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Cricket diplomacy: out

Published May 22, 2012 12:10am

“I HATE her for how she has represented Pakistan in India. But how could an Indian berate a Pakistani on our soil? How could you journalists allow this on your own territory?”

This is one of the many similar remarks that followed after Dolly Bindra, an Indian, waved her footwear in the Lahore Press Club to emphasise a point about Veena Malik’s Indian expedition. Pakistani national sentiment was hurt and a badly tarnished image appears to have since been somewhat salvaged by the return of patriotic rescuers.

Ms Bindra and Ms Malik had come together in a television show that captured the essence of it all. They were among the individuals who had been collected in one place so that they could fight it out for personal survival and generate business as they competed with each other.

But if some remarks made since last week’s ‘waving of the shoe’ are anything to go by, the national element has since been added to spice up the contest between individuals.

Ms Malik is the worst possible advertisement for the Islamic Republic to date, which does not quite give an Indian the licence to condemn her, and that too on Pakistani soil. Ms Bindra’s antics were certain to spike anti-passions here and she appears to have successfully added to what both she and Ms Malik must have plenty of to stay relevant: controversy, this time with a national tinge.

It matters how individuals from ‘our land’ are treated by ‘others’. We can loathe a Veena to our pious soul’s content but we are trained to guard her against the onslaught of a neighbour whose intentions we should never be sure about for reasons of easy identification of interests across national borders and their even easier pursuance through the application of old formulas.

Like everywhere else, the old remains unthreatened here just as the new takes shape. Over the last few weeks many in Lahore have spent their hours dreaming about the windfall from across Wagah.

The refrain is particularly pronounced in real estate whose agents have long been waiting for the inevitable opening of borders for a fortune-changing effect on their business. The signs say it is ‘only a matter of time’ before the city is bustling with cross-border trade the locals will have a big stake in.

After long years of uncertainty, Lahore is all set to reap the rewards once the trade route is cleared of obstacles and the current trickle of things Indian gives way to a flood seeking to sweep areas in and beyond Pakistan. Then within Lahore, the persuasive real estate agent would have you believe, there are areas which are more likely to make you richer by a few lakhs than others.

The agent has his own map and a good enough seller of property does find a shorter, direct route between India and Central Asia through local territory that has stayed hidden from speculators until now. This is the moment to invest in the South Asian future, the moment the enterprising in Lahore had been waiting for.

The Indian promise has been there for quite some time, forever reacting to the tone of relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. Anticipation has grown stronger with the hopes about free-trade opportunities — competing as it does with old concepts of national honour and national ideology.

In cases where this competition is ferociously acrimonious, often a denial of a rightful Pakistani share in Indian spoils could well be the cause, and the resultant goods are immediately put on sale in the old patriotic market.

Take the fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League. The Pakistanis who are so engrossed in watching the IPL games are alternately happy to buy the fixing details.

They are angry at being singled out and dubbed as cheats, while everyone knows that all the big bookies involved in cricket booking happen to operate from Mumbai.

They are even angrier that their countrymen are not allowed to take part in the IPL and are denied both name and monetary benefits from the league. They are angry because they suspect that India has played a role in Pakistan’s isolation in world cricket. This makes Pakistanis ideal consumers of news about chunks about Indian troubles with fixing.

Just as the allegations range from serious to very serious, there are a variety of items to choose from here. India is accused of being a silent accomplice in the Pakistani cricket ordeal and it is suspected to have used its ‘veto powers’ to ensure that not even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are willing to accommodate polite Pakistani requests for tours and venues.

This is a ‘betrayal’ after South Asia had come together in a block that could truly influence the affairs of the international cricket. Whatever issues ‘we South Asians’ might have had among ourselves it gave Pakistanis great satisfaction to be part of a regional group that could really stand up to and defeat the dictates of the distant foreigners.

The trust is deemed to have been broken and Pakistan feels it has been left alone to fight western influence together with fighting the regional group which Pakistanis feel is beholden to Indian directives.

According to a widely accepted Pakistani explanation, Bangladesh cancelled its Pakistan tour recently either because it was asked to do so by the Indian board or because the latter failed to put in sympathetic word on behalf of Pakistan to the Bangladeshis. The Pakistanis wanted one as of right and not as a favour given their cooperation with the Indian board over the past many years.

For long cricket diplomacy was considered to be the biggest hope for improvement in India-Pakistan relations. Cricket has of late gone out of the equation, leaving diplomacy to succeed on its own. As a symbol of division the game still sells as widely as it would in times where it was practically the only thing that linked the two hostile neighbours.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.