Right from the moment of its sudden inception in August 1947, Pakistan began to experience a number of socio-political fissures.
The country constituted various distinct ethnicities, religions, Islamic sects and sub-sects.
Instead of harmonising the cultural, ethnic and sectarian differences through a democratic mechanism, the state tried to bulldoze them aside with the help of an ideology that was singularly constructed by the state (as opposed to being designed through a democratically achieved consensus).
Today, Pakistan’s wobbly status as a country with extensive religious, ethnic and sectarian/sub-sectarian tensions and violence is a continuation of a negative evolution triggered by the blunders in this respect that were committed by the state, the governments, religious leaders and ideologues.
These elements treated Pakistan as a lab where political and religious experiments could be conducted without concern. They were almost entirely unable (or unwilling) to predict the kind of long-term impact that their myopic tinkering and careless excursions into the territory of social engineering would eventually have on the fate of the country.
The negative evolution in this context has (so far) unfolded in three different phases. The initial tensions in the society were based on class differences till ethnicity eschewed the class factor and replaced ‘class war’ with ideological and political conflicts fought on the basis of ethnic identities.
Ethnic tensions (when they began to exhaust themselves from the late 1980s) were replaced with fissures in the polity on sectarian and sub-sectarian lines.
All three fissures – class, ethnicity and sectarian/sub-sectarian – are not entirely exclusive. Buried within each are echoes of the other.
One interesting way of understanding the trajectory of Pakistan’s negative evolution in this context is by studying the country’s cricket culture.
Cricket in South Asia is much more than just a game. In India and Pakistan (and to a certain extent in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), cricket is like what football is in most Latin American countries.
Cricket in this region reflects the socio-political mindset of a country’s polity. This also includes the game (or the team) reflecting (or being directly affected by) social, political and economic fissures present in a country.
Every Test playing side in South Asia has exhibited this.
For example, the vicious civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated state of Sri Lanka and the country’s Tamil minority (1980-2011) impacted the Sri Lankan cricket for decades.
In his autobiography, former Pakistan cricket captain, Imran Khan, writes how during Pakistan’s 1987 tour of Sri Lanka, the Pakistan team had to continuously face hostile crowds and biased umpiring.
Khan suggests that the Lankan state’s war against the Tamil Tigers was going badly and society was faced with violence. There was tension around the playing venues and the state was desperate for a Test victory to soften the blow of the raging civil war.
In India, when a concentrated protest movement was developing against Indira Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic government in the 1970s, Indian politics went into a tailspin.
There was widespread rioting, growing incidents of corruption and crime and the Indian society stood precariously polarised.
The tension crept into the Indian cricket team as well that was touring England in 1974.
Reports began to come in about how the members of the team were bickering among themselves and were not entirely focused on cricket.
India lost the series 3-0 and then to cap it all, one of the team’s batsmen, Sudhir Naik, was arrested for stealing some shirts from a London store.
As Indira was busy contemplating to enforce tougher measures to curb the movement against her, the Indian cricket team saw itself being asked to leave a reception held by the Indian Ambassador to England.
The Ambassador was angry that the team turned up 40 minutes late and had asked it to go back. The team returned to its hotel, disgusted.
Then captain, Ajit Wadekar, began to accuse some senior players of the squad of being government stooges and ‘Patuadi’s men.’
In 1975, the year Indira imposed an emergency and assumed almost dictatorial powers, Wadekar was dropped and replaced by M A. Khan Pataudi as captain.
Examples of how a South Asian cricket team can so vividly reflect a country’s ups and downs, dynamics and divides are a plenty.
But we will be going into more detail in this context regarding Pakistan only. We will try to follow how Pakistan cricket shadowed the negative evolution of Pakistan’s class, ethnic and sectarian/sub-sectarian fissures.