. “In fact, it may even show that something positive and more solid will come out of the casual conversation between the two premiers”, he added.
Rehman said that it was unfortunate, however, that the public on either side did not have much of a chance to interact with each other. He said though leaders agreed in private that India and Pakistan must build good relations, they reserved their opinion in public and consequently the public also adopted the same stance. “When the government takes a step forward they are followed by the public and vice versa,” he said. “Therefore occasions such as sports played in each others’ countries, friendly visits, or religious trips (Sikh pilgrims for instance) must be utilized to help build these relations”, he concluded.
Khaled Ahmed possessed a more pragmatic and cynical point of view and explained that the objectives mentioned by Rehman might be difficult to reach for a nation that did not even condone playing cricket or any other sports with openness. “Just as the first Christian king had termed sports to be ‘sinful’, our attitude, at least of some groups, is more or less the same. They object to the bowler polishing the ball terming it as a vulgar action and have several similar objections to a simple game. How can a nation even prosper in sports when such objections are raised?” he questioned.
He said any kind of diplomatic act that attempted to rise from sports had not been practised too well. He said countries that had been affected deeply by religious conflicts there was a kind of propagation by some radical religious groups to object education and culture (of which sports is a major part). “Till we solve these problems amongst ourselves, of terrorism for instance, we cannot expect any kind of diplomacy”, he said.
He observed that since the Sri Lankan team had been attacked on Pakistani ground, it was highly unsafe and impractical to invite others to come and play here. “We cannot provide them security, forget about diplomacy. Yes, we can make more trips to their land and try to assimilate with them there but these methods cannot be employed with an expectation of any great outcome, at present”, he said.
Hasan Askari said that Mohali’s game did have a positive development in a way but despite everything else India and Pakistan must first of all sit together to come up with solutions to each problem one by one rather than handle ultimatums of first removing one hindrance (Kashmir issue) then moving on to others. “This won’t happen,” he said adding that neither the Kashmir issue nor terrorism could be resolved with the snap of fingers.
He added that in order for Pakistan to have a better socio-economic position and for India to expand its global role both countries must by all means build relations. He said that this could be done first by opening free trade, ensuring easy traveling, giving out visas without causing problems and resolving issues such as the Siachin or Sir Creek issues. “We can see that many prisoners on both sides have been released and that is in itself a very positive outcome of the match. No matter who wins the matches the people must win by making friends with each other”, he concluded.