Cricket diplomacy

Daily: The News
Date: 29.03.11

To win hearts and minds of foes, the game of cricket has offered a new medium for
diplomacy. Cricket diplomacy is quite opposite to notorious ‘gunboat diplomacy’ which
deploys force and uses coercion to meet its objectives: cricket diplomacy banks on love
and affection to bring about its objective, peace.

Prime Minister of Pakistan Yusuf Raza Gillani is visiting India on the invitation of Prime
Minister of India Manmohan Singh to watch the cricket World Cup semi-final between the
teams of both countries at Mohali on March 30.

In the Pak-India context, the history of diplomatic episodes in the name of cricket is not new.
In the past, in 1987, using a cricketing occasion, General Zia ul Haq visited India to meet
Rajiv Gandhi and consequently watered down mutual mistrust; in 2005, General Pervaiz
Musharraf visited India to watch a cricket match and met Manmohan Singh to revive talks
on Kashmir. What is unique to the visit of Gillani is it is the first time a civilian representative
of Pakistan is availing himself a chance of practising cricket diplomacy.

This diplomacy holds potential to give an impetus to the bilateral foreign secretary level
talks, which are on a virtual standstill phase despite the fact that at Sharm-El Sheikh in
2009 and later on at Thimphu (Bhutan) in 2010 prime ministers of both countries affirmed
resumption of the peace process.

It is interesting that sport diplomacy is taking precedence over public diplomacy. In that
sense, the meeting will be a great opportunity to ease bilateral tension and promote peace.
The opportunity should be exploited to the fullest because Pakistan is already facing
certain foreign policy challenges vis-à-vis India.

First, Pakistan has been trying to establish its parity with India especially in the wake of the
Af-Pak strategy declared by US President Barack Obama in 2009 which de-hyphenated
Pakistan from India and hyphenated Pakistan with Afghanistan. Pakistan considers that in
that way Pakistan has been lowered one step down on the ladder of regional importance
and resultantly the US has disturbed the strategic regional balance in favour of India.
Further, the US entered a nuclear energy deal with India while, on the energy front, offered
Pakistan only renovation possibilities for the spillways of Tarbela dam under the Kerry-
Lugar Act of 2009. Pakistan has yet to find its rightful place at both regional and
international levels.

Second, the safeguarding of peace is itself a challenge between the two countries. The
efforts to enhance people-to-people contact to lessen mutual misunderstanding were
challenged by the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Pakistan has been trying to restrain
non-state actors from crossing border and afflicting any harm on India. India seems skeptic
that the military and the ISI are not under the control of the civilian government in
Islamabad. The incumbent government has tried to alienate itself from anti-India obsessions.

Third, on its western border, Pakistan is facing a challenge to preserve the sanctity of its
sovereignty. US-NATO forces are all out to violate the border with drones. On the eastern
border, India still thinks that the Mumbai-types attacks can again take place. Any new
episodes of this kind are a source of worry for both India and Pakistan. The mistrust is at its
height as India has already included in the list of bilateral negotiations that the planner of
Mumbai attacks were from Pakistan and should be handed over to India. General Ahmed
Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, had also been summoned by a court in the US in this regard. In
fact, India has made the resolution of the issues surrounding the Mumbai attacks a
precondition to talk on the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Fourth, Pakistan has a potential of trade with India. European Union is a good example
where mutual ideological and political differences were overlooked for the sake of collective
economic benefits. Pakistan is still not looking at the world through the economic prism. To
avoid pressures from the IMF and to deal with the slight embedded in the Kerry-Lugar Act,
Pakistan has to engage in regional trade to boost its economy. India is a part of the region
and under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Pakistan has not yet awarded India the
Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for the purpose of trade.  

The issue of Kashmir needs solution through political rather than military means. The
dynamics have changed in the course of time. Armed with nuclear weapons, both countries
must think differently now, instead of leaving everything in the hands of military strategists.  
Dialogue is a better way forward in the case of Kashmir.

Nevertheless, when the prime ministers of the two countries sit together for the sake of
peace, the rivalry the two countries’ cricket teams display on the ground will keep the spirit
of competition alive.

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