Pakistan and India are known as ‘born rivals’. South Asia‘s nuclear powers get entrenched in a fierce competition as soon as they reach the cricket pitch. The days when Pakistan won the world cup of 1992 (under the captaincy of Imran Khan), cricket got famous as an international spectator sport. It receives a warm reception in South Asia, which spates out some fine cricketing legends. India and Pakistan have attempted to take their relations to the cricket stadium.
On December 4, 2008 (less than a month after the Mumbai attacks) an editorial of Times of India stated that “already most teams are reluctant to play in Pakistan because of the terrorist threat. If India, too, is shunned it’s going to be a serious blow to cricket”. The diplomatic ties between the neighbouring countries deteriorated in the wake of the 26/11 attacks (Mumbai attacks). Since then, Pakistan and India have not welcomed bilateral home series.
During the World Cup 2011, the semi-final between India and Pakistan turned into an exceptional event. The match was screened in the streets, cafeterias and even in some educational institutes. The hype reached a level where the, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gillani had to officially call for a half-day holiday. On April 5, 2011, Ian Bremmer, in the Foreign Policy Blog mentioned that the semi-final between India and Pakistan was used by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an opportunity to take a swing at “cricket diplomacy”. The Indian premier invited Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to join him in the stands at Mohali.
Pakistan lost the semi-final.
After five years, Indian and Pakistani players are facing each other in the first bilateral series between India and Pakistan since November 2007. The series consists of two Twenty20 matches and 3 One Day Internationals (ODIs). The Twenty20 matches have been levelled 1/1. Where as, on December 30, 2012, Pakistan won the first ODI. Reports are surfacing about the attendance of President Asif Ali Zardari (Pakistan) and his counterpart President Pranab Mukherjee along with Prime Minister Manhoman Singh (India) in the remaining two ODIs that will label the winner of the series.
This time the usual fervour, heat and sentiments are being contained through a unique ‘media diplomacy’. The Times of India and the Jang/Geo Group, leading their joint venture of ‘Aman ki Asha‘ (Wish for Peace) are providing live analysis/commentary on the ongoing matches. Broadcasts from the Indian and Pakistani studios are being simultaneously viewed by audience. Once again, politics and cricket have been merged, without substantial break through in the state of stagnancy that exists between the rivals. Relevant enough to support this view, are the statements of Rehman Malik (Pakistan’s interior minister) and Vivek Katju (a retired Indian diplomat).
“When Indians enter Pakistan and when Pakistanis enter India, they should feel like they are coming home,” Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, said in New Delhi two weeks ago when the visa agreement was signed. India has issued more than 3,000 visas to Pakistanis for the cricket matches.
“All forms of people-to-people contact, including sports, are important and should be pursued, but never at the cost of our main focus, which is terrorism emanating from Pakistan,” said Vivek Katju, a retired diplomat who has served in Pakistan and was India’s ambassador in Afghanistan. -Associated Press
In light of the above, Singh is using cricket as a favourite pastime with the consent of the Pakistani leadership.