NEW DELHI: Friday’s invitation by the Indian prime minister to Pakistani leaders to watch the Mohali World Cup fixture with him may offer the host and his guests an escape from the heat of domestic politics. However, cricket diplomacy has been a non-starter for improving bilateral ties.
While cricket itself stands to gain from the India-Pakistan clash in the March 30 semi-final, any attempt to turn the event into a political initiative may be self-defeating. There is a history to indicate this.
Gen Zia-ul-Haq visited Jaipur in 1987 to mark the end of 17 years of suspended cricketing ties between the two countries. By 1989 Kashmir was on fire and relations were badly singed.
In March 2004, Indian cricketers resumed a full tour of Pakistan after a 10-year interruption. The visit saw the Gandhi scions, Priyanka and Rahul, being feted in Karachi as they were given a VVIP protocol.
India’s National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra showed up at the Lahore fixture of that tour.
He had helped frame the January 2004 declaration in Islamabad in which “President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner”. That boast was short-lived. Starting their composite dialogue, the two leaders claimed prematurely on hindsight that they “are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides”.
A year later, in April 2005, Gen Musharraf visited Delhi where he watched an India-Pakistan ODI with Prime Minister Singh. Media reports described their subsequent joint statement during the visit as a great leap forward whereby India and Pakistan underlined that the peace process between them was irreversible. It was destined to become another tall claim.
Condemning the attempts to disrupt the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service the two leaders pledged that they “would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process”. A similar statement was repeated in Sharm al Sheikh in July 2009. The world was however already beginning to see that Prime Minister Singh did not have the support he needed at home to push the ties. WikiLeaks revelations quoting US cables confirmed that.
Dr Singh was isolated in seeking normal ties with Pakistan. Mumbai terror attacks only strengthened the hands of the naysayers. A piquant problem will be the home secretaries’ meeting which is scheduled to take place on March 28, two days before the leaders try to negotiate the perpetually reversible progress in their widely swinging bilateral ties, when they meet at the Mohali pavilion.