Cricket matches involving Pakistan and India — arguably the fiercest arch-rivals after Australia and England in the game’s history — have often been described as “mother of all encounters”. In Indian-administered Kashmir, many see cricket contests between these two nations as “war minus the shooting”.
The countdown has just begun. The Pakistan cricket team is touring India later this month for a short series of two T20 and three ODI matches, beginning 25 December. The satellite television channels in India have started airing their sensational promos like “Aandhi Hai, Toofan Hai / Dil May Hindustaan Hai / Samne Pakistan Hai/ Asli Imtahan Hai…..” [‘There’s wind, there’s storm / India is in our hearts / Pakistan is the opponent /That’s the real test…’]. And the hearts of many Kashmiris are already skipping a beat. It is not any secret that the majority of the Kashmiris — young and old, men and women, boys and girls — root for the Green Shirts.
With teary-eyes many elderly women and men in the Kashmir Valley could be seen sitting, anxious and worried, on their prayer mats, some also holding rosary beads in one of their hands; seeking divine intervention to rescue Pakistan from scary situations. With an uninspiring Misbah-ul-Haq at the helm of affairs of Pakistan cricket at the moment, the frequency of such nervous prayers has enhanced manifold. During Imran’s and Wasim’s playing days, the Kashmiris had plenty of faith in the Green unit and skill of the players. People, more often, expected magical performance from the game-changers like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar, Miandad, Inzamam, Zaheer Abbas, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq, and Saeed Anwar. But some would still pray, just in case.
In Kashmir, cricket has never been seen just as a sport. It so easily gets mixed with the regional politics and history that divides the disputed region, administered by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. On the 22-yard cricket strip, the Kashmiris love to see Pakistan winning and India losing. In fact, they support all opponents of the ‘Men in Blue’and their hearts beat faster for the ‘Green Army’.
For Faheem, a young Kashmiri telecom engineer based in Dubai, the reasons for this ‘love affair’ with Pakistan cricket are also political.
“To many, like my father who is from the partition years, Pakistan was a 'dream'. It was a country that emanated hope in that generation. It fulfilled all romanticism in nationalists. It gave them an identity. The green flag with a crescent, evoked patriotic vibes in a lot that was a thirst of selfhood. The years after partition all added up to an affable affair with this country. Anything and everything from across was considered pious,” he told Dawn.com.
Supporting the Pakistan cricket team came naturally to Faheem.
“I grew up to the stories of Majid Khan knocking down a bird in one of his ferocious cuts at the pretty Exeter ground; Imran running down Greg Chappell's side at SCG in '76; and Zaheer Abbas ending a certain left-arm Sardar's flagging career with three consecutive sixes. In the ancient concubines of my ancestral house: father, grandfather and my uncles had a fable recital for every landmark in Pakistan cricket. Hence, liking Pakistan cricket team is something that came naturally to me. I wasn't fed. I was born in the romanticism of this 'Dream',” he explains.
For Arif Ayaz Parrey, a writer from the Kashmir Valley, the unwanted stifling of right to free speech has a lot to do with it. He believes the architecture of choice in Kashmir vis-a-vis international cricket is a “classic case of collective sublimation of political opinion in the face of criminalization of any independent politics by a thought-policing occupier State”.
Ayaz opines that despite the severe dip in the form of Pakistan players in recent times the affection for team Pakistan has hardly lessened.
“The bad form has hardly diminished this affection for Pakistan, which is still seen as an ally, in many instances even more lovingly now that it struggles against a much more muscular and assertive India. The hatred for India has increased with its new-found confident aggression, a stance which reminds Kashmiris of all that is wrong with the world,” he concludes.
Why is there so much fascination in Kashmir in relation to Pakistan cricket?
“Supporting Pakistan cricket has to do something with the sentiments the Kashmiris share with that country. Pakistan has always championed the Kashmir cause at international level and that gesture has seeped into the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris. Also, there are too many similarities the way both the Kashmiris and Pakistan players go about their business; positive attitude and aggressive brand! The Kashmiri fans identify themselves with the Pakistan team and not India,” says a Valley-based sports editor while pleading anonymity.