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Collateral damage: Sports, arts pay price of India-Pakistan tensions

January 22, 2013

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In the last few days, some of Pakistan's leading hockey players have been forced to pull out of a new money-spinning competition while its women cricketers have had to rewrite their World Cup plans. -Photo by AP

NEW DELHI: The guns may have fallen silent, but the collateral damage from a deadly flare-up between India and Pakistan is still mounting with major sporting and arts events among those hit by the fallout.

Less than a month ago, Pakistan's cricket team embarked on its first tour to India in nearly five years.

But hopes the trip would herald a wider cultural thaw were soon dashed by tit-for-tat military exchanges in disputed Kashmir that killed five soldiers in nine days.

Although the two armies agreed a ceasefire on January 16, the impact of the violence is being felt far away from the front line.

In the last few days, some of Pakistan's leading hockey players have been forced to pull out of a new money-spinning competition while its women cricketers have had to rewrite their World Cup plans.

A Lahore-based theatre group had to scrap a performance at a prestigious Delhi venue and a row has broken out over the participation of Pakistani authors in an international literary festival in Rajasthan.

“The arts are always a high-visibility and low-cost target,” said Sanjoy Roy, one of the organisers of this weekend's Jaipur Literature Festival.

Last year's festival made headlines when the Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie stayed away in the face of threats by Islamic activists.

Now Hindu nationalists are threatening to disrupt this year's event to protest the presence of Pakistani authors such as Nadeem Aslam and Mohammad Hanif.

Local members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are to meet police on Tuesday when they will urge officers to instruct festival organisers to rescind the invitations.

“We must send a message across the border that Pakistan must be isolated,” Suman Sharma, vice president of the party's Rajasthan branch, told AFP.

“The absence of a few Pakistani authors will not affect the festival, so why bother even having them in Jaipur?”

Roy said there was no question of invitations being withdrawn.

“We are not going to be bullied by any kind of faction,” Roy told AFP.

But while the Jaipur organisers are standing firm, Ajoka, a Lahore-based troupe, were not allowed to perform as scheduled on Saturday night at an annual theatre festival at the Delhi-based National School of Drama (NSD).

Instead, they ended up putting on a production of a play by Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto at the smaller Akshara theatre.

The play's director Madeeha Gauhar said police should have been able to guarantee security at the NSD if they were worried about “fringe elements”.

Jalabala Vaidya, a manager at the Akshara theatre, said it was important for cultural ties to continue even at times of heightened tensions.

“Art and sports should never be dragged in whenever there is war-mongering on either side,” she told The Hindu newspaper.

Anti-Pakistan sentiment has been fuelled in India by the alleged beheading of a soldier along the Kashmir border on January 8. New Delhi blames Pakistani troops although Islamabad denies responsibility.

Politicians from the government and opposition have criticised the “inhuman” attack with Sushma Swaraj, the BJP's leader in parliament, calling for India to “get at least 10 heads from the other side”.

Salman Bashir, Pakistan's high commissioner in New Delhi, said Pakistan must not become a political football in the run-up to India's elections next year.

“India will not be an election issue in Pakistan and I certainly wish that Pakistan does not become an election issue in India,” Bashir told AFP.

Protests by Shiv Sena, another right-wing Hindu nationalist party, prompted organisers of the inaugural Hockey India League to send home nine Pakistani stars just as the tournament began last week.

“When sport is above prejudice, it is wonderful. But when it aligns with prejudice, sport begins to diminish,” said the squad's Australian coach Ric Charlesworth.

Pakistan's Imran Butt, who was part of the Mumbai Magicians team which lost four Pakistani players, said he hoped to return some day.

“Despite what happened, we were well looked after during our stay. We are very friendly with the Indian players,” he told AFP.

Fear of similar disruption has forced the International Cricket Council to look for a separate venue to host Pakistan's matches in the women's World Cup starting on January 31.

The entire tournament was due to be held in Mumbai, but the cricket association in the eastern state of Orissa says it has now been asked to host Pakistan's group matches.