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Left in their tracks

July 01, 2013

enter image description herePakistan ka matlab kya? “laa ilaaha illAllah”, Hindustan ka matlab kya? “bhaar mein jaaye, humko kyaa” (What is the meaning of Pakistan? "There is no god but God”, what is the meaning of India? “It can go to hell, what is it to us”). We chanted this slogan all day long at the National Stadium, Karachi on a sunny winter afternoon in 1989. Back then, I was too naïve to understand the deeper meaning of the words we uttered, and perhaps too youthful to assess the people who stood around me to foresee the long-term socio-economic impact of it in Pakistan.

Military dictator, Ziaul Haq’s C-130 had crashed a year earlier and democracy had returned to Pakistan. The Soviet Union had already started disintegrating and the mujahideen fighters had prevented the Russians from marching towards the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. A new page in Pakistan’s history was being turned and the future seemed bright.

Wasim Akram was my poster-boy hero, Javed Miandad’s six against India was the best shot ever hit and Imran Khan was not just the greatest captain or all-rounder but also the most eligible bachelor in the world. The best Indian fast bowler was Kapil Dev but he could not bowl fast, plus they did not have a spinner with the skill and guile of Abdul Qadir. Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth and Ravi Shastri were good cricketers but we took them as our sworn enemies.

There was not a single Indian cricketer I liked, other than one, Mohammad Azharuddin. He was stylish, had great wrists and was a ‘brother’; in some sort of strange way it made me proud when he was made captain. Azharuddin was likable; the rest, anything but.

The country we had partitioned from was very similar to ours but we were a more flamboyant nation, drove fancier cars and most importantly, usually won against them in a game of cricket. Thank God, I was Pakistani and not an Indian.

In Pakistan, your hate for India was a barometer of your love for Pakistan and everyone was a ‘patriot’.

Pakistan had a prosperous open economy in the first half of its existence, enjoying the perks of the Ricardian theory of absolute and comparative advantage. India on the other hand chose a different route; it decided to strengthen its domestic production and infrastructure. The inward looking restrictive form of self-reliance and socialistic policies had isolated it from world trade benefits. This eventually resulted in deep economic crisis, inflation had roared to 17 per cent and the fiscal deficit had become unsustainable.

In July 1991, India was forced to take drastic measures that changed the fabric of their economic structure and the destiny of its people. India slowly but surely opened the gate to international trade and was now ready to take on the world.

The first wave of Afghani refugees came to Pakistan in the 80’s, during the Soviet War when the Taliban were created and Pakistan had taken an extremely stringent form of Islam to its parliamentary affairs. India, on the other hand had a closed economy until the 90's, when a new, more expansive policy was embraced. Fundamental restructuring of an economy or a society has a time lag; it can take over two decades before its true ramifications come to light.

The Taliban, secular intolerance and heroin are one of Pakistan’s biggest problems today, rated as the most dangerous place in the world by Newsweek and The Economist. Meanwhile, India has a GDP of $1.8 trillion with foreign trade of over $800 billion, making it the ninth largest economy in the world. As you sow, so shall you reap.

There are some things money can’t buy, but there are a lot of things it can: a Formula One team that is worth $200 million, Dale Steyn, who was auctioned for $1.2 million for a month’s work in the IPL, or a V600 Slazenger that costs $150. It can also ‘buy’ the exposure that Shikhar Dahwan gets when batting with his captain Kumar Sangakara, the opportunity to face Shaun Tait, advice from the great Waqar Younis. This is all invaluable, but in paradox, it comes at a price, just like a cricket bat.

The catastrophe stemming from Pakistan’s socio-economic turmoil is unquantifiable and sport is just one of its casualties. Hockey and squash have suffered most but cricket too has fallen victim – not a single international match has been played in Pakistan for over four years. Though the worst is maybe yet to come, it’s a scary thought.

It is not the lack of talent in Pakistan that is worrying; it is the lack of confidence and belief of a nation that is running low on self-esteem. Indians, however, seldom waiver in their fortitude, and their resolve is now borderline brash. At least, that’s what it may appear to their opponents. They have started feeling pride in expressing their identity due to the overall success of their country while Pakistanis have become increasingly hesitant because of the backlash they often encounter, retreating into their shell.

I always thought that MS Dhoni had changed the Indian cricket psyche; he had instilled his own calm demeanor and self-assurance into a team that was infamous for crumbling under pressure. Though, in a macroscopic view, Dhoni himself is a product of the new India; undaunted, assertive and fearless. When he took his gloves off in the semifinals of the Champions Trophy to chance his arm, he personified the new found Indian exuberance of certitude.

In contrast, Misbah-ul-Haq has been credited to having changed Pakistan’s cricketing mindset as well; apprehensive, defensive and distressed. His approach has been a mirror image of the external environment he has had to shepherd his men under. Misbah symbolises the negativity in Pakistan cricket, but in fact, he has only acted as the perfect catalyst to the destiny actualised by the collective consciousness of an entire nation, including his predecessors.

The gap in the performance of the Indian and Pakistani cricket team is not so much in the craft they nourish or the skill they posses, but it lies in the conviction of their own ability.

Pakistan is in desperate need of a few role models and stars that the next generation can emulate, but, there are few in sight. Shoaib Akhtar has declared the current team to be mentally disturbed while Wasim Akram has advised the players to look more presentable in order to perform better, despicable really.

It took me over 20 years to discover that the first half of our chant at the National Stadium in 1989 was just a part of Zia-ul-Haq’s electoral ad campaign and had nothing to do with the original meaning of Pakistan and that India was going anywhere, but to hell. Only if we knew better back then, or had taken a different path than we did, maybe, we wouldn't have reached where we have.

With my deepest regret, I confess that I wish Virat Kohli was a Pakistani and Shoaib Malik was an Indian. I would exchange Imran Farhat with Shikar Dhawan and swap Kamran Akmal with MS Dhoni, I would even throw in Mohammad Sami and Wahab Riaz for free, just for good measure and to fill the shortage of genuine fast bowlers that my neighbour has. It is a hard pill to swallow but I am an admirer of the current Indian cricket team and I prefer Ravindra Jadeja over my ‘brother’ Irfan Khan Pathan.

Now, I can be charged for treason. I could become a social outcast, but, I am not willing to make the same mistakes that I made years ago. We, as a nation, shouldn't either. There is hope and, with the talent and resources at Pakistan’s disposal, there is always plenty of it.